There are many, many things I appreciate about other people’s artwork. It is not all a matter of envy or a desire to copy what they’ve done, stealing their techniques and insights for myself, though there is some of that. Look at the patterns Hergé uses to portray fish and undersea plants. I have shamelessly copied both. But it is more than just pen-and-ink burglary.
I like to be dazzled. I look for things other artists have done that pluck out sweet-sad melodies on the heartstrings of my of my artistically saturated soul. I look for things like the color blue in the art of Maxfield Parrish.
I love the mesmerizing surrealism of Salvador Dali.
I am fascinated by William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s ability to create photo-realistic and creamy-perfect nudes.
Basil Wolverton’s comic grotesqueries leave me stunned but laughing.
The dramatic lighting effects employed by Greg Hildebrandt slay me with beauty. (Though not literally. I am not bleeding and dying from looking at this picture, merely metaphorically cut to the heart.)
I even study closely movie-poster portraits like Bogart and Bergman in this Casablanca classic poster.
I could show you so many more art pieces that I dearly love to look at. But I will end with a very special artist.
This is the work of my daughter, Mina “the Princess” Beyer. Remember that name. She’s better than I am.
Losing the pool this summer was a humbling experience. I had repaired it before and got it working properly again, so I knew in my heart I was capable of salvaging it. But everyone was against me. The city was convinced that I was a deadbeat letting it slide and simply lying about it taking a long time because illness and financial reversals were slowing me down. My family was against me because they no longer had any confidence that I could still do it, and they feared me killing myself in the attempt. And then Bank of America won their lawsuit and prevented me from paying for the effort, thoroughly punishing me for the mistaken notion that I had any right to get myself out of medical debt even with the help of a lawyer. And the electrical problems, which I could not correct myself, put the pool restoration out of reach. I failed to do what I knew in my heart I was capable of. I failed. I was the only one who believed I could do it, and I only managed to prove everybody else right.
But Michael Jackson’s somewhat creepy nudie video with the weird Maxfield Parrish parody in it is actually a theme song for what I learned about myself. I was alone in the pool-restoration struggle. But I am not alone in life. I will never be alone, even if somehow I ended up the last person alive on the planet. Because we are all connected. We are all a part of one thing. We are not alone, even when we are.
I think I learned that best from my Grandmother, Mary A. Beyer. She was a rock-solid believer in Jesus through the pragmatic Midwestern arm of the Methodist Church. She also gradually became an isolated, lonely individual, living by herself in Mason City, Iowa. Grandpa Beyer died in his fifties, when I was about ten. Great Grandpa Raymond, who lived with them for as long as I can remember, passed away a few years later. But she was never really alone. Jesus Christ was a real person to her. She read her Bible and her weekly copies of the Methodist publication, The Upper Room, constantly. And she was always a central part of our lives. Christmases at Grandma Beyer’s place are deeply woven into the fabric of my memory. The bubble lights on the Christmas tree, the carefully saved and re-used wrapping paper from the 1940’s, the hot cocoa, and Christmas specials on her RCA color TV… I still draw strength and love from those things, and from her faith, even after almost twenty years pretending Christmas was evil as a Jehovah’s Witness. Simple truth and faith shared are some of those essential things that bind us together even though they are invisible to the eye. My Grandma Beyer is still with me even when I am fighting off the pool harpies all by myself because the things she taught me and the love she had for me still live in me, still affect who I am and how I act and what I truly believe in.
I am not alone.
And you aren’t either. I am here for you. I value you as human being. God tells me I should, even though God is probably not real, and I believe Him, even though I am a fool who probably really doesn’t know anything And it is true even if I do not know you and never met you. Heck, you may be reading this after I am long dead. And it is still true. Because we have shared life on this planet together. We are both humans. We both think and feel and read and believe stuff. And I love you. Because my Grandma taught me that I should, just as someone, somewhere in your life taught you.
As weekly rituals go, one of the most important ones came every Sunday morning when I was a kid. My parents were 50’s people. By that I mean they were teenagers and young adults during the post war boom of the 1950’s when everything seemed hopeful and bright and alive with wonderful possibilities. As a kid in the 1960’s the Sunday morning routine was this;
Wake up grouchy from staying up too late to sneak a look at the late-night monster movie on Saturday.
Read the funny papers.
Learn life lessons from Family Circus, Dagwood Bumstead, Pogo, Lil’ Abner, and Steve Canyon.
Eat scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.
Complain about having to go to church and Sunday school.
