June 25, 2021
Return to normal. Here in Vermont, we are 81% vaccinated and, in public, one can hardly tell that the last year and a half was a catastrophic piece of history AND still is for a large percentage of the globe. June and 80 degrees with a 18 knot south wind blowing down the lake. Sunshine...
The sense of stepping back from a cliff is almost palpable. The heightened receptor state, hiding out, masks nonstop, constant alcohol scent, flight mode, is gone. Replaced by a comforting flatness...
But normal? What exactly does that mean? Keep your eyes open for the phrase "the new normal". Oxymoron? Climate change manifesting as a heat wave last week brought over 100 degrees to 40 million Americans with temperatures between 15 and 30 degrees above normal. Oregon, 116?! Palm Springs hit 120. Maybe they need a new name for the town. Hell's Parking Lot? Furnace No Creek? Skillet? How can normal be new? It wouldn't be normal if it's new. New is new.
Closer to home, is it normal for me to hand rub a piece of titanium sheet for an hour, once or twice a week? Is that normal behavior? The finish I'm trying to get can't come from a whirling or vibrating machine. This is the path. It's my "normal," however absurd it may appear to "normal" people. Certainly has an effect on my arms that isn't exactly normal. But the lack of drama, even in the subtle sheen of a metal slab... its literal flatness... feels nice.
Farther from home, an astrophysicist, a woman, definitely not historically "normal" in that profession, has discovered an anomaly in the structure of the universe. The Giant Arc is a group of galaxies so massive that our standard conceptual framework of the universe, based on a relatively consistent distribution of matter and energy in all directions, is shattered. The Giant Arc is 3.3 billion light years across or one fifteenth the radius of the entire visible universe. It is three times bigger than anything should be out there. The accepted cosmological principle created by decades of observation and calculations requires even distribution and consistent expansion based on precise mathematical models. Lumps or structures of this scale suggest... Spin? Directionality? Organization? Grain? This doesn't seem normal at all. But isn't stuff in deep space sort of the definition of normal? (Wait. What?! Dark matter, quasars, black holes, lightning on Saturn...) It has zero to do with human value judgments...
And now, from within, normal, apparently, is flexible and personal and therefore can't be considered an absolute, like unique, every, the best, perfection, etc. Is it normal to go out on a lake with three to four foot waves and surf downwind for an hour and a half? Yep. That's a normal I am heading out to do right now. I strongly recommend making such behaviors normal. Making art, for instance, is far from a normal job. But it is mine. Then again, I am far from being normal. Cursed and blessed. But, I will say, some evenness, lack of an imposed, external system of edges, feels, mellow. Dancing with gravity on my board is personal and perilous, but I'm very unlikely to die... Controlled peril, losing a point, losing a set, is so very different from losing the whole match. Normal feels nice, like we know its parameters and are comfortable with them. Welcome back.
Cheers to high summer and long days. Obviously, we don't know all the bits in the universe, cell sized or galactic. Best savor these warm breezes. The Tour is on. Walk the dog. Hug your everyones. Kick back on the deck after the sweating and weigh the universal questions with your peeps. These are blessings taken a smidge less for granted, I do believe.
Normal people buy art, but my favorites are the extraordinary people who buy extraordinary art. Let's normalize that.
P.S. Check out Sam Harris, Julie Mehretu, and consider the Tralfamadorians' perspective. Pry open new neural pathways, today. Can't hurt. Normalize extraordinary, even though you can't.
April 29, 2021
Do you remember the time you needed your phone and remembered it was in the kitchen and when you went there you forgot what you were doing in that room? So, you went back to where you started and remembered, "Phone." You remember that. But not the phone while you were in the kitchen. What is the nature of the mind that makes it work this way? Why would evolution bring us to this place? Why are some file folders not accessible at a particular time and other times, no problemo? What was the name of Monica's older boyfriend in "Friends"? Um, he was in a show about Hawaii, and had that car... What is that guy's name? You know who he is...
On average, a thousand containers a year fall off ships and sink into the ocean. 1,382 were lost in 2020. These are forty feet long, weigh almost 30 tons when loaded. Steel. Large. Is this how the brain works? Chunks sunk randomly? Big items. Like your wife's birthday, your keys, your husband's middle name or where he went to college... Later, you can remember them. Just not right this second. They sank.
Brain scientists are utilizing fMRI scanning to see how the wiring in the head operates in real time and drawing a compelling new atlas of pathways AND confounding lots of accepted science regarding the architecture of thinking. For all the strides recently made in apportioning classes of brain function to areas within the skull, the latest research shows many of these are myths. Left brain and right brain, rational thought vs. creative thought, speech centers, visual processing... I'm not a doctor, and the latest neuroscience can't be summarized in this paragraph... And the mind is 100 billion neurons, give or take, with trillions of connections. That we can ever find our phones is statistically unlikely. But we do, usually...
But, I lost my train of thought... Remember the Lost Boys? Have you lost your mind? Sorry, I lost my cool... Have you lost a family member or good friend this past year? Hello, hello, I'm losing you. This notion of "unknown location" is pervasive in our language and, I believe, tied to the way our brains function. Scientists are quick to affirm the normalcy of forgetting, primarily blaming it on attention. Yet the anxiety associated with trying to remember is real. We "try to remember" as though we are lifting a dumbell. This isn't muscular. Nor is it location based. Youngsters don't obsess over "spacing" information. They calmly whip out a phone and find out. Too many of us stress over the ongoing forgetfulness that is a normal part of reality, petrified of losing our minds or our sharpness, of aging and the host of neurological maladies that may occur. But worrying will take your attention away, and attention is the key to smoothing the natural processing of being present and focused. It's normal, my friends, to forget. Remembering anything is miraculous. Make peace with uncertainty.
The latest theories regard memory as not a host of file folders but an ongoing assemblage of sparks, a constant activity of reassembling. This redefines perception as well. The thing you "see" is 20% visual input and 80% mental processing, but we will have to chat about that next time. Today is the time to accept the containers overboard in our heads. We have these computers in our skulls of staggering complexity and plasticity. Try to stay out of their way with our anxious, fearful selves. Let go. Being lost is normal. Fits and starts are somewhat factory settings. Syncopation is the proper rhythm of our funky selves. Maybe janky brain function is the locus of innovation. Imperfect memory is the space for creativity.
But that evolutionary issue is curious. Maybe as we age, we, as elders of the village, need conceptualization more than specifics, context more than data. Maybe we are just living too long. Maybe I actually know the answer and have forgotten the words to communicate it. I'll just make metaphors till you get it or I disappear.
I often think of working creatively as remembering stuff that was put in and processed by forces we don't control, forgotten until the fermentation is complete and then dredged from past time and inexorable daily tides of perception. Buried treasure. Brought to light. Now. Pretty sure.
Buy art. It's fixed to the wall. It leverages that 20% to control your brain. In a good way... Thank me later.
Rock steady, B Mac
March 15, 2021
Star Destroyers and Invisible Cats
Hang on, this is a dense one. Fair warning.
Big news right now is the marketing of NFTs, nonfungible tokens. We all know that fungible means, in lawyer speak, "the ability to replace or be replaced by an identical item; mutual interchangeability." Therefore, nonfungible means unique, one-of-a-kind, like you, or that tree by my door, or the snowflake on my glove. The "token" part means that it's a thing, an actual object, like a ticket that gets you into the ball game. There's only one for that one seat, (but just to be clear, it's not the seat itself). People are investing in NFTs, purchasing online for actual money, a slice of a program, a bit of code that exists in the blockchain universe, which we cannot see or touch or taste or smell. In fact, most of the purchases are paid for with cryptocurrency. I don't see too many problems with this. Do you? Maybe. Wanna buy a bridge in North Korea? I can hook you up.
Nihonium is element #113 on the Periodic Chart. It is accepted by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry as a member of the known universe of atoms, the actual stuff that makes up everything there is. After seven years of pursuit, scientists in a lab in Japan created one atom that instantly disappeared because it is super unstable, radioactive to the point of immediate self annihilation. Three more atoms have been made in total, just to confirm the experiment's results. Estimates suggest it is the most expensive thing on earth; a single atom is at least 7.5 million dollars. A gram of the stuff would run about 45 octillion dollars or more than the value of the entire earth at current market prices. I know a guy who knows a guy... just saying.
Speaking of elemental coolness, or hotness, Neodymium and Yttrium and Aluminum in a garnet crystalline matrix is the finest laser producing stuff we have found. Well, not me personally, but the royal "we". I'm trapped in Vermont in my studio because of a global pandemic, but in Magurele, Romania, a project called ELI, the Extreme Light Infrastructure, is hard at work. In October of last year, they created a laser beam convergence with ten petawatts of power. Ten petawatts is the equivalent of one tenth of all the sunlight currently hitting the earth, easily more juice than the entire power grid in this country. The duration of the event was 23 femtoseconds. A femtosecond, as I'm sure you all know, is one millionth of a billionth of a second, or, more familiarly, one quadrillionth of a second. Woo hoo, high fives all around. Awesome!
Yesterday, I found myself in the gallery with a friend discussing what I do. The gist of the conversation was me describing my work as a duality. The art itself is the experience of the way light moves when you, the perceiver, move around in front of the slab of metal in the present light conditions. That is what I make. That is what I sell. The piece of stainless steel on the wall is necessary, as are some photons wandering about the room (at the speed of light) and your eyeballs and brain having the experience of those photons. The piece of metal is not the art, although it is required, as are you, as is light. So, my artwork is about making a tangible thing to create an intangible moment in your life's experience. It's ephemeral, like the ELI event. But it can be replicated, continuously, if you like, unlike Nihonium. By duality, I mean that I make an object, a thing that you can touch, but the essence of the art is that it is not a thing. It's more like an NFT, or a wonderful memory, or the way certain songs make you feel. Unlike an NFT, it's always a little different. Wear a different shirt, light the candles, open the shades, dim the lights... And unlike an NFT, no hacking will ever occur. I promise. There is only one possible iteration of every piece that I have ever made, and there it is, hanging on the wall, reflecting and refracting light. Unless you believe in parallel universe theories. We will take that up another time.
So then, what is the theme here? Magic? Science? Absurdity? Art? All of the above? You can buy a screenshot of a flying cat with a pop tart body trailing rainbows for some amount of money, or something like money, that somebody somewhere decided was the correct value. Making the assumption, naturally, that only you have the only one, and that assigned value is not arbitrary. Seems like a great deal of assuming to me, AND you are buying something with all the soul of a QR code. Personally, I would recommend an actual thing -- real art that you hang in a real room in your home, that dynamically feeds you freshness moment to moment until you pass it along to your kids. Good art becomes a good friend. As an investment? Maybe the pop tart cat. As life experiences? I recommend museums and concerts and trips outside and really, really strong art to share with your family and friends...
Well, you get the drift, I think. Conceptually, the whole NFT thing is crazy. Yet cool in a virtual reality, what-will-they-think-of-next sort of a way. Giant laser beams, wicked cool. Blasting atoms into matter at speeds approaching warp? Super cool. Pushing light around to mess with your experience of right now? Best thing ever.
Hope is radiating down from that bright ball in the sky, dear friends.
More hugs every day. Real hugs, not "air" gestures masquerading as human warmth.
Springtime is renewal. This one in particular.
Peace out. And inner peace too.
February 4, 2021
The Sun Cut Flat
To quote the soulful Greg Allman, "...two, three, fo..."
"We are our choices," said the actor Ethan Hawke in a recent article, and that short phrase has been swimming around with me for a month or so. Choices. Like deciding in the moment to go on that side of the tree on my snowboard - not really able to see where I was heading exactly - and pop out at the top of a small, tilted meadow of untouched snow, soft as down, bottomless... Swoop, flick, swoop and then repeat... swoop... Or stay late at the studio working on a piece that looks like nothing I have ever made before… having really no clue what was happening with this pattern thing of triangles. And it sold in one day to a friend I just happened to text it to. Less than 24 hours from mystery to sold. Choices. Like the guys on Reddit banding together to drive up a stock price 1,700%. I hope they chose to sell already. Or Tom Moore in England deciding to walk 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday and then proceeding to raise 32 million pounds sterling for national healthcare during the pandemic. The Queen chose to knight him. He says he didn't choose to be a hero. He just wanted to help out.
Well, Ethan Hawke's words resonated until I realized they took me back to a philosophy class a thousand years ago. Those words are Jean-Paul Sartre's basis for the whole school of existentialism. You are what you do, not what you say you are. Your existence is based on your actions, not on your notion of your personal "essence." "I am a product of my decisions, not my conditions," said Jeff Bezos at a commencement address a few years ago. "Freedom is what you do with what has been done to you," Monsieur Sartre again.
However, a friend told me long ago, "What you believe is true, either is true or will become true, within certain physical limitations." I always took the last phrase to mean I probably won't grow wings from my shoulders if I thought I should fly. But, thanks Laurie Hare, my dear friend who has known me since birth, for giving me a precept for living that I have held for years as Truth. And yet, how do these fit together? What I believe? The choices I make? Three things:
"Perhaps it's the color of the sun cut flat
And covering the crossroads I'm standing at,
Or maybe it's like the weather or something like that,
But, mama, you been on my mind."
Bob Dylan is owning, in his perfectly Dylanesque way, the concept of not really understanding the nature of the moment or which path is the right path but knowing that the power is the gist of the thing, the feeling right then, being present, being mindful. Is it the light or the color or the weather or "something like that...?" Choices. Crossroads.
And then there was Bryan Cranston's moment of going from a bit player doing random commercials in Hollywood to cult hero and actor of peerless reputation. He changed from focusing on outcome to focusing on the process of acting. He devoted himself to being the best possible version of the character he was presenting. He left Bryan behind. Luck is the residue of passion and steady work. Being on the field at the right moment... Being ready, for luck to occur...
And thirdly, Andy Warhol said, "If there's ever a problem, I film it and it's no longer a problem. It's a film." Reframe. Choose the other door. Problems don't have to be problems. They could be art. Choices.
Sartre was awarded the Nobel prize and he refused to accept it. He thought it might affect how people addressed his writings. Dylan also did not accept his Nobel prize saying he had other engagements, although he sent his lifelong friend Patti Smith as a stand in. He defined his sense of freedom. Choices. This side of the tree or that. That tool on the surface or this. Buy. Sell. Walk to and fro. Luck. Knighthood. Or a Nobel. Or an Oscar. Or a lovely four syllables... "The sun cut flat..."
"We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us." This is a quote from Andrew Ryan, who, I discovered, is a fictional dictator in the video game BioShock. Probably not going to get a Nobel. But, he is right. You are what you believe you are, and you are the actions that make that the truth.
I believe that you, my friends, need visionary art. I believe this is the moment you have waited for. I believe that you have not lost my email. (It's right down there).
And I believe in how lucky we both are to be surrounded by all this, all this sun cut flat...
As always, love each other as much as you can possibly stand.
Stay in touch,
P.S. The following is light cut flat and still poking out. It's my job after all. Take some home.
P.P.S. The stuff up there about love, I really mean that.
January 20, 2021
Time Pirouette Time
Thoughts for this moment:
Just like the solstice, we pivot from darkness to light. We sleep, perchance dream and then...
In Vermont, there is a rare plant called the Fen Grass of Parnassus that is around ten inches tall and makes small white flowers that bloom for about a month from mid-August until mid-September. A tiny bee the size of my pinky fingernail feeds on this flower exclusively. All bees are vegetarians and most, like this one, live in the ground. It's considered a "mining bee" and is so rare that it doesn't have a common name. Those in the know call it Andrena parnassiae. They emerge in August when the flowers bloom; mate; the males die. The mother bee deposits an egg and a packet of pollen in small chambers underground. She dies within a week or so. The egg and then grub grow and emerge as an adult bee ten months later. That's it. Life story. Long night and then daytime...
Do they dream? Warm, late summer dreams of nectar and sunshine... Ten months underground in Vermont's fierce winter. Time to muse...
"Methuselah" is the name given to a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine whose location in Eastern California is a secret for her protection. This small, gnarled tree is 4,852 years young, perched on the same rock outcrop for millennia, witness to the entire written history of humankind. Does she smile? Laugh at our foolishness, or curse our degradation of her air supply? In 66 years, we managed to invent a plane and then walk on the moon. She lived 1.3602% of her life during that span. When she dreams is it slower than a bee's? Or a longer dream? Seasons pass. Time as meditation...
The oldest star that we know about is labelled HD 140283 and the science community discusses it as the Methuselah Star. The namesake, according to Genesis, was a man who lived 969 years. Not a whole lot of science there, but the smarties who run the Hubble telescope will confirm this star to be a "metals poor, blue-shifted, high-velocity, Population II, sub-giant." It's only 200 light years away. Data analysis confirms that this star is 14.46 billion years old, plus or minus .8 billion years. (Now, that's a margin of error.) Since the universe is 13.799 billion years old, plus or minus .021 billion years, we have a very, very old and close neighbor. This ball of nuclear fire was around within a few million years of the Big Bang and over nine billion years old before our sun ignited. A year, five millennia, unfathomable eons...
Time. It's relative, and if you consider our friend Einstein's rules, tricky. Time in 2020, I can personally affirm, was whack. "Hey, it's Monday again. Boom. Friday. Hey, it's ..." From the Chinese year of the Rat - last year - to this year's Ox. OX. A hug and a kiss. The Ox symbolizes hard work, positivity and honesty. One year to the next...
But, we are in the midst. Just as the bee sleeps, the tree endures and the star seethes, we sleep, dream, persevere. Hyperbolics all. Us and them. How can we pack life into these days we are blessed? One by one. Reflect. Re-emerge. Persist. Time flies, but we are the pilots. Compared to the bee, we have limitless time. Compared to the pine, we are a blink.
And so we pirouette from history to the future each morning. Our personal time is unknowable. Get busy or wander. It's your time after all. This last year has been proof of the flexibility of its apprehension. So, consider the ancient fireball, but spend some time with the nectar and reverie, maybe go visit those pines, maybe stop looking at your watch...
December 14, 2020
Hang on. Here we go.
Pandora, as told by the poet Hesiod in Greece around 700 B.C.E., was the first woman. Zeus had Hephaestus make her after Prometheus had stolen fire and given it to Man, who, interestingly, were all men, reverent and gods-fearing and, at the time, immortal. Her name is from "pan", Greek for "all" and "doron" meaning "gifted." So, our "all gifted" first woman became famous for opening the box, which was actually a jar (until some 16th century transcriber messed up that detail), unleashing "countless plagues" on humankind. Sounds strangely like the Eve and the apple story. Keeping in mind that all this was written down by men. Apparently, Man needed punishment and women were the ones to bring it.
Pandamonium was the name scientists gave, jokingly, to the element #99 discovered in 1952 during Project Panda, the secret code name for the first hydrogen bomb detonation. In the coral from the decimated Enewetak Atoll in the South Pacific and in the air above, this synthetic, highly radioactive element was detected. Today it lives on the Periodic Chart as Einsteinium, but it has no use, no value, just something to study in nuclear labs. It glows and decays rapidly.
We just had the warmest November in recorded history. Carbon dioxide is at its greatest atmospheric concentration in 800,000 years. Greenhouse gases trap heat today at a rate equivalent to four Hiroshima bomb explosions per second. An iceberg dubbed A68a, the size of Delaware, broke off the Larson C ice shelf of Antarctica in 2017 and is approaching South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. It could run aground this month.
Pandemic comes from the Greek "pan", "all" and "demos" meaning "people". Us, basically. All people. ALL PEOPLE.
Pando is the name given to a forest in Utah of quaking aspen trees that are all genetically identical. These trees, all 47,000 of them, share a 13-million-pound root system. It's the heaviest living thing. It's cooperating, organically, naturally and researchers suggest it may be up to 80,000 years old. Maybe.
Pantheism is the belief that reality is divinity, that all things are a manifestation of God or that God is immanent. There is no separation from the divine and me and this snowflake or that iceberg or this bug or that meteor or.... The word was invented to discuss the 17th Century philosopher Baruch Spinoza's notions of a rational approach to the common glory of our existence. (Check him out. Great stuff there). But this concept of totality of mind/body/spirit/natural world can be traced through ancient pagan religions to modern East Asian theology. One can't read Thoreau or Wordsworth without feeling this resonance. Einstein himself stated in 1929, "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists."
So, it's the holidays. AND we are on the cusp of a remaking of the human adventure. We have a woman as a vice president and just a step from the top job of filling in for the oldest elected commander in chief. There are more women in Congress than ever. There are more top jobs in the new administration filled by women, and the culture of strong, brilliant women guiding us forward is a pivot for humanity. Look at New Zealand and the way its leader has managed the pandemic and having a baby. It's time the millennia of misogyny ends. Moms should rule the planet. Men have done a fabulous job of mucking things up -- nuclear weapons, climate change, children in cages, global disease...
In the Pandora story, there was one thing left stuck on the rim of the jar -- "elpis", the Greek word for "hope." It remained in the jar and now it's time. Hope is the plan. Greta Thunberg can be our avatar moving forward. With women activists, with moms on the team, everything is possible. This holiday season hug everyone you love but, mostly, hug your mom. She sang to us. She read to us. She tied our shoes and made our food. It's time to recognize her divinity and our own and do what the aspens do. Work together. Save the planet y'all. We can do this. I know, I know, enough with the preaching. But, it's the time of year to reflect, to take stock and begin anew. Optimism is the only option. 2020 will recede in the history books as a bitter, brutal time. 2021 is what we make it.
Blessings my friends,
Oh yeah, buy art. It's the best present. Seriously.
Mostly though, hugs.
Love wins every time.
P.S. Hug your mom again.
P.P.S. And support all those fighting the good fight to recognize the untapped power of the gender I'm not. They are stronger, and wiser. It is true.
P.P.S.S. Don't blame the pangolins.
October 28, 2020
Jason Giambi, one of baseball's best sluggers in the last 20 years, would wear a gold thong to try and bust out of a batting slump. Tim Lincecum always wore the same cap when he was pitching, for five years. Jockey Jake Noonan never let his helmet touch the ground before a horse race, ever. Another jockey, Emily Finnegan, swears by a certain perfume, Hugo Boss Deep Red, for race days. Chimney sweeps are thought to bring good luck; often in British weddings, a sweep is hired to come by in a top hat with his brush and give the bride a smooch. Shamrocks. Winged phalluses in ancient Rome. Wind chimes. Horseshoes.
A few years back I was pooped on by a bird. Not so happy about bird doo in my hair, I was stunned to be shat upon again in the same week. In hashing over my sense of ignominy, I decided to spin it. It must be a good sign, a sign that I was outdoors a lot, a sign that I was living a life with hours and hours of fresh air. I later read that in parts of the world, like Russia and Turkey, getting pooped on by a bird is good luck. Well, there ya go. I'm super double lucky. Luckier by far than the story my friend Chris used to tell of being out in a fishing boat off Chatham on Cape Cod. He was working with an older captain and the business of fishing involved flocks of wheeling gulls and quite a stench of old bait for much of the time. His buddy, the captain, smoked cigars constantly to manage the stink. Just as he raised the cigar to his face a wheeling gull let fly right into his open mouth. In horror, Chris stammered, "Oh god, what's THAT taste like?!" The captain spit and smiled, "Hot."
But I digress. Lucky charms. Do they work? They must or why would their use continue over the millennia? In the 16th Century, a British Parliamentarian, Reginald Scot carried a rabbit's foot around in his pocket for good luck. Rabbit's feet are used in Europe, Africa, China, and North and South America as a talisman to bring good luck, which begs the question of why rabbits? Wouldn't it make sense for each culture to have its own paw? What's wrong with weasels or foxes? Or a chicken foot? The fact that this is a global belief system could be taken as a refutation to its inefficacy. It must work. EVERYBODY knows that. My brother had one on a keychain when I was a kid. Totally grossed me out; but you know, it's my older brother's so it must be cool. Did it work? Probably. He's still around and having fun. Might even still have it somewhere in a box. Old dead animal paw with a little ball chain through it. Yuck.
So what's all this about fortuosity anyway? (If anyone can glean the referential aspect of that word, let me know). Seems like a good time in our lives to lean into a little bon chance. The title of the above piece is "Amulet." Will it bring you good luck if you hang it in your home? Yes. I guarantee it. Abso-posi-lutely. Never fail. Starting immediately. Life will get better. For sure. There's a backstory to the name of this panel and if you buy it, I'll share it.
