Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Call and Response: Billy Schulz / Stille Nacht"

"Grace means more than gifts.
In grace something is transcended, once and for all overcome.
Grace happens in spite of something; it happens
in spite of separateness and alienation."

Yrjo Kallinen

Billy and I have always cracked each other up.
That's just good livin'.

Some years ago, I lived right behind my brother, Billy. I had torn down a raggedy log barn and constructed a tidy little passive solar house on the resulting plateau. Billy lived within spitting distance (seriously, I tried) in his own single-wide trailer. Espaliered Pyracantha spilled luxuriously along the facade of tawny metal siding. We thought of it as Hyannisport South.
Come Christmas, Billy and I would trek over the Balsams to Asheville for our annual Holiday shopping spree. No list required: for Bill always knew exactly what he wanted to give. The Mall our destination of choice for the purchasing, whilst
el almuerzo de la comida Mexicana remained our customary repast.
Good times.

Everything about this photograph is priceless,
including both the gazes and the furnishings.

One year, we were pushing the deadline - shopping on Christmas Eve. The mall was extremely crowded with last-minute shoppers hustling here and bustling there. Billy had it in his head that he needed a very specific book for his beloved niece, Carrie. It took some hunting. My every alternative suggestion fell on deaf ears. Finally, we located the book. He was so pleased and excited, crowing, "Carrie are love this!"
And we turned.
And we saw the line. It stretched away beyond cooking, circled around self-help, and yawned beyond mystery and into science fiction. I checked my watch, picked up my heart from the floor and we lumbered into the queue.

William R. Schulz

After an interminable exchange of shuffle and stop, we made it to the checkout register. Tensions were rising. I'm not overly perceptive in certain social situations, but I'm sure I detected some jostling.
Now, Billy likes to write a check in payment for his purchases. It is a ritual. A way of belonging, and of being an adult (maybe you can relate to this). The clerk rang up the book and announced, "That will be fourteen dollars and eighty three cents." Billy looked assured and pulled out his check book. He stretched out his arms, cleared his throat, and
with a flourish, put pen to paper.
He paused and looked at me with questioning eyes. See, Billy doesn't spell so good.
The crowd in line behind us sensed a potential delay and I started feeling like chum tossed off the side of a shark boat.

"Each Day a New Day"© video by tomschulzartist

Billy cut to the chase and asked me to, "Help me with this". Sweating, I asked if I couldn't just write the check. "No", he said. "I do it myself." OK cool Billy, but the dingoes what ate my baby is nipping at my heels, if you catch my drift. So I jumped in, "Four. Teen...." "May minute, Tom", said Billy. "Thas too fast."
I stopped. The buzzing in my head was silenced. The pressure of the consuming crowd diminished. The demands of the schedule. The absolute critical adherence to a prescribed self image that (in the very moment) felt contrived. All of that melted away. Wonderful ghee. I took a breath. I spanned a breadth. I spelled.
F. (got it).
O. (got it).
U. (got it).
R. (got it). And as I spelled oh so deliberately and consciously, an amazing thing happened. The tension relaxed. Billy felt more comfortable. Folks began to whisper and point. A miracle was being recognized.
Smiles were shared.
And the book was paid for in full.
We wended our way home, my brother and I. Content and happy and looking forward to how our gifts might be received.
And so I ask you:
What line are you in, Pilgrim?
How receptive are you to the miracles in check?
Wait with me. Slow down with me.
If only for a spell.

"Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."
Victor Hugo

Night, night Billy. Sleep tight. I'll see you in the morning light. We'll look beneath the vinyl tree and see what Santa has brought to thee (as miraculously, you near your fifty sixth year). G'night Victor Hugo. We have a hunch you'll be blazing across the cosmos, ringing a quantum bell. Our best to Sylvia Plath. Night night, Carrie. Wear tulle and leotards (more often)! Night night, Willoree. You are a Canadian Plains Princess and (I) a Trapper and Trader. That seems fair. G'night Phoebe: darkness defines the light. Dream on, Isaac - Merry Christmas across each type of zone. See you in the morning, dear Sheila. Chase your rabbits and know that your vision is most useful in the New Land. Thanks Ma, that's the best gift ever. Olive, if you can't paws - bark. Hey, Walker - if not now, when? Sweet dreams, Blaine - after twenty some hours of listening, I get it. Thanks for showing your best face, Emmanual Levinas. And by the way Mary, sprightly is a word.
No one's positive work is in vain.
Such is the marvelous nature of the Universe.
With love. In love. Through love and around love. Night night to you all.