Go to Sunday School and church at the Methodist Church in Rowan, Iowa.
Complain about having to go to church every Sunday on the way home from church.
Pray over Sunday dinner and be really, actually thankful for all the positive good things in life.
Obviously the most important thing in that routine was complaining, because I listed it twice. But when it got down to it, we were thankful for all the good things about life. We were positive people. We sometimes listened to Norman Vincent Peale on the radio. We knew we ought to be positive and thankful and love goodness and be kind.
Somewhere along the way, though, the world forgot the life lessons of Family Circus.
Somehow we managed to screw things up.
Environmental scientists like Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb, warned us that the world could soon be ending. And we ignored them.
Richard Nixon taught us not to trust politicians any more.
We stopped believing in things like the wholesome goodness of scrambled eggs.
We let corruption in our government and inequality in the economic sphere become the norm. The greedy people who were cynical and had no empathy for the rest of us took over. That is how we ended up with someone like Donald Trump. Racism, fear, and complaining now rule the emotional landscape in America and most of the world.
So, what is the answer? What do we do?
Well, The Family Circus is still out there. We can learn from it, laugh a little, and apply some of those life lessons. Especially this one;
I often go back and re-read old posts, particularly when I discover that someone else has read them. It is amazing to me how differently I perceive things from when I actually wrote the post. As you write, squeezing huge, boulder-sized portions of hot, magma-like burning ideas and passions out through writing orifices not nearly big enough to accommodate, you usually hate what you wrote and are still writhing in pain from the creation of it as you try to edit it, trim it and brush its unruly hair. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor to make you cringe?) But given time and distance, you can really appreciate what you wrote more than ever before. Things that you thought were the stupidest idea a man ever put in words suddenly have the power to make you laugh, or make you cry. You are able to feel the things the writing was intended to make you feel. You begin to think things like, “Maybe you are not the worst writer that ever lived, and maybe that’s not why nobody ever reads your books.” But then, of course, your sister reads the post and tells you that you write like a really old, really crabby, really ancient old man. And you use the word “really” too much too. I know I deserve that, Sis. Especially the “really” part.
This is the thing about happiness; It is elusive and rare as a real-life blue bird. But capturing it for a moment is not impossible. And as long as you don’t try to salt its tail and keep it prisoner, you can encourage it to sing for you. (Much better metaphor this time, don’t you think?)
When I am accused of being gloomy, old, and boring, I can happily admit it and make it into something funny. I am something of a conspiracy nut, but not so serious that I believe all my own assertions. For those people who took offense at this conspiracy theory of mine; Coca-Cola Mind Control, I would like to point out that “Hey, I was joking. I actually like clowns.” Even though there is a serious side to everything and there can’t be laughter without some tears, I am basically happy with the way things are.
I started listening to “Live Happy Radio” on Sunday mornings on KLUV in Dallas. They point out on their program of endlessly droning happy-talk that happiness is something that you can work at. Like humor writing in blogs, it takes practice and practice and time. They even asked me to share the word about their happy magazine and products, so I am doing exactly that right here. Sometimes you simply have to put your cynicism in a jar on the shelf next to the lock box where you keep depression and self-loathing. So you can find their Live-Happy folderol right here.
So I am bird-watching again with an eye out for the bluebird. You know the one. It is out there somewhere. And I need to hear that song one more time.
My bicycle was red. It was red and looked just like the ones that Captain Kangaroo had in his commercials that we watched on a black-and-white TV every day before we walked or rode our bicycle to school, across town a whole long seven blocks away. After school I could ride it out a whole mile and a half to Jack’s farm with Bobby and Richard and Mark the preacher’s kid to go skinny dipping in the cold creek in Jack’s South pasture. Jack was younger than any of us except Bobby. And it was a golden age.
Spiderman comic books and Avengers comic books cost twelve cents to own, but they were forbidden. And as much as we sneaked them and passed them around until they fell apart, usually in Bobby’s hands, we never knew that Dr. Wertham had gone to Congress to make our parents believe that comic books would make us gay and violent. He was a psychiatrist who wrote a book, so even if you didn’t believe him, you had to worry about such things.
I believed in Santa Claus until 1967. And after I found out, I only despaired a tiny little bit, because I began to understand you have to grow up. And adults can lie to you, even if they don’t do it to be mean. And the world is a hard place. And the golden age ended in November of 1963 when JFK was assassinated.
