And never stops…

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul -And sings the tune without the words -And never stops – at all -And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -And sore must be the storm -That could abash the little Bird-That kept so many warm -I’ve heard it in the chillest land -And on the strangest Sea -Yet – never – in Extremity,  It asked a crumb – of me.

-Emily Dickinson

 

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 When I asked my wife which word she wanted to adorn her high school English and journalism classroom, she chose “hope,”  and cited the first line from the poem above.  Considering that she is busy teaching the next generation of young writers and journalists who will seek the truth from our blossoming government propaganda machine, and hopefully speak truth to power in the process,  I would say she chose the right word.

The “journalists” we are most likely to see these days are not interested in the truth so much as they are the ratings that their groveling gets them.  The search for truth is more a search for the gold these days.  There are those that continue to try and let us know what is really going on, but they are up against a machine that wants only to tell people what they want to hear from whichever camp they are firmly nested within.  People that use words like always and never, which don’t actually apply to anything in reality.  The news media used to inform us as to the important aspects of life in the country that we needed to know to make intelligent decisions in the voting booth, or in financial matters.  Now, the media has become the property of those who need to make their money off of our decisions, and they now use the media to this end.  It is for entertainment purposes only.

This generation of high school kids may indeed be our last hope at redeeming our news organizations to their prior status.  Otherwise, they may be the last generation that finds it necessary to learn the definition of the word “truth.”

 

 

 

Words matter.

We have somehow come to a place in this country where stupid is the new smart. Where lies are the the new truth. Where being uninformed by facts is acceptable, as long as we’re bombarded by opinions that mirror our own.  It’s beyond comprehension to me.  We have become a people who seem to be afraid of intelligence, so we seek the comfort of being surrounded by a total lack of it.  Lies are okay, because they don’t scare us as much as the truth.  Fear is a warm scarf we wear proudly around our neck, even though facts don’t bear out that thing we’re afraid of is actually affecting us.  Growing up, logic always seemed like the important factor, so sometimes now I feel like I’m walking on the moon.

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So, in the process of practicing this leather hobby, I’m attempting to create some wall hangings that include words that matter to people.  Sometimes you can tell a lot about a person by the words that matter to them most.  And sometimes, you can see the lack of humanity in a person by the fact that words mean nothing to them at all.

Words and their meanings still matter.  A lie is still a lie, regardless of the opinion from which it originates.  There are no “alternative facts” that are actually facts.  When someone uses their words to tell us the sort of person they are, we may want to believe them.  And their words.

A Proper Saddle…

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The first thing I learned about spending time on this leather hobby is that you better have a comfortable place to plop your backside while you do it.  Because you are going to be there awhile.  It has to be the proper height.  The right size.  With a bit of give, but not too much.  If your feet are too high or too low, there will be numbness followed by needles.  None of which make it much fun.  But the odds of finding this specific saddle for the ride that would perfectly match the table I built were slim and none.  So I built one.

There is art in everything, and in nothing at all.

 

Shoulda been a cowboy…


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I love leather.  I love the look and feel of it; the smell; the color.  Always have.  Saddles, belts, boots and chaps…  they all give you a feeling of something more than the plastic, throw-away crap that everything seems to be made of in our lives today.  Organic, for you leaf eaters, I guess.  When I was young, I daydreamed of spending my time in a saddle shop, smelling wood and leather and pipe smoke.  Tooling away all day at the task of making a saddle that would be the daily throne of Sam Elliot or Tom Selleck.  And their mustaches.  Or perhaps it would carry Augustus McRae across the prairie to Montana.   Or get spit on by Josey Wales. Tom Horn would want it to be simple, and the Duke the same, I reckon.

It seems to be a dying art in this world where everything is outdated as soon as it hits the store shelves.  Everything mass produced by a twelve year old malaysian girl who has basically been made a slave to boost profits.  And it takes time.  Each piece is the result of thousands of small taps from a hammer, and multiple steps in the process that produces the final product that takes me back in time.  No, I don’t wish to make America great again, in case that’s where you think this is going.  And I’m not nostalgic for all things old and white.  I simply appreciate the art form, and the medium.  And even more so those who have perfected it.

I may never live long enough to be one of those folks, but I’m going to give it a try.  It’s cold outside, and the metal sculpture can’t very well be done in the living room, so I’m taking up the indoor work bench for a spell and dreaming of days on horseback.  And banging away at the leather maul to see what happens.

I still have to smoke my pipe outside.  Because dying ain’t much of a livin’… boy.

Tree of Life

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About a year before he died, my dad asked me to build the headstone that would mark his grave in the small town where he lived.    He had just been declared free of the pancreatic cancer he had been fighting, and we all assumed he was simply looking ahead.  So I said I would do it, and then didn’t think about it again.  Not long after, the pain in his back was found to be cancer that had spread to his bones, and he wouldn’t be with us much longer.  After he lost his fight, his ashes remained in the home he had built in rural Oklahoma.  A year later,  it was time to put them in the family plot of the small cemetery on a hill not far from their home, as he had requested.

So, it was time to make good on a promise.  In the process of doing so, I realized that his request had not been some simple favor that he asked in dealing with his own mortality.  It was not a way to save some money, or to have a grave marker different from the others.  He had done this on purpose.  If you doubt this is the case, I challenge you to build something for the grave of a member of your family, and tell me what you think about every second, of every minute, of every hour that you work on it.  He had done this on purpose, and I’m sure he was enjoying every tortured detail of the project.

