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My Modern Man’s Modest Wish List: stuff I don’t have but should- part 1

Occasionally I drift into materialistic dreams of stuff that I believe would make my life, and myself, better.

I do not have these things in part because of the specificity of my tastes, but also, because I maintain a modest budget that leans more toward necessities. My real challenge in life is finding ways to make the following items necessary.

The items in question are:

Solidly made, water resistant, steel banded wristwatch.

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Black running shoes, no colored trim, no bulging or bubbling soles.

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Plain brown, no extra zippers, no colored trim, high collared, leather racing jacket.

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Brown leather, no adornments, waterproof, hiking boots.

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All black, no colored trim, backpacking backpack.

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Black sub freezing sleeping bag.

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Desert tan pack packing tent.

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Navajo blanket.

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Wooden longboard.

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Two, leather and wood, Kala armchairs.

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Original, large scale painting by Gregg Deal.

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1st edition 1891 copy of American Football by Walter Camp.

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I am somewhat surprised I am still alive without these things.

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What It Takes To Get What I Want

Over the years and through a lot of experience I have learned a few useful things. One of the most useful, or the most widely applicable, is that in order to get what I want, I have to go and get it. Not in the simple work hard toward a goal sort of thing, but much more in a stop sitting there with your hand raised waiting to be called or chosen, because you will never get picked. So instead stand up and go grab, or do, whatever you want. Don’t wait for permission, don’t wait your turn, just do it. Because my turn never came up.sitting in nook reading

I know now that one of the major reasons I never got my turn, at least not in the way I always dreamed, is because no matter what I knew, or could do, no one knew who I was. Nor did they really care who I was- or am. I realize now that my ability to do anything- absolutely anything- has always been limited by the people around me. I have never met an astronaut, and as it turns out, it is very hard to become an astronaut if you do not, nor does anyone around you know, an astronaut- or at least someone working on the human side of the space program. Now I recall being told lots of prerequisites, or told of the appropriate path to one day being eligible for being launched into space, but I know now that they were in reality just guessing, or passing along the guesses, of others. They didn’t really know and I was absolutely never going to be an astronaut.

And yet someone out there still gets to be an astronaut.
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What I was and have always been most likely to become, was a school teacher. There was by proximity always the chance I could be a police officer, a CPA, or a low level manager in any variety of businesses where I would be tasked with numerous duties that would be hard to explain to a suburban adolescent and even more impossible to make interesting to such a person. Because growing up, those were the people surrounding me, and the people I knew.

I guess there was a chance, thanks to the unique characteristics of my school teacher father, that I might have become a hermit living in the woods, an auto mechanic, or maybe even a cowboy, but I had no true interest in those things. I was sort of interested in art. I was pretty good at drawing, and though my father was in fact an art teacher, I knew no working artists- other than teachers. I had other interests as well, but my experience, environment, and the advice coming from those I knew, told me that none of the things I was interested in would ever feed a family, which was my primary duty, and were best given up or at least relegated to hobbies. This was practical advice, and from any of our experiences, it was true. So I settled.ol chap

Eventually I moved. And I started, intentionally, meeting new people. I wanted to do new things. I wanted to do things that were interesting and meaningful, or even just more in line with the things I was best at, and I started to just go for it. I did most all of this unsupervised and un mentored, which is to say I probably did most of it poorly. Yet some of it worked. For instance, it never occurred to me that I could attend an Ivy League school. Quite the opposite really. In fact, to my knowledge I never even met anyone who attended an Ivy League School till, as an adult, I moved to Philadelphia. Once there I met plenty of very impressive, yet still human, students and alumni from nearly all the Ivies. I met them because they lived there, and even then, it did not occur to me that I could attend till one day I did a strange thing and emailed a woman I heard on the radio. She was talking about things I found interesting, the same sorts of things I was doing as a hobby, and it just so happened that she was a professor at an Ivy League school. I reached out to her out of the clear blue sky, mostly because she was local, and surprisingly she reached back.

