The Renting of The Veil

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For the last number of weeks, about a month now, aside from my early dawn journaling, I’ve not been moved to write.  The last post was a few days before the box office murder of George Floyd. If all the world is a stage then we are living in a snuff film. A week or so ago, I spoke with a fellow artist about creating work dealing with the current events.  His statement to me, “What can I create?! All I feel is rage right now.”  That became his piece, and perhaps will lend toward his peace. The work is in two subdued shades of green, a most calming color on the human eye. It is eerily relaxing. Reminiscent of nature.  The blocky letters are spaced within the space. This work to me, is a groundswell, a restrained explosion of epic proportions.  It’s charged.  That is where I am at the moment. Amid throes of protests and its peripherals is a releasing of pent up energy on the heels of the corona scare. My hope and prayer is that it is more than a reaction, more than a fit of rage, a tantrum, a populist cooption, more than a rising emotional wave that will crest and settle into a waning tide only having made noise crashing against a shore, and washing back out to see in the distance, faded shades of dream once again deferred.

My prayer and action will be for us to know what justice looks like; when we look in the mirror. Justice to me is to want for another, the basic rights, freedoms, and privileges that I desire for myself. To look into the face of one who you assume to be the least like you and to see yourself, your son, your daughter, your mother or father, even a reflection of your God. Would this change how you see, how you perceive another as so different and deserving of any less than you?

The front and center murder of George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery is by no means an anomaly on the historical screen of American cinema. It’s a festering outbreak of an American cancer; a debilitating malady her founding fathers and their seed refused and refuse to acknowledge or chooses to ignore.  It will continue to eat away at the heart and soul until a most certain demise ensues..  It is deeply imbedded in the psyche of the American way of life.  So much so that it may not even be noticed on the daily by the benefactors beneath the pomp and circumstance of perceived progress. Perchance this latest outbreak will trigger a turn of events, the catalyst for the paradigm shift in the conscious of the American psyche. Hopefully it is the Renting of the veil.  The veil of American illusion also known as…to be continued…

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Tend Her Heart

Heartsound“Tend Her Heart”  graphite on paper…from my sketch pad (future mural)

The heart is more than a shape, it shapes… During this extended time of settling and setting, staying over going, and remaining in place rather that going out of place, many have risen to a new level of presence; tapped into a heart space that had been crowded out by too much doing and not enough being. With churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and ounfos closed, what has been the nature of your worship.  Beyond program, ritual, preaching, and singing, how have you tended your heart space? This morning I asked a small group of people, “What feeds your heart?”  Sadly, none could answer. I quickly shifted the weight and asked they they allow themselves to think on it in their own space and time.  Mine was not to ask in order to task but tend toward tenderness. Notice how we attend to everything else at the neglecting expense of our living center. There is no wonder that imbalance is in abundance.  A heart has never attacked anyone, they seize and shut down because we neglect to truly tend them. We show more care to  static edifices of brick, wood, plaster, mortar, and glass.

“Because our heart dwells in unattended dark, we often forget its sublime sensitivity to everything that is happening to us. Without our ever noticing, the heart absorbs the joys of things and also their pain and care. Within us, therefore, a burdening can accrue. For this reason, it is wise now and again to tune in to your heart and listen for what it carries. Sometimes the simplest things effect unexpected transformation. The old people here used to say that a burden shared is a burden halved. Similarly, when you allow your heart to speak, the burdens it carries diminish, a new lightness enters the body, and relief floods the heart…the state of one’s heart inevitable shapes one’s life; it is ultimately the place where everything is decided….because it is where God dwells: the heart is the divine sanctuary.”                                              +John O’Donohue, This Space Between Us.

Return To Roots

Roots

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

In one of my favorite films, A Walk In The Clouds, a fire destroys the family vineyard. The father, in a fit of a pain induced drunken rage hurls a lantern, setting generations of family wealth ablaze. The next morning in the ghostly mist, the once lush vineyard lay in gray dusty waste.  The patriarchs are crushed, the women lament, all seems lost until a newcomer, an outsider remembers a small hill above the vineyard where the mother plant lived.  He races there to find that her deep-running roots have not been charred by the invasive flames.  Hope is rekindled. Even more so a bond is formed and a return to the true wealth of family connection is inspired.