Ach, Ja

Dear Grandmother
Whom I did not know,

ach, ja

I think of you at Christmas
When I use your recipes.
When I bake your stollen
I feel the sticky rightness of it.
When I beat egg whites for kisses
I wait for a clear day, knowing.
When I roll your butter cookies
I see the cutting board’s grain beneath them

so thin

Even my father, whose memory
of yours was perfection,

might approve.

All I know of your demise is that each night,
After you cooked and wearied yourself in service,
Your hands rested on your aproned lap,
You sighed

ach, ja

And you would fall asleep in your chair.
Your belly grew like a baby was in there.

aber, nein

It was a tumor. My great uncle opened you up,
You were full of pearls, and he closed you again, crying.

ach, ja

Now I’ve been opened and closed.
My hands are your hands.
Merry Christmas, Grandmother.

stille nacht.

—Mary S. de Wit
© 2011

While comprehending both the conveniences and pitfalls of a Cause and Effect existence, here at Empathinc. we prefer to live in a Call and Response Universe. This series is an exploration of that space.

Happy Hanukwanzmas from all of us at empathinc.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Call and Response: Anonymous"

“There are worlds beyond worlds and times beyond times,
all of them true, all of them real, and all of them (as children know) penetrating each other.”

Pamela Lyndon Travers

THE CALL: I have a 'Call and Response" blog series going on. Would you be willing to participate? If you could somehow flesh out that how art inspired/inspires you - writing, examples, giving out for Thanksgiving, parenting - whatever. That would be great.

from Anonymous:

The summer of 2008, I had just quit my job at Lehman Brothers. I sat behind my computer screen with my jaw dropped as I watched Isaac do a live painting on YouTube. I had not seen this kid (now a man) in nearly 20 years but had always wondered where he had gone when we started high school. I watched another video and another one. It made me so happy to see him in his element, painting away, all the way in Japan. It was like seeing a big, gorgeous bird flying over the ocean. Like it didn’t have a care in the world and was just doing what God made him to do. I didn’t know where life had taken him after age 14, but I knew where he came from and was very proud of his accomplishments.

Uploaded by on Jun 6, 2008

There were a lot of reasons why I chose a legal education after dropping out of an arts conservatory. I had wanted to be a dramaturge and went to the North Carolina School of the Arts in high school and then to Purchase College for a year – both are highly respected institutions. My father’s extreme fear of poverty was somehow in my DNA. Then, there was the very real fear of poverty as well. We couldn’t (or wouldn’t) afford art school. I got caught stealing from the school cafeteria one day when I was really hungry and had no money.

At my house, art was something that small kids did. I stopped drawing when I was perhaps 10 years old. My sister’s dance major in college was “a lot of prancing around that would never pay the bills “ She switched to a science major and joined ROTC instead. There was a lot of screaming and crying about this issue, a lot of threats to pull funding from this dream or that dream – very real threats to kick kids out if they did not pursue a “real education” such as “business or engineering” that would put food on the table. Getting kicked out of the house was the physical consequence for following creative goals. But the shaming that a creative type would endure at our house is something I am still coming to terms with.

Uploaded by on Jul 5, 2008

Justifying my father’s position, he had been raised in a two-room house by an alcoholic abusive father with a third grade education. His dad was a hog auctioneer. He went to work in stockyards with his father when he was five. He went hungry a lot. Education and the ability to make money were important to him in ways that I will never understand. I’m grateful to my father for providing a life when I was a child where we did not do without things and were even sheltered from knowing the monetary cost of our standard of living. I think it’s important to be thankful for what’s good about your parents as you acknowledge the things about them that anger you. I think he really was trying to protect us by helping us to assassinate our little creative selves as we matured into adults.

