"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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Books you "should" read

Dontja get tired of all these lists you find on Facebook and elsewhere, grabbing your attention as gimmicks to get clicks for advertisers? The ones that irritate me most are the ones that proclaim "The 100 books you must read," or some version of that.
I'm a sucker and click on them, and come away even more irritated. Who are these people who say you should read something or another, without regard to personal tastes, and with a narrow view of literature?
They throw in a few classics, sure, but then the last one I saw included four Cormac McCarthy Books. Really? Instead, I looked at my blog's list of favorite books, and only one was included--Heart of Darkness.
Here are some of my other favorites: Blue Highways, The Monkey Wrench Gang, The Last Running, Leaves of Grass, To Kill a Mockingbird, Farenheit 451, Death Comes for the Archbishop. A River Runs Through It. All Harry Potter, anything by John McPhee and Ray Bradbury, Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I could add more--Huck Finn, Moby Dick, Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke, Foundation by Asimov, 13 Days to Glory by Tinkle (about the Alamo), The Man Nobody Knows (about Jesus) by Barton,  The Old Man and the Sea, Grapes of Wrath, Tale of Two Cities, The Great Gatsby, Tony Hillerman's work, The Last Picture Show.
See, you can keep adding books as they come to mind, and I'm adding ones that are meaningful to me, are favorites, not to impress people. Yes, I'd add one by McCarthy, but not four. 

Teaching geography, and Africa

Did you ever have to take blank map quizzes when in school? I did, including filling in countries and capitals, and states and capitals--in junior high.
That gave me a sense of where I was in the world, and also probably spurred my wanderlust. That, along with the fact that Dad always had maps pinned to the walls and we subscribed to the National Geographic.
When I started teaching International Media a few years ago, I was astounded at the lack world knowledge of my upper level college students. Especially after one student identified England as Germany. So I instituted blank map quizzes--continent by continent and regions. No, they don't have to know all of the countries, but we discuss those that they should know, based on current events, news, and media significance. 
I know, I know, that is old-fashioned rote memory. There is still room for it in "modern" politically correct, buzz-word, acronym dominated trendy education. I'm a geezer who tries to stay current with technology and trends, and pretty much a non-traditional teacher. But there still needs to be some basic memorized stuff.
So far, they've done well this semester, and we've covered the Mideast,  South America, SE Asia, Asia and Europe. Coming up is Africa, and I'm trying to instill in them the size of Africa as well. You can follow all of this on the class blog, Clarkinternational.
And here's the study guide on the blog today. Did you realize the Sahara is bigger than the U.S?

Africa is really, really big
The Sahara is bigger than the U.S.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A present in the mail...good Oklahoma reading

I'm published. Well, sort of.
Friend, poet, publisher, teacher and activist Jeanetta Calhoun Mish sent me an autographed copy of her new book today, "Oklahomeland," a collection of 12 of her essays.
I've read some of these essays, and been privileged to first read others. They're about the arts and the land, and the book, dedicated "for my Oklahomies," is published by Lamar University Press in Beaumont, Republic of Texas.
The cover art is also Oklahoma. Jeanetta wrote: "For the cover and the title, thanks to the anonymous graffiti artist who painted Oklahomeland on a wall in the Plaza District in Oklahoma City."
That is also so Jeanetta, a Wewoka girl  who sponsors writing workshops, conducts the creative writing program at OCU, leads Labor Day events for working people and writes and publishes poetry and essays in her business, Mongrel Empire Press.
I first met her years ago at the Western Heritage Awards at  the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum where her poetry book, "Work is Love Made Visible" won the Wrangler. Since then it's been a pleasure become friends, to review many of her books and become friends with many of her authors, mostly Oklahoma poets. 
Oh, and me published? She asked me to write a blurb for the back cover. I'm more than honored.
Here's the blurb:
"Oklahomeland welcomes you to the real Oklahoma, the Oklahoma not of a musical, but of sweat-stained people, of a raw land and emotions. Jeanetta Calhoun Mish is foremost a story-teller whose compelling narratives and imagery entice you into caring as much as she does.  You can take a walk with a little girl and her Grandpa or drive down a rural highway, always connected with the land. Even the more "scholarly" subjects are conversations told with passion and fire, whether about Woody Guthrie or lynchings in her hometown. It's fitting she chose a quote from another writer of much emotional power, William Faulkner for the title of the essay, 'Like a Fire in Dry Grass,' for when Mish writes about Oklahoma's people and causes, she is also like a fire in dry grass.--Terry Clark, Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame"
But to really grab you, here is the opening  of the essay "This Oklahoma We Call Home"--"The 8mm film is grainy now, with the passage of forty years, but, for me, the moment it captures never fades. A dark-headed girl in a cotton summer dress, maybe five years old, walks across a blooming pasture, side by side, hand in hand, with... ."
Here are the arts essays: "Who/What? Oklahomans/ Writing"; "A Review of Woody Guthrie's House of Earth"; "Two New Working-Class Poetry Collections"; "'Culture Warriors'"; "Meditative Presence: The Photographs of Craig Varjabedian"; "A Review of Linda Hogan's Dark, Sweet"; "Looking for (Ralph" Ellison."
The Oklahomeland essays: "Western Civilization"; "This Oklahoma We Call Home"; "Remembering Number Nine"; "Broken Branches"; "Like a Fire in Dry Grass."
Now, go buy and read the book. You'll know you are home.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Equinox--where you can travel in time

Fajada Butte at dawn

Equinox--I always think of Chaco Canyon, having camped there a few  years ago on a personal pilgrimage. You travel 25 miles off the paved road in northern New Mexico, back in time. 

