Monday, April 30, 2012

"Jazz", a painting

This painting has been a long time in formation. The drummer is inspired by photo I shot in New Orleans a few years ago. For the record, all the things you've heard about New Orleans are true. Have you heard that people dance in the streets to jazz all day? And that everywhere wrought iron drips like lace? Yup, truth. Culture, cuisine, history, art, and music. New Orleans has it all. I admit, I fell in love a little. With the city, and with jazz. 

Jazz. I like it. And sometimes I hate it. It's so restless. So aching. Even the lively songs with bright notes and lots brass have this urgent, almost contradictory feel. And then there are the bluesy, sobbing ones that bring your soul all choking into your throat. 

Jazz, and other types of music that have a lot of aching and dissonance, teach me a lot. I love the parts of a song that are chilling and awful. There is a rare beauty there. But I kind of hold my breath and want the music to speed along to the end, or the next note, where there is resolution and the beauty is a little less wild. More safe. 

I live that way sometimes, too. Holding my breath and not enjoying the beauty of dissonance. Of conflicting emotion. Of questions that can't be answered now. Of un-redeemed brokenness. 

I want to breathe in those chords. 

In this painting, I tried to capture what jazz... and melancholy, bluesy music in general... makes me feel. A conflicting jumble of aching and reveling. And I wanted to celebrate the unresolved. The dissonant. In the world and in me. Redemption will come. It will be made right. But redemption might not be so breath-taking if the broken is pretended away. 

Here's what I did to try to portray all that: 

Blue and red are conflicting colors. The human eye can't process them both simultaneously. True story. 

The graffiti and more urban style felt fitting because life is simply more raw and honest on street level.

The drummer facing away from the black circle, his back and the circle of his hat juxtaposed against each other, hopefully lent a feeling of conflict to the composition, while the position of the round cymbal (again, hopefully) lends enough direction to the composition to keep it fluid.

Only painting the highlights on the drummer and cymbal, then switching to paining the shadows and black values on his neck and beard are another contrast. 

I really had a lot of fun with this piece. It's a completely new style for me, and it took a while to stop being careful. For the blues in the background, I brushed water on the canvas (like a watercolor wash) and floated the color on top, letting it do what it wanted. The only intentional color blending I did was the edges, for which I added black to darken the blue and kept building it until the edges had a more contained, finished feel. Immediately after brushing the graffiti (because I used acrylic paint, and it dries fast), I sprayed the letters with water and let the color run. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted the cool blue shades breached, but it was totally fascinating to watch. Again, learning not to be so careful. I also had fun letting the paint get a little dry and "globby", using it to add some 3-d texture in the lettering and the drummer's beard. 

So, breathe in the dissonance. And create things. It keeps you alive.

Friday, April 20, 2012

no comeback

My co-worker Mark and I had a lot of filing to do while the kids slept. As in, a stack of paper a few inches thick. After sorting it out with each client's papers in a stack, we proceeded. Almost done, Mark pointed to a stack of paper sitting somewhat aloof and asked, "Is that a person?"

He meant, of course, "Is that a person's pile?" As opposed to, say, duplicate copies to be shredded. Just to be facetious and because he appreciates dry humor, I replied, "No, Mark. It's a stack of paper."

"What makes you sure?"

"It's flat and white."

"My brother-in-law is flat and white."

I couldn't think of a comeback due to gasping with laughter, but he kept on with a perfect monotone:

"It's true. He's so thin and has such a big head that I call him Mr. Earthworm. I don't think he appreciates it as much as I do."

(I laugh so much at work.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In the Resurrection Scheme of Things

[adorable little packages tied up in string sent to me by my amazing friend & cousin, Sharon]

"...let me tell you something wonderful, 
a mystery I'll probably never fully understand. 

We're not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. 
You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, 
and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—
it's over. 
On signal from that trumpet from heaven, 
the dead will be up and out of their graves, 
beyond the reach of death, 
never to die again. 

At the same moment 
and in the same way, 
we'll all be changed. 

In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: 
everything perishable taken off the shelves 
and replaced by the imperishable, 
this mortal 
by the immortal. 

Then the saying will come true: 

   'Death swallowed by triumphant Life! 
   Who got the last word, oh, Death? 
   Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now?'

It was sin that made death so frightening 
and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, 
its destructive power. 

But now 
in a single 
stroke of Life, 
all three
—sin, guilt, death—
are gone, 
the gift of our Master, 
Jesus Christ. 

Thank God!