There is something about the human spirit that is sometimes galvanized by adversity. Under the current circumstances we may find ourselves taking inventory on preparedness and daily habits. At present, gardening and back to earth activities are at an all-time high. Is it because people are staying at home or because they see a greater need for some level of self- reliance? That reliance piece is a potent point to ponder.  We have watched our government fumble and flood us with jabberwocky as they struggle to lead us through this. Most of them know only as much or less than the average one of us.  At the end of the day, it does not matter whether those that govern our nation know exactly what to do in the face of a such a threat.  We have a right, even a need, to take more responsibility; the ability to respond in a way conducive to our well being. When the boom falls it boils down to how we respond as a community; individuals coming together for a cause beyond commonality to lighten the overall load. The governing voices to many are distant babbling echoes. Why, because they will still be compensated and voted in again, and it’s the marginalized who suffer most. It’s a little easier to tell someone to be patient from a comfortable position. Millions more are without incomes at this time, businesses gone belly up, and day to day living has become a matter of survival. We’ve focused so much on “terrorist” threats from beyond the borders, spending billions on military might that we (some not all) never imagined this coming.  This alien invader will create a major paradigm shift.

More is yet to come.  Govern your own ship. Reclaim your power.  Plant a garden, teach your children, turn off the programming and learn a marketable trade, take care of this body that transports your spirit through this life.  Reconnect to mother earth. Reconnect to   your abilities.  Reconnect to each other. Reconnect to whatever force or power you believe set the course of life into motion. That is our root. The depth of that connection will determine the development of human life as we move forward in harmony with the natural order of things. We’ve adapted to a manufactured environment and built an artificial life force that is not solely sustainable in a time of unpredicted unrest.  In a state of fear and confusion, we have allowed politics to dictate reality. A.R.T. (A Resurrecting Truth) will help us to truly perceive that reality and subsequently create one in which we can do more than merely survive.  In this state our development will be in harmony with the natural world rather than a pseudo-progression at the expense of it, and ultimately us.

Liberation Theology

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“Liberation Theology” from my sketchpad…graphite on paper. “Everything that touches YOUR life, must be an instrument of YOUR liberation or tossed into the trash cans of HISTORY.”   +Dr. John Henrik Clarke

I remember sitting in the auditorium of the VBC auditorium with well over a thousand teachers and school administrators watching the blockbuster documentary “Waiting For Superman.”  The documentary was an exegesis on how certain developments over time have made it difficult to improve public schools.  The opening scene seared into my consciousness and the metaphor went well beyond the scope of standardized public education.  In the well-worn clip form an old Superman film, a group of children sat screaming inside of a school bus as it rolled backward down an embankment to a sure travesty.  At the last minute, in swoops Superman to save the day.  The scene ends with our trusty hero smiling, dusting his hands, flexing his pecks, girls swooning, and every boy looking on in admiration and an underlying wish that he was Superman.

On the rare occasion that I do watch mainstream news or read an article about our present state of affairs, I still hear the screaming, blood curdling shrieks in the form of complaints, protests, marches, political organizing and the list goes on. Not that any of these things are counterproductive in themselves. I am however, compelled to believe that much of that energy can be used in a more proactive and productive manner.  These voices of discontent surpass the sounds of the children on that bus in that black and white film. In these moments, my heart races as I realize that all too many of us, in good faith, are still holding our seats on the bus and screaming, lifting our voices, while waiting for Superman.

Years ago, my best friend’s family moved into a neighborhood behind mine. This was a dream come true.  The only negative was that a large patch of woods and a creek separated us. At night it was so dark you could barely see your feet touch the ground.  On one particular day I was at his house with other friends from his side of the neighborhood. We were having the time of our lives.  At some point, I realized that it was growing a little dimmer and I needed to get home before darkness fell. Grasping for a little more time, I asked my buddies if they would walk me home if I stayed longer.  Of course they all agreed. Time wore on and the sun sank lower.  Concerned, I mentioned it again and they quickly assured me that they would accompany me but no one made an effort to walk my way.  Eventually it became obvious that they were stalling and indeed would probably not take the trip with me as a group. I even entertained the idea that his mother would take me home or that by some miraculous decision my parents car would appear in front of the area where we played.  At some point I had to suspend my wishes and make an executive decision.  I grabbed a handful of rocks and headed into the darkness. Needless to say, since I’m here at this moment, I made it to my destination.

