more van Gogh

Once in a while my memory of having written something intersects with my ability to find it. I wrote this about Vincent van Gogh in 2003, beside a lake in Kansas. Which is relevant only in that it shows we all carry each other into all kinds of places.

vangogh1.jpg

 

Vincent (in gratitude)

 

 

Cedars twist in spirals toward and against the water colored skies of middle earth,
lit by the unencumbered light of afternoon sun,
their green boughs becoming blue, then clear, then one with
the air.

 

Sunflowers bow and bless, and another dances while still another, with others,
faces the cedar-filled sunshine and sea-blueness becomes light,
and reflects in all the directions of the wind the golden yellow essence
found elsewhere only on the legs of bees.

 

There’s a farmer now, and his wife, tired backs perceived beneath work-wrinkled muslin,
gathering potatoes in their hands and absorbing the colors they are immersed in,
trying to keep them in the gray grasp of their toil,
but unable to,
thank God, unable to.

 

Vincent, like a candle, lit the darkness of their lives,
and sent the colors on beyond them, on beyond himself,
on beyond the calendars and clocks that would have marked their appearance
in the black ink of crushed linen papers ensconced in piled ledgers
in a cellar somewhere in the Loire,
had anyone besides Vincent,
seen them..

 

van_gogh_vincent_woman_miners_carry.jpg

My Favorite Song (always needs to be heard)..Starry Starry Night by Don McLean

“Starry Starry Night” was written in 1971 by singer Don McLean. Inspired by a biography of Vincent van Gogh, the title was derived from what is the best known of van Gogh’s paintings, Starry Night. For over thirty years now, I find myself from time to time, whistling, humming, or singing this song to myself.

Or maybe not.

I think sometimes I am singing it to van Gogh himself. There are paintings and other works of art which evoke an almost worshipful response in me, but van Gogh’s painting do so more than any others. To say why is perhaps to bare my own feelings in an uncomfortable way; however, I’ve found, they are not unique feelings at all, but shared by many.

Van Gogh could never do what he did best, as perfectly as he wanted. The fact that his paintings did not sell seemed, for him, to confirm that self-assessment of his work. As one writer has written, “He loved his paintings, but they could not love him back.” He absorbed, in an unhealthful but inevitable manner, the human hurts and sadness around him, and exaggerated it all as his own. No matter what other joy or happiness he may have realized from time to time- and he did- the sometimes small, often large current of empathetic sadness flowed always though his soul. There are no smooth lines in his paintings, just as he could see no smooth, even, clean lines in the world around him.

Nonetheless, van Gogh loved passionately, so passionately and with such intensity that it hurt him. The beauty he saw in the fields, skies, flowers, and cedars reflected the beauty, however lined or imperfect, which he also saw in the face of each person. The love for his world can be felt in each of his paintings,but the frustration he felt in not being able love enough is also apparent.

In 2002, I stood in front of one van Gogh’s self portraits in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. McLean’s song was, of course, running through my mind as I whispered, “Thank you” and promised that the next time, I would bring flowers.

La tristesse durera toujours…”the sadness will last forever” (Vincent’s last written words)

Good Memes..for a Good World

 

The word “meme” was coined about fifteen years ago to help us understand the transmission of cultural ideas through societies and through time. It sounds similar to the word “gene” and that’s on purpose. Genes are, of course, those tiniest of information carriers within our DNA, which transmit specific biological information onto subsequent generations. Memes act in similar ways to genes, although the actual “thing” that they are, is not as easily identified. Some examples of cultural ideas and actions, passed on widely through space and time, will be helpful:

 

Shaking hands when meeting someone new

Singing “Happy Birthday” for someone’s birth anniversary

Bowing one’s head in prayer

Particular hairstyles

Shoes

The story of Santa Claus

All of these things feel right and normal to some people, perhaps most people. But there was a first time for each of them. They are ideas that are not instinctual, like eating or reproducing, but learned. How and why some things are learned, accepted, and shared agreeably with others who also accept them, are what the study of memes is about. We can view memes with some objectivity, instead of merely accepting them as tradition. Thus, we can also affect the transmission of new ones. The Advertising industry has understood this for quite a long time without having a specific word for what it was they were passing on into society, through time. “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette _______” can be completed by everyone over 45, but no one under 40. It’s a meme that has run its course.

Some memes, on the other hand, are huge (compared to the story of Santa Claus anyway).

Democracy is one, Charity is another. And, like cigarette advertising, there are some huge memes that have run their course, too, and we must do what we can to help eliminate them before they kill us all. Specifically, I’m talking about all the cultural excuses we maintain that separate from other humans. Stereotyping memes continue to be passed on, despite the total lack of any basis for them, we now know, within our genes. Stereotyping- being suspicious of others because of physical or cultural differences- is a cultural artifact that continues to cause people to go to war, die, and live in fear. It’s an artifact that remains from ancient days when it was impossible to communicate, see, or know about people of other races or nationalities. We were afraid of the unknown and acted according.

