A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 304: Story Time


“The shortest distance between two people is a story.” – Patti Digh


“To be a person is to have a story to tell.” – Isak Dinesen


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  – Maya Angelou


“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Phillip Pullman


“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” – Ben Okri


“There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.” – J.K. Rowling

lord of the rings

“When we read a story, we inhabit it. The covers of the book are like a roof and four walls. What is to happen next will take place within the four walls of the story.” – John Berger

grapes of wrath

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark.” – Kate DiCamillo 

jane eyre

“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” – Diane Setterfield


“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.” – Terry Pratchett


“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” – Ursula K. Le Guin


“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” – Madeleine L’Engle


“We’re all stories, in the end.” – Steven Moffat






A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 303: Hooray for Peter Pumpkinhead

Peter Pumpkinhead

Hooray for Peter Pumpkinhead, Ron Kok, Mixed media, 2017

“Peter Pumpkinhead was too good
Had him nailed to a chunk of wood
He died grinning on live TV
Hanging there he looked a lot like you
And an awful lot like me!”

Is it possible to make art using the tropes of popular culture that has a much deeper context?

The art world answered this with a resounding “YES” many, many years ago. The Pop Art movement was driven by this idea. Yet people are still confused by it all. It is as if those pop cultural motifs block some folks from thinking any deeper about something. This may have a lot to say about us as the viewers. Many upon seeing Warhol’s stacks of Brillo pad boxes in a gallery may believe that ol’ Andy pulled one over on the art world with that one. Roy Lichtenstein’s big, colorful comic strip panels may seem cool in a way but, some may ask,  “Are they art”?

I set out this past week to make my own pop cultural artwork with a deeper context. I was inspired by October, by the colors and by the pumpkins. I was also inspired by a song, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” by the band XTC. When the art world was opening up the possibility of pop digging deeper, rock musicians were doing the same thing. The Beatles Rubber Soul and Revolver albums were revolutionary this way: Accessible, popular music with themes that were introspective, dark and searching. On the surface, this art, be it on a wall or on the radio, seemed “poppy”, as in “shallow”. But that was only the surface.

We’ve become so accustomed to our music combining these elements that we don’t really think about it anymore. In fact, for some of us, we’ve come to expect it of music and seek out artists who dig deeper in subject matter while still keeping their music accessible and fun. Of course, people still don’t get it. Midnight Oil can put out a song called “Beds are Burning” back in 1987, about the theft and misuse of Australian Aboriginal land and sacred sites, and still have people think they’re singing about hot sex.

As I was working on the artwork above, I was bemused by the reactions of people who saw it. I help to run an art studio at my workplace, a day program for adults with developmental disabilities. Often when my students are at work on something, I’ll be plugging away at something myself. The comments I got on this piece were, “Beautiful!”, “Nice!”, “Oh, I like that! Is that for Halloween?” I thought, “Hmmm, interesting… So a human figure with a pumpkin for a head, crucified on a tree is ‘beautiful’ and ‘Nice’?” Frankly, I thought I was making something kind of disturbing, even for Halloween time.

Yet, as I thought about it, the reactions were perfectly natural. The colors were bright (at first, before the dark skies and creepy buildings were added) and the subject matter seemed fitting for the season: Jack O’Lanterns, scarecrows, autumn-looking.  I began to realize that this Pop Art thing will naturally create a response that first recognizes the familiar, the surface of the thing you’ve pictured. It is only with some added viewing, with a pause, with time to take in the whole of the thing can someone really begin to wonder “I think there’s more to this than first meets the eye.”

If you know the song “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” you know that it is really poppy. It’s a catchy little Brit-pop tune of the early ’90’s that is easy to get stuck in your head. And “Peter  Pumpkinhead” sounds like it could be a character out of a children’s  book. But as you really listen and take in the song, you realize it is an allegorical tale being told. The deeper context is the very common story of the revolutionary who shakes up the systsem and gets killed by the powers-that-be for his/her troubles. The deeper context still, of course, is Jesus Christ.

Would it be more to-the-point just to paint a picture of Jesus on the cross? Yes. But by doing it with an overlay of pop culture, it takes on a whole different angle. It is subversive, in a way, meant to take you off guard. It is also meant to help the viewer’s mind and heart expand, to not go through life just taking in the superficial. For me, the song and this artwork I’ve made are about looking at important things, significant events and struggles, sacrifices, pain and the human battle between what is good and evil in all of us. Putting it out there like this is meant to make that context accessible via the familiar.