Uploaded by on Mar 11, 2009

I went to law school because my father didn’t think I could finish anything “worthwhile.” I made a high salary for a few years. I know a hell of a lot about taxation of high net worth individuals and got to meet some of America’s most successful and talented entrepreneurs. But sitting on the edge of a trading floor, I used to imagine my boss as a gazelle being chased by tigers. (By the way, he totally deserved it.) To get through the day, I had elaborate fantasies about many of my co-workers as jungle animals. I was miserable and figured that no one else on the floor had strange daydreams like this to make it through the day. My creative self was pretty much DOA and this was its last ditch cry for help!

Uploaded by on Feb 2, 2008

So I quit. And when I got a little time on my hands, I saw Isaac painting, as naturally as breathing, on YouTube. And I had time to connect with all my friends from my previous life in arts school. And many of them were making a living and working as artists. How was it that all of these successful creative people felt they had the right to live their dreams? The right to paint all day, to design clothing, to write plays, and just to walk out of the house and say, “I am an artist.” It all seemed so brave to me. Didn’t their dads tell them to major in accounting, too? They must all be trust fund babies. Well, as it turns out, none of them were trust fund babies. What all of these friends had in common were parents who told them – or even better, showed them – that their creative dreams are God’s gift. I don’t know the dialogues that went on in these households, but I try to write them in my head so that I have a script for parenting my own child to realize his dreams, whatever they may be. Whatever the manifestation of them – you are the designer. You need to listen to that little voice and then go, go, go.

"Albatross, Tasmania"
Uploaded by on Mar 1, 2007

Isaac’s dad, it turns out, is an artist. I am guessing the script at their house involved Dad painting stuff, maybe drawing and sculpting as well. Who knows – I wasn’t there. And I know that no parent-child relationship is perfect, but I envy the love and respect for life paths that I believe exists between the two of them. You can teach your kids to survive, or you can teach them how to live.

Willoree Ford. Third generation of artists working in the Spidey-Hole Studio.
In the background: part of the "Novena for Sendai" series (in process).

Oh, and you can also re-parent yourself as an adult. The bravest thing I did this year was to walk into a beginner’s art class and not run out the back door. And less scary, I allowed myself the luxury of beginning an art collection. I am sure that my parents would disapprove, which is a great indicator that it’s a fantastic idea. So self-indulgent, I just love it.

TOMSCHULZARTIST RESPONDS: Well gosh, Anonymous. You bring so much stuff to the conversation! Cultural stuff. Generational stuff. Happiness, pride, drama, fear, art, threats, shame, gratitude, misery, connections, invention and love.

So, let me share a story with you. You shared with me. It only seems right. That's at the core of what Empathinc. is about - fair exchange.

One day. Years ago ( I was the same age then as Isaac is now). I told Isaac, "Help me build a wood shed, you need to learn those skills." He replied, "Teach me to paint. That's what I need to know." Well, I don't mind telling you that I was in a tough place at the time, Anonymous. I didn't understand then that there is a perfection in the process of growing. I thought I was stuck. So I looked at this kid, and I thought, "What did he know? Was he just being lazy? My ability to design and build was paying the bills, for god's sake!"

But I knew he was right. I did need to teach him to paint. To let myself paint, and to know the complexities of what it meant to paint: to know that painting included concrete formalizing, abstract actualizing and and and - whole space.
Pass the beer nuts.

While comprehending both the conveniences and pitfalls of a Cause and Effect existence, here at empathinc. we prefer to live in a Call and Response Universe. This series is an exploration of that space.

Thank you Anonymous, for Responding to the Call.
"You can teach your kids to survive, or you can teach them how to live."
And you can show them the countless paths to freedom. Their freedom.
Good luck with that. Tom.