Actually, you travel back into time on those special days. 

I camped there one spring equinox, and about froze to death, but I'd do it again...to be alone, to see the stars, to see the universes glowing in the campfire coals, to write that poetry.

Silhouetted against the night sky is the bulk of Fajada Butte, where the old ones built the "sun dagger" on top of it a thousand years ago to accurately measure equinox and more, their guide to the seasons and life and the powers of the universe.

What follows is from an earlier post.

Camping at Chaco Canyon, watching time move in morning shadows on equinox
The sun blinds you, driving due east or west, morning or evening. You can almost feel the earth move under your feet, each day this September as the sun inches due west or east. It's not moving, but we are.
As urban dwellers, as citizens of the age of science, as people removed from nature, we may not notice, other than the inconvenient glare in the windshield or rear view mirrors early and late in the day.

Our media will announce the official start of autumn, but we miss the point that our ancestors, and those still in tune with the earth, know well.
Equinox--the day the night and day are of the same length, the slow tilt of the earth's axis that will bring the end of the planting seasons, the start of the harvest seasons, the coming of the cold seasons, the preparation for another year's "end."
Many people will gather at ancient sites like Stonehenge in England and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico to observe the day, to relive rituals lost in time, trying to retouch our instinctual past, and something more.
There is something powerful about the day, about those sites, that transcends science, but we've largely forgotten it the more removed we are from the physical world as we dwell in air conditioned cocoons. Perhaps, like our appendix and shortened tail bone, there is a vestigial element in our memory that calls out to us. I hope so.

'You can see time there, time moving, shadows moving up and down sandstone cliff faces'
Having camped in  Chaco on more than one spring equinox, I know you can see time there, time moving,  shadows moving up and down sandstone cliff faces. Those ancient "Anasazi" measured and marked with great accuracy over the years-- in feats of patience and civilization--the movements of the sun and moon. 
It may have been of necessity for an agricultural society, and it almost surely had religious significance. When you're that close to nature in  everyday existence and survival, the earth and universe are certainly alive and spiritual. You know who you are and how small you are. At night there, watching the stars wheel across the sky, you can almost  feel the earth move beneath your feet. 
You are not in charge of the world, or your life, but just a small part of it, and it's best to honor and respect that universe.
You can still feel that power at Chaco, and  dwell on what we "civilized" people have lost with science, as you watch the sun "come up," on equinox here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Where the pavement ends--Back roads in color

Where the pavement ends, watercolor, 11 1/2 by 13
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Ocate, New Mexico...I passed through the old village three Septembers ago, on the back roads. This old store is where the pavement ends on NM 120, west of Wagon Mound near the old Santa Fe Trail.
If you keep driving, and I did, the "highway" turns into one lane, sometimes two ruts, over the mountains for 17 miles until it comes out in the valley south of Angel Fire. I was thankful for my all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback.
I've tried to paint this structure several times. I think I'm getting close, to the color on the backroads.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Books of two cities, and more

Stamped inside my  copy
Reading goes in spurts, for me, even with a goal of at least one a month.
After reading seven in the first two months of the year, the drought set in--much like the last month of my non-blogging blog, which was broken yesterday. The first seven are listed in The pages of February.
But our June trip to England and Scotland broke that dry spell, and in the summer months I consumed another 12 books.
The book that got me reading again, as we headed to London, was fittingly, Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities." I bought my copy 11+ years ago in Paris in the renowned bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. Other than the famous first few pages though, I'd never managed to get through it. But I finished it on the way home over the Atlantic. It also helped that we visited Dickens' home while we were there.
Since that time I've read four other novels, a book of short stories, three books of poetry,  and three non-fiction books. Some were terrific and two were pretty bad. By the way, I think I bought all of these at our two local bookstores, Best of Books and Full Circle, though a couple may be been purchased online.
Here they are.
Novels-- Three favorites and one much less so:
  • Harper Lee, "Go Set a Watchman. I don't care what others say, this is an intense, good book. Here's what I wrote:  "Childhood is Gone".
  • Craig Johnson, "Dry Bones," the latest Longmire novel. Back in February I read his short stories, "Wait for Signs," and while I love Longmire, Craig's short stories  are even better. 
  • Anne Hillerman, "Rock With Wings." This is the second of her novels, following in her father Tony  Hillerman's
    steps, with the same characters. Set in New Mexico and Arizona, it's a good mystery.
  • One not so favorite, Clive Cussler, "The Jungle." Actually an audio tape for driving across the expanse of West Texas. Forgettable. I know, he makes a bunch of money with these, so wish I was too. Suspense, yes. But too perfect, implausible. Rambo in print.

