Monochromatic Hero and Suicide

On Sunday, I painted my first monochromatic painting. It is an 11″ x 14″ acrylic on stretched canvas of André Trocmé in burnt umber. He is one of my heroes. That turned out so well, I followed it on Monday with an 11″ x 14″ painting of Bobby Glaeser in phthalocyanine blue. Bob was a classmate and neighbor of mine growing up. In early December 1974, a year and a half after we had graduated high school, he killed his parents, his younger sister Ann, and himself, with a 12 gauge shotgun.

trocmeAndré Trocmé was a Huguenot pastor in southern France. Before and during the Nazi occupation of France, he led his city and the neighboring city and surrounding countryside to give refuge to Jews fleeing Hitler’s genocidal death camps. It started with the boarding school his church ran. He did not believe in discrimination, so the school accepted Jewish students, who wore the school uniforms and lived lives indistinguishable from the Christian students. It grew into families sheltering families. He trained them on how to blend in and how to respond to the authorities. They set up an underground railroad to help families escape from France to safety in non-Nazi occupied countries. No one in their network betrayed a refugee into Nazi captivity. His nephew’s class was raided, where he was teaching a few dozen Jewish children. The Nazis seized the children to take them to a camp. Trocmé’s nephew insisted on going with them, as their teacher. He died in the concentration camp. It is estimated that they saved over 3500 lives.

I read Pastor Trocmé’s story over 30 years ago. It was also made into a movie.  As always, the book was better. He had with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and with Gandhi. He was a pacifist and had a strong ethical belief in honesty, charity and non-discrimination. He never made excuses for having to lie to the authorities. He felt that it was still sin, but to tell the truth would make him complicit in the deaths of fellow human beings, which would be a greater sin. He had been taught a hard lesson by his strict father, when he was a lad. He learned that it was not only right to do good; “it was essential to do the good on time!” It was his position that Hitler’s rule, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II was totally preventable, if only people of good conscience in Germany had done the good on time. Once he and his cohorts were in power, it was too late to stop him without doing evil and causing death and destruction. This is an important lesson and one that America needs to heed today.

We have both major parties putting forward the most despised presidential candidates in our history. Both are bigots. One is a capricious fool; the other is a shrewd politician committed to endless war. One would incarcerate Muslims and Latinos here; the other would (and already has) kill Muslims, Latinos and others overseas. They have 30% acceptance rating between them from the electorate. Yet people are deciding their votes on fear of one or the other, instead of doing the right thing and rejecting both.

It is time to do the good on time.

bobbyBobby was a good friend in grade school and junior high. His family lived two blocks away from mine in Golden Valley, Minnesota. We would bicycle together, sled and skate together in the winter, and sometimes camp out in our backyards together in the summer. He was a beautiful boy! He was handsome, with thick, dark hair, athletic and smart. All the girls loved him. Most of the boys wanted to be him. He did not appreciate all the attention. He was shy and became more withdrawn in his junior and senior year in high school; to the point of not allowing any pictures of himself to appear in the yearbook. This painting is based on his two pictures in the 1971 Robin. The pose is from the soccer team’s group shot, but his eyes were closed, so I looked at his yearly picture for details of his face.

The last time I saw Bobby was in the spring of 1974. I was visiting a few of my friends at the University of Minnesota’s main campus. At that time Pioneer Hall was for both men and women; every other room for each gender. I greeted Bobby as he darted stark naked from the showers to his room. I was shocked at this, not because of modesty, but his apparent lack of it. He had changed, and changed radically. Early December, 1974, we heard the news that Bobby had shot and killed his father, his mother and his sister, Ann, then himself, with a 12 gauge shotgun in the middle of the night in their Golden Valley home. A neighbor discovered their bodies four days after when North Memorial Hospital called her to check on his father, because he had not showed up for his on call assignment. He was a doctor.