When considering how to proceed, the first thing that popped into my head was a tree.  A living thing.  Something that exists in all of the beautiful places we love to go, and gives us shade, and someplace peaceful to grab a bit of rest.  The granite monolith we have come to know as a normal headstone screams death, and for me that isn’t what this should be about.  It should be about life.  And to me, a tree is as alive as anything on this earth, waving in the wind, and constantly spreading it’s branches to grab the sun.  We should all be so alive.  There would need to be some way to mount a small plaque with his name on it, so I decided to hang a swing.   A workaholic in his youth, he had finally come to his senses later in life, and taken advantage of a good place to sit and relax, so it made perfect sense.

His ashes now rest down in the base of the sculpture, that can be decorated to match the seasonal changes of the trees that surround the cemetery on a hill.  And at some point, hopefully a very long while from now, there will be another swing, and some company beneath the tree.  But not yet.  For the rest of us, there’s still time for spreading our branches, and grabbing some sun.

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Rising

Rising 2The day I moved into my fraternity house as a freshman, I was lucky enough to meet two exceptional young women.  One of the first smiling faces to greet me inside the foyer was the housemom.  The person behind that room-warming smile would act as chaperone for a few hundred unruly young boys each semester, who had little business being allowed out into the world on their own.  So, for these residents, over the next few years, this woman would be the lone voice of civility and reason readily available under that roof.  A job for which she was well equipped.  And standing next to her that day was her daughter, Elizabeth.  Pigtails, jean shorts, and an exact reproduction of that very same smile.  I would guess she was seven or eight years old… and fearless.  If I was guessing today, I would say that she probably put up with over a thousand big brothers during her stay in that house.

When you grow up with that many older brothers, chances are you will become quite adventurous and unafraid in this world.  And Elizabeth did.  Along with earning her PhD., she became an accomplished rock climber, white water rafting guide, and sled-dog racer.  A completely shattered foot threatened to bring all of that to an end following a serious fall while rock climbing.  Doctors lined up to tell her that she would never return to her outdoor life, and went so far as to say that crutches or a walker would now become her normal mode of transportation.  Until one doctor decided to try something to mend her foot that no one else was willing to attempt.

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She spent a great long while with her newly crafted foot locked in a contraption that held everything in place.  And because of the doctor’s willingness to try, and her desire to do what she loves, today she is back on the rocks.  Fearless as always.  Which is what inspired “Rising.”  Her mother shared the story and wanted a sculpture that included the “fixator” that held Elizabeth’s foot stationary while it healed.  And her escape from it back to the life she loves.

Over the long two years spent working on this piece, it has come to mean so much more to me.  It’s no longer just Elizabeth breaking free from her fixator…it’s women everywhere breaking free from the yoke of simply not being a man. There has been a recent swelling of what feels like contempt for women in this country as “tradition” has replaced backward thinking, and “fundamentalism” has replaced self-righteousness.  Different words, same sentiment.  We are once again losing our respect for women that I thought we had finally gained.  They make less money doing the same job as a man.  They are preyed upon on college campuses and in night clubs.  They endure abuse at the hands of those that claim to love them.  Politicians demean them with notions of a second class citizenship.  Religion draws on misogynistic dogma to keep them in their lane, submissive to men, even though the words that drive it were written by men and ascribed to God to give them credence.  The whole notion that women are somehow less than men just shows the extent to which men are ignorant, and have been allowed to perpetrate their own self aggrandizing version of the truth without ever providing proof.

Elizabeth climbingAnd to those in the “men are better than women” crowd,  I would simply say this… try and climb up to the elevations where Elizabeth can be found on a sunny day, and see what she thinks about your theory.   Because she has risen above your ridiculous notions about women somehow being second class, and above pretty much everything else.  And if by dumb luck you are able to rise that high, I wish you the best in getting back down…  without her help.

The Life in between.

IMG_2312Some years back, I attempted to create a wall hanging in our living room out of some simple fabric.  I could describe it in detail and waste your time, or I could be blunt… it was less than stunning.   And less than stunning can only get by in an “artist’s house” for about five years or so, apparently.   About a year ago, I took it down and tried again.  This time with some metal included, because that’s all I really know.  It was a large piece with three panels of different colors.  The top was solid orange, and was supposed to resemble the sun.  That big star in the sky that gives us the ability to live on this planet.  The bottom panel was a simple brown, and played the role of our earth.  Receiving light and heat, and turning these into all that we live on.  Between these two panels, was a colorful spread of shapes and patterns.  All taking place in that space from sun to the earth.  The life in between.

Even though this sounds interesting, it was anything but.  It was too big.  Too misunderstood.  Too overwhelming.  For the eye and for the room itself.  And it probably would have only hung there being offensive for, let’s say, five years or so.

Yesterday, I took it down.  Not for philosophical reasons, or for the sake of better art.  It was much more simple than that.  The hanger holding one end pulled out of the wall, apparently overwhelmed as well.  So I removed the top and bottom panels, cut the metal from each, and inserted it within the center panel in absolutely no understandable pattern whatsoever.  And what you see here is the result of that.  Now, it fits the wall.  It fits the room.  It fits the eye as well.  So, it turns out that for all of the fuss about the earth and the stars, the only interesting point of focus was the life in between.

Hmmm.