Anything … else … but

I have noticed that many of the bloggers whose writing I’ve come to enjoy over the past seven years are either paralyzed by the social turmoil all around them or are trying to focus on anything … else … but. Fires in the streets, virus in the air, the seas rising (the Native Americans were right: the devil has blue eyes) … the crap just doesn’t want to stop rolling in, does it? The Armageddon was supposed to be the quick and final punishment of mankind. Not years on life support hoping for some miracle drug.

But since there’s nothing I can do, I will focus on anything … else … but. My current AEB are the illustrations in a bible that literally crumbles when handled. Who were the artists? What did the original artwork look like before the book got into the hands of my less than pious mother?

Some artists perhaps felt it blasphemous to advertise their work in the Holy book. The illustration above simply reads Rebecca. I would guess the artist was a Pre-Raphaelite but I can’t find any matches.

I am not an expert on the Bible by any stretch but I identified this scene right away, did you? The artist was identified as Briton Riviere who was well-known in the 1850s for his animal studies. (This image reminds me of Duke Miller’s poem on Tinhats) Again, cannot find copies of the original.

According to a quote on the back, this illustration portrays Naomi imploring her mother-in-law “whither thou goest; I shall go.” Looks to me like she’s attempting to seduce Ruth. However, because the artist, identified as “Calderon,” was also well known in the 1850s (and the onetime Keeper of the Royal Academy) I was able to find a copy of the original. That’s Boas she’s rubbing up against while Ruth waits off to the side.

The only other illustration in the Old Testament not damaged beyond repair is this one.

The inscription on the back reads The Frieze of Prophets by J.S. Sargent. I googled and sure enough John Singer Sargent did create a frieze by that name, however this must have been an early study as the completed piece looks like a bit different.

Frieze of Prophets, by JS Singer

The New Testament seemed more inspirational to artists of the time:

I particularly like this one: “Christ and the Fisherman” by E. Zimmerman, a German artist. You can see the rough hands of the fisherman and feel the bond between the men.

And this one:

“The Arrival of the Shepherds” by Henri Li’rolle. The original probably had more color but I like the rawness that age and abuse have given the image.

I was able to find the original for this scene:

“The Lost Sheep” by Alf. U. Soard.

The Lost Sheep

The illustration in Mother’s bible was probably a study for the completed work. I have to say, the study is more powerful.

I will close with this image “Laborers in the Plain of Esdraelon.” Looks like an ominous place for the final battle between good and evil, doesn’t it? Half in this world and half in another.

The Days

tin hats

The days are like dark men, sitting in my bedroom. They are asking for information; they want to know my most personal thoughts. Who I have been fucking? Who have I been lying about? I can see their shoes beneath the table sticking out. The leather is scuffed and the soles are separating. The glue and stitching of the shoes come from dead horses, bobbing about in large metal vats, and the process is managed by out of shape people looking at their job through thick glasses. These dark, day men have the salaries of bureaucrats and indeed, they are bureaucrats, working in The Institution: a place of winding hallways that often lead nowhere, empty help desks, multiple screens on the walls showing good and bad dreams, silent rooms, large, open air foyers, white noise coming out of 55 gallon barrels, escalators, elevators, stairways, exit doors, sliding doors, endless windows…

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What’s in your Bible?

I am in possession of three Bibles.  Four if you count The Book of Mormon, which I do not. 

The first was sent to my mother by the State of California after her elderly cousin passed away while under their care.  “Cousin Gloria” loved animals (elephants in particular) but couldn’t stand most people.  She smoked unfiltered cigarettes and lived on a diet of cookies and soda.  She was obese, diabetic and towards the end, violent.  Mother tried, Gloria didn’t. And so when she stated her intention to leave all of her estate (including land in Hawaii) to the Elephant Assistance League, Mother threw up her hands in defeat.

This Bible was given to Cousin Gloria in 1935 by “Grandma” which would have been my great grandmother.  It’s the smallest of the three bibles, only about the size of my hand.  In Deuteronomy there’s a pressed leaf of some sort.  I have no idea what, if any, significance it had to her. 

In Job there are what remains of Tweedy, Cousin Gloria’s beloved parakeet who lived far beyond its normal life span. 

The bookmark will forever be in Psalms Prayer of the Poet in Affliction.

There is a slip of paper in Ephesians that reads Ephesians 4:32 “Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

My mother’s Bible looks like it was put through the washing machine, which, knowing Mother, is probably true. It was given to her by Mrs. Rufus Cushinau in 1936, a woman I have never heard of.  Inside of Psalms is the home schedule for the Reno Renegades which is a mystery as she is not a sports fan. I’ll have to ask her about it. There are few special passages marked, most notably Thessalonians 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Mother is not one wit sentimental. But of the three bibles, I like the illustrations in this one the best.  Unfortunately they are all damaged.