Bobby’s case was written up in a feature article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He had suffered some sort of mental breakdown prior to this and had been in treatment. He left the treatment and had been alienated from his family. They reached out to him. He was home for dinner that night to discuss re-entering treatment as an inpatient. After they had all gone to bed, Bobby got his hunting gun and shot his parents and his younger sister while they lay in their beds. Then he shot himself.

The four of them had a joint memorial service at Valley of Peace Lutheran Church. Their were four, beautiful Christmas wreaths on stands in the front of the packed church. Pastor Stine gave this horrible message. He said, “Heaven is God’s gift to us at Christmastime. Bobby gave his family their Christmas gift early.”

I got up, then and there, and walked out of that church! What an ass! This was the same ignorant pastor who had kicked me out of confirmation class one month shy of completion for asking too many questions about heaven and hell, and how one gets to heaven, after my best friend, Steve Rainoff had died by falling through a skylight, chasing a soccer ball, in a locked school in New Jersey.

In the spring of 1975, the Mpls. paper had a feature article on Angel Dust. The authorities had just seen a rise in its use. The symptoms of its use and long-term effects sounded just like Bobby. I have always wondered if he could have been exposed to that, and that is what changed his personality so never know.

I painted his portrait in monochromatic phthalocyanine blue, from a happier time in his life. Bobby was a beautiful boy. He had all the advantages. That could have been me.

My Wonderful Weeds!

"Sears Tower" daylily
“Sears Tower” daylily

I was released from the hospital late Thursday night, after six days to treat an infection in the suture line in my chest a month after open heart surgery.  I got home close to midnight because we had to wait for the delivery of the wound vac, which the nurse then had to attach to my chest.

Friday morning, I finally was able to walk in our little yard. I have not been able to weed or do any yard work this year. The crownvetch and the Queen Ann’s Lace are everywhere run amok. Yet I planted so many daylilies and native flowers over the years that they are holding their own pretty well! The Sears Tower bloomed for the first time! Gorgeous! It is so stately right next to the huge, gangly Purple Suspenders. The Coneflowers and the Buttonwood Bush are putting on quite a show out front, next to the hyssop and liatris and brown-eyed Susans.

DSC04745The tulip poplar sapling that was poisoned by something, survived and has put out new leaves. The Florida Tetrapetal St. John’s Wort has surprised us once again. It never comes up where I scatter its seeds, but we always manage to have some in our yard. (The birds have been kind.) We just had one blooming in front of the house. While I was in the hospital a couple popped up in our Monarch Garden in front of the back shed and one is peeking up through the ‘weeds’ on the wildflower hill on the other corner of the backyard.

FL tetrapetal St. John's Wort is pale yellow, upper middle
FL tetrapetal St. John’s Wort is pale yellow, upper middle

There are little surprises on the wildflower hill: tiny false sunflowers, nearly hidden daylilies, native beebalm, a tiny holly bush. The rabbits scurrying through. It has an untamed beauty. I even appreciated the invasive, Queen Ann’s Lace as it just floated above. I wept as I beheld my wonderful, wonderful weeds!

Stoplight daylily at the end of the driveway
Stoplight daylily
at the end of the driveway

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Reset

resetOn June 8 I had open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve, which had been damaged by an infection. It all happened quite suddenly. We only discovered the damage on April 4, when I had what we thought was a stroke. It turned out to be a severe TIA. It was serendipitous in that it triggered a battery of tests that uncovered the weakness in my heart. It needed fixing quickly. The doctors at Penn expedited my case. I had my heart catheterization on May 9 to make sure I didn’t need any bypasses or stents.

At 6am on June 8, Bethann & I went to the Hospital at U. Penn. and checked me in to pre-op. Later that day, I was so happy to wake up alive! Bethann told me that my first words were: “Where is my keyboard? I want my keyboard.” I wanted to write. Once I got my keyboard, I couldn’t focus to write anyway. I haven’t been able to focus to write or to paint since the surgery. My days have been full of visiting nurse visits, doctor visits, walks, naps. I have researched subjects to paint. I did one sketch that was less than satisfactory. I finally decided to start over where I started in April; with a self-portrait. That is why I call this painting “Reset”. I’m using it to reset my creativity to get back on track writing, painting, editing, etc.

