A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 294: A Tribute to Gord

Gord Panorama

Tuba

If I was your tuba 

you’d take me everywhere 

I’d be designed to 

make you smile.

– Gord Downie

Canada lost its unofficial Poet Laureate this past week. Practically unknown outside his native land, except to other musicians and artists of the world, he was as Canadian a rock star as you could imagine: Quirky, intelligent, funny, humble, compassionate, weird, former goalie, hockey fan, and small town Ontario boy with a heart as big as all the provinces put together. He was an icon who shunned icon-hood and you can’t get much more Canadian than that. He wrote songs that told Canadian stories, featured Canadian heroes and villains, and named Canadian places (“Bobcaygeon” comes to mind). He was unashamed to be from Canada but not at all in-your-face about it… and you can’t get much more Canadian than that, either.

For me, Gord Downie was the artist who introduced me to Canada. Gord was the lead singer/song-writer for the band the Tragically Hip. The Hip have been making music together for over 30 years. I came to this country seventeen years ago. I had only heard of the Tragically Hip because, back in the late ’80’s, I had a Canadian roommate in college who played their debut album for me. Other than that, I never heard them on the radio in the United States and I didn’t think much about them during my years there.

Arriving in Canada in 2000 and flipping through radio stations, I became aware that it was the Hip that was being played on many, many formats – Classic rock, “real” rock, alternative rock, 80’s & 90’s, and the public broadcasts of CBC – their music seemed to be the soundtrack of the country, way more than that of any other Canadian musician or band. I didn’t get it at first. It was just another band, not particularly unique in sound or song structure. They didn’t chart any new musical waters. But I couldn’t help absorbing their music, trying to figure out their hold on this new country of mine.

It took my awhile but over the years I started to pick up on things, songs that made reference to this country, to events and places. Tom Thomson paddled past at the beginning of one song, Bill Barilko disappeared after winning the Cup for the Leafs in another, prisoners escaped from Millhaven maximum security prison in another, and the haunting sound of a loon eased me into the beginnings of  one of my Hip favorites: “Wheat Kings”, a song that spoke of a late-breaking story on the CBC.

I didn’t hear any other music made by a Canadian band quite like this. It made me realize that there was, in fact, something very unique that the Tragically Hip brought to music – They brought Canada. In a land renowned for its ability to say “Sorry”, they were unapologetic about their subject matter. Amazing.

This, I came to realize, was all because of Gord.

Gord died this past week at the age of 53. About a year and a half ago we were given the sad news that he was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. This news seemed to take the breath away from so many Canadians. It was then I realized how important this man was to the country. The Tragically Hip would embark on one more tour across the Canada, finishing in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario to perform a show broadcast live all over the country. I sat out in a park in Ottawa with about 2,000 other people, sitting on blankets and lawn chairs, watching the concert beamed in by satellite. Millions of Canadians watched that show all over the country, in big gatherings under the stars, in city parks, in bars, in basements. We all were there for Gord, for the crazy guy who wrote eccentric songs about the place and people he loved. And Canada loved him back. Amazing.

His legacy includes his work near the end of his life to make his own country aware of the need to repair the damage of residential schools and the dysfunctional and harmful relationship European Canadians have had with Native Canadians. He did it through words and music and by infusing himself into it, as he had always done. A “Secret Path” it is called, the true story of a young indigenous boy who escaped his residential school and attempted to walk the 600km back to his reserve; he died of exposure in route. The story had haunted Gord for many years. In his final show, it was clear the message he all wanted to give us: Work to make this better. He did his part and, in death, it feels like he’s passing the baton on to the rest of us.

Gord helped make Canadians proud of who they are, but not in any jingoistic sense. He made us proud that we can be strong but also compassionate people; that we can have a history to celebrate but also the strength to be willing to change the parts of our country that are sick and in need of a do-over.

When I think of  it that way, the man has a remarkable legacy. Not bad for a strange kid from Amherstview, Ontario.

So long, Gord. Thanks for the whimsy. Thanks for the authentic madness. Thanks for being our tuba. Thanks for being someone we can take with us anywhere. You walk among the stars, now, where you belong.

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A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 293: Paper Dolls

sierraDeMulder1

Sierra DeMulder

“Some weeks you’ll remember how hard it is to breathe in public,
but know this:
the person who did this to you is broken. Not you.
The person who did this to you is out there,
choking on the glass of his chest.
It is a windshield
and his heartbeat is a baseball bat:
regret this, regret this.”

