Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thoughts at Christmas

For much of my life, Christmas has been a time of family gatherings, friends, gifts, parties, decorations, snow, and the scent of pine. It was also a time of nostalgia for previous Christmases, on which time had already conferred a rosy glow.

Christmas, now, is a time of reflection--thoughts about the present as well as the past. It's about appreciation for all that went well in my life, expectation that today is a good day, and gratitude for all that surrounds me. The things in my life may not look like much to other eyes. My possessions lean toward the scanty rather than the opulent, but I have a computer to write with, a studio in which I paint, instruments to play on when the mood strikes me, and I am sheltered from the Christmas rain that is falling as I write.

I can't help but think of the homeless right here in this town that have no shelter, and to whom Christmas must be just another day in which to struggle to keep warm and dry, to stay safe, to find food, and to try to find anything at all that is good in the circumstances they are in.

Here I am, warm, dry, and well-fed, not in need; and there they are, cold, uncomfortable, abandoned by life. I have done little to help any of them beyond giving a dollar when I pass near someone who is holding a sign, "Hungry, will work for food."

One of my friends, seeing me do this, asked me why. "You don't know what they'll do with it. They'll probably just go drink it up."

"Perhaps," I answered, "but it's not my business what they do with it; it's only my business that they need it."

She thinks I'm crazy.

But giving is giving. If you attach strings to it, then it isn't giving. I would give much more if I could.

If I have a prayer for this Christmas, it's to be able to be of more help than I have been to people who are in need.

Why is it that for most of us it seems to be easier to help people in a far-off foreign land than it is to help those who suffer right under our noses in our own home town?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What Happened to the "News"?

Listening to "talking heads" on the news channels, hoping to hear reasonable points of view, is just frustrating, because so many of them have become well-known by occupying a certain political niche, and once established, seldom vary from their accustomed themes.

It's no fun listening when you already know what will be said even before they say it. It's maddening to hear so-called pundits--whether from the right or from the left--fudging the facts to bolster their points of view, or even worse, slandering by innuendo and suggestion, the motives and characters of those with opposing views.

Many so-called "news" shows have morphed into gossip fests, and are about as meaningful and accurate as gossip usually is.

When someone pops into view who thinks, who speaks in more than sound bites and jargon, and who has something substantial to say (whether I agree or not), it is a pleasure and a refreshing surprise.

The news channels give far too much attention to the latest accident, car chase, celebrity divorce, or gruesome murder. There is a saying in journalism, "If it bleeds, it leads." I suspect there is another saying, "If it thinks, it stinks."

Everyone has a right to express his or her point of view--but let it be a point of view, not just rhetoric. And let's have some real news. When I look at the "World" section of my local newspaper, I realize, again and again, how much we miss on TV. I used to love CNN when it really was a news channel.

What happened to the journalists who used to dig deep for the really interesting stuff? Wherever you all went, please come back. And whatever happened to just reporting the news without lacing it with comments and opinions.? I'd like just reporting to come back, too, from wherever it went.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans . . .Gang Aft Agly

In August, I promised, on this blog, to start painting again, and to begin with a scene of California Poppies by Laguna Lake, here in San Luis Obispo. I did that painting as I promised, but failed to keep my promise to post it here.

I've been working on my second painting since August. Foolish me, I embarked on a scene of "Dawn in the Country," which turned out to be more difficult than I expected. A dawn scene requires using gray, and the presence of gray does odd things to the colors, sometimes bringing forth colors you don't expect and don't want. I have learned a lot doing this project, and finally feel happy with the results.

I'm not sure I know, yet, how to photograph my paintings properly in order to post them here, but I will dive in and see what happens. Depending on my success, my first painting, "Poppies by Laguna Lake," and this recent one, "Dawn in the Country," will be posted some day next week. Then, I'll start a new painting.

I thinks it's wonderful that I was able to conquer my long-standing painter's block by challenging myself in public on this blog! (Read earlier posts.) It worked! Now I paint every day, only missing if events beyond my control interfere. I am happier than I could ever say to be painting again!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm Painting

I have not posted a blog for some time--health problems, but now I'm OK. I did paint the poppies by Laguna Lake as I promised I would, and am now working on a second picture. I am so happy to be painting again. I go out to my studio every morning after breakfast, before I do anything else. My second painting won't be done for two or three more days, and when it is I will take a photo and post it on this blog. Tomorrow, if all goes well, I will take a photo of the poppies and post them here, along with my drawing of my son, Bobby Jameson, musician.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Getting Over Painter's Block

I was right about my lack of specificity about what to paint. I gave myself the goal of posting a painting today of California poppies by Laguna Lake, here in San Luis Obispo. It's almost finished, but it got very hot this afternoon, and my studio was like a weanie roast with me as the weanie. I had to stop, but expect to be able to finish it tomorrow morning.

When my son, Bobby Jameson, heard me say I needed to start drawing, he asked me to draw a picture of him, and I did. He put it on his blog,, and got several good comments on it--very encouraging. I'll post it here tomorrow along with my painting, if all goes well. I'm happy about having gone from no art to two successful efforts. Be back tomorrow.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Painter's Block

I got a good comment on my last blog, saying I should just make up my mind and do it--get to painting that is. I think that's true, but for me the snag seems to be that I make up my mind at night that I will do art the next day, and when the day arrives, I can't seem to think of how to proceed. So odd.