This painting is based on a photo I took using my Mac just before my surgery. My granddaughter Isabella saw my hair blowing around in my face when we were riding in the back of their car. She said I looked like a rock star with my hair in my eyes. I had already started painting this when she said this, but had not painted the face yet. In the photograph, the computer screen is reflected in my sunglasses. I decided to paint an opening door, instead.

Godfather, 4438 Shoreline Drive

godfatherI am the youngest of four siblings, yet my memories have always gone back further than my sisters and brother. This is a painting of the house where I lived for my first six years (June 1955- June 1961). It still stands. The outside finishes and windows have been updated, but it is still the same tiny Dutch Colonial. It is almost totally obscured by trees on Google Earth.  When we lived there, those Google Earth shots would have been impossible! The place was literally crawling with children! (also skipping, jumping, climbing, hiding & seeking, chalk drawing, running,etc.) 1955 was the crest of the Baby Boom after all. Crystal Lake was across the street. That is where the Ericksons, Hostermans and DeLays lived.

Our house was at 4438 Shoreline Drive, Robbinsdale, 22, Minnesota. Postage stamps were 4 cents. Flags had 48 stars. Everybody liked Ike. Our phone number started with KEllogg 7. I knew all this when I was three. My earliest and most powerful memory was being held in the arms of my godfather, Gordon, when I was just two years old, in the dining room of that house. He was looking out the door to the screened-in porch. I remember the feel of his laugh, and that it was one of the few times I felt truly happy and safe in that house.

Not long after that party, Gordy committed suicide. It wasn’t clear that he intended to. There was no note. Gordy had the form of acrophobia that would cause him to have a strong urge to jump from open heights. I have it, too. It is actually an idea, seemingly hardwired in the brain, that the scariness of being on the precipice would be relieved, if one would only throw oneself on the wind and fly.  Gordy flew. His wings burned up like Icarus’ in the Sun.  I simply never saw Uncle Gordy again; never smelled that smell; never saw that smile; never felt that embrace; never felt that laugh again.

That’s me, in the red jumper, asleep in Gordy’s arms. My therapist asked me, yesterday, when I showed her this painting, “So safety must be a big concern for you. What do you do to make sure you are safe?”

I asked her if that was a trick question.

We had much tears. The fact of the matter is, I have had little consciousness of safety since we moved away from that house. First Gordy disappeared, then we moved away from the Ericksons.

When a man strung out on heroin pulled a gun on me, I was too numb to be afraid. My safety is not on my radar. It was beat out of me at an early age. I just calmly sized up the man, determined what his real motives were and helped him achieve them in a way that was best for everyone concerned. It involved me driving with a gun poked in my ribs for 17 miles, but he got into rehab not prison, and, as a side benefit, I got to live.

(If you want to purchase this painting, or others by me, visit www.shoutforjoy.net)

 

Nebraska

Oh, to be young again!

Or, in my case, for the first time. I spent most of my time as a child with adults, or at least older children. I would help my older sister with her homework. My brother took me to college when I was 13, got me drunk; and I still held my own in theological discussions with the divinity graduate students into the wee hours of the morning. I still remember the discussion nearly 50 years later! I was born old! This was not the case for Nebraska.

Even though Nebraska had had a pretty hard knock life so far, he remained childlike, cheerful, confident; just a downright happy guy and a joy to be around! We hosted Nebraska (yes, that is his real, first name) for a weekend in our home, while he was staying at Liberty House prison aftercare program in Schwenksville, PA, in 1986. I was Mennonite Chaplain and Volunteer Director with Liberty Ministries at the time and had helped reorganize the aftercare program there, after it had closed in Phila. Nebraska was one of the early residents. He was just 20, and had already been in prison. He had been raised in the foster care system.  Who knows if he actually committed a crime? He was a dark skinned, black youth. He was irrepressibly cheerful. That is enough to get one locked up in any number of towns and neighborhoods in Pennsylvania.