Poet Sierra DeMulder provides an incredibly powerful conclusion to the poems I’ve published on this blog over the last few days. I was hoping to discover the power of art to combat the warped culture of sexual assault and harassment that persists in our world. What I found through these amazing works provided to me by poet Meggie Royer is a strength beyond what I could have imagined. What I found was the hope that arises from the sorrowful truth, spoken without fear and shame, that works away, letter by letter, phrase by phrase, to wash away the filth and the guilt that so many victims carry.

I feel I’ve been given a window into something that I have never experienced, yet helps me realize how important it is to speak out, to stand up for people, to give dignity, respect and true compassion.

Here is a bio of Sierra DeMulder from her website. Following that is the full poem, “Paper Dolls”…

Sierra DeMulder is an internationally touring performance poet and educator, a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, and a thrice-published author of The Bones BelowNew Shoes on a Dead Horse (2010, 2012, Write Bloody Publishing), and We Slept Here (Button Poetry, 2015). A 2014 McKnight Fellowship recipient, Sierra’s work has been featured by NPR, Huffington Post, Nike, To Write Love on Her Arms, The Advocate, and more. In addition to performing, Sierra is the curriculum director of the Slam Camp at Indiana University, an annual writing summer camp for high school students, and one of the founders of Button Poetry, the largest digital distributor of spoken word in the world. Her latest full-length collection, Today Means Amen, was released early 2016 by Andrews McMeel.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 292: Haunt Me

Hieu_Minh_Nguyen_by_Michelle_Tacheny-

Hieu Minh Nguyen

“Me too” is not just a show of solidarity among women who have endured sexual harassment and assault. The toxic and destructive culture that has bred that awfulness knows no gender boundaries. A part of this picture includes men and boys who have experienced its horrors and indignities.

This week I have been sharing the work of poets who have addressed different aspects of these things. Today it is American poet Hieu Minh Nguyen. From his website:

Hieu Minh Nguyen is the author of This Way to the Sugar (Write Bloody Press, 2014) which was a finalist for both a Minnesota Book Awards and a Lambda Literary Awards. A queer Vietnamese American poet, Hieu is a Kundiman fellow and a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine. His work has also appeared in the Southern Indiana Review, Guernica, Ninth Letter, Devil’s Lake, Bat City Review, the Paris-American, and elsewhere. Hieu is a nationally touring poet, performer, and teaching artist. He lives in Minneapolis where he flails his arms and forgets to take his clothes out of the dryer.

And he has a sense of humor, too, as you can see. This spoken word video is powerful and real. Fair warning that some of the language is strong, however there is nothing in this presentation that comes close to the obscenities he is working to exorcise from his heart and soul.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 291: Can I

Dasan Ahanu

Dasan Ahanu

Words give shape to our reality and help to explain things. In the hands and mind and mouth of the poet, words can reshape reality into something new and vital, and recast a vision for a better day.

Today I continue a look at poetry as an avenue to express, expose and reshape the toxic aspects of our culture that have created sexual predators and countless victims of sexual assault and harassment. I asked my long-distance poet friend Meggie Royer for suggestions. The first she supplied was by an American poet named Dasan Ahanu. There is no way I can give a better introduction to him than the information found on his website:

Christopher Massenburg, better known as Dasan Ahanu, is a public speaker, organizer, workshop facilitator, poet, spoken word performer, educator, songwriter, writer, emcee, and loyal Hip Hop head born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Currently Dasan is a visiting professor at UNC Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, NC teaching courses on Hip Hop and Black culture.     

A few years ago, Dasan Ahanu wrote a poem called “Can I” while he was conducting sexual-assault awareness and education training with men in Durham. Yesterday I posted a poem from the vantage point of the woman who had been assaulted. Today the poet speaks in the voice of a man directly addressing a woman who has been assaulted, who feels shamed and degraded, and uses his words to reshape her reality and recast a vision for the future…

Can I 

 

I want to dry your tears and hold you until comfort sets into your skin like Icy Hot and everyone can smell your new day coming. Because your body needs it, your soul needs it, your spirit needs it and he tried way too hard to take it.

Too many times he blamed you, yelled at you, insulted you. Too many long nights sleeping away the pain and you never expected it to be like this. When you signed your name on the dotted line and contracted a disease you never expected: A disease called HIM.

A power hungry man who never gave a clue, they usually never do. Two sides of doom, one lulls you in so compassionate and caring. The other captures you so intense, it’s so angry and it should never be like this.

It pains me to know that one-in-four women live like this, that fatality comes from the hand of a partner more than the hand of a stranger. And you are caught in his web. I wish I could rub my fingers down your cheek and sing you songs of a new day. Like Ask Me by Amy Grant, Better Days by Guy Clark, How Come, How Long by Babyface.