With all this going for us, 
my dear, dear friends, 
stand your ground. 

And don't hold back. 

Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, 
you do for him 
is a waste of time 
or effort."

- I Cor. 15:51-58, The Message

Monday, April 16, 2012

Aaaaand we have a winner! (Or so.)

I do apologize for the delay in announcing this, and yet I don't. Because I was with my family for the past few days. I intentionally didn't take my computer because I wanted to get lots of face time with my dad, sisters, bro-in-law, and whatever they call a sister's boyfriend. And blogging is really a pain from a phone.

But... today...

I put all the names those who entered in a hat. Literally.

Because I was looking at all the names and thinking that using a number generator felt really sterile and cold for such wonderful people, and I remembered seeing a blog giveaway done with names written on paper... and it felt much more appropriate somehow.

The problem with drawings is that I can hardly bear to choose one winner. I wish I had unlimited resources. I'd give you each a print. I'd love to. Really.

But I closed my eyes and pulled out a name:

Congrats, Janelle! It makes me happy to mail the drawing to your far-away self... especially since I got a picture of your darling lil' daughter in MY mailbox yesterday. 

Then, because all the names still in the hat looked so forlorn, I pulled another one.

Anita, my dear friend, I'm thrilled to be sending "Greater Love" to Poland! 

Thank you to all of you who entered! I loved hearing from you all... both familiar and new friends. You ALL win at being awesome. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

a gift for Good Friday

Her normally quiet self was doubled in half, wrenched with grief. Her lungs wrung out ragged wails, and her tears bounced off the carpet. "My brother is dead! Why did they take him?" Her anguish was raw and tearing. It consumed her until I thought she would fall.

I pulled her into a chair and held her close. Helpless. What do you tell a sixteen-year-old girl whose brother was shot in the street, six times to the head? What sense do you make of violence what takes a seventeen-year-old boy because his friend is in a rival gang? What is left to offer? Only tears, an arm around her shoulders, and hands stroking her hair. And prayer.

But what prayer? What can you ask when a heart is broken beyond recognition? Mine was only a giant heart-sob. And in return, I heard Him:

"I am here. And I know."

When she was limp and emptied, I asked if I could pray for her and her family. And, even in my vicarious pain, all that came out was "thank you".

Thank you, Jesus, that You KNOW. You know what it is to cry over a dead friend. You know what it feels like to die. You know what it feels like to be killed. Her brother was not alone in that moment because You have been there already.

Thank you that You are HERE. You cry with us. You died for both the sins committed by us and the sins committed against us. For both, You writhed in pain, and Your blood soaked wood and earth.

Thank You.

It has been several years since I finished this drawing, but creating it remains one of the most deeply moving experiences of my life. It was a kind of sacrament, really. A profound realizing that I had a part in this. And this fierce, conciliatory, crucified Love is mine. And I am His. 

In honor of this Gift, I'd like to make a small one of my own. If you want to be included in a drawing for a print of the "Greater Love" drawing, leave a comment. If you want to let other people know about it, each time you share a link to this post on facebook, twitter, or what-have-ya, you can leave another comment to increase your chances. 

The print is 18"x11", unframed, and black-and-white, as the original was done in graphite and charcoal. The print is an archival-quality, professional copy by my friend Tim Kirk. I'd be glad to mail it worldwide to the winner, so if you connect with the drawing and want a chance to have have it, comment away! I'll randomly draw a winner a week from today.

And make space in your time and heart today to ponder the awful lengths to which God went to prove His love for you. For us all. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

we belong

If you follow the news at all, chances are you're tired of hearing about the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Everyone's talking about it. Hey, the incident already has its own Wikipedia entry. Yup, that was the link I gave you. Sorry. And when everyone's reacting and re-reacting and every political agenda out there is trying to use it for their angle, it's easy to develop tinnitus. Underneath the hype, though, there is usually a problem that deserves attention, not a deaf ear.

Here, it is my intent to share the things I think command a long, hard look by us all. I want to honor the memory of Trayvon, help us realize that his shooter is just as human as you and I, and to remind us again that violence does not end when the larger power brings out the biggest gun. Violence ends when two people look each other in the eye and see someone just like them. A person with dreams, with fears, with family. With a life ahead of them that no one has the authority to take. 

First off, I think it's far too convenient for everyone's conscience to demonize Zimmerman and paint him as a racially prejudiced, power-hungry opportunist. I don't know him. Maybe he is. But, because I don't know him, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. We all have errors of judgment and results we regret. If we demonize him, we don't have to face that we often see things as they aren't and do hurtful things.