On the other hand, where is Tim Lincecum now? Didn't Jason Giambi get busted for steroids? That jockey with the helmet thing, crashed hard twice. Max Scherzer, one of the all-time most bad-ass pitchers to ever throw a baseball is very superstitious. He believes that to talk about luck and superstitions is bad luck. So. Nothing. Nope. No talking about that. (By the way, look up his stats. Ridiculous. That is, if you believe in baseball).
But, I believe that if you believe, luck is real. Ruby slippers will take us home. Pooped on recently? Good. Better times are on the way.
Reread the above line, especially the last part.
We got this my friends. I think you could use a little fresh art to liven up the palace after all we have been going through. "Amulet", or "Disc", which is an amulet like the one I wore around my neck for a few years. How about "Looking Out"? "On With It" is still available. As is "Bridget". Can you feel the theme here?
Looking forward to our next missive. yes indeed.
October 1, 2020
Quirky Freaks and the Real Jedi
And anyone else paying attention,
This week's quiz: What has two claws, no teeth and can kill a lion? They have been around for 12 million years and can live to be sixty years old.
An "outlier" is, according to the almighty Wikipedia, a data point that significantly differs from other observations. Generally, Amazon recommendations have someone saying that this is the worst product ever while every other review is five stars. Outlier. Usain Bolt. Outlier. Picasso. Elon Musk. A tsunami is an outlier. So is a meteor. The Wiki article is itself a fabulous outlier -- generally the exposition of a thing creates understanding, and a concept is simplified. The article for "Outlier", however, immediately digs into the arcane mathematics of probability and deviation, the three Sigma rule, the Mahalanobis distance, interquartile range, and the modified Thompson Tau test... "I'll explain Japan speaking only Japanese" seems like the program.
Back to the quiz: These critters have over a pound of sand and pebbles in their bellies to help grind up food. Usain Bolt can run 27 mph. These guys can run 43. For a while. Only cheetahs can catch them. Hint: They have lush eyelashes and the largest eyes of any land animal.
As I type this, a very, very dark brown squirrel just went up a huge maple behind the studio. There it is. Why isn't she grey like all the others? In college, there were black squirrels on campus and the story circulated that they were mutants or from The Black Forest in Germany. The former is accurate. They are genetic anomalies, although the dumpster behind the dining center might have been a contributing factor. Reasonable assumption...
What animal is nine feet tall? Has skin that makes durable boots? Is pretty tasty, (so they say)? Can weigh 300 pounds? Grows nine inches per month their first year? Has two toes on each foot but only one toe has a claw? Eats shrubbery?
The outliers are the ones who redefine reality; they spin civilization in a different direction. Jackie Robinson changed all sports forever. George Lucas gave us "American Graffiti," meh. Decent flick. Then Yoda. James Cameron warmed up with "Titanic", so to speak, and then "Avatar" changed visual reality forever. Shakespeare remains a mystery, his genius from seemingly nowhere. Jimi Hendrix. Bach. Steve Jobs. Michelangelo. Wim Hof. Edwin Hubble. Gandhi. The Beatles. Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers," covers this turf well, but...
Consider the ostrich. Weirdest creature ever. (Excepting the octopus, but we covered that here: Dark then Light, Rhythm in Hues. Wings. Can't fly. Lives on parched barrens. Rarely drinks water. You can ride on one, but they can disembowel a human with one kick. Three-pound eggs. Great vision. Wicked ugly -- total jumble of gnarled skin, giant feathers, balding head and protruding bones. Their namesake trait of "head in the sand" is unreal, just a trope. Perfect outliers. Even their name is bizarre. They persist as a freak of nature, strange as fiction.This week's challenge is to look around at all the chaos and focus on the outliers. Focus on the things that confound. These are the pivot points. Who is changing our notions of reality? Who sees different wavelengths? What ideas suggest radical realignment? Confront that which creates animus in your spirit. Beware the fakers. I have said for years that on a ship full of pirates, it's highly unlikely that the captain isn't one. But we are surrounded by otherness -- the dark squirrel, Crispr, quantum computing, graphene, Banksy, trolls... In the movie "Arrival" is the notion that time is not linear, if one knows the correct language to describe it. Maybe Native Americans know how to manage wildfires. Maybe tides can power the planet. Maybe craft beer prevents Covid. That explains Vermont. Maybe not. But please, my friends, think outside the box that is on fire. Anomalies may be the answer. Or the question. Or the fulcrum.
And as always, value this day that you are gifted.
Be kind to each other. Love will find a way...
Your humble servant,
P.S. Buy art today. I mean this. Otherwise, well, let's not go into the utter decline of all humanity, the pit of woe, the despairing wails of unfed progeny... yeah, all that...
P.P.S. And have faith in our humanity to overcome inhumanity. We persist. We are strange as fiction too. Ostrich. Go figure. Super weird. Lots of that going around.
P.P.S.S. Vote Outliers. Vote Out Liars.
September 2, 2020
Hash n' Eggs and the Invisible Jetpack
Yesterday, a guy was spotted in airspace at 3,000 feet over LA flying with a jetpack. Pilots in commercial airliners radioed the tower to report the flying man; one pilot said he was barely 300 yards away from his Airbus A321. Yikes. Now we can worry about this? LA traffic WTF!
As kids, we always knew that flying was normal stuff: Superman, duh. Ironman with his suit. Hawkman had wings. Mighty Mouse, way way back. Hovercrafts were going to be available by the time we got our driver's license. Pretty sure. The Air Force had the SR-71 Blackbird, which could fly over three times the speed of sound -- 2,193 mph -- so clearly getting places would get quicker all the time. And if James Bond had a jetpack, most secret agents had to have them.
I have dreamt of flying my entire life. Mostly it is just a function of thinking just the right thoughts and leaning into the wind just the right way and off I go. Arms out. Catching the wind. It isn't scary. It is exhilarating. And it feels right. It feels normal.
During the day though, I make light sculpture. My palette is reflected and refracted photons. These sculptures are internal spaces manifested. I'm not making political statements or riffing on common tropes. I'm not really interested in whether this will "go" with your sofa. (Ok, maybe I am a little bit). There is no agenda. There is only Beauty with a capital "B." These pieces are meant to resonate, to feel familiar and yet fresh. I'm trying to visualize magic, to capture snow in hard sunlight blowing off the roof. Diamond dust. Moon sparkles dancing across the lake at 2 AM feel a particular way -- liquid, platinum, ephemeral... Supercolliders humming organ-pedal bass chords or shrieking in absolute zero vacuums, quartz, schist, red sprites, morning glories, and the tendrils of supernovae remnants collected with a perfect mirror orbiting our tiny and complete sphere. Harmonics. The known and understood with the sublime and ineffable. The feeling of flying without stuff to make you fly...
My pal Wily has a Cessna built the year I was born, and he takes me up now and then for transcendence and breakfast across the lake. Who knew most little airfields have excellent diners? Last week a guy showed up at this little fly-in over in New Hampshire in a sport plane built in 1935 -- no roof, tiny windshield and a quilted red leather cockpit that feels lifted from an old Jag. Both my grandfathers had their own planes. Wish I had been old enough then to go up.
Look at my work with eyes out of time. There is as much Aboriginal dream time as forest walks, Ukiyo-E, pictures of the floating world, as Hubble imagery and Middle Earth and Thor and quantum fields and waves in the sand where the waves break. I have dreamt of flying an F-16 (don't tell Wily). That's in the work too. Maybe you need something on the wall out of time, above this plane, airbourne, quotidian dispelled...
August 19, 2020
"The crow wished everything was black, the owl, wished everything was white." -- William Blake
Owls have magnificent adaptations to facilitate doing their jobs of quietly eradicating the world of tasty morsels running about at night. They have, as we all know, the ability to fly silently thanks to specialized feathers that dampen vibrations. These feathers are, however, such particular structures that the preen oils most birds possess would nullify their effects. Consequently, most owls are not waterproof. They can't hunt in the rain and have been known to drown when landing in relatively shallow water to drink or bathe. They also need extra down for warmth to combat freezing when feathers get sodden. Their ears are asymmetrical on their heads to help with the sound location of tiny feet moving around. Their facial feathers help with light collection to their eyes; eyes that are far superior to their prey. Owls have eyes that are more tubular than round. In fact, owls’ eyes are fixed in their heads, which can swivel up to 270 degrees. Less body movement is more stealth. They have to move their heads to change their view.
That last sentence is the one that really jumps out. William Blake also wrote, "The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind." How do you change your mind? How does one change someone else's view? There is, as one can imagine in today's world, a great deal of research on how to convince someone to believe something different than what they currently believe. The consensus is that facts -- logic and evidence -- don't change minds. We have 4% of the world's population in the U.S and consume two-thirds of the world's production of antidepressants. There's a fact to throw into any conversation regarding wellness, gun control, socialized medicine, education, screen time, lack of contact with the natural world, income disparity... and on and on. But documentation shows that empathy can change someone's mind. If you play to win, to confront, bash down the other position, you will not win. You can't play to win. You have to play to learn, to connect. People are tribal. They want to connect and fit in, to bond with others and be respected. We are herd animals. (Some exceptions, naturally). And insulting another herd's lack of ________ will only serve to thicken the wall between.
Owls swallow prey whole after kneading it with powerful talons and then regurgitate the indigestible stuff -- fur, bones, teeth. Kind of like the way people tend to process the news they choose. If we want to change the views of others, we can lead by example. The increase in solar energy in the U.S. is 51 times greater from 2009 to 2018. The installation of panels on homes ripples in radiating waves -- when your neighbors get panels, you get panels. Changing minds requires being open to hearing the issues from the side that is not your side. It requires being open to things that fall outside your group's belief system. Just listening engenders openness, which in turn leads to communication and the potential for your position to be heard. Listening is hard when you know you are right to start with... Right!? But, it's a process. Dogma is what people hang on to in order to define themselves. Carl Jung said, "People don't have ideas. Ideas have people."
Fighting doesn't work. You may knock them out and win the match, but they will hate you even more after. Like the owl, you have to move your head to change your view. Moving heads is tough, but we have, as a collective, been through worse. We can work toward common ground. We can share the air with the owls. And the crows. And all the others flying through the yard. Last week, a great-crested flycatcher perched on the garden stake ten feet from the deck. It careened off in a flapping explosion a split second before our local broad-winged hawk streaked by. Talons out. Whoa. That was really, really close.
And so, "Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything," said George Bernard Shaw. Time for some radical head swiveling, my friends. Get busy. We have work to do. There are wicked creatures to confront but they may not be waterproof. We can do this. The ultimate power in William Blake's world view was the human imagination.
la la la. :)
July 20, 2020
On With It
A neutrino is one of my favorite things. It's one of those bits of nature that seems invented by poets. Atomic scientists discussed the possible existence of this little particle in the 1930s, but actual detection didn't occur until 1956 in a lab. A naturally occurring one was found in a complex detector at the bottom of a gold mine in Africa in 1965. Believed to have no mass at all and having no electrical charge, "neutrino" is Italian for "little neutral one." Birthed in the nuclear guts of all stars, this particle streams in every direction unimpeded -- they go directly through the Earth without slowing. Our bodies are being bombarded by 65,000,000,000 per square centimeter every second. Zoom. I feel fine. Do you? Fundamental particle, yes indeed.
But fundamental with nuances, as all good characters are. They apparently have "flavors" and can oscillate between these states in flight. Experiments have shown that there are anti-neutrinos, but a respected Italian physicist suggests they might just be neutrinos behaving weirdly, not other particles at all. Studies prove they, in fact, do have just the tiniest mass, nearly zero, therefore the laws of the universe say they can't go faster than light. Other research postulates that they have no mass, like light itself, and may actually travel faster than the speed of light and therefore are going backwards in time. You know, like Merlin. Wizards do that sometimes... Ok, but how big are they? Well, "size" is not a thing for these guys. There is no minimum distance between them -- they have no width or volume. Science or ghosts, poetry or physics... Neutrinos are an invisible constant in our lives, the force of the sun pouring through us every moment. Billions of dollars are being spent globally on neutrino astronomy. Are they part of dark matter? Can we detect some blown from a far off supernova? Or from the Big Bang? Space doesn't slow them down or gas or dust or rocks or age or viruses...
Since the pandemic started, phoebes returned to the yard, built a nest, laid eggs. Fledglings flew away. A spider as big as my eyeball appeared every night for a few days and wove a web eight feet in the air. Hunting. Next day, gone. Next night, web and fog. Etc. Bumblebees in the backyard cram their bodies down the gullets of snapdragons just to the right of my chair on the deck. My pals post Instagrams of outrageous sunsets. Paul and LIzzyliz just had a baby girl. Jameson learned to bike.
Comet Neowise is visible tonight and for the next couple weeks to the naked eye below the Big Dipper. Discovered on March 27th, it's a three-mile ball of ice and rock with a blue and golden tail. It will return in 6,800 years. It's the far and the slow tempo. You really should have a look. For the near and the speedy: Levi, the good dog, threw up for two days; he's fine now. My son Schuy and I have been working to keep the black Spyder running and playing plenty of frisbee on the sand these hot evenings. Neutrinos blaze through me. Through us. Cucumbers are ready. There is nectar still.
Saturday a moth was determined to hang out on my left knee. Using an app called "Seek," I discovered it's a skipper, the Silver Spotted Skipper, and a butterfly, not a moth. It's the most common skipper in North America and I had never noticed one before. Introductions ensued.
NEOWISE is an acronym of science stuff (it's an orbital observatory looking for planet killers heading our way -- the comet that ended the dinosaurs was only slightly larger than this comet we can see sailing by), but I'm breaking it down to "new wisdom." "Skipper" is the perfect name to guide us forward. Civilization is evolving through the suffering. Pain is all around us. But, vegetables grow as always; skippers visit; fathers and sons hang out; the invisible winds of the cosmos are blowing through our beings every second. I can't fix the world, but I'll catch light and push it your way. I'll try to find grace and share it. The theme here is On With It. Now is a great time to find a little slice of joy and share it. Lots of little bits can be lots...
Summertime and the living is queasy.
But, here we are. Same as it ever was -- quantum mechanics, birds, spiders, cukes and kids... As reality flings apart, hold on to the perennials. Find the rhythm and try to join in just a little bit. Look for the familiar that is cycling the way it always does. We can do this.
On With It.
P.S. Buy art now. It's good for the soul and the very, very local economy. Time for some big pieces. More light means more light. And, by the way, love. Make that visible. Love in a time of chaos is redemptive.
P.P.S. Come to think of it, in The Two Towers, Gandalf was talking to a moth too. That led to a fabulous outcome.
July 8, 2020
...perennial as grass...
If you read the words below, and you should, they are a lovely affirmation of life amidst the turmoil of modern "life, or "flaming chaos," as we now call it. Spock from the tv show Star Trek recorded this on an album in 1968; and I first encountered it on posters during the hippie days of the early 70s. (I know, I know, super old). "Go placidly..." seemed wise during the Vietnam debacle and being a "child of the universe" helped overcome the alienation youngsters always feel. Peace and love was groovy. Still is. The notion that this was a benediction found in a church over 300 years ago lent it gravity and foresight. Yeah, the world has always felt like a dumpster fire, or Wednesday, as we now call it, even in the 1600s. These lines of prose are profoundly applicable today. Read them slowly, even if you used to have the poster:
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Found in Old Saint Paul's Church, Baltimore, 1692 A.D.
But, the truth is, this is a prose poem written in the 1920s by Max Ehrmann from Terre Haute, Indiana. It was widely shared with little notoriety in Europe during the war and ultimately published after his death by his widow in a book of collected poems. In 1956, a pastor distributed it to his congregation, without attribution, in a mimeographed booklet printed on a letterhead reading "Old St. Paul's Church, Baltimore, A.D. 1692", the year the church was founded. To this day, there is confusion in the public mind as it is so familiar and yet feels like a historical text. Wisdom, whether from the seventeenth century or from the Midwest, has no bounds. A moral code in one paragraph, yes indeed. "Keep peace in your soul."
The extraordinary concept of the proper unfolding of the universe, especially RIGHT NOW, is a comfort.
As always, please share. Comfort is needed. And buy art now since Beauty is always a comfort and a delight, and artists right now are working on the placid part with noise and haste. Imagine growing fruit and the fruit stand is closed. Or playing music and everyone is wearing earmuffs... Or...
You get the picture. So, get the picture. Peace and love, Bruce Mac
P.S. Doyle Bramhall Jr. sings, "Love is the answer. The answer is waiting."
June 24, 2020
Out and Back
The most popular vehicle in the world is the Flying Pigeon. It's made in China and the company has sold 500 million of them. The design was established 135 years ago and even though all sorts of little parts have been improved, it is basically the same machine. You can walk outside almost anywhere and there is one rolling by. Today there are over a billion bicycles in the world. A very fast woman rode 184 mph behind a very fast car. A wickedly determined man rode across the U.S. in seven days and fifteen hours. My brother Kevin rode 272 miles with 20,000 feet of climbing in 26 hours. For his sixtieth birthday. Athletes. One woman rode the equivalent of nearly four times around the Earth in one year. Endurance athletes.
From my bike saddle, I've seen lightning, way way too close (KA BOOM!), snakes, (yeah, too many of those), hawks, eagles, falcons, pigeons, wooly bears, slugs (one rainy day was slug-a-palooza, super gross), redwoods, a microburst thrashed forest, a dead owl (might have been napping, but I think not), a very alive mountain lion (Go Aero, Eyes Up), fog, sunsets, deep green forests, the rain they used for Noah's flood, poppy fields, blue ridges, blood and broken bikes. (Sorry Kev). I've eaten bugs, dust and mud, been injured in my driveway by my bike, and I have been helicoptered out from the high Sierra after a stupid crash. (Sorry Kev). I have ridden with close pals, friends, lovers, a wife, brothers, strangers, lots of strangers, sweet strangers, and mean people. I met a couple at the top of Middlebury Gap just south of here who, when asked where they started, they smiled and said, "Portugal." I rode 167 miles one day around Vermont with Kev and Steve, a day I will savor forever. One day with these two, while they were fixing a flat on Whipple Hollow Road on the ride Steve calls "Castle Flow," I fell asleep on my bike. Story for another time.
But why ride? It's not like I accomplished anything while zooming across the countryside. Sisyphus pushes his rock. I ride out and back. What's the allure? Mark Twain said, "Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live." (See above, Life Flight, woo hoo). Well, there's dopamine -- brain synthesis chemistry in high gear. Endorphins, yes please and thank you, I'll-have-a-bit-more-please. There's ADHD management in real time when stuff is sailing by at forty miles an hour. I'm a better animal in motion than sitting in a chair. Clarity prevails on a bike.
But mostly, the answers are all above. It's private time to understand the landscape. It's social time to understand people and my place in the fabric. It's internal time to go all-out crushing the climb in full sufferfest mode, or coast along the coast. It's being out in all weather and saying howdy to all the critters who live here. It's oxygen in and problems out. It's the visual food for the creative soul -- the time to wrestle with the art piece smoldering in the back of my brain and placidly laughing at me from the studio. It's being one with the universe with an elevated heart rate. Don't ride? Should you get a bike? In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the bike salesman says, "Sure, it'll change your whole life for the better, but that's all."
AND, finally, what's this have to do with art? Read every tenth word above (you know what I mean). Velocity of reality. Light. Clarity. The universe and my place in it. Blood. Brothers. Mist. Out and back. Endurance.
And suddenly, these paragraphs written a couple weeks ago seem so flip. Who cares? The world is on fire! Disease. Murder. Politics. HAVOC.
On the radio was a story this week of a man in India who got injured and couldn't do his job. His wife, home and kids were 700 miles away. The pandemic came and his daughter who had moved in to nurse him to health was down to their last $20. She bought a bicycle, put her father on the seat, their meagre belongings on the back and rode a single speed bicycle all the way home. In a week. Standing up the whole way. 100 miles a day. She is fifteen years old. They had no money and no food. People along the way fed them and they slept in the fields on the side of the road.
I have neighbors who put together fifty bags of groceries a week to give away because they didn't want anyone suddenly out of a job to be hungry. I have a friend who is an ER doc and stayed away from his family, sleeping in the basement or in an empty condo after treating Covid patients all night. An artist buddy is selling art online everyday and sending the money to a food bank fifteen hundred miles away. Each of us can play a role. If you have some to give, give.
Now more than ever we need love, humanity, and patience. We need a sense of dignity and restraint, respect for each other and their challenges. Get up from the crash and say, 'I'm sorry, we can work this out." Picture that angry person at their limit and imagine them as a child on a tricycle. Just trying to make it go. Will a bike save the world? Nope, but the person making it go can. We need the fresh morning air and effort to get over this big hill. It's raining hard and the road is slippery? Go carefully. Head home. Out and back. We can do this. AND, consider that this is not about going 184 mph. It's endurance. In the Tour de France, almost any of those badass skinny athletes can win one day. It's the ones who survive every heatwave, snowfall, stomach bug, elbow, deluge, flat, shunt, cramp, crosswind, breakaway, sprint pile-up, nasty climb, fan freakout, and screaming mountain descent, that prevail. The world is inside-out right now, but, quoting my brother Kev, "The point of pain is the place of growth".
Anything I sell before July 4th, I will send 20% of the money to The National Black Child Development Institute. Do your part just a little bit extra right now when it's really needed. Somebody somewhere is sleeping alongside the road. Just trying to get home.
H.G. Wells, England's brilliant futurist, said, "Everytime I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race." I wonder if he had a Raleigh. They were British, biggest bike makers on the planet at the time, based in Nottingham and started by a chap from Sherwood Forest... Sound familiar?
June 12, 2020
The Big Now
In 1971, there was an ad on tv showing a Native American, an "Indian" at the time, with a tear in his eye after surveying the litter on the water from his canoe and the trash alongside a road. All these years later, the tear in the eye of an old man whose country we inhabit continues to resonate. I was just a kid. But I grew up canoeing, spending time in the woods, "leaving a campsite cleaner than I found it." That was nearly fifty years ago. We, white people, as a group, ruined his home.
The year before, my brothers and I went to the movies and saw "Little Big Man" with Dustin Hoffman as a 122-year-old man recounting his life's story --- he was a white pioneer boy whose parents were murdered by the natives, he was then raised by these same "Indians." Captured by the military, he renounces his tribe to save his life. Put into foster care he becomes a good Christian boy who is then seduced by his foster mother. He runs away, becomes a mule skinner, a gunslinger, marries; his wife is abducted. He then returns to Cheyenne life, becomes a father with four wives, who are then massacred by the cavalry. Thus, there follows a general unravelling of his mind... He claims to be the only surviving white man from the Battle of Little Big Horn. He was the reason, he claims, Custer and all his men were slaughtered. As the hired scout, he sent them all to their death.
Fast forward to 1993. I saw a movie and afterwards sat in the parking lot and wept. I was horrified to be a person. Being a human was too painful to bear. I had just sat through "Schindler's List" and couldn't stand being a person when people are capable of such inhumanity. The horrors depicted I could not understand. How could anyone behave in this way? How could millions of people behave in this way?
Fast forward to now. It's not a movie. It's the same horror in real life. Torture and then death. On a street corner. Why? Because some people have forgotten the truth of life. All life. Every single person in the world is a child who got bigger. Every single human being is someone's baby. Who then became three. And then four. And then grows... Into an adult and then older and finally, elderly. And fragile, like a small child.
Would you kneel on the neck of a three-year-old? What's the difference? Two hundred pounds, give or take. Would anyone defend this behavior? I repeat: Every human was once a child, and deserves the kindness shown to a child. Just because you are taller doesn't mean you lose your right to kindness. It's really very simple at its core. Treat all humans with the care and respect you would afford a small child; the heart of this is kindness to each other. Pure.
I am white. I have led a privileged life. Yet from childhood I have had a sense of guilt. This is not my country. It belongs to the native people who we Europeans have treated with atrocities. We brought Africans here to exploit by the tens of millions. I can't get on an elevator with a non-white person without wanting to say, "I'm sorry." That sounds absurd to write down on paper, but it's true. As a little kid, my grandmother in Virginia had a "yard boy," a black man in his seventies. My entire life I have seen that for its implicit disrespect. I can't blame my grandmother for her lack of vision. She was a product of a system of beliefs, another world view. But CIVILIZATION is overdue to evolve. NOW is the time to stare into the bias deep within and recognize we are either part of the solution or we are the cancer itself.