Whoever Mrs. Cushinau was, she knew Mother.  This is the only Bible to contain Cliff Notes.

My Bible was given to me by the Methodist Church which I went to sporadically growing up.  It’s much larger that the others.  About the size of the one Trump held the other day in his photo op. Being quite sentimental, my bible is jammed with things.  A letter from my grandmother wishing me a Happy New Year and letting me know that, even though it was a Monday (her usual wash day) she would be postponing the wash because of cloudy skies. 

There’s a birthday card from years ago, someone I sadly lost contact with and later found out was going through a very rough time.

Pictures of my children, memorials, postcards … it’s just stuffed. In this version, revised in 1952, Jesus is a hippie who apparently likes to sit under trees and chat with his followers.

And my parents wondered how the hippie movement ever came to be!

Like the Hippie Jesus, I prefer to seek solace in nature. I do not believe God wrote the Bible up in his office in the sky and then transmitted his “orders” to a council of “holy” men sitting in the desert. But it is a work of prose and poetry that has evolved over the centuries to reflect human experience and, to many people, it provides solace. Even to those who aren’t believers, it is a necessary reference to understand many of the great works of literature. To use the Bible as a symbol of one’s political power is worse than burning it.

A Tale of Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Today is my birthday and the plan was to be in Ireland. I’m not sure where exactly although the county of Connemara was high on the list.  If not for the pandemic, I’d be on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the one my ancestors faced hundreds of years ago.  Tomorrow we face that grey abyss, that swallower of ships … battered and seasick to finally land where the mighty river narrows, Quebec.

I was born on a Friday afternoon in a small town in the middle of Massachusetts. If it wasn’t for the recklessness of  motor vehicle drivers I probably would have been born in Springfield which is closer to my grandparent’s house.  To explain, we go back to the year 1913.  In that year people drove “motor vehicles” on roads meant for horse and buggies with little or no instruction and zero regulation.

 

This led to an alarming number of accidents.

I can’t imagine why, can you?   In the small town of Palmer, which is on the main route from Boston to Springfield, there was no hospital. The nearest was in Springfield, a distance of thirty miles.  Thus most of the accidents were ultimately fatal.  The newspapers highlighted the need for a hospital and a local philanthropist by the name of Mrs. Emeline Wing stepped forward to donate her home to the cause and that is where I was born on this day many years ago.   My grandmother was the head nurse and I was her first grandchild. Shortly after I was born the hospital moved to a more modern building on the outskirts of town.  The house is no more.  Now there’s a bank. 

My parents were of the opinion that children only needed food, clothing and schooling.  They didn’t need big, fancy birthday parties.  However, for my sixteenth birthday they did take me to Trader Dick’s Kon Tiki Bar (across the street from the Sparks Nugget) and I had a virgin Mai Tai with a slice of pineapple and a miniature umbrella. I can’t remember what I ordered but it was probably a lot more exotic than pot roast (my mother’s speciality).

 I’ve had a few “unforgettable for all the wrong reasons” birthdays. One year we attempted to drive from Aspen to Reno in one day which would have been possible if the weather had cooperated.  By the time we got to Wendover Nevada we could go no further.  We had to stop.  Wendover is where your car breaks down after crossing the Bonneville Salt Flats and  Wendover is where the Mormons go to gamble, drink and hang out at strip clubs, particularly on Memorial Day weekend.  We had difficulty finding a room.  We couldn’t get a seat in any of the casino restaurants.  Dinner was buck fifty tacos from a stand and drug store gin and tonic. We sat in our hotel room and watched tumbleweeds blow into the hotel pool as sand storms went about the business of  destroying windshields. 

Wendover Nevada looking east toward the Salt Flats.

On the television we could only get three channels: Fox news, Spanish soap operas, and a marathon of Undercover Boss, a reality show that attempts to prove bosses really care about their employees.  The morning couldn’t come fast enough.

Today is supposed to be the hottest day of the week and so perhaps we’ll just stay home.  Water the green beans and the garlic and read a good book.  Ever have one of those birthdays you’d just assume forget?

 

Dressing

Another lovely post from Duke.

tin hats

When do scars become beautiful?  I have asked myself that question a number of times.  In fact, it is always on my mind.  I can’t shake it.  Love is part of the answer.  Beyond the scar we must look for the tatters of love and it is like a difficult book we have been assigned to read and the words make little sense, yet we struggle to find the true meaning of the red and white lines or in the mind where it shows with incalculable shiftings and footfalls of unexpected events.  We usually feel sorry for the person and there is madness or mistake or torture.  Without love, we are only left with the scar, and its permanence, and in typical fashion, we turn away.

