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.

What’s in Your Playlist?

Music comes in a lot of different flavors. If you ever listen to the podcast, Sound & Vision, you will know that the host Brian Alfred considers the music he listens to as an important aspect of his own artistic process, and thus the interest he has in the musical influences of those he interviews for the podcast.

My own personal musical tastes run far and wide. If you have read more than a couple of my newsletters you probably have some sense of that. Music is nearly always playing in my studio in one form or another. Depending on the task at hand that music can change drastically.

When was the last time you listened to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor? A musical construction that is that complex, that involved, and that epic might seem to be a distraction to creating work that requires dedicated focus. This particular piece is so visual, so cinematic — yet I find that it allows or maybe even opens up pathways to deeper engagement with my artwork.

As we have made our way through a full year of this pandemic, we can’t help but come to feel like we are left up to our own devices now more than ever. For me, that has granted permission to explore the possibilities of how we can get to where we want to go, to a place that I would be content to be.

What might those things be that will allow you to turn on all the right parts of your brain so that, ‘you get on the bus Gus?’ In the parlance of our time, could it be a new ‘playlist?’ Could it be studying an artist that you don’t know so much about?

Keeping the arteries pumping that feed that creative monkey on our backs is essential at just about any cost. Or maybe better said, we can’t afford not to keep them pumping.

Here Comes the Sun

I was driving home today from a locally-situated big box home improvement center, when my playlist gave me Luciano Pavarotti’s tenor voice singing Puccini’s, Turandot / Act 3: Nessun dorma!. The sun was out. Even though the two days of sun we have had this February is more than we expect, its presence was especially welcome.

Later in the morning, I came across a poem by Molly Fisk, Winter’s Sun. The first line says, “How valuable it is in these short days…”. There’s the sun again.

These little life situations can be conjoined in such a way that it seems there must be a definitive, bigger meaning behind it all.

What could it be? Joy?

At that conjunction, I was not inspired to create particularly. And I was certainly preoccupied with my home repair list. But I did feel a greater modicum of joy.

I thought about it and could find no relation between the melodies of Turandot, sunshine, or driving. It’s quite possible that it was a cosmic alignment of elements, and I was the only junctional point.

The point may be that there IS no point other than the very sweet gift of realizing that, for that moment, I was traveling through a poetic landscape.

In Northern Michigan, the rare winter’s sunshine never goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

There are times that all we need to fully realize is that we should sit up and take notice.

We don’t even need to be paying attention. All we do need to do is acknowledge it.