The simple crux move is kindness. NOW. Regard a person as a person, and as a child, and you will elevate them to their status as a precious member of our big family. We are different skin colors. We have different faiths, countries of origin, languages, preferences for partners... You will see these things, but you will first see a little human on a journey through life that we all make. The Dalai Lama says, "Be kind, whenever possible. It is always possible."
Will this solve today's crises? Will racism be eradicated so simply? No. It won't. For that we need strong, determined, brilliant people of every color and gender and background working together to reshape the collective mentality of all citizens of all countries. I can't do this. I'm just one small person and far from the smartest guy in the room. I am just one voice; this will take a choir and probably a drum section and lots of horns, some marching and conductors and very loud arrangements. However, I can stand for kindness. Moment to moment, remember, every person needs it, deserves it, and I will give it to the best of my ability. Please walk with me in this direction.
Thanks, my friends. Just a small step...
It's love put in action.
P.S. You are thinking, "huh, ok. Sounds good." But, get busy. NOW means NOW. Get political. Write to your law makers. Donate. March. Volunteer. Register new voters and, most importantly, vote for leaders who will make the changes we demand. Now is an excellent time to change the world. Inequality. Pandemic. Climate change. Ready GO.
May 21, 2020
Recently, in the middle of a conversation, a friend said to me, "Freckles don't mean anything about anything." O.K. Roger that. Move on from a completely inane observation about reality.
But, as with so many moments in life, that little statement resonated. Yep, sometimes it's the stupid things that are actually clever. Clever, stupid, it’s a fine line. Some of you will get the Spinal Tap reference right there...
"Sometimes you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right..." was scrawled on the back of a highway sign by an on-ramp heading east on I-70 back in 1979. I was hitchhiking from San Francisco to Memphis, and seeing a lyric from Scarlet Begonias in such a random spot made sense at the time. Still does...
Steph Curry once made 77 three pointers in a row in practice. Witnesses say he missed a couple but ended up sinking 94 out of a 100. Michael Jordan once scored 59 points shooting 21-27 from the field and dropping 17 out of 19 free throws. Grace and power. Transcending the game...
Snowboarding rapidly through trees is about my favorite thing in the world. NOTHING makes me more present than this dangerous velocity. My mind can't wander; I can't be thinking of anything else. In fact, I have come to realize that I can't be thinking of anything. The purity is the emptiness.
Making art is what I do. It is the thing in my life that pulls me forward, makes me want to practice, makes the exploration exciting, makes all the crazy stuff I see and do and hear and read smash into my head to lodge as raw material. For years I have spent countless hours scratching the surface of metal to make light dance. And when the process of doing this becomes automatic, it's perfect. When I'm lucky, I find a "flow state" that is nothing short of magical -- I'm no longer making the piece. It's making itself and I'm just in the room moving my hands around. Making patterns with loud tools and tight lines and matte and gleaming and mysterious stuff that sometimes later I wonder where it came from or how that stuff manages to look so... well, you know...
Sonny Rollins, one of the titans of saxophone recently wrote in the New York Times:
"The spirit of art shines through in a performance when I stop thinking — when I let the music play itself, not just the one song that I’ve memorized, but all of the songs and experiences I have in my mind. And as things come to me, unplanned, I surprise even myself."
When Pat Metheny or John Meyer is soloing, you can see the look of complete detachment on their faces. They are not thinking of notes -- the suspended 7th in the arpeggio... They are thinking music and sound comes out. The analytic brain is gone. They are dancing through trees, dropping through space in deep fluff, playing with gravity, surfing, glissando, sparkling, lost in the moment, in flow... This is where the art lives. This is knowing your instrument to the point that it disappears. Notes, tools are instinctually chosen. I don't know what this is going to be when it's done. Not even sure I'll know when it's done.
At the very end of the Pirate show that I was watching, Captain Jack Rackham says,
"It's the art that leaves the mark, But to leave it, it must transcend. It must speak for itself. It must be true."
Freckles are the remnants of experience. Sun, bright, doing damage, signs of time passing, leaving a little mark.Don't mean anything about anything. Unless they do.
P.S. Thanks for the brief stint of attention. Now buy art. It's more important than you know. It's the mark I leave in the universe. These are the freckles. Give them a good home.
May 13, 2020
I know all of you are pretty freaked out, to be blunt, about the invasion of our country, first documented in the Pacific Northwest. Sometimes fatal, but generally not, the neurotoxin from the 1/4"-long stinger of the Asian Giant Hornet feels like "a hot nail in the leg," to quote one experienced researcher. Murder Hornets?! Really? Now this?! With bodies that are nearly two inches long with a three-inch wingspan, stripey black and orange, like a miniature flying tiger with fangs and a spear, these nasty invaders can chop the heads off of honeybees at a rate of forty a minute. They have been found to cover sixty miles a day and can fly twenty-five miles an hour.
On July 5th in 2015, I took a photo of my brother Kevin taking a photo of a hornets' nest.
The back of his head looked just like the thing he was shooting -- grey and twirly. Just like mine, I would imagine. (Mine may be more twirly, at least on the inside. Or not, jury is still out). I have always been amazed that bugs can build things out of spit and leaves, big things that they live in, things bigger than my head. Or small grey hexagonal cell structures like the one between the skylight and the screen over my bed. (Actually, I got rid of that a couple weeks ago. Tired of finding wasps stumbling around the floor of the bedroom like they were hungover from the party after the stinging good times. Also, Monique won't let me smoosh them. Have to go open a window and throw them out).
These, as with EVERYTHING, always show up in my work.
In October of 2017, I walked out of the house to find a hornets' nest quite a bit larger than my head lying in the middle of the driveway. Likely a gust blew it there, a paper ellipsoid sculpture, magically gifted to me. You can see it in this piece just right of center that I sold in Chicago in November of that year with the title, "October, Crow and Hornet". The back of Kevin's noggin is depicted with a swarm of scary critters where his nape would be. There are crows, a murder of them, like the ones who hang in the woods outside the studio every October by the thousands. In the center of the panel is a mare's tail cloud from a hike up Camel's Hump with Miss M. and her sister that same month. I often am asked where my art comes from, how it gets out of the grey matter and onto the grey material...
Japanese honeybees have evolved a defense mechanism to deal with these viscous predators. When the bees detect the pheromones of a hornet, the workers gather just inside the open entryway to the hive. When the hornet enters, hundreds of bees engulf it in a dense ball and begin vibrating their flight muscles the way they do to warm the hive in winter. They literally cook the invader. Dead hornet scout. No more hornets follow. It's obviously a defense based on the collective might of the group; the individual doesn't stand a chance. Decapitation. As a collective, the bees are able to defend their homes, their queen, their thousands of brothers.
As usual, my friends, we are so much stronger together. Wasps scare the crap out of me. But I have brothers and friends and I have you. You are part of my clan, and I'm counting on the big family. We got this. By the way, buy art now. It's a good time for that. And tell stories. Always a good time for that.
love love and more all the time,
April 30, 2020
Greetings from the modern swamp,
Amedeo Modigliani once said, "It is your duty in life to save your dream."In northern Alabama, a young black woman worked a bunch of different jobs -- bagged groceries at the local Kroger, sold used cars, worked at Domino's, fried eggs at a diner, hauled trash and delivered mail. After work she would play guitar and sing and work on getting a band together. She had never been out of the South, seen the ocean or a mountain, but she was on a mission to make the world listen, whatever it took. "Yeah, you got to hold on!" she sang in the chorus of the song that won the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2012. At 23, Brittany Howard and her band, Alabama Shakes sold a million copies of their debut album. Stardom. World tour.
Johnny Allen Hendrix was born in 1942 in Seattle and started playing guitar when he was 15. He moved to Tennessee and played rhythm guitar in different bands on the Chitlin' Circuit, was "discovered," and moved to England and proceeded to burn down the notion of an electric guitar in a pop group and emerged as the greatest guitarist in history. Turned the planet on its ear at Woodstock, literally set the instrument on fire at Monterey Pop. Wore the clothes of a revolutionary and spoke the language of the astral traveller. Voted World Top Musician in 1969, Performer of the Year, Rock Guitarist of the Year... And dead at 27.
John Berryman, an American poet, said of a particular man, "For a while here we possessed/an unusual man," referring to a friend we all recognize by his language. That man went to Dartmouth for a few months. Dropped out. Later Harvard for three semesters. Quit. Farmed. Wrote. Tried to teach. Farmed again. In 1916, he described himself with his "most notable trait, patience in the pursuit of glory." and so far, "Don't seem to die." That was in 1916. In 1961 Robert Frost was an American institution; he recited a poem from memory at JFK's inauguration as the sun was too bright for him to read his notes. He died at 88.
In Japanese is a phrase, "mono no aware." It's the understanding of the transiency of the world and its beauty. The phrase is meant to convey a sense of beauty as ephemeral, that the passing of beauty is a sadness, but the experience of it is redemptive.
I was planning to write a completely different missive than what you are reading right now, but a couple conversations I had yesterday with two friends altered that scheme. In one, he had had a medical crisis at an age way too young and is now reformulated as a man on "borrowed" time. Every day is a chance to be not who he was, but who he wants to be. Smartest dude in the room, Hell Yeah, or... enlightened, with the emphasis on light, lightened, unburdened, source of light... The other, dealing with a crumbling business model, the kids home nonstop, is spending time in the woods. Skinned up to the top of Mt. Mansfield last Saturday, alone, and fell asleep in the sunshine glorious for an hour, realigning in real time the priorities of life and joy and being right here, right now.
My mother was in a theater production with dancers, a chorale, and an orchestra in a huge summer-stock pageant sort of thing in Virginia society in the 40s called "Common Glory". That pairing of words has stuck with me my whole life (so far). There is so much esoteric wordiness shouted in the service of political analysis, art criticism, journalistic hooha that this notion of the sublime in the simple is, well..., sublime. What may come? Who knows?! But, Frost said a poem is "a momentary stay against confusion." An excellent song is a place. You can go there anytime. It's a refuge from the noise. Real ART sings. Changes your posture. Will Brittany Howard go the way of Jimi or Robert? Who knows, but you should listen to her voice, and his flying, searing sound. You should look around carefully at time passing. It's full of passing beauty and dreams coming true.
That Modigliani guy is right.
Love love and more all the time.
P. S. So, here we are. And I haven't instructed you to buy something from me, so Sarah, my gallery director and right-hand-mastermind will yell at me, not too loudly though. Buy art y'all. Before you can't. Today is better than tomorrow, cuz tomorrow never comes...
P.P.S. Case in point: I was lamenting to myself (you guys do that too, right?) how long it's been since I've heard thunder. Minutes later my son sent me a text video of it hailing in Montana in his backyard. Thunder. From my cell phone. Can't make it up.
April 22, 2020
Last summer, I headed out for a SUP having checked the radar and knowing storm cells were coming out of the Adirondacks around 5:30. It was just after 3:00. Eighty degrees. Stiff south wind. I left my beach at the north end of Shelburne Bay working hard into the headwind with the idea of three miles into it and then a fast, fun surf back. Wind picked up. I paddled harder. Fought to the southern lee down where the rushes hide the heron by the fishing access, had a Gu and water and headed home. Wind fell out. Bay went flat. Low black clouds were building west. Lightning out on the broad lake. I started a hard race tempo and paddled over near the eastern shore of the bay just in case. About a half mile from home the cell jumped over Shelburne Point and blew due west at around 30-40 knots. No way I was going anywhere but downwind and into the shore. There's an abandoned estate right there and I just managed to get the board out of the water and up the bank fighting hard with the gusts. Tucked it behind a crumbling stone wall and crouched beside it as the rain cut loose. Curled into a fetal position while the rain pounded down and the temperature dropped into the sixties. Barefoot in board shorts, I pressed into the wall as the wind carried the rain over my head. Nothing but shivering and waiting. I felt alive and miserable and strong and alone. Waiting. Cold. If it's blowing this hard, it's got to go by soon. Waves of emotion. Lightning and thunder. Then, as quickly as it came, the wind died. Rain continued pelting but I grabbed the board and fought my way home on my knees. Stumbled up the lane with my board on my head. Just as I reached the yard, the rain stopped. Grabbed a towel and then a hot shower, still shaking slightly. Came back downstairs. The sun was peeking out.
"Lie low to the wall"
Affirmative. We got this. Time to feel alive every day.
Hug your people. love love B Mac
P.S. This happened last summer and I had stopped thinking about it until my good buddy Matt sent me a poem a few days ago, just some strong words to hang onto in this turmoil. This is the paragraph I wrote back to him. Thanks buddy. Got your back too. Look for the sun peeking.
P.P.S. Please share this missive with friends. The online gallery needs eyeballs more than ever! Now is a perfect time for new art in your home.
April 13, 2020
Bikers, Nano Birds and the Abyss
In sixth grade, my friend Marisa created a world called Chaos. She said I was in it and my name was Kaokee. I don't remember any of the plot, and I haven't spoken to her in over forty years, (or 280 if you like to think in dog years, seeing as how time is pretty much an arbitrary human construct to order the chaos of everything. Which, apparently, we really need). The fact that I had a name in grade school cosmology has stuck with me.
The word "chaos" comes from the Greek for emptiness, chasm, the abyss or void. A bunch of those old Greek smart guys wrote a lot about it. Heraclitus posited that it was the true foundation of reality. In the news today, chaos is a constant theme. It has morphed from "Chaos in the Middle East" into "Chaos in the __________ (fill in the blank). ER’s (which magically are now ED's, emergency departments, just ask any doctors). China, tornado wreckage, grocery stores, the Dow, cruise lines, Yemen, nursing homes, medical supply chains, the Amazon, Amazon, elections, payrolls, coral reefs, closures, poaching, oil storage, farm subsidies, school, etc. etc. etc...
Jens Voigt is a retired pro bike racer from Germany who was famous as one of the true "hard men" in cycling. He was a breakaway specialist who would take off from the pack, the peloton, and routinely hammer an attack alone. He once fractured his wrist in a nasty crash and rode the entire day before the doctors x-rayed it and ordered him out of the race. After a crash utterly destroyed his bike in the Tour de France, he borrowed a child's bike because the car with the team bikes had left him behind. He rode it nine miles before the team realized he was still in the race and left him a proper spare. He famously printed "Shut Up Legs" on his handlebars. He set the hour record by riding 31.76 miles in a velodrome after he "retired" from racing at 43 years old, generating an average of 412 watts, an incredible ouput. The peloton of a stage bike race is chaos --180 humans, with five-foot-four climbers weighing 125 pounds, big power-house sprinters with massive track-racing-built thighs, twenty different languages, food on the fly, sixty mile-an-hour descents, flat tires, screaming mobs lining the roadways, broken bikes, broken bones, 180 different brains riding elbow to elbow for three weeks. Jens said, "Having things organized is for small-minded people. Genius controls chaos."
Years ago, I was in my front yard drinking a coffee and a bumblebee buzzed just by my ear. I turned to discover, instead, a baby hummingbird, the tiniest bird I have ever seen, zipping off into the sunlight. So naturally, I made a piece of art to honor the little guy. Called it, "The Rookie." Art helps me order reality. Doing some homework, I discovered the smallest birds in the world live in Cuba. The Bee Hummingbird weighs two grams, the same as two dollar bills, or a couple of raisins, or a half a teaspoon of sugar. They eat half their body weight a day and make nests smaller than a golf ball out of spider webs, which they shingle with lichen to make waterproof. Their eggs are the size of a pea. Our hummingbirds in Vermont arrive later this month, something I really look forward to as a way to order the chaos of time. You know, seasons. In the Greek comedy, "Birds", Aristophanes explains that chaos transitioned into the creation of birds.
In my art, I have a whole genre I call "Chaos" pieces, which range from the inexplicable like "Lush" or "Ruckus," to randomness with elements of structure like "Imperium". I have done a series of pieces that slide from structure into total chaos -- "Crystalline" then "Warren" then "Haystack" -- from the ordered, angular grid of a meteorite's guts, to the organic randomness of a pile of cut hay, Mondrian to Monet, M. C. Escher to Pollack.
In Germanic tradition, the hero had to battle with chaos, generally depicted as a monster like a dragon, Beowulf versus Grendel. Chaos is the base nature of all reality and man must make it orderly to be comprehensible, if even just a bit. Slay it or just give a beat and a nice vocal, maybe a guitar break with some horns for punch. Jens, our hero, once said, "You have to make your own luck. If you try to win, you might lose, but if you don't try to win, you lose for sure." I am constantly in the studio wrestling with the chaos. The formlessness of an empty canvas is the void. There is nothing. Our nature is to make rhythm out of all that, to find patterns for comfort. My favorite artists are the ones who take the familiar and twist it into the unfamiliar or vice versa. Take the twirls and stripes and explosions of our daily realm and build a latticework to see it and understand it. Look to my Instagram #havocgallery for the bizarreness of our natural world, how the simplest moments can hold visual magic. My job is to transmute that into art you can hang in the dining room.
We are bombarded today, more than ever in my lifetime, with CHAOS. Shouldn't the mission be orderliness and consistency, applied science and medicine, structured policy, to save our citizens and our cultural fabric? This fabric is what we have evolved over millennia because it works to keep the chaos at bay, the monsters, the abyss. Keep your rituals as best you can my friends. They are the separation of us from the mess. Take it from Kaokee. I know what I'm talking about. (Fact checked it myself, yep, spiderwebs). Note the name of my gallery that I hung on the door ten years ago -- HAVOC. I am intimately familiar with this stuff. "Random Order" is a nice oxymoron and the title of a piece from 2009.
Finally, one last nugget from Jens: "At the Tour, you always have some fantastic days and some days where you hit the asphalt. Today was an asphalt day for me." This is our collective asphalt day. Get up. Get it moving. "On With It". The hummingbirds will come back soon.
Stay home. Buy art. Hug those you are living with.
Find order that comforts.
April 8, 2020
Yo fellow homebodies,
WE ARE ALL GONNA DIE.
Ok, got that out of the way. Yep, it's true. Every last one of us. Sooner or later. In the Tom Hank's movie "Bridge of Spies," Tom as a lawyer continues to ask Mark Rylance, the accused spy, "Aren't you worried?!" His answer: "Would it help?" That's where we are right now. This anxiety of "Do I have it?" "Did I have it already?!" "Does she have it?!" "What if the kids get it?!!!" can only be offset by the assiduous practice of what the medical professionals advise us to do. That is pretty much it. Be smart. Be careful. Be kind, as everyone you see in the grocery store is in the same swamp. AND, just to be clear, worrying definitely does not help. It creates its own cascade of symptoms from "I think my chest feels tight" to "Lying awake at night is it, right?" Worrying is using your life's energy to focus on the thing you don't want to happen. Want to chat about viruses? Nope. Naturally, distractions can be really helpful.
Like art, for instance. The title of this piece is "Night Light". As a kid, there was nothing more comforting than having a light in the darkness. Down the hall, in the bathroom, was a night light. Take away that pale yellow glow and the darkness was almost painful. Who knows what could be going on when you can't see ANYTHING? Sleeping at another house as a kid was always a challenge--Gramma's giant house full of really ancient weird things was challenging because of the utter darkness when we were put to bed. I guess old people didn't need night lights, but... fortunately, I usually had brothers around to talk through the possibilities of monsters or attic zombies or crazed drifters sneaking up from the cellar. Smart guys tell us 60% of the brain is visual-processing oriented. Well, for a kid with no night light, it's 100%. No doubt. Forget about sleeping, we just were trying not to die. Funny, we always slept. Never died.
As a grown-up (sort of), I have come to enjoy darkness. When I was on the staff at Camp, we took the kids on night walks--short hikes in the woods without flashlights. The whole exercise was to teach them a sense of security in nature AND to make them realize how well one can navigate in the woods with just the ambient light. Obviously, bright moon on a clear night... you can read a book. But, I remember a night with no moon and rainclouds overhead. Seeing your hands was a challenge, but off we went. The kids were typically skittery, but one seemed completely relaxed. I found out later that he was born blind and surgery gave him sight a few years prior to coming to Camp. The goal of my art is to teach unsuspecting adults (and savvy kiddos) how to see in the day. And at night. And when it feels like nighttime with no night light...
"Night Light" is part of a series I started as an attempt to capture the way light shimmers on water--the late afternoon sparkling on the bay of dancing sunshine, the wriggling white or pale yellow lines of the moon on the black surface. Years ago, from Eagle's Aerie, the highest lookout on the mountain, I stared through binoculars at the sun sparkles on Lake Dunmore, a couple thousand feet below. That little moment forty years ago I still consider. Capture that. LIfe's work maybe...
I'm hopeful this piece will find a home where one of you would enjoy the comfort of a "Night Light". Beauty is a comfort. Sunlight is a comfort. I have a good friend who has a "pondering room," where she can sit surrounded by a number of my pieces. Seems to work for her--she's a bright light herself. In a "normal" world, I have shows that put my work in front of a hundred thousand eyes. Here and now, I have these missives.
Stay safe friends,
Support the artists trapped in their studios. Better investments than the Dow, methinks.
Be strong. Notice the shimmering. Stay calm.
Hey distant but close friends,
The gravity of our days is fierce and has been somewhat paralyzing considering what may come, but I still would like to share, and have you share as well. Stories help.
Last summer was a challenging time for me, which in retrospect, falls into that perspective that is always impossible when one is standing knee deep in rising waters. My life was going either in one direction or another. That's it. Two roads diverged and both were fraught with unknowns that at the time were somewhat terrifying. Being as sensitive as I am... sleepless nights were common. As is often the case for me, all this manifests in my artwork. I made a panel called "The Brink." It's large, nearly four feet by eight feet and tremendously complex, as you can tell by the detail images that follow.
There stands, just right of center, a lookout tower under a shower of iridescent rain. It is anthropomorphized architecture--a person--with the windows for observation at the top, exactly the way our eyes are placed on our bodies. Left of center is the Orb, the ball of energy, with which, on so many days, we find ourselves having a mandatory staring match. Is it finances? Is it your relationship? An addiction, a worry over the kids, aging parents, the small but insistent fretting, house paint, car repair, knee pain, gaining weight, losing weight, tuition, is my job secure, should I finally call, am I the person I know that I can truly be before the lights go out... ??
There's a garden, full of spiked geometry and blossoms. There's a wandering cloud, an EKG, ripples on the water, a sunrise, the wind, rain, the moon, the house in the distance, a pyramid small - that upon inspection becomes enormous, encasing the three-dimensional schematic for the time machine that might be the best answer. There's the void. There's the far distant teeny, tiny tower reminding you that you are not alone in the staring match. Layers and layers... the void. Our planet from space... The horizontal broad beam of light holding up the tower...
Yep. That is all in there and a single paragraph doesn't begin to explain what is what, but...
My path emerged. I made some choices and life is better. No one bought "The Brink." Then came the political explosion of the impeachment inquiry. Is this the collapse of our democracy? A tyrant or just a careless man in power? Immigration. Election interference. Greed. Lies. The Brink! And the country survived. (For now).
And now. The Brink! The entire world upended and so many of our assumptions of normal destroyed. The abyss of tomorrow or next week or next month. The Orb of energy looks suspiciously like the sphere of a virus, dark and menacing. The energy ball of focus and its streaming wind of airborne broken glass cannot be willed away. It's huge. And close.
Is this art piece some talisman of prescience? Well, yes. It is. My unconscious made this metaphor last summer that on this very day rings bright and loud. It's a scary world we find ourselves facing but, and this is the moment of salvation, there is always the energy ball. That short list of worries above never goes away. It's an endless list and terrifying to stare at. Some of us will make it through this alive. For a while. With hope, a long while. Some won't. That's how this works. What seemed the brink before was and then wasn't. And then was again and then wasn't. And now...