We had a great time with Nebraska. The one memory that sticks out is our trip to Ikea. We all went to Ikea together, all seven of us: Bethann and I, our four daughters and Nebraska. Now Bethann and I were about 30. The girls were 9 and under. In the store, we got a little spread out, but we could see each other. One or another of the girls would exclaim, “Mommy, come see!” or “Daddy, come see!” when they saw something they liked. Then Nebraska exclaimed, “Mommy! Mommy! Come see!” loud enough for the whole floor to hear, and they all watched Bethann answer. We have been tickled by that scene every time we have recalled it, in the 30 years since!

nebraskaWe don’t know what happened to Nebraska after that weekend. I was so busy overseeing over 500 volunteers in eight different jails and prisons and starting several tutoring and other programs. We never saw him again in prison or in aftercare, or on the street, so I’m taking that as a good sign. But I don’t know.

This I do know. Nebraska was not a thowaway. He was not a ‘taker’. He was, and hopefully still is, a beautiful human being, and our brother someplace.

Kenny

missionaymentalitySKenneth Cobbs challenged me and instructed me like few other persons in my life in such a brief time. I can count on one hand the people who have had this kind of impact in this short a time, and they all seem to totally, irretrievably disappear. At least Kenny left me with a couple books of his poetry, including one poem about me. It is not particularly complimentary toward me. I was alarmed when I read it. Kenny and I discussed it. He stuck to his guns and defended it. This was how he felt. It cut me to the quick. I was grateful for the critique and thanked him for his honesty. I asked his forgiveness, for that was not how I wanted to come off or how I intended our ministry to be perceived. At the time, I published it in The King’s Jubilee newsletter as a confessional, with an appeal to help please, let’s all do better.

Kenny had given me two booklets of his poetry that he had typed up. He managed to photocopy several copies and staple and fold them. He would sell them for $5 each to raise a little cash. I made some copies for him. I told him I would retype and reset the booklets in nicer fonts, with full color covers. I did this. He never showed up to retrieve them or the money for the copies that I sold for him. I never saw him again. I contacted the nuns who he said he was visiting that week. they had not heard from him. I left my phone number. I have searched for him every couple of years, since, to no avail. That was in 1998. I keep hoping that he chose to disappear and become a Buddhist monk somewhere. He was an intense person, wise beyond his years, yet I fear the world was too rough for him. He had been part of the MOVE family and had not recovered from the terrorism inflicted by the city, and the lies and machinations to frame Mumia Abu Jamal for killing a cop; after Mumia dared to report sympathetically about MOVE.

Kenny took me down a peg. I was glad for it. He did it with honesty, in the spirit of true brotherhood and love. I have gone back again and again to our conversations and his critiques to see how I measure up “according to the Kenny scale.” If he knew, he would laugh so loud!

kennyI painted this from emotional memory. Kenny’s skin was darker. I have a hard time with painting dark skin tones and still getting feature definition. Sorry. My counselor and I talked about this painting today. This is the first time I have obscured a part of a face. I think this is because both of us were blocked in some major ways. He was dealing with PTSD from Mayor Goode’s bombing of West Phila. I was a recovering fundamentalist; had been abused by clergy, yet still playing the clergy game. Kenny’s right eyebrow is raised. This was done subconsciously on my part, but it makes perfect sense. Whenever I think of Kenny, I think of our conversations and his piercing, unflinching criticism. It is rare that I can find someone who can give as good as get. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:6) I measure my progress on stepping down from my “god complex” and getting over being a “white knight” on the “Kenny Scale”. This is the raised eyebrow and slightly more open right eye. (his right) The background color of orange and shirt as bright red were chosen because of the MOVE fire on Mother’s Day, 1985. My missing front tooth is from that night, as well. But that’s another story.