That incident, though unpleasant, taught me a valuable lesson.  The sooner we realize that no one is coming, the less collateral damage we will be forced to bear witness to in the wake of our waiting. NO One Can Save Us But Us. When we reach that conclusion, a Divine force is resurrected within us. An indomitable resolve takes root. Moratoriums don’t last forever and suspended animation only takes place in films and the imagination. Every moment waiting generally is a moment wasted while we drift further from a point of power to act.

We do better by getting out of our way and walking into what we desire rather than sitting back asking, or worse yet, hoping for someone else to give it to us.  Even if it’s owed to you, they’re probably not going relinquish it without a fight. As the Reverend Jesse Jackson shared with me, “make sure your fight is worth the fight.” Whether it’s the elusive 40 acres and a mule, better neighborhoods and housing, the dream job (careers), fair treatment, or better economic conditions, the ensuing darkness is a familiar reminder that we are going have to do it for ourselves if we want it done at all. There is no flash of light in the sky on the way, no prince charming charging in on his lusty steed, no politician on the throne positioned to save the day. NO ONE CAN SAVE US BUT US.

Southern Vignette

Grandma“She seems to have had the ability to stand firmly on the rock of her past while living completely and unregretfully in the present.”             Madeline L’Engle

Southern Vignettes….Fryin’ up that deep south flava… Not all super heroes wear capes or shoot lasers from various places but I knew some who could wield a fryin’ pan for the best fried green tomatoes, or for maintaining order in her court. This goes out to the grandmothers, the grandmas, grammas, big mamas, nanas, madeas, memaws, grammys, the Grand Matrons of the family dynamics. Strong towers in the storms. Comforting arms against the hardness of a sometimes cold world. A reminder of Divine grace and dignity.  Many of you reared your own children and your children’s children.   That strength, resolve, and special pan fried love stands as a beacon in our community and a soft pillow against a hard life. You are the manifestation of Godwalkin’ and sho’ ‘nuf unapologetic about it. Thank you Grand Matrons from the deepest place in my heart and soul.  I can hear the echoes all around…Know this!

She Came In The Night

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“Art is animated by invisible forces that rule the universe.” +Leopold Senghor

“Olubeja, I Have Called Her: She Came In The Night” graphite on paper. Often I look forward to my dream world as excited as I do the waking world.  Even so I am inclined to wonder at various times which is which. A friend once told me, “You don’t have dreams, you have movies.” Last year I had a dream/vision in which I was trying to reach my childhood home under the cloak of a moonlit night. The journey was nearly over since I was in the yard about to go across to where I could see the porch.  Suddenly I was besieged by creatures that had the stature of deer but the presence of horses.  They were charging me from various angles.  I became aware that they were intent on not allowing me to get to the door.  Finally, I made it to the corner of the house. Several of them had gathered in front of me in preparation to block my path and or attack. One, more formidable than the rest locked eyes with me.  Either way I was at an impasse.  They stood menacing between me and my chosen destination. Suddenly the larger one was blown backwards and out of my path. The rest scattered.  I felt no blunt force from behind, only a feeling of soothing warmth.  I turned to face a female figure, tall, blue-black or so she appeared in the night light, her arms were across her chest.  The markings on her face seemed to glow.   All of my fear had dissipated.  A sense of well-being engulfed me, like being home after being away for too long of a time.  I wanted more of her so I leaned into her face. She did not back away or respond in any way that I remember. I closed my eyes as I expected my lips to touch hers. There was no physical resistance.  My face went into hers and I opened my eyes. They opened wider when I saw the most illumined sunlight on the clearest day, a running stream or river, trees, birds, nature hued in its purest form. I breathed deep and pulled away and awake out of dream… There is so much more than we have allowed ourselves to believe.  Take this time, be still and know…

INVICTUS

Invictus

*Out of the night that covers me/Black as the pit from pole to pole/I thank whatever gods may be/For my unconquerable soul.