On the panel protecting the tower/me/us is a force field. Almost nothing gets through and what little does, there is a wall of massive organic complexity perfectly engineered to handle it. The concept of a force field of protection will be the subject of my next missive. Please stay tuned. I have been fascinated since childhood by the notion of a field of visible or invisible power that protects us, can shield us from ray guns, catapults, destructor beams, meanies, orcs... Sometimes it's blue and sparkly, depending on which movie you are watching or the book in your hands. I am hard at work in the studio making force fields for all of you people. You can buy one to protect your family. But these are my metaphors. The real Force Field is us. Today I am surrounded by people, (ok, they are standing over there, close, but not too close) who are the reason we will get through all this. The strength of us all together is it. Yes, this is the BRINK. We will look different after and there will be another brink, but the force of us together is how we will prevail. My energy field is yours to use. We got this. There are too many brilliant, dedicated, caring-beyond-reason humans who truly are the Jedi among us. Nobility is in our DNA. Do your best. Stay safe. Send love every day. Support those who need it. We all need it...
And btw, somebody please buy "The Brink" as my two Spring shows in NYC didn't happen. Make me an offer with what might work for you and we'll see if it works for me. My summer show in Seattle probably won't fly either. Support the arts. Now. Making metaphors helps. Crazy huh? Who knew. Can't make this up...
More love every day,
P.S. My personal brink of last summer means I now have a partner in my life. She's awesome. I'm lucky.
Which Watch When
Let's start with a couple of basic questions regarding value. First, how many days is a million seconds? How about a billion seconds? Next, what does the Mona Lisa weigh? If you wanted a stainless wristwatch for scuba diving in 1974, what would you buy? How about a sports car in 1969 if you were looking to spend under $3,000?
I have a piece of art for sale that is 22 1/2 inches square in my gallery. It's $1,200. A moderately well-known artist named Jack sold a piece exactly these dimensions in 1950 for $306. In 2006, a piece of this artist's work around 4 feet by 8 feet traded hands for about $30,000 per square inch. I have a 4 foot by 8 foot piece for sale here in the gallery. It's not $140 million dollars. He sold canvasses splattered with paint. I scratch metal really carefully. He's a genius. I'm just me.
What is anything worth? Exactly what someone is willing to pay for it. Mr. Pollock's art is all one-of-a-kind, like mine, but Ferrari made three dozen 250 GTO's between 1962 and 1964. They cost around $18,000 when new, but one sold for $2,500 in 1969. You know, used car. One was donated to a high school in Texas and they auctioned it for $7,000. In 2018, one sold for $70 million to the guy who started a company making excellent floor mats for cars. I have them--heavy-duty plastic and perfectly fitted and reasonably priced. He makes millions of them and millions.
An artist named David Choe painted graffiti murals at the headquarters of a start-up tech company in California, and he took shares in the company in lieu of cash. When Facebook went public his shares were worth around $200 million. Good call there David.
People constantly ask me at shows, "How much does it weight?" and "How long did it take you to make?" I have a piece here in the studio right now called "Solid State" that weighs 18 pounds, just like the Mona Lisa. Mine's newer, less well-known. So what things are worth is a function of age, notoriety, weight, rarity... A diamond was found last year the size of a baseball that weighs about 3/4 of a pound. What's it worth? Whatever you can get. The luxury company Louis Vuitton owns 25% of it and plans to send it on a world promotional tour. Diamonds are roughly 1 to 3.5 billion years old. Check the box for age and the box for how long did it take to make and the box for scarcity. Add marketing. A backstory helps: Rockefeller bought the Pollock painting for 300 bucks; the GTOs won a ton of races. Throw in the factor of good condition--is something in great shape? The watch mentioned above was bought in 1974 for $345 and the owner thought it was too nice to wear, so he left it in a lock box. Turns out it's now worth around $700,000 since it is pristine. Backstory? Paul Newman wore that model Rolex in a movie. I have a piece I just finished. It's in flawless condition and so special only two people have seen it, so far... What's it worth? Make me an offer. It's called "Box Lightning". Someday it will hang in a museum. For now, your house will do. All collections start with one piece. Every one. Ask any collector.
So, wrapping up: Age, scarcity, hoopla, weight, provenance, size, obvious genius and dumb luck are all factors, in no particular order. Quite often we value what others value--sparkly rocks, machinery, colored goo on canvas...What is the value of anything? What is the value of waking up in the morning not in pain? How about the last White Rhino? Grandkids? Priceless. But as far as "things" go--invest in what makes you smile. Take chances. There are sneaker collections worth millions. Matchbox cars. Baseball cards, omg. Then, patience. Days and days and years of smiles.
Oh, a million seconds is 11 and a half days. A billion is 31 and a half years.
Find what makes you smile and head that direction...
And, of course, take care of each other. And, support the arts. Today.
Peace and love as always, Bruce
December 20, 2019
Dark then Light, Rhythm in Hues
What could be the furthest thing from your mind right now? Here's a guessing game:
What can regenerate a detached limb? What has three hearts? What grows from the size of a grain of rice to the weight of a man in three years? What can taste with its skin, has copper-based blue blood, and is happy at 47 degrees Fahrenheit? What has excellent vision, with horizontal, dumbbell-shaped pupils, and can also "see" with its skin? Some are bioluminescent. What first left the family tree of humans a half a billion years ago? One can walk carrying coconuts. Some, when pissed off, turn bright red and raise horns above their eyes. Got it yet? What has two-thirds of its neurons outside of its brain? What can change the texture and the color of its exterior at will to be indistinguishable from its surroundings, or mimic a mass of predators or a rock, or simply pulse rhythmic color?
21/Borisov is an interstellar visitor flying in a hyperbolic trajectory around our sun right now, only the second object from outside our solar system we have seen. It looks like a comet but it came from outside our small(ish) neighborhood. I imagine that at the controls of that spacecraft, it it were one, there might be something like the above being. You could hardly devise a stranger creature if you tried. No bones. Can fit a 100-pound body through a hole the size of an orange. All of them have a toxin that is delivered through saliva; one is poisonous enough to kill a person. They can bore a hole the size of a large needle through calcium carbonate with a tiny abrasive tongue and then inject this venom to kill its dinner. Most have a complete lifespan of six months but the largest live up to five years or so. Hawaiian folklore believes these to be the lone survivors of another age of the universe. They breathe water but can absorb up to 40% of their required oxygen through their skin. They don't have ears but they can hear. They make ink but don't have pens.
The solstice is in two days, making today's day here in Vermont only eight hours and fifty minutes. Eight. Like the arms on an octopus. Am I alone in making this connection? Yep. Pretty much. But it's ok; I'm used to having things connect in my tiny brain that no one else connects. In fact, it's part of my job. Do something no one has ever done before. My art is exactly this. Make people use their eyes like they never have before. Ask people to consider how truly bizarre our world can be. Is it coincidental that a Hawaiian observatory crew found the first interstellar object, dubbed Oumuamua, which I wrote about back in December 2017 (Current Thinking link) AND the octopus is revered in Hawaiian folklore as the symbol of Kanaloa, the spiritual leader of the underworld. Kanaloa is associated with intelligence, flexibility, and, he is the navigator. There it is. The aliens that live on earth left over from a previous universe are probably the navigators of these interstellar objects (spaceships). Makes total sense...
Or not. If you are still with me...
Happy solstice, dear friends. Happy holidays. Light the candles. Trim the tree. Hug your assembled family. Have a feast. Invite the neighbors. Dream your wildest dreams through the longest night this year. Call me and buy art heirlooms as gifts. (My gallery director requires that sentence). Mostly, greet each day as the miracle that we get once again. They are numbered. All are precious. And share your blessings just a little bit extra around this pivot toward brighter days. Two arms we have to hug everyone we love. Giant Pacific octopuses have suckers that can lift 30 pounds and they have 1,600 of them on their eight arms. Don't hug them.
Peace and good will. Repeat...
but mostly love and more love...
October 28, 2019
H E X
A hex is a spell usually meant to curse someone or something. This piece, "Hex", is based on the panels placed on barns, starting in the early 19th Century in the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside, to ward off evil and invite prosperity on the farm. The word itself is from German referring to casting a spell, but I like the notion of both meanings. A word that means both itself and the opposite of itself has been a fascination of mine for years. "Sanction" means to say it's ok to do something. AND it means that nobody can do the thing. "Dust" means to remove dust or it means to cover something, like "dusting" the cookies with sugar. "Cleave" means to cut AND it means to hold fast to something. Divide and not divide. "Overlook" means to have missed something AND it means to look over something to be sure nothing is missed. Language is so slippery. Makes me crazy. "Hex" is both the spell and the thing to ward off evil in your space. (The patterns on the metal are based on the precise mapping with 3D laser scanning technology of the energy fields surrounding pyramids recently discovered buried in South American jungles. Pretty sure. Maybe...). Around 2005, I did a piece called "Angor Wat" that referenced this same energy mapping of the massive temple in Cambodia. For millennia, this religious monument, the largest on earth, was the spiritual center for countless believers. Seemed to me that a satellite view would be helpful as none of those people ever saw it from above. Uluru, the sacred sandstone mountain of the Pitjantjatjara aboriginals in Australia, was just closed this last week to tourists wanting to trek to its summit. I made an art piece in 2003 named "Uluru" to celebrate its stark magnificence and spiritual potency. The strand between these art pieces is the energy within objects. Painted, constructed, or naturally occurring, we humans endow things with power. Or maybe they have power that we perceive. Either way, "Hex" is part of this continuum--the overview of the invisible energy. And, by the way, "strand" is one of those contronyms, as a verb and then a noun.
P.S. Send me your favorite contronyms if you have any. If not, let's all agree that language is whack. AND, look around for objects with energy... those are my specialty.
I Like it Here
OK, wade right in. 29% of the birds in North America have disappeared in my lifetime. That's around 3 billion birds. July 2019 was the hottest month in human history. New estimates show that at current levels of production, by 2050 there will be more plastics in the ocean, by mass, than fish. People in positions of power and wealth to effect the necessary revolution don't seem to care. Hell, I have heard, is really hot too. It's over for our children. We are doomed. Let's race cars and buy crap.
Wait a minute. I'm sorry. Here's what we know:
The diameter of the Earth is 7,917.5 miles. Yaks and their shepherds live at around 16,000 feet. The Small Himalayan Jumping Spider, who makes his little snug hut/web at 22,000 feet, is the highest living critter we know about. (This fact bugs me a bit since spiders are all carnivores, so what are they eating up there?!) The Bar-headed Goose migrates over the Himalayan Plateau and has been confirmed flying over Mount Makalu at 27,825 feet. Upper atmospheric sampling has found bacteria living from 5-10 miles above sea level. Speaking of seas, the Mariana Snailfish was found living at just over 5 miles down. I don't really want to know what they eat. Ice cold debris descending from the pitch blackness?!
A quick bit of math shows us that life as we know it lives in a layer that is 10 miles thick, maybe 15 if we add those upper atmosphere molds and bacteria. This is a very, very, very thin film. Relative to the Earth, all life lives on only about .189% of the planet and that's a figure based on distance as opposed to mass.
Right now, utilizing the Hubble Space telescope, the farthest we can see visible light is from a galaxy we named GN-z11 that is 32-billion light years from Earth. Hubble has also established the observable universe, using all frequencies of radiation, to be about 46.5-billion light years in all directions, or roughly a sphere with us in the middle that has a diameter of about 93-billion light years. That is what we know. That is as far as humans can SEE and that is how our giant brains do the math and physics and determine the size to the very edge of everything. And as awesome as this vision is, as sophisticated as our sensors and computational analytical skills get, we have not found ANY evidence of other life ANYWHERE.
Ok. All life that exists is the thinnest film of green scum right here. All life. Every last bit. Just the merest wall of a bubble, a layer of almost nothingness, relative to the planet AND the great beyond. This little film is all the life in the universe that we know about for real. As the atmosphere around us, and the oceans and weather and land changes, life will adapt, or die. Extinction events have happened repeatedly, just none involving us.
But, I believe in our humanity and the power in these massive brains. If we can detect a bee on the moon by its heat signature, we can do this. If we can bring back the bald eagle, we can do this. If we can build a Hubble and tune it repeatedly, we can do this. I recently read a sign held aloft by a school kid saying, "It's too bad we don't have an unlimited source of energy floating across the sky everyday." We can fix this plastic tsunami. We can make food for everyone. Tasty food. In my next blog thingy, I will explain how. Maybe. Probably... In the meantime, I would like a little help from you guys to spread the word.
Save the Thin Film and Maybe our Kids' Kids.
Thursday and the Tsunami
Howdy good friends,
The license plate on my car says "QUASAR". When asked, I always explain: "It's a mysterious, deep space object emitting massive amounts of energy." They are, in fact, super luminous galaxy cores whose light typically started traveling billions of years ago. Their emissions are across the entire spectrum of radiation. The crush of annihilation into a black hole spins out particles--death of matter, creation of energy. How super luminous? These are tsunamis of cosmic energy--charged particles moving in waves 99.9999999999999999999999 % the speed of light, just a smidgeon below warp speed. Without our cozy blanket of of magnetism and atmosphere we would all be cooked.
But, it's Thursday. I'm willing to bet you didn't wake up this morning thinking about galactic cores. Or that today--Thor's Day--is named after the Norse god of thunder, at least in English. In the Romance languages, today is named for Jupiter, the god of the sky and thunder. In Latin, today is Jovis Dies, Jupiter's Day. Spanish say "Jueves." French, "Juedi." Strangely, or not, depending on how you think the mind of man is collectively wired, Danish, Dutch, Slavic, the languages of India, Nepali, Thai, even some Meso-American languages have the god of the sky and thunder as this day of the week. Tezcatlipoca is the god who is best understood, according to the smart humans focusing on this heritage, as the embodiment of change through conflict. Thunder is most certainly conflict. The god with the giant hammer is certainly trying to change something. Every week.
This morning I was running and saw two birds harassing each other next to the trail. After I got home and did the homework, I identified them as Black-billed Magpies. Big, sporting a striking black and white outfit with a slight iridescence, these guys were really having a problem together. What could be the issue? Apparently these are among the smartest birds on the planet. I'm a bit of a bird freak. They are the only living descendants of dinosaurs. Couple that with the notion they can fly and we have surrounding us ancient animals with super powers. Why were these two having a battle on such a lovely morning?
From some reading recently are a couple stories that stitch this together. First, a monk asked his class, "What is the pitcher on the table?" One student began to speak about the pottery and its function. He was waved off. Another came to the front of the class and knocked the pitcher to the floor, shattering it completely. A smile. Class over. In another class, the teacher began to speak about the nature of all things and a bird began singing by the window. The monk went silent, waited till the bird finished his song and flew off. The monk smiled. Class over.
Conflict and change are the natural order of all things. From the searing radiation bathing the universe to the birds on the morning run on a Thursday, the nature of all things is temporal, temporary, push and pull. Life is defined by our response to this reality, and, if I can express this with even more focus--there is a duality to beauty. A thing--the sunset, a painting on the wall, a favorite song is a beautiful thing that comes and goes. A feeling--the sight of your child, a kiss, the endorphin rush of a hard run, is a thing of beauty that is profound and fleeting. But this duality is an illusion. Both of these, the outside experience and the inner emotion are within your head. Shakespeare said, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Change, the destruction of things, the sun sinking away, the passing bird song... is the nature of every day. Our defining of this day is how we roll with these infinite inputs. Loss. Yep. Conflict. Always. Music, as much as possible. Every Thor's Day, I consider the smiting hammer. My license plate is the cosmic surf reminder. Between the swells, I try to make beautiful things that will outlast me and share them as much as possible. "Keep on Growing," sang Trey Anastasio and The Tedeschi Trucks Band this past Saturday night at the Lockn' Music Festival. Go look that up if you are a Clapton or Duane Allman fan. Most importantly, see the broken pitcher as the nature of all things. But, listen to the singing bird.
Hugs help too, don't forget. Hugs are both inner and outer beauty.
And Be yond
"If your paddle isn't in the water, you're slowing down."
I have been told this from numerous sources--friends, my brother, a coach, and plenty of articles that encourage stand up paddle boarding as a sport and not simply a nice little bit of fresh air out on the lake. The point is that the board really has no inertia to keep going on its own. If you don't have pressure with your paddle on the water, you are losing speed. So, cadence is the key. Quick. Chop chop chop...
As usual with this sort of observation, I tend to expand it into the greater realm of our time on the planet. Stop efforting for even half a second and you are slowing down. Chop chop chop... or start falling behind. I have done a share of paddle races and this is the truth. The athletes who paddle snick snick snick are the ones out in front.
Competition speed climbing is coming to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The goal is to scale a 5 degree overhanging wall, 15 meters tall with standardized holds and smack a mechanical switch at the top to beat your opponent, who is climbing the exact same route at the exact same time just 12 feet to one side. The men's speed record is held by Reza Alipour Shenazandifar from Iran in 5.63 seconds. That's the equivalent of scaling a nearly 5 story building in less than 6 seconds. You are either going up very, very quickly continuously or gravity is trying to pull you to the center of the earth. We all climbed trees. 50 feet up a tree in 5 seconds?!? I'm not sure I could fall out of a tree that fast...
Wallace's Giant Bees (megachile pluto) are the largest bees in the world. They were thought to be extinct after their initial discovery in 1858 until specimens were observed in 1981. 37 years of searching and, until earlier this year, no video footage existed of the 1 ½-inch long insects. They are resin bees, black with a white band around their middle and have a wingspan up to 2 ½ inches. These monsters are on the "25 Most Wanted" list from the Global Wildlife Conservation "Search for Lost Species" initiative.
The common thread here is the "paddle in the water." Don't. Slow. Down. Don't wait. Scaling a 50- foot wall? Practice and focus and a young athlete is doing something unthinkable. Don't even mention the Alex Honnold miracle documented in "Free Solo." Want to find a lost species? Spend 37 years in Indonesian lowland forests to find a giant bee living in termite mounds.
But, and there is always a but. Socrates said, "Beware the barrenness of a busy life." When I walk in the woods, I take it slow. I’m shooting pictures. Listening for a spider walking. Paddling? Some are sweat fests. Some are more about the liquid violet and gold light on the moving mirror or the way rays project out of your head's shadow on the water’s surface when the sun is high. 45 years of throwing a frisbee around with my brothers and sons isn't accomplishing anything. But, I'll do it every chance I get. Feel like throwing a little 'bee? Always...
Get busy, my friends. And then don't. Making art is this tightrope everyday: Get it done. Now what is it for? Intense effort followed by relaxed analysis. Paddle hard and then stroll... Be fast. Bee patient. 'bee always.
Vertical flow. Horizontal flow. Same same.
Mostly, be passionate. And, YO Summer!!
Forty Times a Second is Just Right
It was Pi Day, March 14th, Einstein's birthday, and I was reading about how a new computer program had figured out Pi to five trillion digits and I was thinking, "So what... Why do humans need to know this stuff? Can't we just accept that it doesn't repeat or end? It's just a ratio." A few days later, I was tv shopping and ran smack into the new 4K resolution benchmark for the "best" new tvs. You mean my "old" tv with the 1080p hi-def screen is now four times not as good as the new ones? Feels suddenly ancient, doesn't have enough dots. Pixels. Little colored bits... Guess I need more tiny flashing blips of color... Maybe 8 million will be enough...
In Warrnambool, Australia, some researchers have just discovered "middens,” which are charred remains of possible human settlements that date from 120,000 years ago, effectively doubling the age that has been the accepted figure for humans being on that continent. North of there, in the Pilbara region, are rock paintings that are conclusively dated to 40,000 years ago, making them the oldest art pieces on the planet. To this day, Aboriginal artists make imagery of the creation of the cosmos, art rooted in dreamings, the "Dreamtime," when the spirit/hero/wanderers traveled across the formlessness. The tradition of these paintings and carvings manifests the energy of "dreaming," the energy of an individual that existed before birth and continues after death. We are all of our ancestors as we are of ourselves, moment to moment, inseparable from our place and our time, yet bound to the continuum. The art from this tradition spans at least forty millennia and is overwhelmingly characterized by dot patterns. Thought, spirit, the cosmos is organized, rhythmic, small blips of color. (I highly recommend a book called, "Dreamings, the Art of Aboriginal Australia," published in 1988).
In 2015, Dr Li-Huei Tsai at MIT made the first mouse disco. The mice invited to the strobe-lit box for an hour every day were genetically engineered to have Alzheimer's disease. After a few (sq)weeks of getting down with their bad selves on the maze floor, the dissected mice showed significantly lower levels of two different brain proteins that form the plaque characterizing the disease. Cells called "microglia," debris clearing and cleaning cells, were stimulated by the light pulses, which seemed to be most effective strobing at a frequency of 40 times a second (40 hertz). This is the first proven cellular response to manipulated brain waves. Further, when sound at this same frequency was added to the treatment, it significantly improved function in other parts of the brain--the hippocampus, which is used for memory formation, storage and retrieval, and the pre-frontal cortex, which is the seat of judgement, attention, and higher-order reasoning. (I need this for sure).
Researchers have discovered the firings of neurons in the brain work rhythmically. Gamma waves sweep through the brain at 25 to 140 hertz during peak concentration. (That's networks of neurons firing 140 times a second, just to be clear). Deep delta wave sleep is .5 to 4 hertz. Meditative adults have theta waves around 4 to 8 hertz. Dr. Tsai has formed a company, Cognito Therapeutics, using gamma wave entrainment to potentially alter the course of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other neurological disabilities faced by an aging global population. Therapy without drugs is a paradigm shift of massive scale.
The didgeridoo originated in northern Australia and is believed to be the oldest surviving instrument. Cave paintings show it being played 3,000-4,000 years ago and anthropologists suggest it may be as old as the 40,000-year culture to which it is attached. The strongest frequencies played are in the 40 to 200 hertz range, although many have infra-sonic waves below the 20 hertz threshold of common human hearing. Anyone who has listened to a group of didgeridoo players can attest to the sound as being frequencies you feel and hear, as well as being sound from a different time. Primitive music, absolutely. Gamma wave entrainment? Maybe.
Did the Aboriginals figure out how to have healthy brains? Maybe. Will I buy the 8 million pixels so my mythological beings in the movies are really contrasty? Maybe. Should teenagers be allowed to pump 40 hertz into their ear canals? Maybe. Maybe I need more music and sparkly lights for my brain fitness. Maybe all these light manipulations I play with every day will let me live as long as my kids. Add music and that sounds like a grand plan.
Rock steady, and I mean steady, my friends. Apparently, it's really, really important.
And buy art. That way, in 40,000 years, people will recognize my initials and know you had great taste.
And, as always, before time and after, while the petroglyphs fade and before this walkabout we call life ceases, love love, everyday....
We don't repeat and we don't end either. Like Pi. Yep.
Synchronicity and the Glint of Two Lights
Here's a quote some of you of a certain age or bent mind should recognize:
"A lot of people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch of unconnected incidents and things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice of coincidence that lays on top of everything. Give you an example, show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate of shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, "plate," or "shrimp," or "plate of shrimp" out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
Over the holidays I was in a bookstore doing last minute Christmas shopping and an Edward Hopper book caught my eye. I pulled it down and flipped it open to this page:
Bingo. Two Lights! I had to snap a pic with my phone because of the randomness of the moment. I have a client in Maine whose house has a view of the Two Lights lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth; we have been discussing, for some time, an art piece to speak to the place and the light and the history. He once was walking years ago and met a very old neighbor who actually remembers Hopper sitting and painting Two Lights right there next to his property.
Back to the holidays: less than 24 hours later, I went to see the movie "Aquaman" with my son. It's a DC comic come to life in epic scale and BOOM! there is Two Lights. It's the house where Aquaman grows up. His dad is the lighthouse keeper. Same same from the Hopper painting, complete with the golden light. Bizarre. I thought, "I need to mention this to Tom in Maine."
The next evening I was watching another superhero movie on the tube with my boys. "Ant Man and the Wasp" is a Marvel comics epic special-effects mashup involving interdimensional travel using a massive machine with steam punk details and space ship vibes. Right there in the middle of the movie is the machinery for shrinking and transporting, and the primary element of the machine looks exactly like the Two Lights lens-- a complex, highly engineered, cylindrical construction of glass and brass that weighs nearly a ton. The actual lens was commissioned in 1874 and shone for 120 years before being upgraded to a modern beacon. Then Antman's girlfriend's genius scientist dad bought it?!
Plate of shrimp effect EXACTLY. What is the universe doing to smash a lighthouse into my reality with such emphasis? Three times in two days? True, "Light House" is kind of where I live metaphorically but... Come on...
