Tag Archives: pathos

Down and Blue

Life for me has always been a struggle with poor health and depression, ill fortune and difficult circumstances.  I have always been a “make lemonade” sort of life-gives-you-lemons problem-solver, but the more I make lemonade, the more my sorry old puss gets puckered.  I am having chest pains and breathing problems again.  I don’t have money for doctor’s visit co-pays and medication.  My car is in the shop with more than $6,000 dollars worth of damages, hit by a passing motorist going too fast while it was parked outside my house.  Insurance is probably not going to pay that much to fix a five-year-old car.  My family in Iowa have recently been buried under huge snowdrifts.  And the grim reaper has been knocking on my bedroom door asking if I want to play a game of chess.

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But I will tag this post as humor.  Because, ironically, humor is not always funny.  Sometimes it has the sour puckering effect of lemonade with too little sugar in the mix.  When you have worked hard all your life for very little reward, it’s hard to appreciate the tiny amounts of sugar you have been allotted.  I see myself ending much the way Mother Mendocino ended, except the community will not even hear about my passing.

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The more I sing songs, and rattle the boards, and try to make my puppets dance, the more arthritis crabs up my fingers and makes me ache.  Sometimes happy simply comes hard.  But self-pity is easy.  And I am a pratfall clown most of the time.  I use my injuries to make others laugh.  And there is still magic to be found here and there in my art.  Today’s paffoonies were all culled from my Postable Paffooney file.  They are all old artworks of which I am pathetically proud.

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Pathos is a part of humor too, you know.  You tell a story about someone whose been on a lonely journey, and he finally gets to come home to the ones he loves, and you smile at the end of that.  If you laughed at the clown for falling down, you smiled too when he got up again.  After all, he wasn’t hurt.  In many ways we are all made of spoof and rubber, and while the bullets don’t bounce off, we are more like Superman than we think.  There is definitely wisdom buried somewhere in this pile of old quilts I am calling an essay today.  I just wish I had the words to make it clearer than I do in this poor excuse for a paragraph.

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My sister reads posts like this and tells me they are too depressing, that I need to write happier stuff.  But don’t worry the way she does.  I do spend a lot of time writing about the low spots.  But I would like to point out that most of the time I am climbing out of holes.  So I may start the essay in a very low place, but the direction I am going is always up.

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Now I have said my 500 words for today, and while I still need bed-rest… there is no doubt the sun will come up again.

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Comic Strips Can Make Me Cry

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I have been a cartoon nut for a long, long time.  I think it goes back to a time before I really have memories.  I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know who Cat in the Hat was, or that Pogo was a possum and Albert was an alligator, or that Daisy Mae constantly had to chase Lil’ Abner afore they could git hitched.  And I have always known that cartoons and comic strip characters weren’t real.  But there were a few times in life when comic strips made me cry.  Am I really that much of pansy that I wilt in the face of cartoon tragedy?  Yes.  Whole-heartedly!

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Take for instance Tom Batiuk’s long-running spoof of teenagers and life in high school, Funky Winkerbean.  One of the first things that makes this comic special is that the characters have lives that expand into the deepening depths behind the daily gag and four-panel strip.  They grow and age.  Les Moore (the geeky kid with the dark hair and nerd glasses, the character I most identified with) grew up to become an English teacher in the same high school where he had to deal with the issue of teen pregnancy.  Lisa, the girl he liked, was pregnant.  Les helped her go through the pregnancy and give the child up for adoption, and then eventually married Lisa.  Les would go on to raise his daughter with Lisa and then have to live with the fact that the child Lisa gave away wanted to find his real mother.