Recently I ran into a former student on one of my forays through a southern neighborhood. An excited voice calling my name, reminded me that one is never really out of sight. I looked across the way to see a young man, amidst a spattering of people on the edge of a yard, waving to me. We closed the gap with our conversation and talked for much longer than I would have assumed. First came the statements about how he’d loved my class, then a volley of stories and direct quotes of mine he’d retained. He introduced me to his family and comrades as his art teacher, his best teacher, his favorite teacher. The entire time he was smiling intently, excited to be where he is in life and sharing it with me. His present space, his beautiful young family, his passion, his goals, ambition and useable intel he shared with me was fresh air.   I allowed myself to breath deep with a feeling of a satisfying meal, not only for myself, but for all seated at the table. …

I could see the essence of my teaching philosophy manifested before me; the student teacher roles evolved and revolving in the mutuality of true education applied.  As I walked away, he walked with me sharing information that I will use in my own edification. As the rain began to spot the ground around us we continued to walk, with my company in unison. This was a return on an investment, a colorful reminder of where the real currency lies. During our entire exchange, not once did he mention anything I’d taught him about art production or an art lesson per se. Perhaps art serves as a stop, look, and listen sign. It’s an acronym for a resurrecting truth. What is the thing that invokes the life in you, that makes you rise to attention, your eyes sparkle? In re-membering what that is and acting on that, you become the artist and the art, the master of your fate, the captain of your soul.

 

 

*See Invictus by William Ernest Henley

What’s That In Your Hand..?

IMG_7810I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me…the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics.  I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself…That I believe is the reason for every work of art.”                                                                                     +Anais Nin

Some years ago, during a particularly trying time in my earth journey, I began a series of illustrations.  They didn’t begin as a series but rather an attempt to fold into a better place, a space to curl up in, away from the pain. They became my refuge as I looked forward to staining that benign surface with the productive side of my discomfort. Remember that there are always at least two sides to every story, and we get to choose. These line drawings did not alleviate the situation but it  did make it more bearable. My art as therapy eventually gave birth to a number of illustrations that, by the suggestion of a friend, grew into the production of an interactive book entitled, For Coloring Girls Who Have Considered Living When They Are Enuff (shout out to Ntozake Shange). The black and white illustration is from that book. The painting came later as did a mural located on 47th street in the Bronzeville section of Chicago. It’s called E Pluribus Unum which means out of many, one.

That down time was utilized as a time of alchemy that not only served me and continues to do so, but it connected with others who wrestling with their own pain, fumbled in the rainy gray season of their own joys. So here we are, in the grip of an adversary felt around the world. This weaponized attack is a force against humanity, a giant standing in the way of our earthly sojourn. However, having learned to peek around the “problem” and glimpse the possibilities, I see something here beyond this looming dark shadow. Amidst the dynamic implications of this thing on health, economy and overall well-being there are hard truths. We are resilient, we are not alone, we are stronger working together, we will not stop…

My goal is not to wax sermonic but rather to work this thing out loud for me first. My mind turns to the biblical character David and his well-known battle with the Philistine giant, Goliath of Gath.  Now doesn’t that sound like the quintessential movie villain name. In most expositions on the story we get the feeling that David went out there all alone driven by a divine directive. This fella was on purpose with a purpose. He had much more going for him than we give credit. First he knew that he had an army behind him. That can do a lot for a confidence booster. All those hands on deck backing him, ready to kick some assets. All they needed was a way to pierce through. Goliath represented a barrier, something that obscures the view, a distraction that stood in the way. David was to be the point man, the tip of the needle that pieced the skin of the Philistine stronghold first. A point man doesn’t not win the battle alone.  It’s the rest of the needle and what it carries that delivers the desired result. David was willing to be that because he knew what he knew.  He knew what he could do with what he had and moved on it.  He could not wear another man’s armour nor bear their arms. He had some experience in overcoming obstacles with that tool. He relied on what was tried and true for him, as simple as it may have appeared. He knew what skills he had developed to overcome obstacles, and yes, this was another obstacle to be overcome. His challenges had created a resolve that resulted in a mindset that allowed him to peek around the giant, see beyond that ominous form with the knowing of what he had behind him, and realize that all he needed to do was to do what he did. When you look at them in the right light, most obstacles are merely opportunities in disguise.  When you make a personal inventory, mobilize fully what you have, giants that once towered before you, have no choice but to fall. It’s divine law…or gravity, perhaps one and the same.