I'm sitting here writing this in the studio, music playing, and in the background are the lyrics:
"Everything that falls your way, I say
There is a deeper world than this that you don't understand
There is a deeper world than this tugging at your hand
Every ripple on the ocean
Every leaf on every tree
Every sand dune in the desert
Every power we never see
There is a deeper wave than this, swelling in the world...”
Can't make this stuff up. Sting is singing. I am scribbling. I was planning to write about quantum entanglement to sew this together, but it's stitched. Tight.
That quote that starts us off is from the 1984 movie "Repo Man."
Be sure to listen to "The Seventh Wave."
And stay tuned for how this all shows up in my art. It always does. Love love. After all, it's the seventh wave.
"At the still point of destruction
At the centre of the fury
All the angels, all the devils
All around us, can't you see?
There is a deeper wave than this rising in the land
There is a deeper wave than this nothing will withstand."
Love is the seventh wave, but it's up to us to see it, make it real. All together now,
Bruce R. MacDonald
P.S. Coincidence--(n.) a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. "Life"— See above--"lattice of... "
The Force and Cookies
"In the old time” is how the story starts. The indigenous people of North America of the Algonquin tribe have a tale of three brothers who went hunting in early winter. They set out, found the trail of a bear and made chase. When you look to the north, there are circumpolar constellations visible at all times of the year. The simplest and most familiar to most of us is the Big Dipper. The three stars of the handle are the brother hunters, and the polygon of the dipper is the bear. The constant in the night sky since childhood for so many of us is this grouping of tiny lights, always there, every night. The two stars on the right side of the bear point to the North Star, Polaris. This star never moves. To quote Bill Shakespeare’s sonnet #116, "It is an ever fixed mark.” All things revolve around this one thing. By the way, the sonnet is about love, love as a constant.
Speaking of constants, what is the strongest thing in the universe? Electromagnetism? Stellar winds? Gravity? Nope. It’s a force known to physicists as the Strong Force. (Got to love the poetry in science---it’s strong and it’s a force. Boom.) It’s what binds two quarks together. (Quark is a word stolen from James Joyce’s novel Finnegan’s Wake, in case you were wondering.) The Strong Force is a fundamental law of nature that binds subatomic particles together to make things like protons and neutrons, which combine to make atoms and, therefore, EVERTHING. This force can inextricably bind together a whole family of disparate particles such as gluons, mesons, baryons, hadrons, uncles and cousins. If these particles are pulled apart, and the "distance” (about 10 to the negative 15 meters, which is a fentometer or about the width of a proton) increases, the force also increases, like a tiny but all-powerful rubber band. The Strong Force is 137 times stronger than magnetism and 10 with 38 zeros after it stronger than gravity. In fact, the Strong Force between two quarks is so powerful that they cannot exist alone; if two are forced apart, the massive energy required to separate them spontaneously creates new particles, new quarks, which are bound together. No "free” quarks exist, nor ever can. Law of the universe.
Here in Vermont in early winter, people want to be home together. "Home is where the heart is” is a proverb so old and ubiquitous that no one seems to agree where it came from. Home is a sort of geography, but it is really where your people are: your partner, your kids, your true friends, your clan, your family. You can’t see The Strong Force, but you can see that smile from those who love you, your mom’s embrace, your sister’s knowing looks, your son’s strong arms. And you can’t beat the expression of bliss that your dog brings when you arrive home. The internet is jammed with the gyrations of a dog overjoyed to be with its humans, the dances, the zoomies, the happy cries of love made visible without the inhibitions of our complicated brains. Home is where that dance happens. Where cookies are baked. Where fires warm and lights are lit. Hugs nonstop, yes please.
With the holidays here and our hearts turning toward home, I think the science guys are only partly right. The true Strong Force is the magic string that binds us over time and distance to our families, to the ones we love. As the fundamental law states, distance can make it pull stronger. Love is the force. It is a constant of the universe. Take your time, my friends, to pull the strings snug.
If you look in the sky tonight and find the three brothers, look to the middle star, the middle one of the handle three. Look very closely and you will see two there. The larger we call Mizar; the smaller is Alcor. In the native story the little one is the dog along on the hunt, and his name is Hold Tight.
Warmth and peace to all my friends and all of yours, and may they overlap more as the days go by.
Big hugs through the solstice.
Fast, Slow, How Do You Know?
What does fast mean? Or slow? Seems like a terribly relative distinction. There is a freak of a star discovered in 1961 by Antoni Pryzbylski (say je-bel-skee, one of the all-time great names) with a still inexplicable elemental nuclear recipe that is "rapidly" rotating. Scientists this spring determined the speed to be one rotation every 188 years. (?!) As always, I’m trying to make sense of this in human terms; for instance, a major league fast ball is 100 mph, so a batter has about 400 milliseconds to decide what to do. Blinking takes between 300 and 400 milliseconds. Super fast. Almost two centuries to pirouette? Slacker star. Who calls that fast?
On Memorial Day this year, I was standing on the roof of Fenway Park with my buddy Wily who flies F-16s for the Vermont Air National Guard. We were up there because he was directing the flyover of planes at the end of the national anthem. As precisely as possible, the words "And the home of the brrraaavve…” conclude with the roaring of four Viper turbofan engines plowing through space. Since the jets are going five miles a minute, it’s a tricky dance, with Wily coordinating the song duration from rehearsal with the tower at Logan International Airport with the lead pilot Dan "Gump” Finnegan, who is doing "an east west bowtie hold" north of Hanscom Air Base.
So it’s a rhythm thing too. We average 60 to 100 heartbeats a minute. The national anthem from the last eight Super Bowls has averaged a minute and 56 seconds, which is about the time frame Wily was working with. If you are doing CPR, don’t sing "The Star Spangled Banner.” Sing "Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees. It’s the correct 103 beats per minute. "Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen is the same tempo. Just saying. Human hearts are fairly slow, but they do have a steady rhythm.
In October 1944, a professor set up an experiment in a lab in Dublin to demonstrate fluid dynamics using a funnel filled with asphalt that looks solid but is actually a very viscous fluid. It has dripped once is 69 years. The goop is two million times more viscous than honey. But hey, rhythm. Seriously boring rhythm. In human terms, no rhythm at all.
What holds all this together? "Man is the measure of all things,” according to the smart guy Protagoras from 2,400 years ago. Stars spin. Bees making that honey have wings beating 230 times a second. Wily and his pals stroll through the atmosphere at speeds over Mach 2 when they are off leash. That's humans doing 1500 mph. I hit 57 once on my bike and it felt like Mach 2. My fast is his pokey. Those fastballs are unhittable unless you are Mookie Betts. Phish sang the national anthem once a cappella in a minute and 37 seconds. Radical relativism is the catch phrase, so let’s just agree: it’s not the tempo but the funky rhythm. It’s not the speed; it’s the heartbeat. Timing is everything. Make your entrance at the proper moment, especially if your ride is a jet. Turn before the tree. Don’t miss that wave. Keep breathing.
Who's Got the Blues?
Speaking of light, and wings, when I was a kid around five, my grandmother had a plate on the wall of the room where my brothers and I slept made of butterfly wings under glass. Aside from the terrifying clown portrait, it was the most amazing thing in her entire house. It was electric blue, almost radiant, lighted magically from within. As an adult, I learned the color of the Blue Morpheus wings was a result of lightwave interference as opposed to an actual pigment in the bug. Check out this link for a bowl I made of anodized titanium around 20 years ago that was exhibited in the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College.
The anodizing process creates a layer of clear oxide on the metal surface that is only millionths of an inch thick. Light bounces off the surface of the metal AND the surface of the oxide to cause wavelength interference, cancelling other colors and letting the blue shine. When one views from the side, the oxide layer is just infinitesimally thicker and hence, purple. The latest science news is about "Quantum Blue," but that is all nano-particles and complicated, and we can deal with it when it makes it into a crayon.
Why does anyone sing the blues, if it's all about misery? How could this art form exist? Books have been written to explain this, but I'm going to use Wile E. Coyote instead. Life, like the Road Runner, is fast, relentless and it never stops. You cannot win the race that makes us worm food.Wile E. Coyote is our existential hero. He never wins. He never, ever, catches that bird. But, regardless, he tries every freaking episode. No matter how bad the blues can be, there is the voice and the guitar, Wile E. with his rockets and springs and anvil, Stevie Ray and Derek Trucks playing their hearts out. Texas Flood, Blak and Blu. Statesboro Blues. The blues is the sound of spirit over odds, defiance over the inevitable. Life is full of tragedy. Even kings die. B. B. King is gone. Floods come. Fires too. Partners leave. The tests are bad.
But midnight blue and the robin's egg blue of morning are not so far apart. Dusk. Deep blues. Dawn. Acoustic blues are good early in the day--Michael Hedges, Tommy Emanuel's version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." "Blues Power," by Eric Clapton told me forty years ago that "I got the boogie woogies in my very soul..." And I have come to believe him. B. B. King is gone, but have a serious listen to a twenty-two year-old Marcus King. He is the real deal. As a singer, as a song writer, he can explain Wile E. Coyote in the context of love and life and a flamethrower guitar solo.The notion that these two blues legends each have the last name King should tell us something. Royal Blues...
John Mayer sings,
"Joni wrote Blue in her house by the sea,
I gotta believe there's another color waiting on me...
To set me free."
"There's no way to delay that trouble coming every day..." sang Baltimore's brilliant son. Sorrow and pain are part of destiny, but we have Miles' "Kind of Blue," and "All Blues." We have "Stella Blue." "Drifting Blues."We have "Blue Sky," which will ALWAYS lift. We have bluebirds. We have blueberries. Yves Klein. Blue eyes, which, by the way, have no actual blue in them. It's all light scattering, like my job. Deep blue sea and the dusty powder blues of the distant Adirondacks at sunset. James Turrell. The sparkle song of a hermit thrush soloing in the woods.And, naturally, light with a dominant wavelength between 450 and 495 nanometers...
That should cheer up anybody.
Peace out all you humans,
Don't be blue, unless you want to. Then be ultramarine...
P.S. Dear friends, and by this I mean those who take the time to read these musings about life and stars and dogs and weeds... I'm not trying to win the day or convert your religion. We are all off the cliff, airborne, waiting to hit the bottom of the canyon with a boulder or anvil following us down. This is precisely why we need love, levity, tricky art and fine music. Without these it's a simple math formula of time, velocity and gravity. "Gravity is working against me, and gravity wants to bring me down..." That's either Sisyphus, Wile E. or John Mayer and the last one has the best voice, I'm sure.
Greeting astute humans,
Three weeks ago I was in the studio late and came outside to a moonless, dark night. Stars were bright. I drove a couple blocks to the lakeshore and a spot I know with no street lamps next to the Burlington Surf Club, one of our magical paradoxes in Vermont--a surf club... I laid back on a huge towel in the grass (sans ticks, i hope) to watch the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. August 11th. Acclimate the eyes. Relax. As always, it's a bit anticlimactic for those of us who love movies with the God of Thunder holding fast in the searing torrent of a dying star's energy blast...
Zip. A momentary streak of white light. A minute later--zip--white line in the blackness over the lake. Silent. Ephemeral.
In 1968, the Grateful Dead released a two-and-a-half minute song as a single that sold around 500 copies. In concert, this song, named "Dark Star," became the de facto anthem of the band's psychedelic journey. Many concert versions of the song lasted up to a half hour; they played it in Rotterdam for over 48 minutes. Then the band stopped playing it for four years. It appeared on New Year's Eve in 1978 and then disappeared. In the following eight years, they played it once. Ultimately, it returned as a staple, and myriad live recordings preserve the special auditory dance that defines the "Dark Star."
After a few streaking meteors, I thought about the difference in the light I was witnessing. Old light, the specks of twinkling white I perceived, were photons generated millions - tens of millions - of years ago. Hundreds of millions of years... The dying dust incandescence of a meteor was new light. Fresh. Instantaneous. Just created. Old, constant. New, a flash... Poetic. For me, a juxtaposition sublime.
Then, I rolled up the towel. Hopped in my car. Flipped on the headlights. New light!! HA! What a crock. I'm making new light all the time. Snap.
Right there, I was hit with the the definition of poetry. We make the distinctions. Our sensitivity and our spin are what frames all of this reality into moments of beauty. That is us. It's what we do. Dark night, white light. Frame it. Delight.
The Dead sing,
"Dark star flashes, pouring its light into ashes...
...Shall we go, you and I while we can,
through the transitive nightfall
Yes we can. It's all we get. Good thing it's made of diamonds...
Peace and love ya'll.
Light Wobbles and Evil Weeds
EXPRESSO is an instrument designed in 2013 and first tested in 2016. As the most sensitive spectrograph ever built, it is engineered to study the tiny wobble in starlight, the minute changes in color caused by gravity, which are created by the orbit of a rocky exo-planet. We are looking for other Earths billions of miles away. It's funded in part by Netflix in the hopes of finding the successor to "Friends" and "Game of Thrones." Nope, sorry, made that last part up.
Light. Tricky stuff. Along the roadsides in Vermont right now is an invasive weed related to the infamous Giant Hogweed, called Wild Parsnip, which can cause phytophotodermatitis. Its sap, the oils on the plant, can get on your skin and when exposed to UV or sunlight will cause second-degree burns. The scars can last for years... Who designed that plant? In 2017, the EU created the Giant Alien Fund to combat the spread of this wicked weed, whose evil had been forewarned by the British band Genesis in 1971 with their song "Return of the Giant Hogweed." Nobody ever listens to prog rockers...
As you know, the sky is blue because that end of the visible spectrum has a shorter wavelength than the red end so blue is scattered more by the molecules that make up air, primarily oxygen and nitrogen. Longer wavelengths pass through, which explains why the sun and the moon near the horizon appear more red. The direct light of the sun has to pass through much more of the atmosphere at the low angle of day's end, and hence, more blue scattering. Also, the dust and water vapor and pollen and smoke allow the longer wavelength red light to pass more easily. We all know this, but the magic of spectral analysis is studying the specific frequencies or lines that are being absorbed. With this analysis we can determine what is in the atmosphere of an exo-planet-- exactly what elements are present and in what ratios and concentrations. We do these because we are fundamentally curious animals. Oh, and by the way, we can determine if it might be habitable for us humans, once we are through destroying our current planet. Or not. It's up to us. Current studies show plants and animals moving away from the equator fifteen feet per day...
This summer in Vermont has been the most superlative I can remember for sunset watching. Nothing like a daily binge on a non-TV channel with no content--no characters, no plots, no ads.... Just light, water vapor, billowy white up high, then mauve, purples, gold... Watching over a plane of shimmering H2O helps quite a bit.
While the smart humans and their instruments are analyzing the spectrum of planet HD2O945AB, an exo-planet kind of like Jupiter, billions of miles away, I'll be here with all you guys taking notes on these summer evenings of waves and wavelengths, gleams and sparkles.
Has to be art in there somewhere... Better get back to polishing...
Avoid the flowering roadside monsters. Pay attention in the twilight.
Pink and Green, Same Same
Recently, I was down at the Battery in NYC and looking across the water at the Statue of Liberty. Back in the '80s, during the restoration work for the centennial celebration of the Statue, I read all about the crazy engineering of this massive sculpture. It's 305' 6" from the base to the tip of the flame. 100 tons of copper panels held with 300,000 rivets are attached to a wrought iron frame with no contact between these dissimilar metals. Copper touching iron in salt air would disintegrate the iron rapidly through the ion flow from galvanic reactivity. A giant self-destructing battery was not the idea. The restoration engineers marveled at the builders’ architectural stratagems, but wondered why such primitive iron - chock full of impurities with a strangely high carbon content - was used, only to realize eventually that the impurities prevented cracks from propagating. Blazing sun, expansion, snow, wind, ice, lightning, salt, fog... Yep, ready for all that. Gustave Eiffel helped design her before he became famous.
Looking at "Lady Liberty Enlightening the World" - the actual name of the artwork - sent me back to my little infinite library to look up "Hyperion". Not the god, not the moon of Saturn. At 380 feet tall and 600 to 800-years-old, Hyperion is the tallest living thing on earth. Lady Liberty is huge out there in the harbor, but there is a coastal redwood "hidden" on a steep hillside in northern California. The size of a thirty-story building, its actual location is kept secret for its own safety, but, in truth (excepting Man and his tools, of course), these life forms are nearly invulnerable: foot-thick bark; pink heartwood impervious to insect predation; and, even when all the limbs are consumed by fire, the tree will sprout new growth. Hyperion is young and still growing. The normal lifespan of these monsters is up to 2,200 years. Sheer size is helpful too--up to 30% of its moisture needs comes from fog, harvested by the leaves and limbs of these living, literal skyscrapers.
In 2017, someone paid 71.2 million dollars for a rock that weighs about four-tenths of an ounce. It was dug out of the ground in 1999 in Africa and, after two years of study, was cut from 132.5 raw carats into The Pink Star. It's now a 59.5 carat oval and is technically a "mixed cut Fancy Vivid Pink Internally Flawless Diamond".
So, what’s the thread? Giant art. Monster living organism. Tiny sparkly rock. Green. Green (and brown). Pink. Big. Bigger. Pipsqueak. Well, it's #6 on the Chart. Carbon. The high carbon content in the big lady’s iron was intentional and primitive and brilliant. Most of the armatures lasted 100 years, only to be replaced with 316L stainless steel, the exact material I use to push light around. The "L" stands for low carbon. The ancient redwood forest stores more carbon dioxide per acre than any other forest on the planet, including the tropical rainforest, with 1,000 metric tons per acre, double the rate of most forestlands. And, of course, the most concentrated form of pure carbon is a diamond. Impurities like boron make a diamond blue, nitrogen makes a diamond yellow, but pink is thought to be not from impurities, but a specific crystalline lattice structure that simply absorbs green light, therefore reflecting a pink hue. Pure. Purist. So, carbon impurities, good. Carbon capture, really good. Pure carbon, lovely.
Where do WE come into the discussion? Take away the water in my body and I am more carbon than the next element by a factor of ten. I am way, way mostly carbon. The point here is diversity--a single element is all of the above goodness, and in the manifestation of 160-pound me, self aware, creative, arguably the most complex carbon assemblage we will ever know. (Personally, I am not that complicated. But, you know, US, together, all together). One atomic bit can take all these forms. Me and the tree, Lady Liberty and the Pink Star. I like this club. A lot. Art. Plant. Rock. Animal. Diversity is pretty magical when you peer into it--one thing, many forms.
Thanks for following along my friends. Summer is here and time for big Art visits and trees and as much sparkle as possible.
Moving Air, Moving Art
Often it is easy to overlook the thing that is glaring and large, the obvious can get overshadowed by the details...
In the news this week was the UK running entirely on wind energy for five and a half hours. Denmark has operated for days on wind power alone, as has Portugal. In California, scientists have modeled a solar and wind grid for our country. Their calculations consider that wind is intermittent and solar is well, naturally, doing nothing at night. If we had twelve hours of energy storage capacity, we could be 80% sufficient, and with three weeks of battery storage we could be 100% renewably powered. Buy stock in battery makers...
But this is not the point of my missive. The point is that sometimes we need to state the obvious to truly comprehend the whole picture. When comparing wind power to coal or natural gas generating plants, it is easy to overlook the obvious. Build a fossil fuel facility or a wind turbine? Well, with one of these you never need to buy fuel. Let that sink in.
So, what does this have to do with art? On the right hand, nothing. It's just my way of saving the planet via enlightenment. On the left brain, stating the obvious about art is that it IS and stays being Art. The obvious is that art stays. Bach, Shakespeare, Cézanne... Always right THERE, dancing its little dance, humming its little hum... Actually, Bach in a cathedral with a pipe organ...
But you get the drift. Our lives are awash in flitting images and sounds -- flashing screens, endless words assimilated and replaced moment to moment. Art endures. Great art has tenacity and endurance, permanent awe attached. I am stating the obvious. Yep. But then again, it doesn't need any fuel either.
Pointy Wings and Flying Economy
A frigate is a fast warship. It's also the name of a bird that I have noticed in Florida flying extremely high and never seeming to flap its wings. I stared at one for a while and concluded that it must be some kid's kite just sitting there all geometric angles and solid black. After a little homework, I identified that living kite as a Magnificent Frigate Bird, separate from its other pals, the Great, the Christmas, the Ascension and the Lesser Frigate Birds. Fabulous naming work. Ornithology crosses into poetry at some point. It's also called a Pirate Bird for reasons I will get to.
This is one of nature's architectural masterpieces. It's a sublime point of evolution, a simple silhouette of precision aerodynamics. Although its body is over four feet long and has a seven and a half foot wingspan(!), its bones weigh only four ounces and are hollow. They are half the weight of its feathers. One-fifth of its body is devoted to a complex respiratory system that flows through its bones for cooling. This creates the largest wing area to body weight ratio ever recorded. Satellite tracking followed one bird aloft over the Indian Ocean for two months straight! They have been documented at two and a half miles up, and one was recorded gliding forty miles without flapping its wings.
Magically above, hollow, effortlessly soaring, it lacks the correct anatomy to waterproof its wings so it cannot land on water. Huge sodden wings could drown it. It loves flying fish, thermals, and billowing cumulous clouds. A gliding marauder, it practices kleptoparasitism by harassing smaller flying birds until they disgorge their last meal, which the Frigate Bird snatches from the air. It's the Pirate Bird for this reason. It doesn't swim. It can hardly walk. Its bill is hooked. Its tail is forked for maneuverability, although from the ground that is not apparent. All black with a metallic green or purple gloss, the male has a bright red throat sac only visible during mating season. It is global, soaring the trade winds.
Locally, wouldn't it be nice to flap just once every six minutes to stay on course? But, we don't. We run around like our hair is on fire. Our hearts beat around 115,000 times a day. Those little Chickadees that just showed up in the yard and are making a total racket have heart rates around 2,000 beats a minute or 2,880,000 beats a day. My bones weigh around twenty four pounds. The Chickadee's little spherical body weighs a total of about four-tenths of an ounce and they never fly far. So, what is the point?
Art. As usual, is the point. We hairless apes balance between the languorous and the speedy, the wanderers and the homebodies. We can't soar, but we can make symphonies. We know too much about too much, but have the capacity for delight. Our super power is creation. All things reproduce, but we alone see, feel, and interpret.
On that note, spring is here my friends. Time to open some windows and let the fresh air in. As always, there is art apparent--thoughts and hands and tools and insights push light around for specific effects. That's the best. That's what makes us special creatures - it's our invisible wings.
Love love my friends,
Please share these thoughts wide and far,
Bruce R. MacDonald
P.S. Last week I drove through West Yellowstone and saw a bald eagle standing on a rock in the middle of a nearly frozen stream. It was fishing patiently. Just standing there waiting for the right moment, the right fish...
* Here is the Extra Pointy 2.0
You know, I won't ask you to reread this all over again. But just substitute the initials FB for the Frigate Bird. Reading along, la la la. Facebook practices kleptoparasitism.... On high, hollow. Opaque. Lovely. Futuristic. Hooked Bill. Invisible forked Tail.
Maybe I/we need to stop reading about that stuff on the news feed and pay more attention to the backyard and actual open windows. Birdsongs from the woods rather than the Merlin app. Staring into the depth of the sky instead of the lovely new OLED screen...
We balance when we are balancing in the balance. Originally from Latin, "balance" literally is the use of scales, keeping both sides even. For every virtual an actual. My artwork hovers in this interstitial--you can see the computer image but the thing itself is irreproducible. My art exists, in its essence, only in real life. You cannot experience it without wandering about in front of it. No video can do what your two eyes can do. The wiring from eyes to brain is miraculously precise in orienting space and light, reflection and depth, refraction and motion. To truly "see" my art requires your presence. It's a curse that I accept. It's like making a CD with only half the notes available every time I post an image.
So, come to a show. Stop by my gallery. Take a walk. Ski really fast. Balance.
Houston, we have a pair of slippers...
There's a crack in my windshield right now that is in the worst possible place--in the middle, crawling up from the lower left to be directly in my line of sight. Really?! Right there? Anywhere else and I could probably get through snow plow and sanding season. Nope, right smack in my line of sight... Cracked vision.