The strip added layer after layer to the over-all story, making me feel like I knew these people.  Funky turned his after-school  job at Montoni’s Pizza into a partnership and a career as a restaurateur.  Les would. like me, become a teacher and a writer.  Crazy would go on to be a postman and… well, Crazy.  And then the story added more layers by not always being funny.  I cried when Wally Winkerbean stepped on the mine in Afghanistan and I thought he was dead.  I cried again when Wally’s wife, Becky, moved on and married again.   And then, there was what happened with Lisa…

The artist himself had a bout with cancer.  He. like me, was turned into a cancer survivor.  It chills the bones and changes you on the inside to have a doctor tell you that you have cancer and it is malignant.  And it became a part of the story.  Lisa became first a breast cancer survivor, and then… sadly… a victim.  She died of cancer.  Her husband, Les, took up the cause and started the Lisa’s Legacy Walk for the Cure which he pursued religiously every October.  And Tom Batiuk made it real.  You can donate real money to the real Lisa’s Legacy Fund.  It is a cancer fund and fund-raising event that honors the struggle and death of a fictional character.  It makes me cry again at this moment.  They are real people to me, too, Tom.

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…And it doesn’t end with Funky Winkerbean.  Today’s re-blog of Stories From Around the World’s post does an absolutely wonderful job of encapsulating the essence of Lynn Johnston’s family comedy strip For Better or for Worse.  This engaging story of a family who also grows up, changes, and shifts from one generation to the next also tore my heart out with the un-funny episode where the dog, Farley, saves youngest daughter April from drowning and then expires from the effort, dying a hero’s death.  Another memory that causes me tears even today.

I do not regret reading comic strips.  My life is richer for all the second-hand and third-hand experiences they have given me.  Not just Popeye and Pogo and Beetle Baily making me laugh, but comic strips that make me weep as well.

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Putting My House in Order

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If you don’t remember, this is what my bedroom looked like when I first rubbed the magic lamp and wished for clean from Clean Gene the Cleaning Genii.  Since that post in which my bedroom/writer’s nook (sickbed, deathbed, whatever…) looked like the picture above, the Genii has been stooping with a bad back, picking up papers and books and arcane detritus from the writer’s life of a messy, messy writer and artist.  Did I mention he was messy?  Did I mention he has arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, COPD, and two other incurable diseases?  Did I mention he is having surgery on Tuesday?  Did I say he was messy?  Oops… too much repetitive redundancy being repeatedly repeated.  (Purple Paisley Prose Paragraphs are like that.)

Did you figure out that he is me?  I say all of this incredibly boring and inane stuff because it gives context to the miracle.  Clean Gene granted at least part of the wish.  It may not look it, but now the mess is organized.

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You will notice that things that may be needed in the middle of the night are now accessible.   And the room now actually has a floor again!  Oh, and the dolls are not needed for the middle of the night… at least, not that I actively remember (or am willing to admit.)

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In this view you can see more of my organized tornado aftermath.  Under the books and Barbies in process of being repaired you see what used to be my drawing table, and is now more like a book case with attached tiny area for drawing.  My daughter the Princess put the stickers all over the drawer on my 100-year-old-plus dresser when she was two, and I have never had the heart to take them off no matter what they do to its value as an antique.  (It honestly has no value.  Antique is just another word for very, very old.)  And those are not dolls standing around in semi-action poses.  Those are ACTION FIGURES!

20150319_130953And finally, this is my work space and writing area where I am currently writing this mundane little post about something that is more about nothing than anything Seinfeld ever came up with.  Yes, I am a writer and an artist.  Am I a professional?  That is harder to say.  I was paid for many years to teach writing as a public school English teacher.  I currently am proofreading for a couple of professionals who are not writers but have to do it as a part of their jobs in health care.  I am getting paid for that.  I made at least thirty dollars for writing novels for three different publishers.  I have had drawings published before in books and comic books, but nobody ever gave me a nickel for that… those were voluntary and contests I didn’t win.  They did help other people make money, though.  Maybe, now that I am retired as a teacher, I am justified in claiming that I am even though I don’t make the big bucks people assume I do when I tell them that little white lie.  (If you thought that last paragraph was mainly about passing 500 words, you would be right.)