And now I have a degree from an Ivy League School. Had I just sat and waited for that school to notice me, or really, had I just sent in an application not knowing anyone, it never would have worked. Not for me.

As I look back at it now, most of the things I have done in my life of which I am proud, or that might be of some value (because those two are not exactly the same) are the result of me showing up somewhere uninvited, inviting myself, or reaching out to complete strangers. I have learned to put on a suit jacket, act like I belong, and then just stroll in and casually start asking questions. It works. Sometimes. Really it only works a very small portion of the time, but in the 40+ years of my life, it is the only thing that has ever worked. I am just not shiny enough, noticeable enough, or connected enough, to do any different- that is if I want to do anything remarkable.

And along the way, I have also learned and seen directly, that this works in large part …

 

because I am white.

 

I have learned that these things don’t work quite the same, if someone is black. Or a woman. Or anything that isn’t like me, a straight white man. This is not to say that it cannot work for a black man, but the stakes are definitely not the same. The worst that has happened to me is getting kicked out of the American Philosophical Society Archives and told to come back during a regularly scheduled meeting. No, that isn’t the worst. I have indeed been called lots of nasty names and insulted with words, but I am given a helping of grace or room for error, whereas a black man entering a room uninvited is very likely to be arrested- or worse.

Not figuratively. Not maybe. But Likely.

Like here

Or here

And here

How about here?

Should I keep going?

This is what has, and is, and really has always been, the case for black people. Not every time of course, just like walking in uninvited didn’t work for me every time. But the default setting is that though this world, this America, isn’t set up to hand me anything, it will allow me to do things that are just a little bit “out there” in order to get a shot, while this same world is suspect of, afraid of, and will normally squash, repel, or punish any black person who does something just a little bit “out there” trying to get a shot.

That is what privilege is.

And that is how America works.

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Staying Grounded: I am so often wrong… at least initially

I had a very deep and brilliant thought this morning while in the shower. It was based on a scripture in Matthew and as this thought occurred to me I began mentally working through the application of this chapter and verse into my life, into my family’s daily life, and especially the implementation of my brilliance throughout all of society. This was important.IMG_3702

Then, once I was dried and dressed, I sat down with my mate’ and opened the Bible to the verse in question. Upon re reading it I realized it meant the opposite of what I had remembered and my entire scheme fell apart.

It was a valuable lesson.

I was not wrong in the spirit of what I was thinking, and definitely not wrong in motivation- I was looking to do good and be a better person. Yet when it came to these particular nuts and bolts, this little thought regarding implementation of Godly ideals, I was off-base. It is not best to be off base regarding God.

This is why we have these sorts of books. This is why scripture is called such and canonized. It keeps us grounded. There is among those with whom I commune, the recurring theme that the great value in this grounding is that the world is continually shifting, and it is this immovable type set that allows our footing to be securely on God’s ground. I don’t disagree but I would like to add that as I demonstrated this morning, it isn’t only the world that is shifting but us.

Or maybe most of us aren’t shifting in how “they” mean it regarding the world, in that God is in one place and the world is drifting and shifting away, but maybe we as individuals were never really as in line with God as we sometimes assume, and we need quite a bit of movement and improvement if we are to ever get on the right page. I find this thinking more productive especially considering most of us aren’t really all that exceptional; we are normal, which means that thinking about our own improvement rather than the requisite repenting of some imagined “other”, is more likely to bring us to the most applicable lesson.

Because odds are the things I need to work on are close to, or similar to, the things that those around me need help with also.

So I am glad to have something trustworthy in which to stay grounded, because no matter how fallible the translations in there might be, they are surely less fallible than you and me.

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My Support for Hyphenated Black People

Let me say up front that Black Americans have no need of my endorsement or recommendations in anything they might think or feel.

That being said, I am in full support of any Black American who prefers the identifier “African-American”, and here is why.

