"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oklahoma Sky--watercolor

Left side, 12 x 12
Right side, 12 x 12

New red sable brush at work...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Words of discovery--pages in December

  • bouillon time, rhumb lines, proscenium arch
  • invigliationn sodalites, snoods, anoraks
  • Mogador, Levantines, thalassocracies, jeremiads, discalced, Clonfert, niggles,  majuscule, bentic
  • Monegasque, tautological, loxodrome, gyre, polymath, escapement, aiguilles, epibentic, brio
I spent an hour looking these words up today. I'd underlined them  as I was reading a new book, and I'd completed four chapters148 pages out of 459, not counting index and other stuff.

Oh, the book? "Atlantic" by Simon Winchester, telling the story of the ocean. First saw it two nights ago at Best of Books in Edmond, after dinner. Had to buy it. Winchester is one of my two favorite non-fiction writers. John McPhee is  still the favorite, but Winchester has written 20 of the kind of books I like to read, with travel, far-away places, geology, geography, history mixed together. So far I've read,  Krakatoa, The Map That Changed the World, and The Professor and the Madman--about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.  It ain't just history--it's journalism, the story of people.

Ironically, I was looking up those words in the OED today. I found one word not in the OED--"bentic." I did have to turn to the Internet for a few of the geographic terms.

How do you tell the story of an ocean? He starts before the beginning, sprinkling his narrative and smooth writing with lots of geology, and coming forward through the ages into explorers, travelers, discovery and mapping, politics and wars and storms and science and trivia (Did you know Hitler tried to buy an island in the St. Lawrence seaway?) to the present.

Winchester first crossed the ocean on a liner in the early 1960s. His storytelling captivates, mingling facts with humanity. I just make sure I have a pen nearby to underline words I'm not sure of. The chapter I'm in now is about the literature that grew up about the Atlantic--from Anglo Saxons to Shakespeare's The Tempest and more.

The only fault of the book is that it needs a much more detailed map, with larger type for these aging eyes, than the few included. I'll have to get out my world map for the rest of the chapters, and will still underline words, to be looked up later.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

When I was an Oklahoma Republican--chapter one

I grew up "liking Ike." How could you not, as a kid in grade school on Sandia Base in Albuquerque?

The world was full of promise and fun, of riding bicycles to school with friends. Lower middle class gringo in integrated schools--Mexican, Indian, black, gringo--it never occurred to me that there were people who were imprisoned by poverty or greed or crime, by lower or middle or  upper class prejudices.

In high school, I read "Conscience of a Conservative," by Barry Goldwater, and believed. I came to Oklahoma Christian College when Henry Bellmon was trying to be the first Republican governor of Oklahoma. The Democratic one-party monopoly in the state was corrupt and needed a shakeup. Of course I became a member of the Young Republicans. I'm a Southerner and Texan. Being for the underdog is in my genes.My brother Jerry says I like to be cantakerous. Guilty.

First hint that something was wrong was when I heard a fellow "Christian" at OCC refer to my debate partner as a "Nigger." Arthur Smith was a ministerial student from Valdosta, Georgia. I can still remember one of his phrases: "Blood is the red thread that connects Genesis with Revelation." My East Texas mother was prejudiced, but told me never to use that word. "I just don't want to live next to them," was all she'd say. Given where she was from, that was a huge leap of acceptance, I now know. Arthur and I subsequently lost a debate tournament at Abilene Christian College, when we had clearly won. The judge, a Texas "Christian" raked us for not being respectful. It took me years to understand why. He hated black people.

On the way home we stopped in Wichita Falls at a drive-in to get hamburgers. They almost didn't serve us. Why? Because Arthur was black. "You can order, but you can't eat here," was the reply. I was ready to leave. Arthur was hungrier than I. I just didn't understand.

When we returned to Oklahoma from Iowa years later, and I was fortunate enough to buy into a partnership with Donald J. Morrison of the Waurika News-Democrat--thanks to some money from my mother, I joined a real Democrat in business. He couldn't stand my politics, but tolerated them. I rejoiced when Reagan was elected. He always maintained that Democrats cared for the working  people. When I wrote an editorial about Bartlett and the progress of Oklahoma, he about came unglued--thinking about his work with Kerr and the building of Waurika Lake.