But I do in no way think it is demonizing to Zimmerman to say he was wrong. I don't care if Trayvon was suspended from school on drug charges. I simply don't care. That is totally irrelevant to the case, as there is no way Zimmerman could have known so. Even if he had, that would have been no reason for him to confront Trayvon for wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and an Arizona iced tea. I don't care if Trayvon scuffled with Zimmerman when he was confronted. I wish he hadn't, because he likely further jeopardized his safety. Not only is responding violently to a threat not the way of Jesus, but (like I tell my teens all the time), it's more dangerous. Science proves that the instigator gets an adrenaline rush when he is met with returned threat. This actually makes him stronger and sharpens his fight/flight impulses (sorry about the psychology term). So, while I'm not saying Trayvon was right to engage in the tussle, I can understand why he did. If, in fact, that is what happened. I know a bit of street law, but I know my teens better. And I know that every single one of their reactions to an armed, un-uniformed big dude of a different race's following them and yelling would be this thought: "I'm fighting for my life." Even if Zimmerman didn't go into that situation wanting to kill Trayvon (which, God have mercy, I hope he didn't), I can understand how it happened. But it should not have. Should not. I'm sorry, but, in terms of self-defense, Skittles are no match for a gun. Neither is an Arizona, no matter how delicious.

Trayvon is gone. Horrible. Tragic. But fact. Instead of long focus on who was right and who was wrong, we need to ask "what now"? How do we do justice for Trayvon, his family, his friends? Incarceration or any mistreatment of Zimmerman will not help them heal. It will not bring about a world where teens can walk home without fear of being followed and shot.

Since the can of worms words called "racism" has been opened over this tragedy, I'm diving in. Whether or not it shaped Zimmerman's choice to confront Trayvon, it's not as far from home as I'd like to think. When I was living in the city, an incident happened on my street that still makes me cringe to think about. An argument between neighbors attracted the attention of the police patrol. They arrived, waving guns and yelling. This really didn't help anyone calm down, and my friend walked out to talk to the neighbors and see if he could be of help in restoring peace before things got out of control. He strolled up, hands in pockets. When the police saw him, they lowered their guns, stopped yelling, and very respectfully said, "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm going to have to ask you to step back." My friend felt sick to his stomach when he realized what could have happened and what did. He was white, well-dressed (as he had just returned from Bible study), and the police were white. Why did they treat him differently than our neighbors? If he had been black and walked up with his hands in his pockets, the sad truth is that he probably would have been shot on the spot. His death would have been ruled accidental because the police would have assumed he was armed. Did the (white) police have a conscious hatred of African-Americans and Latinos? I'd like to think not. But what kept my friend safe is this: they identified with him. As a result, they acted sensibly.

Racism's bottom line is a lack of empathy with people different in some way from me. Color, socioeconomic status, lifestyle choice, religion, gender, political preference, size of family, brand of clothes... the list is endless of things that make us look at each other and say, "He is not like me. And I like me better." Instead of viewing diversity as the one of the biggest things that gives color and interest to our lives, we feel completely justified in blocking ourselves off from those who don't look like us. We feel justified (isn't this senseless?) in not having to try to see ourselves and the world from their perspective. This justification is prejudice, and prejudice makes us, thoughtlessly or intentionally, do heartless, senseless things.

Prejudice is ugly, but we all have our little ones. Or not so little. We don't naturally empathize with others, especially if we don't take the time to know them. To understand them. What conscious effort are you taking to push back the boundaries of your understanding? Who can you befriend that broadens the scope of your identifiers? What places can you frequent that help you connect with people you tend to avoid? What books can you read that help you realize your world is much, much bigger than you and... while your culture and your individual have much to offer... you and your culture have a lot to learn from the vast spectrum of diversity in your world?

What can you do to show you identify with others?

I walked to the gas station wearing a hoodie. I didn't wear it as a statement, but thought about all the hoodie-wearing demonstrations for Trayvon Martin as I put it on. And I tweeted something snarky like "I hope I don't get shot." Forgive me, but sometimes I make cynical jokes about things that really disturb me. I passed a guy wearing a hoodie even bigger than my guy's-size-large, could-almost-be-a-dress, epitome-of-comfort hoodie. He was black. I was white. He was a guy. I was a girl. His head had a doo rag. Mine had a veil. But we looked at each other in recognition and smiled.