I often field questions, or rather suggestions, from various white people that “we” should all just be American with no hyphens or ethno-racial identifiers. This suggestion is normally given in the spirit, or with an expressed desire, that we should be a united, racist-free, nation. I appreciate this desire, share the hope of a day without racism, but reject the proposal, and here is why.

When the United States first formed as an independent country, those in power decided formally that to be “American”, or a citizen of the United States, a person had to be white. This is why the waves of immigrants over the years were able to shed their hyphens of Irish, English, German or otherwise and melt into that one word, American. Others had a tougher time.

This is why Arizona wasn’t allowed statehood till 1912. It had been “property” of the United States since 1848, with people living there for centuries previous, but the United States had a policy that there needed to be a critical mass of white people living in any given territory before it could be considered a state. The people living in Arizona were brown and it took a series of intentional settlements including land giveaways encouraging white immigration before white people had enough of a majority to be part of America. This critical mass of whiteness was attained around 1910, the application process took a couple years, and thanks to that ball getting started rolling, by 2010 Arizona had become 73% white.

As late as 1927, almost 60 years after the passing of the 14th amendment, the Supreme Court was still settling cases on who got to be considered white, which again, was a synonym for American. Lum v Rice decided that it was up to the individual states to decide who was and was not white (in this case it was a person from China suing to be white), in order to decide who got the full privileges of American citizenship. All because you had to be white to get those official privileges.

Most of us know the story of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s where Black Americans had to not only win legal battles but also take beatings from police officers in order to be allowed the same rights as other Americans, aka white people. Now if we keep in mind that these Black people’s families had been on this continent and participating in the building of this country every bit as long, and even longer, than many Irish, German, Italian, French, or even Iranian- all of whom assimilated by becoming legally white, we should take a closer look at what we suggest anyone do in order to assimilate.

Because back when Irish were shedding their hyphens, Black Americans were not only forbidden from full assimilation but also systematically prevented from pursuing success. So they forged their own ways to prosper.

While Black Americans were raising white children, cleaning white houses and having their labor exploited without constitutional protection, those same Black people were inventing jazz, laying a foundation for the discipline of sociology, reciting poetry over drum machines, fighting in American wars, penning novels, and helping send astronauts into space. All this while not being allowed the title of American, but rather Negro- or other words connoting their color with an added measure of insult. Consequentially Black people have developed a distinct culture that is very much American but distinct from that of those who were accepted as white/American historically. That deserves respect, honor and appreciation.

In the past the “distinctness” brought along by immigrant groups (which is everyone other than indigenous peoples) was absorbed, or allowed, by letting these “others” be swallowed by whiteness. Some groups wanted to be white but still unique, and America said “yes” giving them St. Patrick’s and Columbus days. In response to things like Columbus Day, other white people founded things like the Daughters of The American Revolution, but all of them were united under the banner of American whiteness.

All of that is, quite literally, history. So when do we move past all that?

Fair question.

In 1967 a group of Black Americans attempted to get past it and exercise the 2nd amendment. They formed a militia and bore arms for their own protection. America responded by taking their guns and passing gun control laws. These Black people claimed the guns were to defend themselves, and that they had a right to do so, and America said they did not have that right.

The next year, sans militia, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot for advocating Black citizenship. So we know that the past wasn’t history 50 years ago.

How about 9 years ago?

The election of a bi-racial Black man to the presidency of the United States was heralded by many as the moment when we as a nation were finally over our racist past. How ironic then, that the most prominent and persistent accusation against our Black president, the accusation by which our current president made his political name, was that he was not born in America. He was accused of literally not being an American. Which was very much in line with the messages America has sent Black people all along. The past is obviously not gone yet. Was the 41 years between MLK and Obama enough to have both erased 192 years of racial division and then drive it all the way back into divisiveness due to some Black people preferring a hyphen?

Or maybe the term African-American isn’t exactly the cause, but rather just a hindrance?