We were on the edge of Little Dixie--Jefferson County--less than 200 Republicans out of 9,000 residents, and thousands of cattle along the Old Chisholm Trail. So I registered Democrat so I could vote in the primaries--where all elections were decided.

Still, I rejoiced at the election of Reagan as president. Morrison--my friend, my mentor, my model of community journalism's excellence-- is laughing in his grave now at where I've evolved.

chapter 2 soon

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The gate to High Lonesome

New watercolor, framed and over the mantel

Oklahoma pages

Want to explore Oklahoma? It's a mental journey in "Ain't Nobody Can Sing Like Me," the anthology of new Oklahoma writing published by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish at Mongrel Empire Press. http://www.mongrelempirepress.com/Mongrel_Empire_Press/Welcome.html

Reading the selections in this book that makes you want to sit down and write.  I found three authors I knew, and a few others I'd met, and many more I wish I could.

I've met J.C. "Catfish" Mahan of Edmond at the Labor Day,  "Labor Fest," poetry reading in the Plaza District. http://www.facebook.com/OklahomaLaborfest His baritone voice matches the power of his written words. In this book, these lines from "Rural Oklahoma" grabbed me:
"Out here the towns are small and shrinking father apart
But the cemeteries are big and growing well organized."

Writers I'd like to meet:
  • Poetry publisher from Cheyenne, Dorothy Alexander. In "State of the Arts in a Red State," she writes,
"...tiny bright clusters
of poets and artists, brander 'other,'
who persevere, huddled against ragged
winds of self righteousness and fundamentalism,..."

  • K.L. Chapman of Norman, in "Summer Sunsets in Oklahoma":
"God's apologies for blistering days... ."

  • Retired OU prof and architect Arn Henderson takes your mind on a  township and range divided trip with "Base Line and Meridian:
"at the juncture of two invisible lines
through the glass of measurement
marking the directions I traverse the grid of ... "

  • Award-winning Chickasaw author Phillip Carroll Morgan, whose "Aerial View" I cited in the last post. His humor is also terrific, and included a poem "Today's History Lesson: The Great Casino Treaty of 2012 (The Treaty of Riverwind)" about the Federal Government nationalizing Indian Casinos:
"The Social Security Salvation Act
of 2011 was an act of Congress
requiring all Indian gaming operators
to vacate their casinos ..."

Writers I know:
  • Chase Dearinger, a former student of mine at UCO, finishing his MFA, in a short story, "Second Coming." The first sentence that makes you keep reading:
"Most would say it all began the day Sammy drowned in the Cimarron River."

  • Former journalist and professor at Murray State College  Sharon Burris, in the conclusion of "Days of Birds and Touch":
"Wing-tip to wing-tip in flight,
dipping and swerving as if one
sinuous serpent, but
never touching.
Never touching.
Like us."

  • My dean at UCO, Pamela Washington, about being a child in a small town, in "The Cache I Carry":

"Okies know, it,
West of Lawton,
Outsiders spell it wrong.
I carry it.

"I carry nostrils full of horse sweat and manure--... ."

Those ought to whet your appetite for exploring Oklahoma.

Oklahoma pages of December

rivers are
shining snakes
trying to hide
in bottomland woods.
    --Aerial View, Phillip Carroll Morgan

"Been there, seen that," I said, reading this poem in "Ain't Nobody That Can Sing Like Me," a new anthology of new Oklahoma writing, edited and published by Jeanetta Calhoun Mish of Mongrel Empire Press.

She's the poet who won the Wrangler Award for poetry last year at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, with "Work is Love Made Visible" (See my Aug. 18 post). She helped organize the Labor Day "Labor Fest " poetry reading gig in the Plaza District of OKC. http://www.facebook.com/OklahomaLaborfest Since then, I've reviewed several of her published poetry books.

Then this 393-page book full of poetry, fiction and non-fiction arrives in my mailbox, for review. I started thumbing through it, thinking, "This is my kind of book. I can scan through it, pick and chose from almost any page, and not get bogged down." Put it down, pick it up again, and discover something new, every time.