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Saturday Science with Professor Mickey

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Not many words today…

Ate too much… feel bad  (a five-word poem about diabetes by a diabetic)

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Creepy Times, the Third Chapter

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The picture is called “My Galatea” after the myth of Pygmalion.  I drew it at a time when I was working on the Snow Babies character of Valerie Clarke.  She was my creation, made up of my daughter the Princess, a girl I had a crush on in 6th grade, and a very strange part of my own psyche that is essentially female.  Sometimes things come together in such a fashion that the creation becomes more real than what I know as reality.  Have you ever created something that was so perfect that you fell in love with it?  It is a very strange feeling.  It doesn’t create happiness.  It makes you feel regret that what should be real is only fantasy.  It makes you feel longing for something that you know you simply cannot have.  It makes you feel creepy, like you’ve done something wrong.  You have stolen bits of other people’s lives and put them together, made them live in a new form, the whole Frankenstein’s monster sort of thing.  The evil abides in those things that you could never foresee as problems.  The torches are lit, the pitchforks come out, and chaos ensues.

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Falconet’s sculpture of Pygmalion (1763) 

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My Children’s Art

My own three kids have taken up the artist’s pScan0011encil tracks.  It is probably true that no one ever had a bad habit that didn’t get passed on to their children.  Drawing too much is my back-clinging monkey.  I ignore other things I am supposed to do, have to do, even will die if I don’t do in order to keep on drawing.  My two arthritic claw hands have been worked into pretzel knots by the incessant urge to draw.  But not everything they got from me in the drawing habit is totally bad.

The Princess actually uses colored pencil to do her art.

Oldest son Dorin (his name in my fiction) has caught the dungeon and dragony bug from me and likes to conjure imaginary monsters.

I was not able to secure a Henry picture for this post, but he does it too.  He has won school art class awards for his work and one of his pieces still hangs in his former middle school.

So, there you have it.  I have passed on the gene that causes this craziness.  And there is no cure but to draw endlessly.

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June 15, 2014 · 3:59 pm

Blushing in the Garden of Eden

Superchicken xOne of the fundamental truths of my life is that God has a very strange sense of humor and He has chosen me to be the brunt of the nudity jokes.  Yes, me, the shyest kid in town, especially when it comes to seeing someone else naked, or (shudder!) someone seeing me naked.  To say that I was a teenage prude would be an understatement.  I did not even believe in thinking about people being naked.  People are naked under their clothes?  Aaagh!

I dreaded the start of fifth grade, because in PE class you had to change into PE clothes and take showers when it was over.  Not just any kind of private, in-your-own-bathroom kind of shower, but one big tiled room full of shower heads where you had to be naked in front of other boys.  Other boys like fat Tiger Bates who taught me the facts of life with only a few major distortions.  Other boys like Kevin Swello who had hair in places we didn’t even want to know about, let alone see.  Coming of age and facing the world of locker rooms and shower rooms and boys’ PE was one of the hardest things for me.

Well, I made it through that part of my childhood by telling God all about it and being strengthened by Him.  But then, He decided never to let me forget about it.  College in the 70’s was wilder than my little-town morals could take.  I avoided Dorm drinking parties where party-goers sometimes played strip poker seriously with members of the opposite sex.  When one of my two roommates decided to go streaking on his motorcycle, I avoided getting caught up in it in any way.  Well, of course, everybody avoided that particular bit of stupidity, because it was snowing and the temperature was below zero.  Ol’ Wildman Beckham nearly froze off parts of himself that he could ill afford to lose to frostbite.  There were a lot of things to avoid in college.