You are Gloria Gaynor and you will survive. And if necessary we can be like Dixie Chicks and tamper with his black-eyed peas and run off together, leaving behind a missing person that no one misses at all.

You are strength. You don’t deserve it. Made it through the constant resistance to not losing to a swinging fist. And it should never be like this.

Your skin is beautiful. Is a leopard horrific because it has spots? I make you laugh because I say your complexion has character. But there is no quick healing factor. And I know that you wish for wolverine’s claws so you can tear through his body of evidence that says that he should get it now.

His case stands on bond, but even in marriage no means no. Made it isolation and verbal attack, pinch pennies that he overlooked in his forced incarceration. Times must change and I want to help you plan.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 290: Courage to Listen, Courage to Act

Meggie-Royer

Meggie Royer

“Me too” – Two small English words that are being used now to bring light and truth to a ghastly sickness in our culture. The number of women I know and care for that have posted this to their status on Facebook keeps rising, and with each one my heart breaks a bit more. I am angered. I am frustrated.

In case this is the first time you’ve been introduced to the recent “Me too” phenomenon, the status update has become viral following the sexual assault and harassment allegations brought against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. But it is not just tied into that man and his history of horrible behavior. In fact, that is just one of many straws that have piled so high that it seems that camel’s back won’t just break but explode. The Weinstein story has served to shed a light on something that cannot, must not continue: A toxic masculinity and warped expression of sexuality combined with massive male insecurities and abhorrent sense of entitlement. It is a culture that shrugs off rape, makes excuses for the basest of behavior and turns a blind eye and deaf ear to its victims. It is sick, period.

For God’s sake, enough is enough.

I have become Facebook friends with a poet I greatly admire, a young American named Meggie Royer. I’ve posted a poem by her on this blog before. As I’ve gotten to know her through her work, I’ve come to realize that she is another woman who has endured rape. By that I mean she has not only endured the horrible act of rape but all the surrounding awfulness that occurs, always to the woman and never to the man, it seems. To her great credit, and probably because she is an artist of considerable skill, she has taken that experience and turned it into art and action. Meggie works at a domestic violence shelter and uses her ability to express so many difficult if not impossible things for others to express. From a distance and across the internet, I have come to respect her greatly.

Today, and for the rest of this week, I want to share poetry that addresses sexual assault and harassment, and the sick culture that gives birth to it. It is art as communicator, helping others to empathize and experience; and it is art as weapon of destruction, to tear down this awful system in order to give rise to something healthy and equal in its place.  I asked Meggie for some suggestions and she provided some exceptional ones.

Here is a link to a poem she herself published recently. Please take the time to read it, especially if you know that you need to understand more what women who have been assaulted have gone through and continue to go through. All of us, but especially men, need to have the courage to listen and then the courage to act.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 289: Drawing Self-Motivation

pen sketch portrait pine

I haven’t been feeling well lately so the best you’ll get from me today is this simple sketch.

I just started out drawing with an art pen in my cheap dollar store sketch book. I didn’t intend this to end up looking kinda, sorta like a self-portrait. Maybe it was reflective of how I was feeling. But I did enjoy building up the face and hair with layers and more layers of swooping and swirling lines. It never ceases to amaze me that a bunch of lines, literally hundreds in a sketch like this, can be formed to give the impression that you’re looking at a face. Art remains a miracle to me in so many ways.

I inserted the lone, scraggly pine tree in the background because the face was reminding me of resilience, like those trees I admire so much. They cling to rock faces, take on the pounding of ice and rain, the intense heat and bitter cold, and remain.

I was not intending to draw a self-portrait but maybe I drew some self-motivation.

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 288: Sunday God Quotes – Dostoyevsky

dostoevsky-ii

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) is the great Russian novelist behind The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. He provides today’s God Quotes…

“To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”

“The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”

“I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – that is living.”

“Without God all things are permitted.”

“And what’s strange, what would be marvelous, is not that God should really exist; the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God, could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man.”

“Love a man, even in his sin, for that love is a likeness of the divine love, and is the summit of love on earth.”

“Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”

 

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 287: Saturday Life Quote – Fisher

Take your broken heart turn it into art

“Take your broken heart, make it into art.” – Carrie Fisher

For today’s Saturday Life Quote I decided to post the final Creative Spirits artwork I did. I used the quote above but now realize I didn’t get it exactly right… and its upside-down… and hard to read… in my messy creation.

A broken heart is not, of course, the only inspiration for art. Sometimes it is a heart full of good things. But Fisher’s statement has more to do with art as therapy. Whatever it is that you do that is creative, lean on that when you are down, discouraged, sad.