The first place I stopped was the shortest entry, the poem by Morgan. (Journalistic habit--I look for writers who can get to the point, quickly.) The more pieces I read about various places and subjects in Oklahoma, the more I thought, "I've been there." This is what will make the book great reading for any Okie. The fresh images and original thoughts help you explore and discover  taken-for-granted Oklahoma.

Mish writes in her introduction that Oklahoma is unexplored land in the minds of most outsiders, and hopes the book will expand horizons by going beyond the state stereotypes. She divides the selections into writings that explore the outer and inner landscapes--Who/What and Why/How (I admit, using journalistic structure sold me the minute I saw it). I'll do the same for Okies.

A page from the table of contents
So don't assume the writing shows only the rural state. There is urban here too. Consider some of the subjects--Waffle House, Runway Cafe, Kmart, Fort Sill, I-44, Food 4 Less and the bombing memorial, for instance.The writers are all over the map.

I'll admit, my favorites portray the rural, but the writing that explores Oklahoma's inner landscape, where --as Mish writes in the introduction--it is difficult to be a writer or different, is intriguing as well. Her introduction gives perspective to the work--but I doubt you'll read it first. Flip through the pages and you'll be surprised. Go back and read her comments for a new view of the state. Turn to the end of the book for brief bios on all the writers. You'll discover another landscape of Oklahoma--the rich terrain of talented writers.

I want to highlight some of the selections, and that'll be in the next post. You can order the book and view other publications at http://www.mongrelempirepress.com/

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Silent Night

What's your favorite Christmas carol? I think the first I remember is "Silent Night." I've always had an image in my mind of a snow-covered landscape with a lonely manger, a warm glow from a fire inside, and a star... .

It's not so much religion as a symbol, of loneliness, of cold, of warmth, of hope.

This watercolor leaves much to the imagination and memories...as it should.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pages from beyond death

I opened a book I'd never opened before this month.

I was reducing clutter and rearranging  in my studio room, and that meant moving my art book bookcase to a different wall. First step, dump the books on the floor.

On the shelves were my collection of watercolor books including books about certain artists (Homer, Sergeant, Ranson, et. al.). But also were my Dad's aging books--largely about oil painting, and three from my favorite aunt Sissie--Mom's sister who also painted.

After a morning of getting rid of old magazines, trashing useless paper stuff, and rearranging tables and easels, it was time to sort  the books.

Since I needed more room, I found a few that were to be relegated to the garage. Those were easy. Then on the bottom shelf went my Dad's art notebooks, some over-sized books, and some old family albums--all laid on their sides.

Then started going through Dad's books. He never stopped studying art, and was an avid reader. While they are books on oil painting and drawing that I'll probably never use, I have to keep them. They're my heritage, and they're old, and they reek art. thumb through them and you'll see Dad's meticulous underlining of sections. It's like he'd just seem them, and I'm sharing.

Sitting on the floor amid the books,  I picked up this thick volume, faded black cover with yellowed pages, "Elementary Principals of Landscape Painting," by John F. Carlson.

Now that I'm painting landscapes, I was immediately interested  even if it was about oil painting. Besides after a rush of early year reading, the turmoil of fall had brought me to standstill. I needed something to read.

So I opened the cover, and stopped.

There on the page facing me was a personal inscription from Dad, from way back in  1969.

I read it twice before I noted that he called me "an artist," which from him was a real compliment. I hadn't done much art then, and he breathed artist. And then on the inside front cover was his first inscription. He bought it in Dallas 11months before I was born.

I just sat there, turning the stiff pages, finding his underlined passages. I can't figure out when and how he gave it to me unless it came in the mail, because we were in Iowa  and he was in Texas.

But it doesn't matter--I've since read most of it, except for the author's wordy and lengthy forward, but I have added marks and underlines of my own.

Three of them:
  • "We do not paint 'exact colors'; we paint them as they impress us; differently every day."
  • "A too-real reality in a picture is always a disappointment to the imaginative soul."
  • "The sky is the key to the landscape."
That last is from the chapter on clouds, and my favorite.