In 1900, L. Frank Baum was writing a book about a magical land of bizarre creatures, talking animals, monkeys with wings, witches, a man made of metal. On his filing cabinet was a label: "O-Z". Thanks to the movie made in 1939, we all know how that adventure turned out. A hundred and forty years prior, Voltaire wrote an insane bit of literature that was banned soon after publication, yet became a best seller. Translated into thirteen languages, the tale mocked government, religion, wealth, medicine, academics, travel, sexual mores, and fundamentally, the spirit of optimism. Our hero's mentor repeatedly stated, "It's the best of all possible worlds." In junior high, I discussed this book with my father, who explained to me the double-edged sword of this statement. "...best of all possible" sounded at once wonderful and depressing. This IS what we get. Yep, it's the best, couldn't be any better. Sounds like the heart of the blues to me... without the guitar solo.
Turritopsis Dohrnii is a jellyfish from the Mediterranean and the Sea of Japan that has the capability to undergo cellular transdifferentiation. This means its cells can change from one to another--a nerve cell can become a skin cell--in a process considered the holy grail of medicine. Human stem cells have this potential as well. Scientists discovered that they can take a mature Turritopsis and stress it--poke it with needles, make it really cold--and it will revert back to a polyp, a baby, and then grow back into an adult. As far as we know, it is unique in the animal kingdom in its capacity to reverse its biotic cycle. Life, stress, revert to a previous form, regrow to maturity. Repeat endlessly. No other critters can do this. (Then again we humans have the power of writing things down). One of my brothers has told me over and over that stress is the point of growth. Ask anyone training for the Olympics...
Whack. Stress to fracture. Crack my field of vision. Shatter the worldview. And now, regrow. Colonists left the oppression to start the New World. The status quo is shattering behind the force of #MeToo. Solar and wind are destroying the global system of energy production; ask anyone in Colorado or Australia or Sweden. The cyclone comes to carry away Dorothy, Puerto Rico, Houston... Voltaire's hero, Candide, a bastard born to wealth, suffers and falls, loses his family, loses his true love, finds treasure, loses it, loses his mentor, his country. The story ends with a reunification and his family "tending their garden," -- the highest moral good in Voltaire's lacerating parable of redemption. (Come to think of it, there were monkeys in that story too; and a storm and a tsunami and an earthquake and a wildfire and a shipwreck). The Immortal Jellyfish is real. The ruby slippers work. Sometimes the windshield has to be replaced immediately.
And finally, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be." That's Yogi Berra--catcher, coach, philosopher, five foot seven inch giant of a man, lifetime batting average of only .285 but he holds more World Series rings than anyone else.
The word for this week is "apricity." It means the warmth of the sun in winter. We all need some of that.
May the apricity find your face. Keep the jets clean and the fires stoked. There is Beauty looking for you.
Let's start with Peace. And Love. And warmth on the longest night of the year. That is tonight.
But let's not talk about the darkness, because tomorrow is the beginning of the light getting longer and brighter.
Something happened in October that has never happened before. Ever. We saw something in the sky that is not about us in any way. It was as foreign as a thing could ever be. Astronomers in Hawaii saw in the sky a reddish, pinkish object screaming along at 37 miles a second. It was a quarter mile long and about eighty yards in diameter, shaped like a hoagie, or a submarine. It brightened and dimmed, so it must be tumbling slowly. Its trajectory was such that it sailed inside the orbit of Mercury, around the sun, and is now slingshot up to 55 miles per second and is headed back into deep space, leaving our elliptic out past Jupiter. Whatever. Comets do that all the time...
But, this is no comet. Comets are dirty snowballs spewing debris and gases and ice as they cruise their long parabola around the sun and away. And then back again later. Often much much much later. That is what they do. This, however, is doing a profoundly different dance. This thing is not bound by our sun. Its trajectory is hyperbolic, meaning it came from outside our sun's pull and accelerated off in a direction different from the one it came from. We will never see this again.
The Hawaiian scientists named this object "Oumuamua" (Oh-moo-a-moo-a). (Say that four times and you realize that it's the start of a song, pretty sure.) What makes it so special is that it is the first "interstellar" object ever witnessed. Every "thing" we have ever seen is part of our solar system--it belongs to our sun. It is one of our dance partners that twirls around in our magical gravitational neighborhood waltz. Oumuamua is from another star, hurtling along independent of us. It's here. Aloha. (I love that this word means hello and goodbye).
So what does this "mean"? Nothing but what we impart. Space dust doesn't "mean" anything. But, what could it mean? The name, Oumuamua, means "scout" or "messenger." What might be the message? Why now?
Well, in my tiny and infinite universe, it is the metaphor for different. This red rock pickle from deep space is here to remind us that change happens. Anything is possible. The message is "paradigm shift". Wake up and recognize the temporality of everything. Hello people of Earth. Bet you didn't expect this. Surprise! And now everything is different. Time to think differently. Maybe someday one of these will have beings on board and will we be proud of our planet, our home, our neighbors, our warmth, our humanity? Oumuamua is the shot across the bow of our cruise ship.
So my friends, happy dark-change-to-light, happy solstice. Merry Merry. Now is a good time to love each other with all our hearts. Now is a good time to make change our path. Oumuamua is the signal, methinks. Why shouldn't it be? Peace on earth sounds good right about now.
Aloha and massive hugs,
May 2018 truly be a new year...
Bruce R. MacDonald
Hot Soup, Gold and the Kiss of Creation
Let's start with Einstein, smartest guy I never met. In 1916, he surmised that since space time was bendy, ("relative" is the term he liked) then there could be waves, like surf. Ripples in space time. Exactly 100 years later, in February of 2016, the LIGO, Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, detected a ripple caused by the merger of two black holes. The LIGO has two "light storage" arms set at right angles that are each 2.5 miles long. These are not like my "light storage"--a kitchen drawer with flashlights, bulbs and batteries. These are beams of a laser in a vacuum tube that through mirror trickery increase the effective length of the light beams to 696 miles. In essence, these brilliant scientists have a rod that long and they are looking for it to stretch the distance of 10 to the negative 18 meters, or roughly the size of one thousandth of the diameter of a proton. (Pretty weensy change, methinks. There is some serious math at work there). If they see that, and they did, this proves that Einstein was again correct and there is such a thing as a gravitational wave. Space time is indeed flexible. Things can go boom with enough force that a billion miles away space time ripples get to Earth. Imagine what is happening in that neighborhood! To imagine we need a DRFPMI. (Look it up). (Or not, if you are not into Noisebudget, Squeezed Film Dampening, Substrate Brownian, Parametric Instabilities or FINESSE. These are the poetics of quantum physics AND excellent band names....)
Last week scientists had a bonanza. LIGO and a sister instrument detected a ripple and told all the astronomers where to look. A gamma ray detector in orbit pinged confirmation two seconds later and all the major telescopes, around 70, on earth pointed at the same tiny spot of the cosmos. Even Hubble dialed in.
When black holes merge there is nothing to see--all radiation, gamma rays, X-rays, all light frequencies are eaten up by the all powerful gravity. KA BOOM with no evidence excepting the teeniest stretch of the LIGO beam.
Neutron stars are old suns that run out of fuel and collapse into the densest stuff we can still see--a teaspoon full has the mass of Mt Everest. Our sun would turn into a ball of magnetic flux 12 miles in diameter. (You guys all know it is around 864,300 miles in diameter. Right. Check.) Only 130 million light years away from us, (also check, a light year is 5.88 trillion miles) two neutron stars that were locked into a gravitational twirl finally got close enough for their first and last cataclysmic kiss. The resulting "kilonova," (new word y'all, spread that around), mashed protons and neutrons in a furious bath of radiation creating ALL the primordial elements heavier than iron. The debris field from these two 12 mile balls colliding is the size of our solar system. 40 to 100 times the mass of the earth of gold was created instantly. 10 to 30 times the earth's mass of platinum and uranium just appeared out of the atomic stew to be strewn across millions of miles of space.
I highly recommend checking out the animated renderings of all this that you can find on the interwebs. Cataclysmic events are best when you have a cartoon to go by. Once again the tiniest and the most massively unfathomable things are linked, and human beings with insanely sophisticated quantitative tools are marveling at our natural surroundings. There is poetry in the science, and metaphor too. What are children but the golden offspring of two super dense objects getting too close? If we are anything, we are precious and know it. If we are anything, it is a pair of eyes looking for nuance. Tiny ripples that prove we are here and watching. Tiny wavelets across the emptiness... light wiggling, sparks...
Surf the waves everyday, my friends. As my buddy Larry says, "Everyday is a gift. That is why we call it the present."
Come visit the latest playing with light and shapes at SO FA Chicago 2017 this weekend, November 2-5, at Navy Pier.
We are stretching and bending and refracting and reflecting and hanging about looking for the next kaboom...
Venus, Vesuvius and James T. Kirk
"Fortune favors the bold." Apply this quote from Pliny the Elder to Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, or Barack Obama. Go do what no one has done before! Ferdinand Magellan left Seville, Spain in 1519 with five ships and 270 men to circumnavigate the globe. He sailed through the Straits of Magellan (crazy coincidence there), named the Pacific Ocean because it was so calm, and died two years later halfway through the voyage in the Philippines, named for King Phillip the Second of Spain. Mutiny, cannibalism, ship immolation...the usual.
In 1989, NASA sent a spaceship named "Magellan" to radar map the surface of Venus. The craft weighed just over a ton, had the same wattage as a hair dryer and was mostly spare parts from other missions. Its data storage was two tape recorders with the storage capacity of my iPhone. In two years, it mapped 98% of the surface of Venus and showed us clearly that Venus is all about volcanoes and lava flows. Nothing like Earth. Nothing like Mars, or Saturn or Jupiter (all names of important guys). It was the first, and still the best, imagery, or atlas, (another important guy) of our brightest planetary neighbor. Its mission complete, Magellan disintegrated in the atmosphere, but some smart guys with degrees believe there is a bit of wreckage left on the surface. Space trash, possibly with a "Made in the USA" somewhere....
The explorer, the human one, chronicled two small smudges of light in the dark, ocean nights of the Southern Hemisphere. These were dubbed the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. We now know these to be two relatively close dwarf galaxies. Back then there were no telescopes to discern their stellar componentry, so they were thought to be clouds--space clouds.
"To boldly go where no man has gone before" is the tag line of a TV show from 1966 that "failed" after only three seasons. Pliny the Elder, an early bold human took a ship over the horizon to find out what a strange cloud was all about. He died from asphyxiation in the toxic fumes from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which was busy burying Pompeii in hot gravel and ash--airborne lava.
So what of the "boldly going" idea? Will it lead to certain death? Everything leads to certain death. But the bold get things named for them: The Bering Sea, Washington, America, Buddhism... The bold make history. History is the stuff in legends and books that explains who we are and how we got here and where we should boldly go tomorrow. Einstein, Rosa Parks, Jackson Pollock, Leonardo Da Vinci, Madame Curie. They all headed into uncharted waters and shaped humanity. Volcanoes were named for Vulcan, the god of fire and forging, the god of making things, and Spock's home planet was Vulcan, so we come full circle once again. By the way, there is a beer named Pliny the Elder. Live long and prosper. And look out for weird clouds. Especially twirly ones.
And, of the 270 sailors, 18 made it home four years later.
P.S. And typical of the strange loops in life, I paused on a bike ride yesterday afternoon with my bro to get water and looked up to see a sign that read, "Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve." Yep. Vulcan.
Boo and the Bang and the Meaning of What
In 2013 a rock the size of a house wandering through space at a random but not atypical velocity of 40,000 mph entered Earth's atmosphere over Chelyabinsk, Russia. It exploded, colliding with the air around 18 miles up, releasing the equivalent of 30 times the energy of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.
When I was four my mom brought home two kittens and let me name them. Logically, I named them Boo and Whack and gave Whack to my brother. How do I know this? I remember it. Based on the number of neurons in the brain, around 100 billion, times the number of possible connections made by each neuron to its neighbors, we have a number estimated to be 10 to the one millionth power. Just to put this in some realm of a context--the total of all the atoms in the universe is about 10 to the eightieth power. Can anybody out there explain to me how those cats still exist amidst the near infinity of possibilities in my little head?
So, the universe has total randomness--dust, supernovae, black holes colliding in galactic centers... Our brain, all three pounds of it, makes sense of that stuff, and pets, with an absurd precision in a near infinite matrix of order and bio-processing. We exist with pure randomness everyday, rocks wandering through the cosmos or a chipmunk running in front of your bicycle; AND we have clear memories and exacting calculations of mass and velocity and Whack all going on at the same time. The fleeting nature of thoughts, of life itself, is a reason I make art. I want there to be a standing wave of a beautiful object. I want to have tangible things a part of your lives that are strange but familiar, magical but parts of home. Time flies. Art endures. Metaphorical bunnies run in front of us constantly...
Wallace Stevens once wrote, "Death is the mother of beauty." I would like to think the heart of his thought is our ability to see and feel and remember and then divide by our finite hours to find the answer of what truly matters. We are living in true randomness. Finding meaning is our duty and our privilege.
The Last Snowflake
In 2012, I made a four foot by eight foot snowflake named "Bentley," for Snowflake Bentley, the Vermont gentleman who, beginning in 1885, made over 5,000 precise photographs of the tiny, crystalline wonders we call snow. Recent research estimates (roughly) that the number of snowflakes that have fallen on earth to be sort of around the number 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 give or take. Approximately.
In the last five years I have made and sold fifteen snowflakes, all different, naturally, and now we come to the last one. Sixteen seems like a nice round number, (although my father used to say that about seven, but that's another story). Bugatti made seven Royales, only six survive. Brancusi made sixteen "Bird in Space." Bach wrote six Brandenburg Concerti. Number sixteen is the end of this series. The notion that they are all different by definition is appealing; I could go on with these the rest of my life. But I think it best to pick a point and call it the ultimate. Cal Ripken, Jr played baseball for the Baltimore Orioles for 21 years, along the way breaking the record held by Lou Gehrig, "The Iron Man," of 2,130 consecutive games played, a record that stood for 56 years that most writers considered unbreakable. When Ripken got to 2,632, he just stopped. That's it. Moving on...
Conceptually, the notion of "The Last Snowflake" speaks to our times. Could be the end of an era. The last Samurai. The last Tasmanian Tiger. Climate change. The last polar bear? The end of snowing... Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?
I have been calling this final one, "#16," the notion being that in the practically infinite number of them, one would have to be #16. This one is it! But, since all the previous have names, I have decided to call this one, "Scheherazade." She is the legendary story teller, the woman who prolonged her life by reciting great adventures, legends and myths. Every night was a new delight and always an open-ended tale that needed another night to complete... And thus she was spared beheading for 1,001 nights until the king fell in love with her and made her his queen. Seems like a fitting name for the final Snowflake. Scheherazade will not melt. She will not fade. The final snowflake stays frozen forever. The sparkling will outlast us all. And, it is a great word to say over and over...
Here is another one to add to your collection or to start your light sculpture addiction. "Warren" is $4,400 in the gallery, but for the tribe, it is $3,200 until 5/23/17.
The word "warren" comes from a Germanic word for "protection." Most people tend to think of a warren as a place where rabbits abound, not the old meaning-- a place for safety, where your group survives the vicissitudes of life.
Who wants to live a long time? Human lifespan has increased thirty years in the last century. Jeanne Calment (root word in French--"calme"), lived to be 122 1/2. She rode a bike until she was 100 and reportedly ate a kilogram of chocolate a week, which works out to over five ounces a day! On the other hand, the Greenland shark has a lifespan up to 500 years but is mostly a scavenger--rotting meat is a fav, particularly fish of course. None own bicycles, and they swim very, very slowly, less than a mile an hour. Calm fish. The oldest animals seem to be clams (just a two letter shuffle from "calm"), and they have never seen chocolate or bikes (no eyes) and really just spend their lives buried in sand. Super calm clams. No swimming. No riding. Just hiding out. Like rabbits in their warrens.
So, protective behaviors? Neil Young (see how the name works here?) said, "It's better to burn out than to fade away," but he is still making killer music with young dudes. I bet he has a warren.
All best, my friends,
Awake Spring Peepers,
"Time Turbine" is $4,400 in the gallery, but for you people who know me and read these notes, it is $3,200 until 5/16/17.
We know that time is relative. Albert says so and he knows way more than we do. That's why your map's blinking blue dot on your phone is corrected for the bending of space time by the mass of the earth AND the fact that the satellites figuring GPS are closer to light speed than you are. (Regardless of how fast you drove to work this morning). Without this math correction, that blue spot would be 10 kilometers off and 10 more tomorrow and 10 more...
But, we all know that. What you don't know is that there is a "spot" in space a billion light years in diameter called the Eridanus Supervoid. Nothing is going on there. Nothing. Cold. Vacuum. No explanation for that. Likely the aliens' DMV...
Less than half a mile from my house I have seen a pair of peregrine falcons sorting out a nesting spot on a cliff that drops into the water. We all know these are the fastest animals (180 mph), but they are relatively small birds and though handsome with the black and white chest striping, they are kind of unassuming. Loud when I paddled by but, otherwise, much more discrete than the ravens and turkey vultures in the neighborhood.
Listen to Miles Davis, "Freddy the Freeloader." In the first two notes, you know the song that is coming. Simple and relaxed. It is totally singular. Doesn't need to smack you. Brilliance often doesn't. But it's there and it's waiting for you, every time. Right there.
So, there is the mind-bending conceptual mathematics we know and accept, but can't do. There is the unfathomable stuff we are told. Massive and utterly invisible. Fun to think about. There is the stuff in the yard that is superlative and RIGHT HERE. A falcon and the blues, quiet, unassuming, but the best there is, and, completely accessible.
That is what I do, my friends. The paragraph above sums up "Time Turbine." No one does what I do. Nobody. It's massive and intimate. It's the universe, the ineffable. and it hangs in your dining room. It's always fresh, and a constant. It presents a bit of the light dance all around us, but with style, with intention. Complications like a time piece...
Everything is Visible, Last Dibs!
It's The End. Or, at least, the Last Ones. Well, for now, and possibly for a long time. Hell, scientists may never again manage to bash atoms together and and have them stick to make a new Element. If you read science fiction or watch the movies I love, there will be magical new substances that change the nature of our lives. Travel across space, maybe time travel, maybe... Instant miniature batteries. Nano robots that pick the lint from your shoulder, or pancreas. Pills instead of ninth grade... But these things may very well all be built from the basic blocks that we have today. Besides, finding one more Element will make a periodic chart with a dangly-down, embarrassing thingy. Today's symmetry is kind of sublime.
So, here we are. This is the end of the Visible Indivisibles project. I have completed 118 squares of metal to represent every Element. They are all alloy 316L stainless steel panels excepting three--Copper and Titanium, which are their respective Elements. Gold is 24K gold plate over brass, an alloy of Zinc and Copper. Only two were made by deforming the surface mechanically--Titanium and Gallium, and they weirdly were bought by the same guy on different occasions. One other panel is slightly deformed, and the buyer doesn't even know or know why, but that's the sort of stuff you will need to read in the book. There are lots of intriguing nuggets hidden in the process--one gentleman owns the two radioactive ones below Lead. There is a panel with a frog and one with a light bulb, life and death, and perseverance and inspiration, respectively. There is the dead mouse next to the open can, next to the active poison in Loco Weed, next to the poison that likely killed Mozart... Don't get me started.
And mashed into this entire program is all the art history you can stand. The Visible Indivisibles project is a compendium of Cubism, Minimalism, Futurism, cave paintings, black boards, graffiti, Sol LeWitt, Lichtenstein, Miro, Twombly, ukiyo-e, Hubble photographs, Deco, Op, Pop, comics, X-ray imagery, origami, medieval heraldry, O'Keeffe, Ruscha, Pollock, Hirst, Warhol, Magritte, James Turrell, David Smith, Agnes Martin, Banksy, Rothko, Basquiat... The intention from the outset was to build a body of work approachable from the perspective of a layman, science weenie, or art weenie... Mash it all in there--Przybelski's star and floating, shimmery bits, half lives and a skull and a really big hammer, quantum mechanics and Mondrian, stellar nucleosynthesis and a big round circle on a square. You get a feel for what the book will be about...
Intentionally, I wandered around the chart, doing obscure Elements following superstar A-list Elements: Ununseptium followed by Iron, Roentgenium and then Platinum. Randomly, the last one I just completed a week ago, is Iridium, Ir, #77. And in the homework I read that Iridium is a marker in the Earth's geologic stratum of an extinction event, the end of the Cretaceous Era, the end of the dinosaurs and 75% of all species on earth. Turns out a meteor, rich in Iridium, reshaped the Yucatan and the rest of the planet in one swell foop. The vaporized Iridium settled evenly around the globe forming a thin layer, subsequently buried in the next 66 million years of time and dirt to get to today. Consequently, Iridium as a panel is the night sky with a tiny Earth shatterer streaking along, heading this way. It is after dusk and the stars are out. Nightfall. Day is done. The work is completed. The volcano along the bottom is there for a reason too. Have to read the book...
Fittingly, the end of the era is now (probably just as significant historically as the Mesozoic. I'm sure.). The panels shown below are for sale, the very last ones. This has been tremendous fun, as will be the book. But this is it for the artwork. There is no "later." Step right up folks. Don't hesitate. I expect these to be gone in a day or two...
And, thanks to you dear friends, this has been a blast. So much study exists in the metal, so many stories, so much texture, so much vision wrapped up in a light dance...
Go Aero, Eyes Up
One afternoon last summer I was out on my bike doing my hometown loop. It is a steady state experience for me--few variables excepting wind and rain. I know the course and every roller uphill, every long sweeper. I know where to hammer and where to look out for gravel before the downhill intersection. It is a constant. Hometown. I love it. It belongs to me.
So, there I was about to crest a ridge line heading south. There's a short uphill run to a blind right hand and then a solid mile downhill with a nice cambered S swerve before a covered bridge. I always stand and hammer up to the top and over the crest carrying all the speed I can into that downhill mile. Over the top, full speed and then into the drops. Go aero and pedal hard. As per usual... But just as I started down full rip, something BIG bounded across the road in front of me about thirty yards. Without thinking I braked hard, just short of locking up. The thing paused in the gully on the right and turned and looked right at me, huge eyes locked on mine. I stopped and put a foot down, and it turned and disappeared into the trees up a near vertical embankment. My heart rate was somewhat high to start with and now I was simply gasping. What the hell?! I wasn't really positive what just happened. Color of a boxer. Or a deer. Fat rope of a long tail. Size of a really big dog. Really big. Bobcat movements. After I got home and google imaged "mountain lion," I knew for certain. Holy crap. Vermont is kind of benign on the wildlife front. (If you ignore the killer musicians who play here all the time). I also searched and found confirmation of sightings in Charlotte and North Ferrisburg of a full grown catamount.
Cougars can jump fifteen feet from a standstill. They belong to a family that is the one of the oldest mammals, dating back eleven million years. Typically, they kill with a neck bite, positioning their fangs between the vertebrae and into the spinal cord. They only eat meat. Favorite foods include critters up to and over a thousand pounds--moose, elk, etc or the random coyote, deer, grey wolf...
I didn't even have time to be afraid. Once home and doing the homework I realized that I'm glad he wasn't peckish. Me and my lycra super suit... Hell of a defense I could mount with a fourteen pound skinny bike on the ice skates of road cleats...
The take away from that afternoon is a simple one. Whatever you think is the course of life, think again. Life is fundamentally full of surprises, not all good ones, in keeping with the definition, but I guarantee ones that you never even considered. Providence is determined to keep us guessing. Recently I read that researchers have determined that we misplace an average of nine things a day. By age sixty, that is 200,000 things we have to look around for. Yep, lost the keys again. Surprise! They are in the kitchen. Surprise! We get used to that stuff. Surprise! Cougar on the hometown loop. Bring it on.
Just don't eat me, please.
So friends, keep looking down the road... Just know that whatever you think is what is happening is just a guess. The outcome may be wildly different than what we are worried about. Just stay engaged completely and beware the predators... And, if I can be so bold, get outside and see what is what that is not all human racket... Lions stroll the planet.
Love you all. Spread that around everyday.
December 22, 2016
We are Zeros and We are Kings
Enough with the serious talk. I just want to point out a couple ideas and then wrap this solstice with a few words of grace.
First, the temperature of space is minus 455 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take. The distance to the nearest habitable planet, assuming life is mostly like us, is around a billion and a half miles. Basically, we are flying through the infinite emptiness of a freezer. So, what are the odds? What is the probability that we exist at all? I did the math and it comes out to exactly (using the standard rounding error) ZERO. There is absolutely no plausible explanation for me being here to write and you being there to read. So....