Poetry--There is a resurgence of poetry in Oklahoma, not fancy stuff, but with red clay on its boots. I am writing an article on the current Poet Laureate, Ben Myers, and you have to read a poet to even know what questions to ask. I had already read his most recent book, "Lapse Americana." And, I have met and reviewed the previous Poet Laureate, Nathan Brown, and picked up two of his books. As Ray Bradbury once wrote, reading poetry exercises muscles you don't usually use.  
  • Myers, "Elegy for Trains."
  • Brown, "Oklahoma Poems and their poets"; "Karma Crisis."
Short stories
  • David Sedaris, "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk." I'd never read Sedaris, and couldn't get into longer books, so this was funny, and sometimes disturbing.
 Non-fiction--Two favorites and one not at all.

  • Helen Macdonald, "H is for Hawk." This English woman's personal journey training a Goshawk, coping with death and the past. It helps that we visited Cambridge where she taught. 

  • Gary Lantz, "Morning Comes to Elk Mountain." If you're an Okie, you should read this month by month tour of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. I thought I knew a bit about that area, but the book is stunning. Lantz knows the name of every plant, bug and more as he takes you through the seasons. Reminds me of the writing of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who knew all that kind of information in his nature writing.
  • David Archibald, "Twilight of Abundance." I gave up on this doomsday book because of the irrational political hatred and anger in it. The author's thesis that the world is near collapse because our age of abundance is over seems somewhat supported, but it descends into a blame game.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Portraits of an artist--part 3

Dad's masterpiece is certainly the large pencil portrait of Will Rogers. The other that gained lots of attention was his portrait of Ernie Pyle, which sold for $1 million in war bonds in Dallas. Pyle's wife, who was mentally ill, probably destroyed it after Pyle's death.
And Dad drew everybody of interest, including preachers, and was often commissioned to do portraits of officers. But his quick sketches and art school work that we still have shows a fascination with cowboys and attractive women.
Here are three, one in Lufkin, another in Taos, another in Norman.

Sitting still, portraits and family memories--part 2

Our mother, Francis Faye, 1943, 8x10
Here are more of our Dad's portrait work. If he had 10 minutes, he'd get someone to sit still and do a sketch. Or, he could spend hours with his colored pencils, bringing people to life.
Early self portrait, oils

Granddad, Erle Thweatt Clark

Grandmother, Sophie Elizaberth Culp

Cousin, Sarah Beth Lutrick
Uncle Rex Thweatt Clark, in England  in WWII

Friend Norma Vaiden, because Dad puts himself drawing her in studio in the mirror

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sitting still, portraits of growing up, and memories

Just before I went to college; Dad's last portrait of me
"Sit still."
That's what my brother Jerry said, when I asked him if he remembered our Dad probably said when we posed  as he was drawing our portraits.
He was wondering if anyone else had to sit for portraits when growing up, especially now that everything is done from photography.
Jerry's the one who suggested this article a while back, and I've been scrounging to find some examples.
Jerry as a teen
Got me to thinking that he provided us some excellent training perhaps...like being behind the wheel by ourselves on long drives. Of course the other side is that those sessions may have made us all the more ready to travel, and not sit still.
At any rate, we both grew up sitting still through the years. I don't think we can't remember not having to sit still. I only wish he could have drawn portraits of my children and grandchildren. Alas.
 Dad could draw before he could walk and had a remarkable talent for capturing the essence of a person, quickly, or even in more detailed work.
He drew portraits all his life, living off them at times in the Depression, when beating around the country, especially in New Mexico. There he would frequent the  hotel bars and do "quick sketches" of cowboys and anyone else, who'd pay him 25 cents for one so he could buy meals. That was only a few years after he'd lost his leg hopping a freight train in Tucumcari. "My Dad had a wooden leg."
He also drew a portrait of correspondent Ernie Pyle that was auctioned off in Dallas in 1944 for $1 million to buy war bonds. And one portrait became his masterpiece, the detailed portrait of Will Rogers.
An early one of Jerry, and Jerry colored the background
Lots of his work hangs in our houses, and we have more stuffed away in files, with no place to put them. Here's a sampling.
Have you ever sat for a portrait? It's an exercise in patience and self control.
Now that I think about it, I'd like to ask him what he was thinking, as he watched us grow up, having chronicled us sitting still through the years.
Age 5--small one hanging in my bathroom
I also know he drew portraits of many family members, aunts, uncles, cousins, more distant relatives, and periodically someone will send me one he did long ago. Every one is a memory, a bit of personal history. Those deserve the next two posts.

Another of Jerry

 Some are tattered, like memories.
And some predate memory, maybe the first