In June of 1968 I rode my bicycle out to the Bingham Park woods, Once there, I took off all my clothes and put them in the bicycle basket, and then I rode up and down the walking paths through the trees with nothing between me and God but my skin. I had a serious think about how life should be. All the while I was terrified that someone might see me. I was naked and vulnerable. A mere two years before that I had been sexually assaulted and was terrified of older boys, especially when I was naked and vulnerable. But I was a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson. They were repeated World Series winners. And they beat the Yankees in the series in 1964. And more important than that, cardinals were the little red songbirds who never flew away when the winter came. You don’t give up in the face of hardship. You face the trouble. No matter how deep the snow may pile up.
And in 1969, the first man to walk on the moon showed that a Star Trek world was in reach of mankind. Star Trek was on every afternoon after school. I watched a lot of those episodes at Verner’s house on his family’s black-and-white TV. The Klingons were always bested or beaten because the crew of the Enterprise outsmarted them. You can solve the problems of the universe with science. I know this because of all the times Mr. Spock proved it to me not just by telling me so, but by showing me how you do it. And what you can achieve is greatly enhanced if you work together like Spock and Kirk and Bones… and sometimes Scotty always did.
So, what is the way it should be? What did Mickey decide while naked in the forest like a Dakota Sioux shaman on a spirit-quest?
JFK’s 104th birthday was on May 29th. Dr. Wertham has been dead for 40 years. Bob Gibson was 85 when he passed away in October of last year. Captain Kirk turned 90 in March of this year.
The Golden age is long gone. There is no single set of rules that can clearly establish how it should be now. But I like those ideas of how it should be that I established for myself while naked on a Schwinn Spitfire in a forest long ago.
I discovered a new artist today. I was reading posts in the Facebook writer’s group, 1000 Voices for Compassion. And there in a post by Corinne Rodrigues was a YouTube video by Andrew Peterson. And it was a miracle. I clicked on the video and he sang my soul. Here is the original blog post. And here is the video.
Yesterday I posted a self-reflected goopy bit of nonsense about how I write and draw. Today, I realized I haven’t explained whyI write and draw.
You can capture it in words. You can capture it in pictures. Like Andrew Peterson did, you can capture it in music. It is deep and profound and eternal… and you can’t really explain it, but it is the singularity… the right word… the way to caress the very face of God.
This music from Andrew Peterson is musical poetry that expresses love in terms of romance and religion. Love of the significant other is equal to and intertwined with the love of God. There is a truth in that, and a fundamental reason why despite how religion has let me down, I will never be an atheist again. Through the right words I have come to know God. I speak to him daily. I spent twenty years as a Jehovah’s Witness, even to the point of knocking on doors and sharing the little pamphlets that are supposed to contain the capital “T” Truth. I can’t do that any more, though. The thing is, they believe the chosen of God, the only people who can reach paradise, are the people who all say and do and believe the very same thing, the very same words. Anyone else is left to destruction. No paradise. No life after death. And they clearly tell you what the words are, and you must repeat them like a magic spell. Peterson’s music is forbidden. JW’s don’t want you to listen to anyone’s words but their own. So, since this is Christian music, but not JW Christianity, it is the work of the devil, trying to lead you to destruction. What kind of selfishness is this? And yes, I have repeatedly been shown the words in the Bible that say that this is so. But I have stopped believing that all words in the Bible are the right words. When the Bible speaks of love… those are the right words. When the Bible speaks about what you must hate and who is condemned… those are not.
You may have noticed that I have obsessively searched out and shared this Andrew Peterson music. I do that when I find the right words… good words… I obsessively want to find more and more. I did that once with butterflies. When I was a boy, I chased them down with nets and collected them. But you have to put butterflies in killing jars and then mount them on pins and Styrofoam boards to collect them. I realized too late that this was not the right way to treat them. You have to let them flutter in the sunshine and float on the breeze. You have to let them live. And so must you do with the right words when you find them. You must use them and share them and let them live.
Yes, the reason I write is because my life has been lived and it is coming to an end. But it is a good life. A life filled with wisdom and love and the very best of those words I have collected in butterfly nets over time. And I must share those very right words… and let them live because they are beautiful and true… and it is simply who I have to be.
I have always cherished science fiction. Not just Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. Not just Star Trek and Star Wars. But all of it. Buck Rodgers, Flash Gordon, Brick Bradford, Galaxy Quest, Mars Attacks, and E.T.
Space is important to me. I feel like all of mankind will be a failure as a species if they don’t start moving out amongst the stars.
It’s not just that I am ensorcelled by the magical adventures that space-travel stories mixed with a romantic view of facing existential danger with a smile and a ray-gun can provide.