I’m not so sure it achieved what I set out to achieve. But here it is.

Below are the lyrics to the song plus a link to a video in case you are not familiar with it.

The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead by XTC

Let’s begin
Peter Pumpkinhead came to town
Spreading wisdom and cash around
Fed the starving and housed the poor
Showed the Vatican what gold’s for
But he made too many enemies
Of the people who would keep us on our knees
Hooray for Peter Pumpkin
Who’ll pray for Peter Pumpkinhead?
Oh my!
Peter Pumpkinhead fooled them all
Emptied churches and shopping malls
When he spoke, it would raise the roof
Peter Pumpkinhead told the truth
But he made too many enemies
Of the people who would keep us on our knees
Hooray for Peter Pumpkin
Who’ll pray for Peter Pumpkinhead?
Oh my!
Peter Pumpkinhead put to shame
Governments who would slur his name
Plots and sex scandals failed outright
Peter merely said
Any kind of love is alright
But he made too many enemies
Of the people who would keep us on our knees
Hooray for Peter Pumpkin
Who’ll pray for Peter Pumpkinhead?
Peter Pumpkinhead was too good
Had him nailed to a chunk of wood
He died grinning on live TV
Hanging there he looked a lot like you
And an awful lot like me!
But he made too many enemies
Of the people who would keep us on our knees
Hooray for Peter Pumpkin
Who’ll pray for Peter Pumpkinhead?
Hooray for Peter Pumpkin
Who’ll pray for Peter Pumpkin
Hooray for Peter Pumpkinhead
Oh my oh my oh!
Don’t it make you want to cry, oh
Songwriter: Andy Partridge
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead lyrics © EMI Music Publishing
Peter Pumpkinhead


A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 302: Sunday God Quote – Jackson Browne


“Hunger in the midnight, hunger at the stroke of noon
Hunger in the mansion, hunger in the rented room
Hunger on the TV, hunger on the printed page
And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the laughing and the rage”

When the discussion goes around about the best songwriters in the world, the name Jackson Browne is not often included. I’m not sure why as the man has consistently created some of the most introspective, thoughtful, and lyrically powerful songs for the last 51 years (yeah, you read that right – he’s been making music since 1966, when he joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band).

Though I can’t claim a collection of Jackson Browne albums, I’ve always found his music to be some of the most authentic in popular culture. He has always courageously laid his heart out there and created some achingly beautiful songs in the process.

For today’s Sunday God Quote, here is his song “Looking East”, a typically straightforward and honest song from Jackson, this time about a search for meaning and for the Divine in an age of superficiality and greed.  The lyrics are printed below. I would encourage you to click on the link to the song below that; it is a live acoustic version of the song, just Jackson and his guitar, that is glorious to listen to and meditate on.

Looking East

Standing in the ocean with the sun burning low in the west
Like a fire in the cavernous darkness at the heart of the beast
With my beliefs and possessions, stopped at the frontier in my chest
At the edge of my country, my back to the sea, looking east

Where the search for the truth is conducted with a wink and a nod
And where power and position are equated with the grace of God
These times are famine for the soul while for the senses it’s a feast
From the edge of my country, as far as you see, looking east

Hunger in the midnight, hunger at the stroke of noon
Hunger in the mansion, hunger in the rented room
Hunger on the TV, hunger on the printed page
And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the laughing and the rage
In the absence of light
And the deepening night
Where I wait for the sun
Looking east

How long have I left my mind to the powers that be
How long will it take to find the higher power moving in me

Power in the insect
Power in the sea
Power in the snow falling silently
Power in the blossom
Power in the stone
Power in the song being sung alone
Power in the wheat field
Power in the rain
Power in the sunlight and the hurricane
Power in the silence
Power in the flame
Power in the sound of the lover’s name
The power of the sunrise and the power of a prayer released
On the edge of my country, I pray for the ones with the least

Hunger in the midnight, hunger at the stroke of noon
Hunger in the banquet, hunger in the bride and groom
Hunger on the TV, hunger on the printed page
And there’s a God-sized hunger underneath the questions of the age
And an absence of light
In the deepening night
Where I wait for the sun
Looking east