Party up folks! As far as I can tell, a freaking miracle is all we are every moment of our lives. Life is just a thin smear of slime on the ball we call earth. AND, in my humble estimation, we should recognize this by showing love and kindness to every other freaking miracle we see everyday. That's it--lesson for today. Your mission is to recognize this simple fact and act accordingly. Hug your peeps. Smile a ton. Love and kindness. That's it. Don't forget. Peace on earth...
And just to make it all crystal clear, this is called
Here and Then
With shared genetics
the sons, the daughters of forgotten kings
on their miraculous feet,
in time's wake,
streamlining their beings
Crucible purification process
back flip into oblivion.
Heirs to the thrones invisible
December 16, 2016
Fowl, Weather, and Brighter Skies
Howdy howdy amazing humans,
So often, it's the little things. The simple can rescue the soul...
You feel crushed. The world that you know and understand, pretty much, unravels. We all find ourselves on the floor at some point. Overwhelmed. Broken. The news that seemed bad turns out to be just the first volley. And there you are. What do I do now...
Well, nothing... breathe... and breathe and ... Feel what this emptiness really, really feels like. That is you. That IS your heart, your soul speaking. You are that voice. It is pure. All you are as a person is built above this core of your being. You can label it despair. Or not.
Now. Remind yourself that you are not alone. There are nearly seven and a half billion people on planet earth right now. Today the counter is running with over 170,000 born so far, along with over 71,000 deaths. I guarantee there are A LOT of humans experiencing exactly the emotions you are experiencing right at the crux of despair. You are a part of this very large tribe expanding every moment, as important as any member. We are all kings, or paupers, inside. Your choice. We start with nothing and will end with the same.
Then. Open your eyes, your heart... let the smallest of the small speak. Your dog will stroll over and put his head in your lap. Don't have a dog? Birds are the messengers of the gods throughout the religions of the aboriginal world. They are there, just for you, waiting for your attention. They sing. They dance. They fly... And there are somewhere between 100 and 400 billion. (They are sort of hard to count.) Plenty of those guys to help lift...
Listen to those brilliant humans who have made communication from the heart their mission in life: Danny O'Keefe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Or Bob Marley. Try a Bonnie Raitt ballad. There is an entire concert waiting in your pocket. Sing the oldest song you ever learned. And, trust me, there is nothing better than the blues. Listen to "Blues the Healer," with John Lee Hooker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Look at anything and see it fresh--the magnets on the fridge--what is this magic? Metal that likes to stick to stuff. But not everything... only special stuff. Freaky! The thermos on the counter?! Ridiculous engineering!! Put in cold; it keeps it cold. Put in hot; it stays hot. How does it know?! No moving parts! The wood under your feet--it grew! From dirt and sunlight and rain and now it's the floor. There are ducks that show up in the lake in front of my house as they travel about. They are social and really small and look like they were painted in the Jet Ski factory. I looked them up to find their official name: Little Black and White Ducks. Some people call them Buffleheads but I prefer the latter, more descriptive label.
This time of year is symbolized by babies and old folks, so go talk to either. They are closer to the purest realm than any of us. They are filled with genius half forgotten or yet to express. We mourn the passing of so many of our finest here at year's end, but hold the thought that there are more of us every moment, so logically, there are more of the brilliant appearing than there have ever been before.
So, keeping this brief: listen to the blues. "I been down so long, seems like up to me..."
"If it wasn't for bad luck, I'ld have no luck at all." "I been tied to the whippin' post..." Because that is really our lot. The human condition is fun stuff mixed with heartache, then heartbreak followed by silence. That is the sum right there. Those are the facts. And when we feel that, we feel our true depth. Fallen angels.
One of the truly wise, Pema Chodron, says, "You are the sky. Everything else--it's just the weather."
So, in the meantime (it's all we get)...open your eyes and hearts. Listen to that boogie music. Dance a little bit. FOCUS on the miracles: Twins! Contact lenses and reading glasses. Snowflakes. Shortbread. Kids' faces. George Winston playing Christmas music. Ice skates. Paint brushes. Sunrise. Favorite sayings. That rainbow this morning driving to work of low ice crystals refracting. Grandad. Voices. The funnies. Knee high chop. A choir. John Cleese. Sparkly lights. Aretha. (Did anyone hear the national anthem she sang on Thanksgiving Day?) Starfish. The HOLIDAYS.
All this stuff pours in when you just let it. We don't get much time. Better spread the love today. Say hey to the chickadee. Remember, YOU are the sky. Share your sunshine. And do your best to make people laugh. It's the lightning.
Hugs non stop.
P.S. "Nobody loves me 'cept my mother,
And she might be jivin' too."
B. B. King
P.P.S."Friends seen an` unseen...to you that are ridin` along / In your automobile...to you that are sitting at you table / I greet you with the holy word `Peace`... / For with my infinite mind I thinks constructively...…"
Give this one a listen: https://www.youtube.com/
"I am what I am, and I am it."
love love love
Sheepdogs and tiny lightning, matter and Mind
A big part of my job is noticing things. Generally it's stuff that is right in front of everyone, but I happen to see it and want to point it out. Why do I do this? And, why do I have to be outside so much?
Ok, that's basically question number one (and maybe one and a half). Question two is a little less tricky: What is happening when I notice things? Tiny electrical pulses - miniature lightning - are firing in my head. Our brains are three pounds of jelly, hundreds of billions of cells, each sending bolts to other neighboring cells hundreds of time per second. One typical neuron makes about 10,000 connections to its neighbors. Quick math gives us trillions and trillions of connections. So, I or rather, we, are that. We are trillions of electrical zaps. You are reading this and thinking, "So what? Which brings us to question three: The thing that is thinking - your mind - which is just electricity, is organized by what? How did "I" get here?
Now comes the material part--if "we" are electricity snapping away, there has to be something to snap between. There has to be matter, physical, actual stuff for it to cross between. Yep, that is the pink jelly above the shoulders we keep under our hats. Our bodies, made of a handful of elements, are literally the support system for our brains. Food, oxygen, water is all just the processing system to keep the lightning on.
I live with two dogs. One is an Aussie shepherd with the no-tail-looks-like-a-sheep approach to managing his flock. We, the family, are the flock. He lies on the floor under our feet guarding us from within the flock itself. The other is a border collie and his flock management is to observe from afar. He is across the room, attentive, alert, never underfoot. He manages his humans from without. Neither of these guys has any training whatsoever. They do what they do based on 10,000 years of breeding and training to the degree that their behavior, the way they think, is hard-wired into their DNA. Along with the four-legs-and-a-cold-nose machinery is a pattern of electrical firings, a behavior, that makes them guard us the way they do. And that particular electrical pattern is passed on through matter.
When my youngest son was in pre-school there was a graduation(?!) ceremony that required all the kids to file to the front of the room and sing a song for the attending parents. He took his spot with this paper crown cocked just so, and put his hands in his pockets and started to sing, rocking back and forth from his heels to his toes. EXACTLY the way my father did when he sang. My son had never seen his grandfather sing, and yet there was the same precise motion that I had witnessed hundreds of times.
So, question two is answered by electricity--invisible firings in an organic computer we carry around. When I see things, when I move this pen around, when I ride my bike, the lightning is flashing. But when I smile seeing my son singing, when I make art, when I think about thinking, when I use the work "flock" a bunch 'cause I like the way it sounds, it is the manifestation of DNA, of time and chemistry. I, and you, are the culmination of all those grandfathers and grandmothers stretching backwards into history. How me move our hands when talking, how we choose what we talk about, is the expression of the material, the matter that organizes the electrical fields. Matter makes our minds. And matter makes our behaviors.
And finally, question four--do you have free will or are you enacting what is programmed in your cells? When I notice leaves in pirouette and then put that into my art, did "I" decide that? Am "I" something other than an electrical field playing out a pattern dictated by inherited protein matrixes? Are the shapes and shading in my artwork chosen by me? "I" think so. But, how do "I" know? My mother was a painter, a teacher full of stories. My grandad was a musician and an engineer. My father was a professor of literature and taught creative writing. I'm related to Daniel Boone through my mother's side, perhaps that explains question one and a half.
In conclusion, one of my favorite writers can offer a functional resolution that firmly grounds these notions in a lavender fog. Alan Watts says, "...you do not have a sensation of the sky: you are that sensation. For all purposes of feeling, your sensation of the sky is the sky, and there is no "you' apart form what you sense, feel, and know."
Glad we sorted this out. "You" have an awesome week, day, lunch break, lifetime...
Consider from whence you came...
And don't forget to feed the shepherds...
Winston Churchill, the Knuckleballer, and a Turtle
"Fall seven times. Stand up eight." That's what a little scrap of paper says that I snipped out of a magazine decades ago and currently resides thumbtacked to the inside of my closet door. Watching the Olympics recently refocused this notion for me. There are countless tales of athletes whose careers are a series of disasters and failures and yet they somehow continue performing their magic acts on the track or on the mat, in the ring, in the air...
R. A. Dickey is a pitcher drafted out of college in 1996 by the Texas Rangers and offered a signing bonus of $810,000. One of the team doctors noticed in a photo Dickey's pitching arm hanging oddly and further evaluation discovered he was missing a ligament in his arm. His bonus was reduced to $75,000 and off he went to the minor leagues. He finally debuted in the majors in 2001 with a losing season and was sent back to the farm teams. Struggling with obscurity and losing games, he toyed with different pitches and his signature forkball that he dubbed "The Thing." He became the rarest of the rare--a knuckleball pitcher--and battled on. Finally given the chance in 2006, he started for the Texas Rangers and gave up six home runs in his first game. Back to the minors in Oklahoma. Two years later he was called up again and pitched for the Seattle Mariners and tied the major league record with four wild pitches in one inning. By refusing to go back to the minors he was traded to the Minnesota Twins and started 35 games for them in 2009. In 2010 he was back in the minors pitching for the Buffalo Bisons and the Mets bought his contract. Then, he got it--the magic of endless hours distilled. In 2012 he was the most dominant pitcher in baseball rattling off 230 strikeouts and a series of staggering scoreless games. He went 44 innings on one stretch without an earned run and won the Cy Young Award, never before given to a knuckleballer, for the best pitcher in the National League. His contract was upped to $37 million for three years. Today they play the theme from Game of Thrones when he comes to bat and he swings bats named for weapons from the Tolkien books. Joe Girardi, who manages the Yankees, said during an in-game interview a couple years ago (while being walloped by the Red Sox) something so pithy I ran to the kitchen for paper to write it down: "That's what life is all about--fighting through things."
Then again, there is the Ernest Shackleton voyage. If you haven't read the book "Endurance," you must. No better tale of adversity. Seriously. If they did THAT?! You can do anything.
Leah Berliawsky was born in 1899 in the Ukraine. Her family emigrated to Maine where her father was a woodworker, lumberjack and ran a junkyard. She went to school and became a secretary in Manhattan, changed her name to Louise and married her employer, Charles Nevelson, to become part of elite society. When the socialite, conformist wifey role her husband demanded didn't work out she left the money and security and returned with a son back to Maine and then back to the streets of New York to pursue the art that she felt was buzzing through her being. She struggled, studying art with some of the greatest of the Expressionists of the era, but selling almost nothing of her own work. She heated her apartment with scavenged wood from the streets. When she was 61 years old MOMA purchased one of her pieces. As an outspoken, feminist artist, she was on the cover of Life magazine and was courted by a large gallery to do a grand opening salon. Not a single piece sold. Left broke and depressed and nearly homeless, she relied on friends to get by. At 64, the Pace Gallery in New York gave her a show and the art world and museums across the globe stepped up to recognize her genius. Louise Nevelson started monumental outdoor sculpture in her 70's and today remains one of the influential visions of 20th Century art. Look for her work my friends. It hums silently. Kind of like Richard Serra. Check him out too.
So, the theme for all these words started with the Olympics and circled back with my rereading the other blog pieces I have written in the past couple years. ((They are here.)) Resilience. There are some teeny animals called tardigrades, whose name means "slow walkers." These guys have survived all five mass extinctions--they have been around for half a billion years. Only a millimeter long, they endured ten days aboard a rocket exposed to the searing radiation and absolute vacuum of space. They are able to withstand 1000 times more radiation than a human as well as 300 degrees Fahrenheit to near absolute zero. They like moss and swimming. They are nicknamed water bears and are arguably the most durable organism ever. However, there is a critter being studied called the immortal jellyfish that seems to apparently live forever by cycling between growing up and then reverting to childhood, endlessly. I like these guys too in a conceptual way, but we can talk about them next time.
Winston Churchill famously said, "Never, ever ever ever ever give up." Attached to this letter is a video that I shot last week with my phone. It's two snapping turtles in the lagoon at Camp in Central Vermont. Our resident smartest guy in the room regarding the natural world, my buddy Red Dows, says the largest is likely protecting his territory. Their fight lasted for hours and hours. The big one looks to be around 35-40 lbs. and therefore might be around 75 years old. It's his lagoon cuz he sez so as long as he wants it. So back off young terrapin!
R. A. Dickey wrote a book that says in the third sentence that he will never lead the league in strikeouts. He did just that in 2012. There was a young woman who grew up in a Rio favela. With judo she fought her way to the 2012 Olympic games and was disqualified for an illegal move. As a child she walked to the gym because she couldn't afford the bus. Last week she won a gold medal.
With health, with work, with athletics, with life in general... Churchill also said, "If you are going through Hell, keep going."
We are what we do my friends.
Time Machinery and Random Order
Things happen with bizarre coherence. I moved to California years ago and was trying to find a house near the beach to rent. On the way to look at what sounded like an ideal spot a half block from the sand, we stopped in traffic just at that moment as the big red ball dropped into the Pacific. A moment's pause, a collective sigh and the green flash appeared. Just for a second or two a neon green blob appeared right where the sun had disappeared. Often seen by pilots, this rare optical phenomena was first photographed in 1960; it is momentary, fleeting, a magical convergence of refraction and witness. The house on the beach we rented that day was on Emerald Court.
Things happen randomly. Five days ago, the fourth of July, while out riding my bike, I was sitting up chatting with my brother Kevin as we soft pedaled down a mellow decline in the lusciousness of an 80 degree Vermont afternoon. Humid sunshine. Sweat. Perfection. My front wheel dropped off the pavement and my instinctual bunny-hop back onto the road whacked me into Kev's handlebars. Slam! Slide! Imagine being pitched out of a moving pick-up in skimpy pjs attached to some garden tools. Both of us down and grinding skin and tissue in less than a heartbeat. Bikes instantly worthless as bikes. Adrenaline hammered and twitching with survival body chemistry, we jumped up READY. Swords drawn. Pissed off. Blood dripping.
Things happen on time. Also in the last week, Nasa's Juno spacecraft arrived after traveling five years and 1.7 billion miles to orbit and study our solar system's largest dance partner. It arrived off its projected schedule established five years ago by one second! Humans are great at planning long range stuff like this. (I have a hard time getting to lunch when I'm supposed to.) We spent 25 years building the most monumental machine in human history, the Large Hadron Collider, in hopes of taking a photo of a particle that exists for a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a second. It works. Say "Cheese" Higgs Bosun. Some things happen VERY FAST.
Things happen we foresee. At New College in Oxford, England, founded in 1379 (classic Brit humor right there) massive oak beams in the dining hall were being eaten by beetles as old oak beams in England eventually do. Turns out 500 years ago a stand of oaks had been planted on college property to take care of this challenge when the time came.
We do what we do and then WHAM! Life seems to be a succession of things being just as they are nicely until they aren't, suddenly. But--and this is the heart of this missive--the staggering improbability that all the infinite possible vectors perfectly aligned to become me seated on a bicycle is an affirmation of the perfection lurking within every single moment of every day. Random elements collided. Water appeared. Life. Legs. Eyes. Families. I have a brother who loves bikes as much as I do. And we get to see each other and ride together. Science can't explain this. Things are just happening willy nilly in every direction all the time. Green flashes. Quantum collisions.
I was once told about a monk who painted in the Japanese Sumi-e tradition. When asked by an acolyte how long it took him to make a painting that appeared to be a single stroke of an inked brush on paper, his answer was "87 years, 10 months, 4 days, 8 hours and 6 seconds,"--his age at that moment.
The fovea is a small depression centered in the retina where visual acuity is strongest. Half of the nerves from the eye to the brain originate here. That is me, the fovea. I have spent all these years translating the subtle and not so subtle movement of light. And I am convinced that it is all playing out exactly the way it is supposed to, needs to, in some ridiculous organic mechanism. Light reflecting this way and that. Precisely. The Jupiter probe showed up a second late, exactly that second that I needed to bunny-hop to safety. But nooooo. There must be some tiny whirring cog that I don't comprehend yet...
Change is the only constant. In my daily twirl, I build silent machines that hang there and monkey with light. They will be around when my time sneaks off. They change and don't change. I hope you all find some of that each day--solace in the steadiness, faith in the randomness. Keep the rubber side down and your eyes on the horizon. Plan long range and bounce when you have to. Our notions about time are deceptive and relative and subject to revision at any SLAM. But I am certain that it is the right time.
It's quick, although the days are long.
See what I mean...
Hugs all around,
Headlines tell us that gorillas are precious, politicians are super scary, four new Elements are getting actual names, guns kill, Brazil is a mess but has new stadiums, the Dead is on tour, Ali is gone, Prince too, and where does who go to the bathroom? In the middle of all of this shouting we find ourselves. Or we don't. That is the conundrum. Where do we as individuals live today amidst the massive explosion that seems to be civilization?
Paraceratherium Grangeri (say that five times) was the largest mammal ever to walk the earth. It was a hornless rhinoceros species that survived for 11 million years ranging from Mongolia to the Balkans. Roughly 17 feet tall at the shoulders, it weighed up to 40,000 pounds or about the weight of five elephants. Imagine a herd of those wandering about, munching on trees, devoid of fear from any predators. In the '60s, there were 65,000 black rhinos in the wild. In the '70s, ninety percent of them were killed and today there are a total of around 5,000 rhinos altogether on the planet. The white rhino is down to three individuals, all in zoos.
I recently read that the total time spent on the video game World of Warcraft was 5.93 million years, or about the equivalent time since our ancestors first stood erect. Biologically, the bodily sensations of anxiety and excitement are nearly identical, so fighting wars - pretend wars - can be really, really stressful and exciting. Clearly, this stuff is addictive. And how about the media? Well, does anyone notice the absolute incendiary nature of the headlines on the Internet? Every storm is the end of the world, every speech is the collapse of the Constitution. The most popular shows on the tube are about cops and terrorists or war and battles with dragons and torture and who gets killed (or magically brought back to life this week) and poison and bribes and judges and slaves and daggers and bedfellows. And this is just the election coverage...
But we can do this. In the 1950's, there were less than 417 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous U.S. Today there are over 10,000 pairs and the number is growing. I have seen one in my pajamas (How he got in my pajamas I'll never know... ;) Groucho) from my living room and one flew over my head at a Mariners' game in Seattle last summer. Think of that moment in the movie when the plucky short guy in the deepest of jams says to the hero, "Just go, I got this." And off the hero charges to save the rest of the universe.
What is this about? (The exact moment to ask, I think).
It's about what I say to my teenagers all the time. "Take care of each other." That's it. Look out for the person next to you all the time. If you have their back and they have yours we have a chance. Every single person you talk to today was a child and on many levels still is. Treat them with that love and caring you would show to a small, young human being and we can get through all this noise. Focus on the people around you. We are the pinnacle of evolution. Let's act like it. Killing mega fauna is stupid. Every kid will tell you that. Killing things on screens is just reinforcing killing, and wasting the most precious thing we all have...
The root of the word civilization is the same as the one for civility. The non-stop shouting of disaster is the foreground visual assault from all these glass screens. Actual humanity is on the other side waiting. It's pretty awesome. You know, craft beer, garter snakes, bikes, surprise presents, boats of all kinds, lightning, strolling, love, and other cool stuff.... Just hug somebody and tell them we got this. Together. Don't listen to the shouting and the hateful speech. We got this.
"Summer of Love" sounds pretty great. Let's replay that notion.
And while you are at it, slow down and have a look at some quality art, the kind made by the people who devote their lives to seeing and contemplating and making...
Supernovas Become you
Yes, it's true. Stellar annihilation looks good on you. Or is it supernovae? Words can be so tricky. But they are fun to play with, kind of like Legos made of old jelly. "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money" said Boswell, quoting Samuel Johnson around 300 years ago. I, like Charlie Brown, have known my whole life that being a blockhead is ok, just challenging. This quote was given to me in freshman English by a class visitor in a white suit. His name was Tom Wolfe.
But, to the point--I am a blockhead. I write, not for money but to participate, which in many ways is what defines everyone of us before we become worm food. Participate. Have an effect. It's all you got. Do you need to be a visionary on the front lines of social change? Nope. Just coach Little League. Pick up around the neighborhood. Visit a classroom and chat to the mere mortals. Give away stuff you don't use.
Speaking of stuff, our bodies are primarily composed of four elements that happen to be four of the first seven most abundant elements in the universe. In fact we are 99% just six elements. Only Hydrogen and Helium were made in the Big Bang in any significant quantity. Every bit of the rest of our bodies was made in a large star (don't ask me which one) and would have stayed home until the supernova came to town. We only exist because of the stellar KABOOM that freed these materials to eventually become Us. Better add the life giving supernova to Thanksgiving dinner blessings or the salaams at the P-rade.
Celebrating the supernova is part of my blockhead program. Fiona Apple sings, "If there was a better way, it would find me." As far as the participation part? Please add this email address and the address of havocgallery.com to your favorites list. Our web homework shows that using an actual professional emailing program means the majority of you brilliant friends have not been receiving the last few missives even though they look better than ever. Being in the junk box or spam folder is soul crushing and smells weird. This is never required reading but I write to share thoughts and images, and I want you to share these with your pals too. In the website www.havocgallery.com you can click around and find a heading called Current Thinking that has all of these blog thingys I have written recently. Share freely and respond. I had a buddy point out that the Cree word for dragonfly and helicopter is exactly the same. Thanks Ben. Look out for the "du whack a du..."
So, metals and gases made in nuclear infernos make us entirely. In the same song, Fiona Apple sings, "I am an extraordinary machine." That goes for you too. Be extraordinary today my friends. Again.
Super Massive Burgers
If the earth weighs as much as a paperclip, the sun weighs as much as a Harley-Davidson. The most massive star we have found so far is 265 times heavier than that. Labelled with the totally unimaginative, R136a1, it is stupendously hot and bright--its surface is 100,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 10 times hotter than our sun and 10 million times brighter. We have also recently identified (and I say "we" meaning the frighteningly intelligent physicists hard at work on these matters) a star even larger in diameter that is named UY Scuti. It weighs less than our other new best pal star but if you put its center at the center of our sun, the surface of the star would be out past the orbit of Jupiter. Pause pause. Think about that for a moment...
But what's the big deal, Lucille? So what, so stars, yeah, really big... Then...
It's all about the scale. McDonald's feeds around 26 million people a day, more than the population of Australia. Every kilogram of beef generates around 59.5 pounds of greenhouse gases. Every gram of beef protein requires 29.5 gallons of water. The average American eats 185 pounds of meat a year, whereas the USDA 2010 guidelines are for 3.7 ounces a day. Recent studies show a typical male needs only 2.5 ounces of protein a day and an elite endurance athlete might require around 6 ounces. Here's the kicker--above that amount, it is simply excreted.
What do stars have to do with food? Simply put--we are teeny, tiny motes of nothing stuck on a speck of dust orbiting a little warm ball. But, it's the only speck we get. If we can get this notion through our collective over-fed heads, there may be a chance to have great-great-great-grandchildren who look like us, can sing, dance and paint and play baseball and write pushy essays. And not have to swim to the grocery store. Right now factory farms in the U.S. produce thirteen times the sewage of the human population. If we were to eat meat only two days a week, we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and water and land use by 45%.
We can evolve. We can make conscious choices about our food and our future. Seems kind of important, yes?
The new James Webb Space Telescope is so sophisticated it can detect the heat of a bumblebee from a distance of 250,000 miles. That's as far as the moon, folks. With that kind of brain power we should be able to eat better. Bon appetit.