I’m not particularly proud of this artwork posted here but it did come from a genuine place. I am not particularly happy right now with the state of my life. But I can make some of that discouragement and disillusionment into art. It is difficult for me to see right now how that works as therapy, but I do know that my brain and spirit are in an entirely different place when I take up a pencil or pen, when I paint or draw, than during the bulk of my day. Art has helped me find some solace and beat back some depression. That is enough.

I want to encourage you all to promote the creative spirit in your own lives, whatever shape that takes. It is not a frivolous or useless thing. It is something in you that can be the means to carry you through all the ridiculous crap life slings at you. That, most certainly, makes it enough.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 286: Quo Vadis?

every set of eyes has a right to the truth

“Quo vadis?”

Truth is a tricky thing to nail down. “What is truth?”, the question Pontius Pilate put to Jesus of Nazareth, is a huge philosophical debate platform. The Bible records no answer Jesus gave to this question. However, he did refer to himself as the Truth in the Gospel of John. Certainly a profound statement, and one Christians point to as the ultimate answer to “Quo vadis?”, but it also deepens the mystery, and ultimately just adds more fuel to the debate fires that rage on around Truth.

Well, I’m here today to throw some of my own tiny bits of kindling on that fire.

You’re welcome.

Today’s Creative Spirit artwork contains part of a quote by children’s author Blue Balliett:

“Every person, every set of eyes, has the right to the truth.”

I loved this quote when I came across it searching for words about art and creativity. The imagery in the words struck me first: That every set of eyes has a right to the truth. As someone who does visual art this resonated with me. It was a helpful reminder to stay true to who I am as an artist, don’t try to be someone else or try to pander to this or that: the viewer has a right to the truth, to authenticity.

The words from Blue Balliett also contain a sense of what art is meant to communicate: The ever elusive Truth. It is a funny thing because we philosophize and debate Quo Vadis?  and seemingly come to no suitable answer, yet when we open our eyes to what is in front of us, painted on a canvas, sculpted, shot through a camera lens, etched, drawn, created for us to see with our eyes we know it is Truth. There is an indescribable something about that artwork that defines Truth, even if you cannot put words to it or, perhaps, especially if you cannot put words to it.

What makes this kind of Truth in art elusive is the Truth-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder factor. I have no idea what your reaction to seeing Picasso’s Guernica might be. For me, when I saw that enormous masterpiece in person many years ago, taking up an entire wall in a museum in Madrid, I saw Truth. Maybe you see something confusing, confounding, disturbing… Well, maybe it doesn’t feel like it, but that could be Truth as well.

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As an artist, I suppose all this comes down to being true to yourself, because if you are, people will see Truth in your work, even if it is confusing, confounding, disturbing or, for that matter, inspiring, encouraging or beautiful. Then you will have honored the viewer; you will have given them what they are entitled to have: Truth. In this way, Bob Ross is just as real as Pablo Picasso: Both are being true to themselves and honoring the viewer by doing so.

When I painted and drew the artwork in this post, an image of alien-type print came to my mind; a script for some language I don’t know and can never translate. I started by just making these marks across the paper. I meant for the figure’s hands to frame the “eyes” but the whole stance looks more like someone looking in a window, peering in to see what’s there. It’s as if the figure is trying to get a glimpse of the person viewing the art, maybe to find the Truth in their eyes.

I’m not sure what this is all about but I can guarantee you I was authentic and letting things flow. If you find in it something that feels like Truth, I am happy.

every set of eyes has a right to the truth

 

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 285: It is Life

who we are and what we do is life

For my fourth Creative Spirit, an artwork combining an abstract background with a simple, disproportionate figured overlaid, I chose just a snippet of a wonderful quote by American poet Nayyirah Waheed. My intent was to paint a background that hinted at growth and life, with a figure in motion, maybe dancing, imitating some of lines of color.

Recently, an artist friend of mine posted this question on Facebook: “Remind me again, what’s the point of being an artist and making art?”  Frankly, any answer I could give about this could never be as good as the full quote from Waheed. So here it is in its entirety:

“creativity keeps the world alive, yet, everyday we are asked to be ashamed of honoring it, wanting to live our lives as artists. i’ve carried the shame of being a ‘creative’ since i came to the planet; have been asked to be something different, more, less my whole life. thank spirit, my wisdom is deeper than my shame, and i listened to who i was. i want to say to all the creatives who have been taught to believe who you are is not enough for this world, taught that a life of art will amount to nothing, know that who we are, and what we do is life. when we create, we are creating the world. remember this, and commit.”