I was always a very good artist, though, and as a raw talent I took Art classes even though I was an English Major.  That led to the biggest blushing of my young life.  Level 4 Drawing Class was drawing the human figure from life.  I didn’t realize what that actually meant until halfway through the third week of that class.  That is when the first nude model walked in to class.  Dang!  I was red in the face for the rest of the week.  The mostly female class giggled behind their hands at me.  The teacher, the illustrious department head, Dr. Louise Broffert, said things to us that just made it worse.  “You know there is a difference between art and pornography,” she said, glaring at the few male members of the class.  “It is mainly a matter of focus and point of view.  I expect not to see any of the wrong point of view!”  Oh, God!  And pretty as that first model was, I was unfortunate to be sitting in a position where her innermost secrets were obvious and well-lit in front of me.

And it got worse.  Students in Art 4 and above were asked to be the models!  Guys as well as girls were expected to take their turns.  Besides, you made ten dollars per session for posing for your classmates.  Oooh!  The memory still makes me shiver.  As well as it should.  It was a Winter Quarter class.  Fortunately, my turn coincided with a bout of the flu.  I was infectious on my day and couldn’t attend.  Even better, I got a note from student services suggesting I better not risk further exposure to the cold.  God put me through several sleepless nights of the sweats, but in the end He made a way out for me.  Of course, I ended up with a C in that class.  The lowest course grades I got in college were both C’s that I got from Art classes.

God was not done teasing me about it yet.  I learned while studying Shakespeare and the Elizabethans that there existed in their time a sect who called themselves the Adamites.  They were named for the Garden of Eden and Adam in his natural state.  The idiots tried to build for themselves a Utopian society, a popular thing at the time, and they walked around their little gated communities buck naked all the time.  Well, I have to say, I got a good laugh out of reading about them, without ever realizing it was my doom to meet their modern-day counterparts.

As a young teacher in South Texas, teaching English to Spanish-speaking Junior High students, I took up with a pretty Latino Lady, lovely Isabella Daniels.  She was divorced from one Gringo already, and not quite willing to commit to another.  Hence, we never married.  She was, however, a liberated lady living in a world after the Sexual Revolution and before the dampening effects of AIDS.  She was not as shy about her naked charms as I was.  My parents lived near Austin, so we often went for the weekend to the Austin area.  I stayed with my folks, she stayed with her sister.  The thing is, her sister lived in a clothing-optional apartment complex on Manor Road in Austin.  It would be my first experience visiting naturists and nudists where they lived.

The apartment complex was built a lot like an English fortress from Elizabethan times.  It was a huge rectangle with a central court yard cut off from view of all the surroundings.  The first time I picked Isabella up there, I was put off by the iron bars on the gate.  The entry portal was completely cut off from the world at large by locks.  I had to ask the bearded gate guard to let Isabella know I was there.  When he had spoken with her, he came back to get me and asked me to come in.  He was naked!  I had only seen his head in the barred gateway window.  I didn’t get the full Monty until he ushered me inside.  And there was no beauty in him at all.  Hair everywhere, like ol’ Kevin with a beard.

Inside I found a grassy courtyard with a swimming pool in the center.  Two young girls, they must have been nine or ten, were skinny dipping in the pool and having a whee of a time.  There was a pool table beside the swimming pool, under the shadowy canopy of the second story balcony.  Around the pool table a number of portly men were playing pool and bickering with each other completely in the buff.  As I waited, my eyes ended up fastened on two young ladies that wore t-shirts, but no pants at all.  One of them noticed me looking and tugged at the front of her t-shirt as if to cover up.  After that one little ineffective movement, however, they took no more notice of me, standing there all gawky and red in the face.

Isabella never let me live down the expression she saw on my face when she collected me that first time.  She laughed roundly at my expense.  She invited me to stay there too.  I would have none of it.  She had no shame about walking about in the all-together, but I was not trained to be that way.

From the times I had to visit her there I learned quite a bit about naturists.