The communication methodologies we have available today, from printed matter to television to the Internet, have gone a long way in helping all humans to begin to see similarities and relatedness within our species. It’s hard to hate someone whose eyes you have looked into, or who you know loves their children as much as you love yours.

We have the means here on the Internet, to help spread new memes that say we are much more like each other than unlike. These are the kinds of memes than will one day, when as many people believe them as today believe in shaking hands, cause more and more peace and understanding to happen. Here are three sites whose builders are committed to doing that. Tell others about them and help change your grandchildren’s world:

http://www.6billionothers.org

6billion-others.jpg

http://100percenthuman.org (comes with music)

human_2.jpg

 

 

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stop_the_clash (comes with music)

avaazlogo_en.gif

Life I

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin..” Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida, iii.

It has been a very, very wet Spring in this part of Texas- the wettest, some say, since 1957. There are a host of meteorological statistics available which explains and measures this unusual precipitation, and I am thankful that there are those who gather and study those facts, but I am fascinated most by what I am seeing: the earth giving birth, prolifically.

I am not a scientist, and certainly not a biologist. What I am is one who stands in awe, and wonders. I have seen things this Spring, now Summer, that I have never seen before; I’ve gone back to those things again and again, watching the beginnings of their life cycles and seeing, above all, the connections between..everything. Here are some of those things:

Fungi

toadstools1024.jpg

It is everywhere. Pick a spot in the yard, in a field, on a tree, get down on your knees if you need to, and you will see it, too. Under the mimosa tree where I read and write in the mornings (when it is not raining), the ground has been covered, twice now, with thousands of inch high, tightly compacted, toadstools. Those particular ones are only there, beneath the mimosa; where the shade of the mimosa stops, so do they. There must be some symbiotic relationship, between these toadstools and the mimosa blossoms which fell there in massive quantities several weeks ago, or between the shade and the soil, or between all three. The toadstools were not there last year, and this year (in the last month) there have already been two waves of them. They appear overnight, and then are gone again in several days. There may be more such waves; I am watching.

puffball3.jpg

In the neighbor’s yard each summer, there has been one crop of puffballs each summer, in mid-June. This year, so far, there have been three of those crops, the first in early May.. They are not large in number- ten to fifteen appear at a time, but each puffball is massive: some will get to be the size of a football. They are called, by fungi aficionados, Texas Mammoths, and prized among those who gather and eat mushrooms and other fungi. I’ve tried them, twice. They are a bit too intense for one who is used to grocery store portabellos.

Other toadstools grow in that yard as well. There have been four large fairy rings, as they used to be called, so far- circles of three to four inch high toadstools that form a circle, of a slightly larger diameter each year, feeding on the nutrients of a now long-gone tree stump. The toadstools are lovely, with large heads pockmarked in spiraling patterns that become darker as the toadstool ages. These seem to live for about a week in their fully grown form, after having appeared half-grown overnight. I do not know whether these are edible, I have not tried them. And won’t.

“To be matter of fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy —
and dull fantasy at that, as the real world is strange and wonderful.”

– Robert A. Heinlein

Several large, old branches have fallen from pecan trees in the backyard, due to the weight of the water which has soaked into them. There is often a fascinating, flesh-like fungus which grows in rose-like clusters on them. The fungus is wet, a deep brownish pink, and feels soft, like a baby’s ear. Once, when I brought a limb from out of the shade into the dry garage, it was only a matter of hours before this fungus began to get harder and brittle.

Underneath the grass (and, no doubt, within the walls and under the floors of every building) there is a lattice of mold that spreads, like a spider web, drawing from the moisture there, even as holds back slightly what few opportunities there have been for the moisture to evaporate. Similar fungi are on the sides of trees, which are providing a super shade this year for that fungus to grow within.

toadstool2.jpg

There are a few- five?- two inch high toadstools with red crowns covered by black circles, just near where the hulls of the sunflower seeds fall, which I feed all year to the birds. These toadstools look dangerous to even touch- a red alarm for other animals (including me) to stay away! And I will, but I will get close enough to look and stare, and wonder some more.

“Nature does nothing uselessly.”– Aristotle

lichen2.jpg

 

 

 

Lichen, those flat, webbed communities of rock clinging almost-bacteria, almost-fungi are brightly anchored in white, green, and brown contrast against stones, concrete foundations, and even bricks. Lichen- related to those same lichen found recently at the frozen North Pole and to those lichen found at the hot lips of active volcanoes- are one of the oldest forms of plant life. Slowly, slowly they are feeding on and turning their granite or mortar hosts into dust with their relentless, unstoppable spread.

More, to follow..