I think I’m doing pretty OK on the “white knight” problem. I’ve been invited to events by black friends. When I have shown up, I was the only white guy there.  I overhear their friends ask, “You didn’t say he was white.” My friend says, “Oh, I forgot.” At one party, they replied, “You forgot?!” My friend said, “Yeah. Chill. Just get him a beer. Talk to him for a while. You’ll see he forgot, too.” I think Kenny would be just OK with me now.

Ya Gotta Have Art!

art
“Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.” – Evelyn Waugh

My art has become an obsession. I now have four paths for my art, and it consumes most of my waking hours. This is probably an improvement over thinking about the current election cycle, no?

The first path is decorative; the faux finish subway tiles, including the cartoon characters, etc. The second path is painting portraits to illustrate my book: “Other People’s Children”. These are portraits of people whom I have known who society has labeled throwaways: the homeless, prisoners, etc. The third path is a challenge from my psychologist to explore the abstract. This is a tall order, as I believe in order to do abstract well, one must have a firm grasp on realism. You see my problem.

heidnikThe fourth is meta in that it goes beyond all of these to challenge my own stated belief in the universal pro-life position. I need to paint a portrait of serial killer Gary Heidnik that is done with love and respect, recognizing that he was born with all of the same potential and hope that I was. I was once in his presence and could feel evil emanating from him before I turned to see who it was. Yet, immediately I was struck by the fact he was still alive. There was still hope for change, still potential for good. He was still a fellow human being. We should never go down the rabbit hole to attempt to understand why he did what he did, yet there are those two words of Jesus of Nazaeth that keep calling me up short: “Condemn Not!”

Line Painting as Entry Drug

DSC02939I started out just painting two different colors on the same wall. Then I stepped it up to include thin white lines to make the colors appear to be rows of tiles. Next thing you know, I’m freehand drawing cartoon characters to paint onto ‘special tiles’. The first three were from physical models I could hold in my hands: Rubber Ducky, Pokey & Gumby. Then my appetites led me to scour the internet for images to draw: Rocky, Bullwinkle, Sylvester, etc. I published these on Facebook, and my public clamoured for more! They were surprised by my talent. My wife was surprised by my modest talent. Quite frankly, I was the most surprised of all. I have never been able to draw!
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This was quite intoxicating. I took the next step and graduated into original art. Well, you can be the judge. It’s a cartoon self-portrait. Before condemning me, remember that it was you, my public, who drove me to this! I would not have gone so far down this cartoon art rabbithole without others enabling me and coddling me along the way; not allowing me to hit bottom.DSC02933

Here is the selfie that is the basis of my painting:DSC02960

Here is my 9″x 12″ cartoon selfie:selfcartoon

 

 

 

 

To think, it all started with a seemingly innocent line. Of course, in reality, it goes back to the Rubber Ducky that set me on the path to painting the bathroom to begin with. To think of it, I never would have gotten that Rubber Ducky if the bathroom didn’t have an antique, clawfoot tub.  It was that tub that put its talons into my soul to put me on the path to perditionDSC02936 of cartoon art!DSC02935

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tile_rubberducky

My Home Apothecary

Friday, I spent most of the day making capsules at our kitchen table. I have two capsule machines: size 0 [~500mg] and size 00 [~600mg]. With either of these I can make 24 capsules at a time. It is a slow process, but not difficult. It has allowed us to reduce our use of pharmaceuticals and improve our health dramatically. Back in September 2013, I reported about talking to my doctors about ginger and turmeric. I make those capsules. Sine I make them, I can add some black pepper into the turmeric capsules, which is an added bonus, not yet available off the rack at CVS. Turmeric is much better activated when combined with black pepper. This way, I don’t have to remember to add black pepper to every meal when I am taking turmeric.