Oh, and as for chocolate, well, dark only, everyday. Mandatory.
And I was kidding about "motes of nothing." We are voters.
You Don't Have Time to Not Read This
In 2013, a groundskeeper at Stonehenge was trying to fight the unusually dry summer in Britain. His hose wasn't quite long enough to water the entire grounds and the subsequent patches of parched grass revealed the true geometry of the stones that researchers have investigated for centuries. Yep. It was originally a complete circle.
Below all these words is a photo of my Dad and us four brothers at Stonehenge in 1964, corralled for a moment by my Mom shooting the picture. We spent the afternoon climbing all over those massive bluestone slabs. Dad was great at dragging us to visit strange stuff. Hadrian's Wall. Pisa. The Last Supper. Tintagel. "Lads, pay attention."
Wilhelm Röntgen was in his lab in 1895 experimenting with these newfangled things called cathode ray tubes. A black cardboard sleeve over the tube mysteriously failed to block some invisible ray that caused a piece of cardboard nine feet away painted with barium platinocyanide to shimmer faintly. He happened to notice this weird effect that resulted in the discovery of the paradigm shift we know as x-rays.
We all know that Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered penicillin in 1928 (Right?) changing the field of medicine. But the story is told that the reason he didn't just heave into the trash that fateful petri dish is that six years earlier he had wept into a sample dish and discovered tears have a mild antibiotic property. Not sure what he was crying about in his lab, but he was being attentive.
In 1913, in Sheffield England, a guy was assigned to come up with a steel alloy that would withstand, without expanding, the intense heat of a bullet streaking down the barrel of a rifle. In the bin of cast-off ingots he noticed one hunk of metal buried in the pile was still shiny while the rest of the ingots were rusting as usual. His employers ignored his discovery of stainless steel with the magic ingredient of 12% Chromium. It's the same stuff I use everyday to push light around.
Notice. That's this week's lesson, my friends. Be careful not to be bustling along too quickly as to miss the magical stuff happening constantly. It could make for a nice photo on your cell phone or change the course of humankind. Or solve a mystery 5,000 years old. Or teach a mob of unruly boys lessons that still gleam to this day. Socrates said, "Beware the barrenness of a busy life."
Smart old dude. And, by the way, thanks Dad.
Man's Best Invention
We have a device being newly studied and researched that can literally "sniff" for cancer in humans. Using a probe with around 300 million sensors and a mysteriously complex processor, this device is also capable of detecting particular elemental compounds such as explosives or illicit drugs, as well as the high frequencies preceding earth tremors or even if a human is about to experience a seizure. Its sensitivity is so acute it can detect in parts per trillion or a drop of blood diluted by twenty Olympic swimming pools. This device has actually been under development for around 35,000 years.
Yep, this device will keep you warm in the mountains, chase down lions in Rhodesia, rid your house of mice, hunt for stag or raccoons or truffles. It can operate on fuels as diverse as raw meat, potato chips or cat poop. With nearly 525 million of these globally, we humans use them as proximity alarms or for herding sheep and cattle. Some cultures use them as a source of food, but in the U.S. 77 million people have this device in their homes and would never think to cook one. They exist in a staggering array of dimensions from 4 ounces and 2.5 inches tall to 345 pounds. We shot one of these into space to orbit the earth in 1957. Probably not that really heavy one.
Their uses are diverse and specialized. Not only can they be used as a team to haul loads at 30-35 mph for 10 miles, they can pull this same load for up to 100 miles in sub-zero temperatures without needing an extended break. They see for the blind and hear for the deaf. Some are part tugboat while others are pure velocity machines. They comfort the aged and infirm and have been documented trying to teach babies how to play "fetch."
It's our best invention. Man's Best Invention. We adopted these family members millennia ago to get rid of household scraps and warn us of danger. And now they guard us with utter dedication and will fight to the death to protect us. As built-in entertainment centers for children and adults alike, they survive for years, bound to their charges. Endless tales recount their ability to find their way home to their people across extraordinary distances. They give us love and loyalty. They smile and dance around. So, TREATS, and go for an extra long walk today. We are lucky humans. We did a great job with this project. Way better than a cell phone.
We Could be Heroes...
There is a lot I could say, which comes as a surprise to no one who knows me well, but there is beauty in economy. So this is just some paraphrasing from a bright light gone dim.
I, I can remember (I remember)
standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed, as nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)...
We can be heroes,
What d'you say?
We could be safer
just for one day...
We can be heroes
What d'you say?
We could be heroes
Just for one day...
We will be heroes. Thanks Mr. Bowie.
The Force Awakens
It's the solstice, that moment when the gloom of December light in Vermont is offset by the thought that from now on the days get longer. Winter begins but from the celestial perspective summer begins today. The sun will get higher and stronger. The days will get brighter and longer. It feels nice to consider the darkness so strong will wane and light and warmth will rule. But first... The days just now feel like the sunset is about to start around two in the afternoon.
I was out for a paddle on my board a few weeks back. Typically I paddle straight into the wind to start, whatever its direction, and that day it was cranking hard due west; it's the workout part of a paddle. I crossed the bay. The sun sank behind Shelburne Point and I headed north out into the broad lake watching the orb get bigger and redder and finally drop into the skyline of the high peaks of the Adirondacks. Yellow gave way to burnt orange, the peaks shading navy to deep purple. The wind fell out altogether and I paddled possessed by the shifting light as the water turned to glass. Indigo and maroon danced slowly. The fluid surface to the west shimmered. Twilight.
I was paddling a solid tempo, endorphin enhanced, when suddenly I realized--it's getting dark fast and I'm two miles from home. Yikes. Swing the board around and head east and south. But something weird was happening in town. House fire!! Or wait... holy crap! Full moon rising from the quiet Vermont landscape --just the fierce yellow dome first outlining the blackness of the treetops, then the orb, the full disk above the trees. Bright. Clear. October night.
I stopped paddling and instinctively looked around wanting to point and exclaim to someone. Anyone. No one? Alone truly on the broad lake. Is anybody else paying attention? Can anyone share this?
I paddled home in glory, moon shining on me. And I was reminded why I do what I do. Sharing. Why would I write this? Why do I make art? Sculpture out of light? Why, when I see a photo of the blue sunset on Mars, do I start telling everyone? Who really needs to know that we have eyes so sensitive we can detect a single photon?
A full moon will rise on Christmas, the next one not until 2034. Share it. Show it to the little kids. I wrote in a blog piece a year ago that the "Force" most important is love, but I would like to add participation to the idea. Share your vision, your voice, your music, your food, your home, your wealth, your gifts, your love. Share this letter, these ideas, as widely as possible.
There are big lights in the sky, sunsets to see, moonrises too. Let's collectively awaken just a little bit more and share our blessings. Be the warmth and brightness.
Peace and light,
hugs all around,
Supernova, Spectre, Silence and SNO
There's a lot to cover and I will be brief AND there is a reward at the end so...
Dark Matter, apparently, maybe, makes up 84.54% of the total matter of the universe. This is based on studying the gravitational lensing effect of galaxies bending light from even more distant galaxies. Scientists have actual photographs of a portion of deep, deep space in which the same galaxy is seen at five different places in a single photo. The galaxies doing all that light bending shouldn't have sufficient mass to accomplish this. Therefore, something is helping. Something we can't see. A lot of it. Researchers have been focusing on the Bullet Cluster and the Train Wreck Cluster.
Also, and bear with me here, thermal relic abundance calculations and angular fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, CMB, are mathematically explicable if Dark Matter exists. Essentially, the consistency of the Big Bang echo is lumpy; and cold, warm and hot Dark Matter could explain the large scale structure of the universe with its anomalies.
I went to the new Bond movie and it's fabulous. Just what you expect - helicopter tricks, buildings exploding, fast cars, snappy outfits, evil dudes. It's loud and busy. And fun. When I got home I stood in the backyard. There was no wind. No waves lapping on the rocks. No geese honking. It was profoundly dark. No moon. Low clouds covered the stars. Listening was strangely an activity. Anything...
Nearly a mile underground in Lead, South Dakota is a tank of 815 pounds of liquid Xenon cooled to minus 100 degrees Celsius looking for WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) as experimental evidence of Dark Matter passing by. The Large Underground Xenon detector, LUX, is shielded by a mile of rock to reduce the "noise" of gamma radiation or other stray particles. It is the quietest place known to man. So far we have found no observational evidence of Dark Matter. Naturally we are building the 7 ton LUX-ZEPLIN (also in Lead) to come on line in 2016. Also searching are projects around the globe with names, (and these are only the ones whose acronyms I like) such as EDELWEISS, WARP, DarkSide, PandaX, SNO, IceCube, Double Chooz, SIMPLE and PICASSO.
Mankind is building unprecedented ears and eyes. Read about the James Webb Space Telescope. How is your silence quotient? When was the last time you could truly hear nothing? No sound. I fill my world with music nonstop but there is purity in nothingness. Go find some. Try that snowy evening walk...
And finally, we head into the holidays, a time for family and gifts and thoughtfulness for all our blessings. I want to say a huge thank you to all of you for sharing with me in this journey. 2015 has been a fantastic year! You are the folks who make this all fly and as gratitude I want to offer my current pieces to you for less money than the unwashed masses. Many of you already have my art so please think gifts for your family or friends. I want to end the year with an empty gallery, a clean slate for 2016, so one third off the prices (excluding the Element project) for everything. I love you people. You make this possible and fun.
I will be doing the Red Dot Art Fair in Miami Dec. 2-6th so please contact before then. The prices at the show will be standard. Check the website for "Supernova," "Axial Isinglass," "The Positive," "Power Wall," "One Away," "Sprezzatura," "Beam Steering," and "Salt Whistle." This isn't a sale my friends; it's your reward for sharing these rantings, this vision, this dance.
Blessings and hugs.
Pink Stuff and Tiny Smart Things
Sometime when I polish metal I use rouge as the final buff to bring the surface up to a mirror finish. Rouge, fittingly, is red, pink actually, and is made of stuff, according to my friend Timothy, called diatomaceous earth. (Love that word). It is essentially the fossilized remains of diatoms, those microscopic algae that live in spectacular bi-radially symmetrical sculptures seemingly made by kajillions of tiny glassblowers. Google Image "diatoms" to see what I am talking about. It's great stuff for making dynamite or toothpaste or filtering beer.
The best part is the SiO2--the glass houses they live in. Built into the DNA of these phytoplankton is the nano-scale bio-mechanical blueprint to make offspring exactly the same encased in hard structures made of silicon, oxygen and a small dash of protein. Abalone make shells that are 98% calcium carbonate and 2% protein in a structural, tessellated arrangement that is 3000% stronger than a stone made of the same materials. These are engineered objects. 500
million years ago life spontaneously figured out how to make hard materials.
Researchers have also discovered magnetite or Fe3O4 being used by bacteria and higher life forms like birds and lobsters for magnetoception or navigation using the magnetic fields of the earth. Calcium, silicon and iron assembled by living things to perpetuate their species, or find dates, or both, in a different order I suppose. Calcium is the most abundant metal in the human body and most animals. Silicate minerals make up over 90% of the earth's crust. Iron, well, you know, steel, magnets, in cereal, cruise ships, fry pans... By mass it's the most common element on earth.
My favorite tools in the shop are the ones that I had to make since I NEED them and nobody makes them. I have a six foot compass made of wood, a suction cup and steel pins. Straightedges eight feet long that, as I use them, turn to dust. Clamps, jigs, parallel scribes, (and here you see my 18th century brain at work... might even be 15th century).
As higher life forms we need tools. You have seen the commercial where the guy has trained his dog to fetch beer from the fridge? At MIT a professor has devoted her career to manipulating viruses and bacteria to create things that we need nearly as much as food--solar cells and batteries and fuel. Can we grow batteries? Yep. Fuel cells splitting water into O and H? Yep. Solar cells? Absolutely. We just need to scale this up. She invited Obama to her lab and he has held in his hand a lit LED powered by bacteria and viruses. Imagine self replicating tiny structures complete with wiring built right in. It's happening. If we can just focus more on growing things and a little bit less on burning stuff....
Since 1990, printed right on my business checks is the phrase, "Truth is beauty is magic."
Oh, and did I mention beer? Higher evolution has opened four breweries within close walking distance from my gallery. Stay focused.
And, as always, thanks,
and boogie on...
About twenty years ago I read a biography of Miles Davis after seeing him from the front row of the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, Vermont and having my head ripped off with bliss and funk. It was a mind/ear/spirit/horn blowing couple hours compounded by a day spent getting reasonably sunburnt and overly hydrated (say no more) on a sailboat. In the book, Miles described a young brilliant cornetist named Olu Dara as "just other and next." This morning on NPR I heard a blip for Ozy, the online source for "what's new and next." When I clicked over I found it is named for "Ozymandias", a fabulous and favorite poem and the title of a piece that I sold back in February of this year. Miles' phrase has stuck with me all these years as my professional, if formally secret, mission.
Step to the left. Last Friday I was at one of my boy's soccer matches in the middle of north central rural Vermont. As dusk fell during the game and the shadows stretched over the field a fleet of dragon flies were having a seriously uptempo dinner. Dozens of four inch long clicking and whizzing little choppers darted about hunting some invisible hors d'oeurves. They were way better than the pre-season scrimmage going on. I announced to my friends there, "You know dragon flies migrate. Some fly 4000 miles from India to Africa and back." I got the look I always get. The one that says, "Dude, you are making this stuff up."
So, I came home and did my homework. I have always loved these little critters, all brittle and scary, and seemingly built by aeronautical jewelers. Years ago we watched them appear at twilight on a canoe trip in Canada to pluck biting flies right out of the air. Their heads are all teeth and eyeballs. Each eye is 30,000 individual eyes, and because of the size and placement they can see nearly any direction. EVERYTHING is in their field of vision; one researcher believes they can see better than any other creature. They showed up on the planet 100 million years before the dinosaurs. They can fly 30 mph and, with a tailwind, they have been clocked at 80. Fossils exist with a 25 inch wingspan.
Miles' music for me has always had this feeling of perfection. Like Mozart, the theme doesn't feel written. It just is and always was. He "found" it. And then played it. It is timeless. Dragon flies have been around for 300 million years and have changed very little in all that time. Why? Because they are perfect. They are just bugs that can flap 30 beats a second. And hover. Or jet.
Or migrate thousands of miles.
I have found in my life a yearly migration, a cycling from one place to the next with an annual rhythm. Over Labor Day once again I will be standing around chatting about what I do and why. In California, per usual. And the following weekend I will be in New York City with my work and the work of friends: Joel Urruty and Gabriella Firehammer. My mission for years now has been to be "just other and next." I want my art to feel discovered more than composed. Look at Joel's work and one will feel this. The best art is timeless. Miles and flying dragons, every time feels like a blessing, every beat a window into prehistory, the exposed mind of the creator.
The New Horizons spacecraft just strolled past Pluto at ten miles a second, cameras blazing. We now have some sweet photos of 11,000 foot mountains that are likely composed of water ice. (Are they making that up? Where did the water come from?) The lack of craters suggests that these are recent geological formations that are 100 million years young, or so. One of the mountains is informally named for one of my childhood heroes whose name has poetically rolled around in my head for decades--Tenzing Norgay. He is the Sherpa who helped Mallory summit Everest. Say that name a few times and don't be surprised if floats in and out of your head. Try Sylvain Chavanel, or Daniel Teklehaimanot, Lars Boom, or .... If you are watching the Tour de France these are familiar names. Weird ones, but fun to say. My fave is from NPR--Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.
But I digress. Intentionally, I suppose, because I'm circling around to the close and familiar from the truly far off and distant. In my yard is a plant that is the only surviving genus of a class of plants that for 100 million years dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests. It's a weird looking thing that once had cousins that grew to 90 foot tall trees. Equisetum. Reproduces with spores instead of seeds and happens to fix silicates in its stem. And it is the plant that fixates titanium in its tissue more than any other living thing. Titanium is the elegant metal that we are using to make bracelets this summer in the shop AND the correct material for building the SR-71 Blackbird. Fastest plane ever and almost 90% titanium. It has the highest strength to density ratio of any metallic element.
But I digress. It's really about the black raspberries that grow all over the fence next to my house. Turns out that these fixate 10 different metals that we need to keep healthy. And they are free. And right there. And really tart and sweet. Did I mention they spontaneously appear? I've been picking these almost daily, eating all I can stand and then putting the rest in the fridge. Later when I open the container there are plenty of different kinds of little spiders sneaking around in there.
So I'm busy doing my Elements homework, cranking out the heirlooms, watching the Tour and pushing light around in the studio. The deep space probe is telling us all about the farthest dance partners. Meanwhile, these primitive horsetail plants are invading my yard. (The story is Equisetum helped John Napier discover algorithms.) I, apparently, have daily been eating teeny spiders without noticing.
Just trying to get those sweet antioxidants. I will keep you posted when the super powers appear. In the meantime, pay attention. Stop mumbling. Sit up straight. Summer is fleeting.
Years ago I saw Furry Lewis at the Memphis Blues Festival. He told us he was 92 but a little fact checking shows he was exaggerating by 5 years. Blind, with a wooden leg, he played an electric guitar that looked like a cigar box with a neck. He was grumpy but rocking the blues on stage to a mob of ecstatic fans.
B. B. King passed away a month ago. He was born on a cotton plantation to sharecropper parents, drove a tractor as a teenager for money. After years of playing and singing he worked up to making $85 a week in his early thirties. Later on he won 15 Grammys and became the legend we know today. The King is dead. Long live the King.
I ride my bike a lot. Maybe too much. When I'm cranking along on a road and a car or a truck rolls by just a bit faster than I'm moving I check my six and slide out into the turbulence of the tumbling air and put the hammer down. The fastest anyone has ridden a streamlined, recumbent bike is 83 mph, but the crazy man motorcycle racer Guy Martin (look him up--he rides the Isle of Man TT every year) has ridden 112 mph behind a truck. Drag coefficient increases as a square of speed so with the sweet spot of turbulence…
One of my brothers has told me for years that the point of difficulty is the place where growth occurs. Just this week he wrote, "Nothing is stable, balance is the only way. Doubt haunts the self until it tires of its own voice and withdraws, freeing the energies of possibility to find their potential." Yep, he is a genius and needs to write more, I know. He also introduced me to Clapton and the Allman Bros. so he knows the real sound of the blues. And last week he paddled a 102 miles in 15 hours on a stand up paddle board. Wind and waves.
The goodness of turbulence, my friends, is its ability to pull us up to our potential. Sure, coasting is great too, but you have to suffer to sing the blues. If you truly want to sing, you have to face the dragon trying to eat you. He's got fangs; you have skills you have forgotten about and far more strength than you use day to day. Pull into the turbulence and put the hammer down…
But, "the eagle flies on Friday and Saturday I go out to play…" Please join us for some summer time coasting and toasting this Friday, June 19, 5-10 p.m. Party and Art starts at 5 p.m. and free concert at 7:30 p.m.
Friday June 19th - 5 pm Art, 7:30 pm Music
Years ago, could be thirty three give or take, I saw a fantastic Laurie Anderson concert with Adrian Belew on guitar and a moveable stage set of screens and props. Amidst all the melodic electricity was a mini lecture regarding the power of music. She began by showing a binary representation of a number. I think it was the date, just a brief string of ones and zeros. Math is clean and concise. Then, she projected on the backdrop a binary representation of a page of text, Hamlet's soliloquy or a doughnut recipe. Yikes! Lots of ones and zeros. Finally, she justified her career as a musician by projecting a veritable ocean of ones and zero on the backdrop of the stage. "This is the opening four bars of Beethoven's Fifth…"
Please forgive the paraphrasing of an evening of brilliance from decades ago but the concept is profound. Music is an all consuming, all devouring beast at its best. It's an experience of mind/body/spirit. Alan Watts wrote, "To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, 'I am listening to music,' you are not listening."
Music can transport those who are not listening/listening. Handel's Messiah, Sigur Ros, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, Danny O'Keefe, Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Eric Clapton, can bring tears, stop time, uplift. The Gospel tent at Jazz Fest in New Orleans can change the way you feel about music forever. Go there. Trust me.
Laurie Anderson was speaking about the volume of communication made possible by music. But the real "crux of the biscuit" is the communication itself - one human mind to another human mind, a purity of communion, a sharing of the same stuff. With rhythm. You don't need to know the words. You just need to give in and let go.
To this end HAVOC gallery is hosting a free concert on Friday, June 19, 5-10 p.m. Party and Art starts at 5 p.m. and concert at 7:30 p.m.
I was hiking next to the Na'ili'ili-Haele stream and thinking, "Time is a construct." The biggest company in the world is telling us we all need a new watch - the "Watch"- to help us keep track of how much time we spend doing things we should or should not be doing, like sleeping or running or sitting or checking our phones. And I was thinking I don't need to know the time exactly as my boys and I were walking through a bamboo forest in the middle of the classic discussion of "how fast does bamboo grow?" Compared to what? It's the fastest growing plant as we know - some species can grow as much as 3 feet in 24 hours or a millimeter every 2 minutes. That's pretty speedy, for organic stuff. But, cheetahs can hit 60 mph in 4 seconds and a falcon can fly/dive 240 mph.
The bamboo we were surrounded by was up to 60 or 70 feet tall; the tallest species of this giant grass gets up to 130 feet. But we have 6 feet of DNA in the nucleus of every cell in our bodies. And as far as speed goes, our microscopic biomechanical machinery replicating DNA and fabricating protein molecules is without peer - 100 trillion molecules of hemoglobin is being created per second in every person reading this.
So back to Time in the forest of fastest growing plants, bamboo also produces flowers and has the distinction of being the plant with the longest time between blooming. One species only blossoms every 130 years. There we go - fastest and slowest.
Do I need a watch? Do you? There's a guy in Britain named Krzysztof Szymaniec. I'm pretty sure he doesn't. He is the keeper of the "Caesium Fountain," an atomic clock accurate to one second every 158 million years. I hope he takes hikes with his boys. And by the way, uphill of the bamboo forest is a 400 foot waterfall. Take a dip when you get there. Without your watch.
Ice whine and sunshine
"Write about Spring," said my gallery director. Rite. No problem. Let's see - reawakening, pick-ups plunging through rotten ice, daffodils, ice jam flooding, thunder, buds on a hillside as a pale chartreuse mist on the familiar dead sticks, a crocus, an umbrella…Immediately comes the recognition of the local, individual, aspect of this stanza we call spring. Mine is radically different from my cousin's in Virginia or Maui. Literally as I write, the rain this March morning just turned to snow. Vermont! It's falling now with intent, vertically.So, I won't. Spring is your pivot not my poem. It's personal. It's the moment when exiting the house you don't layer; you put golf clubs/bikes/boats in/on the car; you pause at the top of Nose Dive with acres of corn snow waiting, super hero surfing snow, like butter; your forsythia explodes; you stroll rather than brave the elements; you sow; buffleheads reappear; music returns to the breeze...
The crux is the angle of light. That is what changes and what clicks in us all. For me my whole career hinges on exactly that, the angle of light, that subtle differentiation, diffraction, diffusion. Open wide those eyes my friends. Go walk the dog even if you don't have one. The light is higher and ready for you to notice.
Oh, and just so you know, the snow quit.
But here in the gallery we have snow continuing. A book full of snowflakes, all 14 created so far by Bruce R. MacDonald, is almost at the printer. We will keep you privy of the release date. For now here is a taste.
Jookin' Wanderers and Baltimore, Maryland
The earth doesn't revolve around the sun. In fact none of the planets do. We all revolve around the center of mass of the solar system which changes constantly. Sometimes it is near the center of the sun and sometimes it's in space around the sun. Technically, that shifting, looping point is called the "barycenter," in case anyone is on Jeopardy tonight. And, relative to the surrounding space, that point is moving 144 miles a second. Thataway.
Now apply this principle to your life. Your axis is constantly shifting. Work, your partner, your kid(s), your obsessions, your horse, FB, music, skiing, vacation planning… Yeats famously said, "The centre cannot hold." I posit, the center is a fiction. We are just dancing around other stuff dancing around. All the time. I hope you got rhythm.
Dance on over to The American Craft Council Art Fair in Baltimore, February 20-22, Baltimore Convention Center, www.shows.craftcouncil.org/