Considering the contributions and struggles of Black people in this country, and knowing that all the other assimilated groups very literally shed their hyphenated status in favor of whiteness, makes the request that African-Americans only claim the title American, smack of condescending insult. I do not say this as an accusation that anyone who has forwarded such a suggestion did so from a dark and cruel place- but not all insults are intended.

Black people should be able to claim full American status without having to do so in a way that has always been a nod to whiteness. If the only way to do this is to bring back hyphens for everyone- great. Do it. But I will not be the one to tell any Black person that they should reject or ignore the African heritage that my country has so intentionally tried to dishonor all this time. For a Black person to be able to claim both their African descent, their Blackness, and their full American status simultaneously, is in my mind the best American dream. It is long past time that we, as Americans, accept that our country is, has been, and should be, a nation of people from many places, who don’t all look the same, who do not all act the same, and who can claim the fullness of who they are- while being fully American.

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Admirable Insanity: Robolights

Kitsch and art are parallel lines that never cross. Some artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and I could even argue Klimpt, sort of brush up against that line, but the whole genre of pop art acts as a buffer between the two making absolutely sure that those lines do not cross.

Unless you are in Palm Springs.

Imagine the Watts Towers but replace the Antoni Gaudi influence with Tim Burton. Just as the Watts towers are a backyard monument built “just because”, so is Robolights. But Robolights has a bazillion more Christmas lights- and toilets.

Approximately 30 years ago Kenny Irwin Jr. started building giant robots in his backyard. He was 9. Since then he has graduated art school and inherited the family house, but he has never stopped building. When I say never stopped, I mean I am unsure when he stops to eat because this place is the macabre junkyard version of kudzu. It is thick, ever growing, and covers everything.

When I first visited the place and posted pictures online, the most common questions were what and why? Neither can nor should be answered. Robolights is the kind of place that must be experienced not explained.

I can tell you that there is a feature touting itself as one of only two microwaved microwaves in the world, which would be Kitschy, but while viewing the torched appliance you are standing on a path lined by thousands of little skulls flanked by microwave legged robots under an archway holding up a roller coaster of shopping carts filled with aliens.

Everywhere you look something is spinning and flashing and probably features a skull or a toilet. And it is all in some dude’s backyard in residential neighborhood. Which on paper makes this completely kitsch. I am arguing that it is not.

When Duchamp presented a urinal as artwork it was initially rejected but is now considered by many as a foundational piece of 20th century art. Comic books aren’t necessarily taken seriously, but when Lichtenstein paints one single comic frame and blows it up larger than life, collectors pay millions. It is hard to say where the line really is.

Typing out descriptions of Robolights just doesn’t work. I’m not saying its on par with the Mona Lisa, but writing that there is this painting of an acceptable looking woman who is kinda smiling but not really, would not do justice to DaVinci. Same idea here. I’m not sure Kenny Irwin is really “saying” anything, but I’m also not convinced Leonardo had some grand message when he painted Mona.

What I am definitely saying is that we should all go see the Louvre, and Kenny’s house.

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In the Studio: secret santa

I don’t really like to paint, but I love paintings. All sorts of images really, illustration, portraits, photographs, I can stare at any of those things all day long. Painting is for me, a means to an ends, a taxing and laborious annoyance that must be endured in order to have interesting things to stare at.

Not every wall must have something hung on it, but some walls, when left blank, leave a hole in the room. That is why I paint. That… and also because sometimes I just get an idea of a picture I want to look at. Had I the means I could probably find stuff I like out there on the market, but till then, I paint.

Sometimes other people have rooms with blank spots on the wall and something must be done.

Someone once asked me, “What is your motivation as an artist?” I think it sounded flippant when I answered, “I just paint stuff I think it would be cool to look at.” but I meant it.img_3278

That isn’t to say I’m shy about my work, I rather like it when other people like what I do.img_3073

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Saying “Good Luck” in Russian

When your good friend is moving to Moscow in a week, you post an appropriate drawing.

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