I have managed to stay off Lipitor due to turmeric. With the turmeric and ginger, I have not had to have a Synvisc or cortisone injection in either of my knees for three years now. They were at the point of talking about replacement. They seldom bother me anymore. The site where the infection had eaten into my spine is totally clean and restored, as if nothing had happened there, according to the last MRI. This is what powerful, natural anti-inflammatories can do for you.

Capsule Making Machine
Capsule Making Machine

I also made 600mg cinnamon capsules and 500mg green tea capsules, Friday. These serve similar purposes. They both help regulate / reduce blood sugar and are powerful antioxidants to prevent cancer and other degenerative diseases. These take some careful choosing and preparation, however. There are a few different kinds of cinnamon. The most commonly available is Mexican (or Ceylon). The bark comes tightly rolled and smooth, with an orangey color. It has a relatively sweet flavor. So-called Saigon cinnamon looks like it is basically a transplanted cultivar of the Mexican. These are what virtually all of the ground spice in the stores are. That may taste great on your rice or snickerdoodles, but it is not what we want. It lacks the antioxidant potency of the Chinese bark (Cassia). The Chinese bark is darker brown. It does not curl up tightly in the drying process, and, most of the time, isn’t smooth. It takes some effort to break up the pieces. Be careful not to burn out your coffee grinder in the process of powdering it, like I did. This is why I now have this slightly more expensive Mr. Coffee grinder. It has a timer. I know I have to give it a rest after a 12-cup fine run, even though it’s going to take that twice to get my cinnamon fine enough to encapsulate. Another word about cinnamon; if you have Type AB blood, you are most likely allergic to it. Cinnamon actually helps lower blood sugar by helping the body to produce more insulin.

One would think it would be a simple matter of going to a food store and buying a box or tin of loose, green tea. Read the fine print! On my last trip to Assi Market, it took me over 20 minutes in the tea aisle before I found a box of simple green tea, nothing added, vacuum packed. It was from China by way of an Irish importer! Green tea has a range of benefits. It lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. It can lower blood sugar and improve the metabolism to digest and burn fat. This is especially important for those on a low carb diet. There is evidence that it is good for the brain to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It can help prevent stroke and congestive heart failure. No wonder there are so many Chinese!

From time to time, I also make coriander, to help the kidneys; and garlic, to fight a cold or infection. I’m allergic to at least six classes of antibiotics, so I have to do my own homework and do my best to stay healthy. Using herbs and minerals, I have managed to avoid knee surgery, and those expensive injections for years, and reduce the number of prescription medications I regularly use from six to two, while improving my cholesterol, and more importantly, ny inflammatory numbers. Plus, I lowered my A1c to the basement, no longer at risk for developing diabetes. Whereas, when they discharged me from the hospital a few years ago, I had diabetes from the kidney failure and steroids they had put me on to fight the Stevens Johnsons Syndrome. So I think the time and effort are worth it.

I have set up two men my age down on the street with capsule making machines. One went to a walk-in clinic with bad arthritis in his knees. He was handed a prescription for a medication that would cost almost $400/month. He came to me. He said, “What are these people thinking? I am coming to a free, walk-in, clinic. How do they suppose I am going to afford this much for their drugs?” He paid me $15 for a capsule machine and a starter supply of ginger and turmeric from our good, bulk supplier in Amish country. This set up cost The King’s Jubilee about $30. He wanted to pay. I gave him a low ball number. He will stick to it and do it, if it cost him something. Although, he is a serious person. I started supplying another man, who used to be homeless, who then volunteered with us, with ginger and turmeric and green tea capsules. This started after he disappeared for a couple of weeks. He reappeared and told me the reason for his absence was he ate a chocolate bar and it put him in the hospital. I got tired of making his capsules, so I gave him a machine and bulk spices. The next week he said, “That’s really hard work! You must really love me!” His daughter was able to stop her insulin after she started faithfully using the green tea and turmeric. He passed on the love!