Clearly, We Need to Eat More Potatoes

Few things are as straightforward and simple as cooking a baked potato. Wash it and put in a 425º oven until it is soft. Once on your plate, add butter, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, fresh chopped chives, and if it is really a special occasion, a dollop of sour cream. Does one really need more from a kitchen experience?

It’s just so clear.

I Can See Clearly Now, a quintessential song of summer by Johnny Nash always brings a smile to my face. Because for whatever reason he can see clearly now, the important thing is that he CAN see clearly.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It’s gunna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.


I’ve been pondering clarity in my own work.

Granted making a painting will always be more complicated than baking a potato or singing along with Mr. Nash. But being able to see the obstacles in my way is so helpful, and when the dark clouds of hard work clear, it does become a bright sunshiny day.

Having clarity about my work is up to me. Being clear about how I proceed through my painting process, then seeing the finished work clearly enough to be able to explain it to myself is, maybe, all that is necessary.

Look straight ahead, there’s nothing but blue skies and baked potatoes.

FIRE v WATER

Fires. Large bodies of water. Hypnotic lashes of flames, the lapping and crashing of waves, are both similarly transporting. There are few things as engaging.

What is it about these two elemental phenomena that captivate? They are so much the antithesis of each other, yet they can have a similar soothing effect on us.

I love to go to the shore of Lake Michigan to rest my brain — it works quite well for me. There I can get to a place of complete mind quiet.

Watching the flames of a controlled fire are endlessly fascinating to me too. They don’t share the same repetitive rhythm of the lake waves, but they hold a wondrous quality. Yet fire does not clear my mind or give me the same sort of reset as those waves.

Consider campfire stories. They are as common as campfires themselves. Until last night I had always thought campfire yarns were an inescapable tradition shared between the spinner and the listener.

I had a large pile of sticks and branches in my yard that has been piling up for years. Such as it was, I found myself, by myself, like a good boy scout tending a fire. The moon appeared and then the stars.

As I became lost in the flames and glowing embers, the fire started sharing stories with me — but they were surprisingly familiar stories, filled with my own memories. The lake never tells me those stories as I stare into the surf.

Is it possible that as water clears my mind, fire fills my head? That there really is some extra substance to the diametric opposition of these two elemental forces?

Opposites don’t always attract.

Insomnia

       MUSIC CUE: Générique by Miles Davis

       NARRATOR
It’s 1 AM, rain-wet pavement reflects the light of signs and tail lights in long shards of color.

Midnight college radio offers a soundtrack that turns a familiar daytime drive into an epic cross-town road trip.

The red and blue strobes of a squad car spark in the blackness of the night, serving and protecting and simultaneously pointing out at least one of somebody’s string of tonight’s probable bad decisions.

The practicalities of the after-midnight hours make one feel imprudent for always sleeping them away.

All night drive-thrus offer bad tacos handed into your driver’s window by a kid, like a slow-motion pit-stop drink given to Carroll Shelby in the 24-hour race at LeMans.

The red lights have turned flashing yellow, wave you through town on a non-stop roll.

Predictability is so predictable till it is not. We think that we should long for predictability. Night drives make us keenly aware that there is exquisite beauty in the unexpected.

Insomnia, like a pebble in your shoe — you can never get used to it, or past it, if you stay in bed.

FADE MUSIC:

No, You Won’t Fool the Children of the Rezəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n

Well, you can bump and grind, it is good for your mind
Well, you can twist and shout, let it all hang out

But you won’t fool the children of the revolution
No, you won’t fool the children of the revolution, no no no

Well, you can tear a plane in the falling rain
I drive a Rolls Royce ’cause it’s good for my voice …

For one obvious reason, this song, written by Marc Bolan and T. Rex has always made me smile but what has intrigued me about it is the ambiguity of it all. Ambiguity is one of those things that makes many people uncomfortable. It’s human nature to dislike an open-ended assignment without an end-point or obvious resolution.

For artists ambiguity is a daily fact of life.

But who’s creative? What is creativity?

How many times have I heard, ‘I am SO not creative … I can’t even draw a stick figure!’ I am here to say that if you can draw a stick figure you ARE creative. That act drawing made of straight lines, a circle, and a couple of dots may not be an example of creativity that will change the world. Perhaps it won’t cure cancer or stop the pandemic, but is an exhibition of creativity.

A succinct analogy to define creativity is when someone brings two apparently unrelated concepts, objects, or things together and makes something new. Before the iPhone we had cell phones, and we had computers. The cell phone was basically a glorified cordless phone and the computer was a calculator with some fancier attributes of a typewriter. Two very different brilliant inventions with two very different applications. Apple mashed them together and gave the world the smartphone and now most of us can’t imagine life without one of these gadgets.

When I was a little kid I was part of an enormous Cub Scout Pack that met in an upstairs room in a church. In my memory, this long room was not dissimilar to the Grand Hall at Hogwarts, minus the floating candles. The pomp and circumstance of the awards ceremony at pack meetings was impressive, to say the least. But aside from the Cub Scout pièce de résistance, the Pinewood Derby, my most memorable activity was when we all received a box of identical odd bits of wire, a wood spool, a Swansons meat-pie tin, and a block of wood. Our task was to make something by the next pack meeting.

Being only about 8, I had more than little help from my parents. We ended up making a windmill that not only spun around when you blew on it, but also went up and down to simulate how a real windmill could pump water.

That singular experience set me off on a course that has allowed me to see creative possibilities and solutions wherever I am. So yes, if you can take a few random lines and shapes and turn them into a person, you are for sure creative.

Solving ambiguity brings resolution.

Resolution is revolutionary.

The children of the resolution won’t be fooled, and to this day I have never even sat in a Rolls Royce.

Keep the Change

When we consider the technological advances of the last century or so we notice that nearly all enterprises are quick to jump on the tech merry-go-round in an attempt to get whatever edge they can on their competition.

What of the neighborhood barbershop? Except for the advent of electricity and the marketing success of Redken hair products, barbershops have remained unchanged from the days when you could get a shave and a haircut for two bits.

It wasn’t always like that though. Way back in 1163, a papal decree forbade monks from performing bloodletting as a therapy for health and well-being. So that procedure fell to the next most qualified set of professional technicians…local barbers.

Such a windfall for the industry! Along with bloodletting came dental work, autopsies, and embalming.

As fate would have it, by the early 1800s regulations and legislation stripped those surgical duties from the barbers and they were left to cut hair. It’s no wonder they have not hurried to adapt too much since then. The weight and worry of having it all stripped away again would be too much for all of the ‘Floyds’ of the world to bear.

But oh that great and wonderful gift of human nature. Some things even the most vigilant regulatory committees cannot take away. Just think of the stories barbers could tell. Long before the HIPAA laws went into effect prohibiting medical practitioners from sharing patient details, on any given day barbers would have accumulated many colorful stories to share with their next, ‘take a little off the top and sides’ customer.

The barbershop had always been THE place in town not only to hear the latest sports trivia and local news, but also a deep well of sage advice and philosophy.

That’s also where I remember hearing that old adage as true today as it was way back then:

“…there’s nothing more certain in this life than death and taxes.”

That must have made an impression on me — I think of it often as I do my bookkeeping…those two definite certainties, and that really there’s only one that I can do much about.

But then there’s that haunting jar of blue liquid with combs soaking in it at the barbershop. Maybe it makes a lot more sense now? I always wondered what that blue stuff was. Now I know why I was afraid to ask.