They are not what I expected.  They tend to be reasonable people in all other ways, bankers, lawyers, computer programmers, and Postal Service delivery persons.  They just have this nutty habit of stripping nude and walking around like that.  They don’t understand my reluctance and inhibitions any more than I understand them.  But they are not bad and immoral people.  The place was not a gawd-awful orgy site.  It was a quiet conservative domicile where naked people lived.

Mark Twain once said in the Diary of Adam and Eve that naked people have very little influence in society.  This is generally true.  The naturists don’t want that influence.  They just want to be left alone.  They will, however, proselytize.  After Isabella and I broke up, I encountered naturists again when I took up stamp collecting.  I found some stamp-collectors and traders in Florida that were also practicing naturists.  Besides selling stamps by mail order, they ran a naturist park near Tampa and sold naturist publications of all kinds.  They wanted me to come to Florida for my Summer Vacation from school, and they promised to gradually teach me to be a naturist.  They wanted me to join the ANS (American Naturist Society) and I ended up buying a number of books from them and learning about their gentle philosophy of family naturism.  Nudists, I discovered, are mostly married, have families, and are quite fat, not beautiful in the least.  Also, they are worldwide.  There is a strong naturist movement in England where they even have a school; I think it’s like a high school, where all the students are nude.  The FKK in Germany (Frei Korper Kultur) has most of the beaches on the North Sea draped with naked people.  They must only play naked on the beach there, huh?  The North Sea is definitely not warm enough for me!

So you can see, God has gotten a good laugh out of me and my reluctance to embrace the body He blessed me with.  I am NOT a naturist now, if that’s what you’re thinking.  I don’t take my clothes off in public.  But, I know people who do.  And I am not as shocked and horrified by it as I once was.

I hope you can forgive all my pictures of naked people.  I am not trying to become a pornographer.  Remember, Dr. Broffert says that it is all a matter of perspective.

This last picture is actually depicting a pair of Snow Babies.

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Creepy Times, the Second Chapter

Creepy Times, the Second Chapter

As a teacher, you always have to wonder who is pulling your strings, who is the puppet master? It is usually a principal, but today I think it was a colleague. She dumped another monster assignment on me. Individual test score conferences with all our ESL 10th and 11th grade students. They are taking my classroom away from me tomorrow, so I have no place to do the work, nor sufficient time. I apparently get half of the ninth graders too. Then I will called on the carpet if I don’t get this done soon… preferably tomorrow. This from a woman who has no classes to teach and no job beyond paperwork. Why can’t she do all of this extra work? She has the time and an available office. Another of the many reasons I am retiring in June. I love teaching, but nobody lets me do it any more… at least, not the right way.

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May 15, 2014 · 1:54 am

Imagination Made Me Do It

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Is it a curse?  Or is it a blessing?  My mind doesn’t travel in straight lines.  More likely circles, or curly-cues, or just plain scribbles…

Whenever I have a problem, like now, with money, or my children, or my wife, or my dog, or my job, or my… goodness this seems to go on forever… I tend to get screwy ideas about mass public transit via circus cannon, or dog diapers, or little green men invading the Earth and claiming to be from Mars although they are really from a planet one hundred light years away…  Well, you get the idea.  Off topic… outside the box… from deep left field… all sorts of cliches to explain why I don’t think normally about stuff.  I just can’t.  I need to sail on a sea of dreams in a ship with pink sails.  Escape… dream… imagine…  And sometimes it solves the problem, but usually it doesn’t.  And life goes on, but with a little less cash than before, a little less discipline than before, a little less love than before, a little more rolled-up newspaper…  You understand.  The Devil didn’t make me do it.  Imagination did.  And so I must go sailing.