Dad's underlines in red; mine in black
This book has been in boxes or on bookshelves for years, unopened. And when my artist self needed it most, there it was. A gift from beyond the grave--pages of December and a blessing from Dad.
The treasure shelf--personal reference on top; second shelf, Dad's books erect; watercolor books on the sides; bottom, notebooks, albums, over-sized books.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Uncles are special

Uncles are special.
Oh, aunts are too, but to a boy, uncles--your dad's brothers--fill a special place in a young life, more perhaps than they realized.
When you’re the first nephew in a large family, uncles become part-time parents, and their letters and phone calls over the miles and years to the home place are always welcome, enjoyed and anticipated.
But their visits were the highlights, because it meant the family together once again, despite the war, or the miles, or the years.
Stop and recall the memories, the influences, the happy times uncles bring into your life. The more you think, the more comes flooding back.
Your earliest memories include uncles visiting the house during Christmas or Thanksgiving, family reunions at home or at the grandparents during the hot summers, special words of advice, and trips together.
Uncle Mike and terry--at Bandelier, N.M.
You always remember a gift from Japan or Korea from the favorite uncle in the Navy--a model, motorized balsawood PT boat--having him home from Korea to help teach you how to kick a football, watching him sleep on the couch with his head propped up on one arm, the way they did in the Navy on the LSTs to get another moment or so of sleep.
In later years he was a teacher, a world traveler. His trips home would mean long-past-midnight sessions listening to stories, eating scrambled eggs and bacon, watching slides of faraway places like Machu Pichu and Tunisia. I'd go through the Indian southwest with him, a special trip to a pueblo in a land he adopted at home. Years later, as an adult, you could always call and find safe haven for a night’s rest in Santa Fe, a good steak, and more stories.
The youngest uncle, the first you can remember with a car, driving down the road at night in between him and your dad, watching your reflections in the vertical chrome strips on the dashboard, hearing him tell--between puffs on a cigarette--never to smoke. And you never did.
In later years you went trout fishing with him when Red River, New Mexico, was still a wilderness, before the ski rage destroyed the country.
He was a salesman, and a good one too, and you vividly remember him getting on a plane at an airport, wondering if you’d ever fly or do exciting things like that.
This uncle--the baby of the family--was the one who last saw your father alive. He was a spitting image of grandfather, and had a hearty laugh that you still imitate. He died from too much smoking.
Another uncle was most distant, with all the cousins your age, a professor who drove old cars, and quoted poetry and chemistry. You rarely saw him because he was, well a genius and sort of out to lunch--except during brief summertime visits to college towns. You wrote letters to all the cousins before you lost track of them forever.
The fourth uncle was a military man who didn’t seem military at all, but one you remember for his broad grin and laughing eyes. It was an adventure traveling with him on a genealogical hunt in the Texas back county, having Thanksgiving dinner on a patio at San Antonio with banana and fig trees still green, seeing slide shows of life in the Army in Hawaii. Tall and straight and balding. When he died several years ago, an unselfish source of cheer departed the world.
Once dad died, these men are the only living images of him. You see their faces and see their eldest brother all over again, and a lifetime comes back, a lifetime of good times, of years gone by never more to be relived. Now though, you only seem to see relatives at funerals.
Improbable lives as five boys spread out across the world from a small red-dirt southern Oklahoma town, touching lives all around them, leaving their imprint on you forever.
I don't see old men.
Other people may just see old men, but not you. You see bright smiles, wavy hair, sharp military uniforms, people who lived and loved life, people from the depths of your memories, including black and white snapshots with you when you were too young to remember.
Much of my November and early December has been caring for the last uncle, 88-year-old Michael Henry Clark. Dad thought so much of him that he gave me his middle name. The old WWII and Korean War Navy combat veteran had docked his ship in Santa Fe for the past 40 years. It's become my home away from home especially the last 10 years. But now thanks to the VA, he's been moved to a VA home in Colorado. He's mobile and alert, but is frail and has trouble navigating.
Grandmother used to say, like she was talking of race horses: “You Clark boys come from good stock.”
When I last saw Mike in early November, we laughed and told stories and drank and had a good time, right before he went to the hospital. When I think of him and my other uncles and look in his eyes, and hear his voice, and when I remember what they mean to me, I know what she meant.