Scars are like telescopes viewing a star in the sky.  There is the obvious outward appearance and then there is the distance between you…

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The Purity of Soft Ghost

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She dresses every morning in her invisible clothes.  They are sexy and mostly dark, black being preferred, and they are expensive because she has dreams and promises to keep.  No eyes will touch her true self, no one can see how she shines like the coat of a sleek horse in the sun.   The strangers, and most are strangers, will never know her beauty.  Yet, she must leave the house and face the day and so it is, year after year, up from the bed of her nightmare, until slowly she begins to tear along little dotted lines in her skin.  Again, few understand because they cannot see, but sometimes she shows others, those with right eyes, with long eyes, with deep eyes, and she points to where she bleeds and they become her friends and together she sleeps with the depressed and the destitute and all the bodies of…

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Sophie

tin hats

During the quarantine, I pass in and out of not liking myself.  I search for things to soften the light.  You need to understand this for what it is, a broken-down apartment on the Pacific Coast Highway. I have to get there.  It’s important to me.   Most of us are children of sentimentality as we lie beside a lost love on the highway, waiting for her or him to come back to us.  Come back, come back, we say, in the sift of our dreams.

Cheap blue sunglasses give my face a cinematic look and I’m barefoot.  Yeah, I’m sitting here on the sidewalk in front of the 7-Eleven on a blistering afternoon in Austin, Texas waiting for a bus to crash into the store.  This particular 7-Eleven gives off vibes like that because several years ago Charles Whitman shot a man coming out the door carrying a cherry Slurpee. …

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An explanation for TP hoarding: the howling skitters

I can’t drive through Salinas California without thinking of John Steinbeck and how hated he was in his own home town.  It’s something all writers deal with if they are truthful. For those of you unfamiliar with Steinbeck, Salinas is a medium sized town at the northern end of the one of the most agriculturally rich valleys in the world. We drive through it often on our way from the SF Bay Area to Southern California where my daughter lives.  For most of the year it’s an incomparable drive. Mile after mile of farmland growing up the fog-ridged hills that separate the inland from the coast.  Just off the highway are small towns where you can stop and get authentic Mexican tacos or a bag of fruit and vegetables fresh from the farm.

 But Steinbeck did not write a pastoral.  No, he wrote about how, in cramped and desperate conditions, using more than your fair share of toilet paper could bring your family shame.  Let me explain.

Just before Christmas I found a well-used copy of Grapes of Wrath while collecting books to donate to the library.  I’d just read Travels with Charlie and hungered for more Steinbeck, an author whom I hadn’t read since high school.  Travels is an easy and relaxing read; apropos for a long plane ride.  Grapes has now taken me three months and I’m not yet finished.  Each chapter deserves a second, sometimes third reading.  It’s that good.

If you’ve never read the book or seen the movie, it’s set at the end of the Great Depression.  The Joad family are hardworking, proud though simple farmers forced from their land in Oklahoma by crop failures and the greed of large agricultural interests. They set out for California just hoping for a fair chance to earn a decent living.

Once in the Salinas Valley, they’re treated as sub-humans which is probably why Steinbeck couldn’t set foot in that town again.  They are forced to live in labor camps where the rules are made by the occupants.  Many of the rules involve sanitation huts which must service a number of families.    

Jessie (“big committee lady”) to Ma Joad:

“We got our trouble with toilet paper.  Rule says you can’t take none away from here.” She clicked her tongue sharply “Whole camp chips in for toilet paper.”  For a moment she was silent, and then she confessed. “Number Four is usin’ more than any other.  Somebody’s a-stealin’ it.” 

Later the “confessor” explains why her family’s been using more than their fair share:

“Skitters.  All five of ‘em [her daughters]. We been low on money. They et the green grapes.They all five got the howling skitters.”

I’m not saying that the TP hoarders all read The Grapes of Wrath and are now afraid of facing the apocalypse having to share a toilet with strangers, particularly if food runs out and they’re forced to eat green grapes and get the “howling skitters.”  I think it comes from a deeper fear of being shamed for your toilet habits. If you’ve got a mountain of TP you can use as much as you want without “big committee lady” casting shame on you.

But then, I’m always full of it!

I Will Be Home

I think the phrase from this post that most haunts me is “I lie in the dark.”

tin hats

I once went out a few times with the great-granddaughter of General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez, the ex-President of El Salvador.  She told me stories about how crazy he was, unless you were crazy, and then he was perfectly sane, and then she asked, “So, are you crazy?”

One day General Martínez looked out the palace window and saw a campesino drop in the street.  He didn’t think too much about it and turned back towards a group of ministers huddled over a table.  They were looking at the location of Indian villages and discussing how they might launch another massacre of the Pipil people.  The man lying in the street was eventually carried away to the hospital, where he died that night of smallpox.

The smallpox spread through San Salvador rapidly.  General Martínez declared a national emergency and ordered colored lights to be hung from houses and placed in parks. …

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