I recently read that The University of Cambridge temporarily closed due to the outbreak of bubonic plague in 1665. A fella by the name of Isaac Newton, having to work from home, used that time to progress calculus and come up with the theory of gravitational pull.  How are we going to use this time to serve us, evening if it means to just slow down, rest up, re up, realize the sanctity of life or open that door you’ve been side glancing for years. In this climate of heaviness and uncertainty, I declare you joy and revelation. I also leave you with a question…What’s that in your hand?IMG_1976IMG_1984 (1)EPluribusUnumMuralEPluribusUnum

She Did Not Quit…

On an unusually sunny day last autumn, I assigned a project to my second year magnet art students. *Gia, a very petite girl and particularly studious artist, was off and ahead of the pack, as was her custom.  Well into the assignment, I made my rounds, checking to see if everyone was on task and progressing. I noticed that Gia had painstakingly crafted her project wrong.  It was beautifully painted but not according to the given instructions. I stood behind her for a few minutes thinking on how, with the least amount of damage, to inform her that she was well on her way…down the wrong path. In fact, she was over halfway done.  It was beautiful, but not within the stated objective. While she labored with laser intensity, I walked up beside her and explained the project again in detail, letting her know that her design and painting were exquisite. However, she was doing the project in a manner inconsistent with the desired outcome.

There was a silence, as if even her heart had paused to comprehend what I’d just said. She looked at me then down at her paper. I felt bad that I’d not noticed this before. Perhaps she was a victim of a common classroom scenario where the ‘good student’ gets lost in the fray due the the attention being pulled by those who have to be held on task by something outside of themselves; me.  You just assume those “good students get it, know it, and go in the right direction because they are on it immediately and with confidence.

I saw a tear hit the desk in front of her, just outside of the artwork.  The net one stained the paper. I’d never seen this student cry.  In spite of her smallness and delicate nature, she always seemed so strong and directed, sure of her steps and nails tough. I let her know that the only way to get it right was to begin again.  Admittedly, that task seemed daunting to me as well but there was no other way to get it right, to get back on the right path. I then added, in an attempt to make the situation a little better, that since she worked so consistently, she could probably catch up to the other students. Still she sat there as if in a daze. I placed another sheet of mixed media paper within her reached. Not wanted to put it in her face. The blank paper appeared even more so. With that, I walked away thinking that she might go ahead in the direction she was already going and just take whatever grade that allowed. A few other students were looking on in sympathy. They were on task.  The instructions had been clear. She pushed the almost finished paper away, I noticed as I made my exodus from her valley of decision. I intentionally stayed away for a while, allowing her space to grieve and even to be angry with me if necessary.

Later in the class, I walked by and on the new paper was that meticulously laid out design, replete with bold swatches of the right colors.  The tears were still in her eyes. She was working through them and the project was unfolding even more beautifully than before. Her hesitancy had obviously been a regrouping, a reassessment of the situation. Sure, there had to be a little bit of paralyzing shock in the mixture.  She didn’t stay there long though. She knew what had to be done and didn’t wrestle for long. Any doubt she had about moving forward was put to rest by her decision to keep working through, to take the next step. Her resolve drove her beyond her disappointment and resulting pain.  She saw through the tears and locked in on the objective.   She cried, but kept going. She rested rather than quit or procrastinate or search out an excuse or play the blame game.  In that moment, she became a giant in my eyes, and shared with me a lesson in resilient fortitude that I carry in my arsenal to use as needed. In the midst of similar struggles, I see her smiling face on the victory side with that finished project hitting my desk with pride.

…setback is not failure…unless you give it the power to be…

*not her real name