Friday, April 03, 2009

Doing The Hokey Pokey

Recently I received a phone call from my sister, Barbara, out in Seattle telling me that our brother-in-law, Bill had suffered a massive heart attack. Luckily, he survived it. The big dumb Mick, while having the heart attack, drove himself to the hospital. When he arrived in the ER he immediately passed out. In a very short time he was wheeled into the only open operating room available and had a life saving stent placed into one of his arteries. Bill always did have the luck of the Irish. A few days later I learned that one of my oldest friends had died at the end of January. I was numb. Paraphrasing the writer/monk, Thomas Merton, I know that at 59 I am not yet old but I am reminded that every day I am living on borrowed time.

I sat there, with my head in a vise, babbling on to my wife about these two events in my best self-pitying “poor me” attitude. Ever being the comforter my wife took my hand and with the most compassionate sarcasm she could muster she said, “Poor baby, you’ve survived a heart attack and death and you lived to tell the tale.” Like a sharp stick in the eye she brought me back to reality and the present. God, I love that about her. She must have been a Zen master in a previous life.

Brother-in-law Bill is at home recovering very nicely. My friend, Bo, is still dead. One out of two ain’t bad I suppose. That’s a .500 average. There’s an old saying, “The best party I ever went to was an Irish funeral.” When my father died I learned the importance of a wake and the value that it has for the living. So, in a way, this is my wake for my friend.

Bo and I had been friends for 43 years. He helped to foster my budding interest in jazz. The first time I smoked marijuana was at his apartment while listening to recordings of the (original) Dave Brubeck Quartet. He introduced me to the writing of Thornton Wilder and J.D. Salinger. A decade later, through him, I learned of the writings of Thomas Merton, which came to have a very powerful influence on my life and sense of spirituality. He taught me how to shoot pool and how to be a carpenter. Over the years we had many road trips and adventures together. We also had many conversations, over coffee or fine cognac that went late into the night. Perhaps we had a bond because there was a spirit of rebelliousness in both of us. There’s an old movie, “The Wild One” starring Marlon Brando where his character is asked what he’s rebelling against and his answer is “What do ya got?” That was Bo, rebelling but not quite sure of what he was rebelling against.

We were on similar paths but over the years but they began to branch off in different directions. When I first met him he was very liberal. Over time he became moderate then eventually conservative, especially about his Christian faith. Knowing him, I couldn’t understand how he had become a conservative, right wing, Christian. On the other hand I was more moderate in the beginning (although some I know might say I was liberal or even radical) and eventually grew more liberal. Along with an interest in spirituality and world religions, I also have a strong interest in Christianity (scripture, history, orthodoxy, theology, etc.) especially when compared to other religions. I went in a different direction headed towards the more radical boundaries of the faith. These diametrically opposed views, rather than drive the friendship apart made it stronger. He was one of the few that I could argue or debate with and still be intense, direct, and opinionated and not have to worry about it. But then he had similar qualities.

He had a restless spirit and could be a pain-in-the-ass but he had a good heart. Like so many of us, he was filled with a lot of self-doubt and questioned his self worth. He never fully appreciated how much he really touched and helped others. So now that he has joined the cosmic dance (he wanted to join the heavenly choir but really didn’t sing that well) and my wife has poked me in the eye I will pour a glass of fine cognac and enjoy the ride on the stream of my memories.

So, does this have anything to do with art? Well, yes and no. Artists not only reflect the world around themselves but they also reflect who they are as people. I believe that art is autobiographical. It is the trail that I leave behind as I pass through life. Anything that touches my life also touches my art. Who and what I am, both good and bad, shapes the form and content of my work. My landscapes do not depict lonely places (because I am not lonely) but rather solitary places. I like solitude and to have places where I can hide and watch the world unseen (does that make me a voyeur?). They are the places that I go to in order to recharge my batteries so that I can confront the world when necessary. They are the places where I go to really find out if the hokey pokey is what it is really about.

The first image is a photograph from one of my favorites bloggers, Lori Witzel (artist, writer, philosopher and hokey pokey enthusiast The next photo is one of myself as a young artist in 1969. I was visiting my friend, Bo, when he lived up in Eureka, CA. The third photo is a picture of my friend, Maurice “Bo” Peltier (1938-2009) doing his James Dean impersonation from “Rebel Without A Cause” or as his brother put it, a rebel without a clue. The final image is from a new series that I am working on. It is titled “Copse On Rich St. #4” and measures 14.75” X 20.625” and is artist crayon on paper.


Blogger Gareth said...

hmmm, I feel as much as I can feel for you. If that makes sense! I have been trying to get through Milton myself, even have the audio, difficult for me. I seem to have a fascination with the Devil for some reason. Rebellion is a good thing, I refuse to do anything because it is the social norm, I want it justified to me and I will decide if I will adopt the idea. This reeks havoc with college Professors. The first question I ask is " What do you know?" Then " Why should I learn from you?" ultimately I am asking, "Justify your presence to me" ha ha. I am a shit but I need that justification or what the hell is the point to the dance? who leads? and were is my partner?
when I visit the death in my life I find myself in search of wisdom beyond my experience. I find mans myth more often than not. this is one of my favorite quotes I have come across.

"'Tis all a Checker-board of Nights and days where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays: Hither and thither moves, and mates and slays, and one by one back in the Closet lays.

Omar Khayyam

12:46 PM  
Blogger andrea said...

Nicely written, Ed, and I love your wife. I would marry her, too. :) (As for Bill, I drove myself to the hospital while in labour with my second -- I knew I'd relax more of I did it than if I let my mother-in-law drive. I have a little Irish in me, too. :) RIP Bo. The best ones are independent thinkers.

11:09 PM  
Blogger leslyf said...

Hi Ed, great post. Sorry that you have lost an old friend and almost lost another, but we are at that time of life when the 'horrible' happens to those we love. Its very sad but it should remind us that we should live each day as if it were our last ....

I have had a poke in the eye with a sharp stick myself recently ... its uncomfortable coming face to face with ones own mortality. But its far worse to have to face the mortality of those near and dear to us. Friends are precious.

I hope that you enjoyed a few whiskies and quiet moments thinking about the old days with Bo.

Take care

4:32 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

I very much appreciate your new painting. I think it can be seen on several levels - a landscape of course but what really occurs is the feeling of a load of sticks holding up (rather painfully) a larger and dark mass. What is the dark mass I am left wondering? How fragile are the sticks? Will it hold? I hope this makes sense. I like the duality of it.

Sorry to hear about your friend.

A quote from Robert Browning also seems appropriate to your article:

"Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be!"

Sorry to be so slow in answering your e-mails - I have been though one of the busiest periods and have been left thoroughly exhausted.

8:03 AM  

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