I watched with wide 12-year-old eyes when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon for the very first time.
That was all the way back in 1969!
I am disappointed that my George-Jetson expectations of life in 2021 have not even remotely been met.
Sure, computers are great. But where are the flying cars? The fishbowl helmets for walking on the Moon? Personal jetpacks to get to school and back?
It isn’t the dreamers, it’s the doers that have let me down.
And I know we could well run the risk of meeting something out there that might want to eat us.
But are we truly alive anymore if we are afraid to risk death in the face of Space Exploration and Discovery? We are not immortal. We need to achieve things that outlast us to justify our existence.
So, come on, people! Let’s make the world over again and start building cities on Mars.
Let’s start building what we have dreamt of rather than hiding from what we fear!
This particular Iowa trip has me thinking hard about mortality and the cold harsh wind that blows toward us from the future. My cousin’s only son lost his battle with depression, and his family finally came to terms with the loss. But the sadness is past. The responsibilities of the living is what remains.
I was born while Eisenhower was President. I was alive and aware when Kennedy was assassinated and when men first walked on the moon. I was teaching in a classroom when the first teacher in space was killed on the exploding space shuttle. And I was also in the classroom when the twin towers fell on 9-11. It is an important part of the responsibilities I have for being alive to keep that past alive too.
My mother’s knickknack shelf.
The reason we collect and care about little extraneous things like porcelain eggs, angels, fine blue china plates, and the California Raisins singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine is because those little, otherwise unimportant things connect us to memories of important times and places and people. We keep old photographs around, many of them black and white, for the same reasons.
The fiction I write is not contemporary. It is mostly historical fiction. It is set in a recent past where the Beatles and the Eagles provided the sound track to our lives. It does not cross the border into the 21st Century. The part of my writing that is not about the past is science fiction set in the far future, entirely in the universe of my imagination. It is my duty to connect the past to the future.
And I share that duty with everyone who is alive. My great grandparents and grandparents are now gone from this world. But their horse-and-buggy memories about life on the farm before electric lights and cars… with humorous outhouse stories thrown in for comic relief… are in me too. I am steeped in the past in so many ways… And I must not fail to pass that finely brewed essence on to my children and anyone young who will listen. It is a grave responsibility. And it is possible to reach the grave without having fulfilled that important purpose.
In times of great sadness and loss we must think about how life goes on. There has to be a will to carry on and deliver the past to the future. Every story-teller carries that burden, whether in large or small packages. And there is no guarantee that tomorrow will even arrive. So here is my duty for the day. One more window has been opened.
If there is a Church of Sacred Landscapes then Bob Ross is its Jesus Christ. That is not a sacrilegious statement of bizarre cult-mindedness. Painting is a religion that has its tenets. And Bob Ross explained to us the will of God on his painting show on PBS. All the illustrations used in this post come from the Facebook page Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. All the wisdom comes from things the Master said on the show.
Bob Ross was the prophet of the paintbrush. He would present us with a lightly prepared canvas at the beginning of the show and then proceed on camera to take his brush and palette knife, and all his paints, and create a piece of the world before our very eyes. And he was not Picasso or Van Gogh or even Norman Rockwell. He was not a talented artist, but rather a very practiced one who knew all the tricks and shortcuts to sofa painting, the art of knocking out scene after scene after scene. He could make his little piece of the world in only half an hour, and he made it obvious how we could do the same. His work was not gallery quality… but his teachings were Jesus-worthy.
His work was natural, flowing, and realistic in the random complexity it presented. He took standard paintbrush strokes and pallet knife tricks and made them dance across the canvas to make happy little trees.
His painting methods presented us with a philosophy of life and a method of dealing with whatever mistakes we might make.
And of course, any good religion must take into account the existence of evil.
Bob Ross tells us that evil is necessary as a contrast to what is good and what is true. We need the dark. But we don’t have to embrace it. Bob’s paintings were never about the dark bits. He always gravitated towards the light.
Of course, sometimes you have to beat back the darkness. A good artist takes care of his tools.
Bob Ross admonishes us to look and to learn and love what we see. The man radiated a calm, gentle nature that makes him a natural leader. His simple, countrified wisdom resonates because we need calm and pastoral peace in our lives. It is one of the main reasons mankind needs religion.
So I definitely think we ought to consider building a Bob-Rossian Church of the Sacred Landscapes. We have our prophet. The man has passed away, yet he is risen to paint again endlessly on YouTube.
And if you are willing to try… Bob Ross will smile upon you.