Written by Fritz Lewak, Jackson Browne, Jeff Young, Kevin James Mc Cormick, Luis Conte, Mark Goldenberg, Scott Thurston • Copyright © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 301: Saturday Life Quotes – Autumn

Autumn on Pink Lake

Autumn on Pink Lake, Gatineau Hills, Quebec Photo by Ron Kok, 2016

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

At the end of a week in which I posted poems about Autumn (along with my photos of Autumn), I thought it appropriate to finish with quotes about the season from various authors. There is something about this sunny, cool, colorful, changing time of year that brings out the poet in so many people.

Love it, hate it, wary of it; wistful, melancholy, joyous – Autumn leaves no one without an opinion of its character.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
Albert Camus

“It looked like the world was covered in a cobbler crust of brown sugar and cinnamon.”
Sarah Addison Allen, First Frost

“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.”
Lauren DeStefano, Wither

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”
Yoko Ono

“Autumn is the hardest season. The leaves are all falling, and they’re falling like
they’re falling in love with the ground.”
Andrea Gibson

“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
John Howard Bryant

“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year.”
Chad Sugg

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The American Notebooks

“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!”
Humbert Wolfe

“Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?”
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”
Jim Bishop

“I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.”
Lee Maynard

“Days decrease, / And autumn grows, autumn in everything.”
Robert Browning

“Once in a while i am struck
all over again… by just how blue
the sky appears .. on wind-played
autumn mornings, blue enough
to bruise a heart.”
Sanober Khan

“There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;
And my heart is like a rhyme,
With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.”
Bliss Carman

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 300: Autumn the Compassionate

Autumn sun slices

Photo by Ron Kok, Ottawa, 2017

It may be the height of hubris for me, after a few days of posting poems about autumn by incredible poets, to post a poem I wrote in this space today, also about autumn.

Then again, maybe it is more so the height of hubris to use the word hubris in your blog.

At any rate, below is my stab at putting words to the season that I’ve come to love more than any other:

Autumn the Compassionate

Autumn sun cuts and slices across
My face, my chest, my arms
It cuts across but leaves no harm

Instead it consoles, comforts
Warm like a blanket wrapped
Over me against the chill

Autumn wind is alive and strong
Washing summer away
Preparing me for cold to come

It speaks with both warmth
And foreboding on its lips
“Winter is coming, y’all”

Autumn beauty knows no boundaries
It is no respecter of persons
To rich, poor alike it blesses

Carpeting our feet, painting a canopy
With colors of fire providing
Warmth without the heat

Autumn is the season that
Eases us forward to cold
In its polite and gentle way

Of all seasons this one of color
Contains the most compassion
Tinged in red, yellow and orange

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 299: Autumn Song

October morning sky Ottawa

Photo by Ron Kok, Ottawa, 2017

Autumn Song by Sarojini Naidu

Like a joy on the heart of a sorrow,
The sunset hangs on a cloud;
A golden storm of glittering sheaves,
Of fair and frail and fluttering leaves,
The wild wind blows in a cloud.

Hark to a voice that is calling
To my heart in the voice of the wind:
My heart is weary and sad and alone,
For its dreams like the fluttering leaves have gone,
And why should I stay behind?

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 298: The Heat of Autumn

The heat of autumn

Photo by Ron Kok, Ottawa, 2017

The Heat of Autumn by Jane Hirshfield

The heat of autumn
is different from the heat of summer.
One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider.
One is a dock you walk out on,
the other the spine of a thin swimming horse
and the river each day a full measure colder.
A man with cancer leaves his wife for his lover.
Before he goes she straightens his belts in the closet,
rearranges the socks and sweaters inside the dresser
by color. That’s autumn heat:
her hand placing silver buckles with silver,
gold buckles with gold, setting each
on the hook it belongs on in a closet soon to be empty,
and calling it pleasure.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 297: Sonnet 73

Ginko leaves Ottawa

Photo by Ron Kok, Ottawa, 2017

Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 296: To Autumn

Autumn leaves Thurston Dr Ottawa

Photo by Ron Kok, Ottawa, 2017

To Autumn by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
   Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.