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Laughing Blue

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Griselda by Maxfield Parrish

One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in the art world are the paintings of Maxfield Parrish.  That’s why this post needs to be about his work instead of mine.  He made his mark painting ads for tire companies and on the ends of orange crates.  The secret to his melancholy beauty is the cobalt blue underpainting he always did.  Of course, the dominant color over all is a ghostly, iridescent blue.  It fills his paintings with quiet grace and powerful emotions.  I love that laughing blue quality more than any other thing I’ve ever seen in the realm of art.
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I love to use the term “laughing blue”.  It’s an oxymoron that sums up me better than any other descriptive phrase.  It is the laughter that goes on so long and so hard that it causes tears, and at the same time it is the sobbing that eventually becomes uncontrollable laughter.  Sweet-sad  feelings of  love and longing,  piles  of  smiles  that  stretch  for  miles.  Nothing is better or wiser or more filled with life.

 There was the time when the church youth group put on the Halloween Carnival.  I had won a blue, helium-filled balloon at the ball toss when beautiful Alicia was watching.  She smiled at me.  It was such a perfect moment that I had to savor it the best I could.  I gave my friend six tickets to put me in jail.  It was two tickets to get in.  Someone had to pay four tickets to get you out.  Tickets were a nickel each.  I figured my friend would leave me in there for a while so I could just sit and contemplate that balloon. I was right.  Mark spent the four tickets at the cake walk.  He won a cake.

In the jail was a little boy, the son of the local barber, who had a bright red balloon.  His mother had put him in the jail as a joke.  He was four years old, I believe, about the same as my little brother David.  His name was Tommy.  Some laughing-jackal teenage boys came past the jail.  One of the doody-heads had a safety pin.  Bang!  The red balloon was no more.  The high school doody-heads took off cackling with glee.  Tommy burst out in tears for his lost balloon.  His mother, outside the chicken-wire cage, was beside herself, pleading for the gatekeeper to open up and let her boy out.  Several church ladies zoomed in to see what they could do.  My mother was one of them.  Before they could get into the cage, however, I solved the problem by giving him my blue balloon.  His mother never saw, never realized he had been upset by the loss of his balloon.  She didn’t notice that the balloon he was holding when he left the cage was different than the one he took in.  It didn’t matter.  No one needed to know the sacrifice I made that night.

Later, at home, I cried.  Yes, I know I was twelve years old and too big to cry about a lost balloon.  But it wasn’t really that anyway.  It was that feeling that filled me up.  It was gladness that I had seized the moment to be unselfish and kind though somehow no one else knew it.  It was sorrow over the loss of my connection to that moment when she smiled at me.  It was beauty caused by ugliness.  It was Laughing Blue.

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The innocent sylph bends down to wake her sister, the sleeping nymph.  The morning has broken on a new day.  The painting has existed since the 1920’s, probably his most famous work of all.  He worked from a photograph to paint it.  Several photographs, in fact.  Wouldn’t the authorities be upset now, this man painting a naked girl?  Artist or no, it could look like pornography to many in this day and age.  Ironically, though, the nude person in the photo he used as a model was himself.  It was only a matter of the play of light over the bare form.  It was a matter of innocent yet sensual beauty.  It was a matter of Maxfield Parrish Blue.  The painting itself is far more subtly blue than it appears here.  It is laughing blue.  It is a mix of youth and grief, the birth of the new dawn and the ancient jagged hills behind.  It is flowers and parched rock, waking and dreaming.  The art of it is in the opposition of things, what Confucius meant when he taught of the Yin and the Yang, what Lao Tzu spoke of in the Book of the Tao.  Yes, it was Laughing Blue. 

I wish I had the talent to paint like Maxfield Parrish.  I loved his magazine illustrations and his faery-tale characters.  I loved everything of his I have ever seen, and I have dug up a lot.  He was a prolific artist.  Almost everything he painted is from before I was born.  He died not long after I came into this world.  I am sad that he can paint no more for me, yet I can’t imagine anything he could do that is better than what I’ve already seen.

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In the book The Little Prince the fox says, “It is only by the heart that we can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye.”  How true that is!  We cannot describe in words the beauty we see in these works of art.  We cannot explain why it is there.  But we know it when we see it.  It is Laughing Blue.

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