I've decided I need to give myself a specific project to do, and a time frame in which to do it. The blank feeling that assails me when I want to do art must be a lack of specificity of purpose. I'll do something small, something that will feel like a "first step", with the hope that it will take me on a long journey. I have been wanting to do a painting of California Poppies blooming by the water at Laguna Lake here in San Luis Obispo, where I live. It will be a small canvas, something I can do in a short time.

My friend and I used to walk at Laguna Lake Park until we switched to Bob Jones Trail, because it was so much easier underfoot. At Laguna Lake we saw so much beauty: growing things, flowers, mountains in the distance, all sorts of birds and little animals, and of course, the lake itself.
I saw my first Great Blue Heron there. He was standing in the rushes in shallow water hoping to snag a fish. I marveled at his size as he waited, utterly still. Suddenly something spooked him, and I watched in awe as he took off, rising above the water on those enormous blue wings. What a beautiful sight!

There were ducks of several kinds, cormorants, all sorts of geese, including Canada Geese, sometimes even domestic fowl, such as chickens and guinea hens, and of course the ubiquitous gulls. There are always gulls. These birds all coexisted amicably, as far as we could tell, but sat about on the grass, went into the water, or searched for insects in homogeneous groups, which led me to wonder how birds tell themselves apart. I don't know. Sometimes there were doves, and we were enchanted one day when a dove flew down and stopped right at our feet. It didn't seem to be at all afraid, and just waited there for a few minutes in a companionable way before it finally flew off.

On one walk, we saw a ground squirrel by the path up on his haunches eating something off the top of a plant. As we watched, he suddenly fell backwards, and then picked himself up looking very surprised and rather embarrassed. But, not having finished his feast, he got back up on his haunches again and started nibbling. Apparently his enthusiasm got the best of him, and again he lost his balance and fell backwards. This time he looked mystified and even more embarrassed, but after a little shake of his head, got up and tried again. He was a very persistent ground squirrel, and we were impressed by his pluck. The last we saw of him, as we went on our way, he was happily, and this time successfully, munching the top of the plant.

One of the sights I loved each year was the California Poppies blooming at the edge of the grass by the Lake, silhouetted against the blue water. So I will make this my first project, the thing I will do this week, and will commit to posting on my blog by next Saturday, July 26. I hope that anyone who reads this blog will be sure to stop by and check on me to see if I succeed in carrying out my good intentions.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I've Been Missing

I haven't been able to write for several weeks, and have missed doing it. Now I'm feeling healthy again and ready to write.

The world has not become any more sane since I've been "gone", but the natural world is still as lovely as ever. I walked today with a friend on "Bob Jones Trail," just a few miles south of San Luis Obispo, CA, where I live. The trail is a bike path, so is easy underfoot. At the part where we walk, huge old oaks look down on us as we follow along the gently winding path. There are walnut trees, sycamores, and eucalyptus as tall as the oaks, and down below, we hear quail chattering to each other in the bushes.

After about a mile, there is an opening in the trees on the left, a large grassy area. On the right is a bench where we often sit and look across the meadow to more trees, and beyond them, oak-covered hills. Sometimes acorn woodpeckers gather on the top of a nearby power pole, or on its side, pecking at it diligently as they cling. Often there are blue jays darting in and out of the bushes, or sparrows, or finches. Occasionally, we see turkey vultures above, soaring on the wind currents, not even moving their wings. They are beautiful to watch, and I can't help but think how much fun it must be to soar up there with such freedom.

I have decided to use this blog in a different way. I intend to be less formal, and just write about my life and what I find interesting around me or in the news from day to day. The reason is, that it is easier to be consistent about writing when you don't feel as if what you write has to reach some literary standard, but can just be informal and from the heart.

I am an artist, but haven't done anything related to art for a long time. It's bothering me. I'm asking myself why I don't do some drawings of things that interest me. It might lead me into a painting or paintings. There are so many in my mind I want to do. I don't have this trouble with writing, but as far as art goes, I'm temporarily stuck. There must be others out there who find themselves doing all kinds of miscellaneous things rather than doing what is creative. Perhaps some of you who have been similarly afflicted have ideas about how to slay the dragon of inaction. If so, I'd love to hear about it. Please make comments and let me know.

It's time to stop and go to bed, but I'll be back tomorrow.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Two Different Wars

Years ago, when World War II ended, in August, 1945, everyone in the little town of Geneva, Illinois, where I lived, went down to the center of town. I think we all felt an instinctive need to gather with other people and share our excitement. It made it real to talk about it. Our town was so small, many of us just walked down town. I remember feeling so happy I could almost float instead of walking..

World War II was not like the present one. In today's war, you can keep living a normal life, and remain pretty much untouched by it all, unless you have someone serving in the military. In World War II, that was impossible.

Gasoline was severely rationed, so we had to think before we drove anywhere. Butter and cooking oil were rationed, and those of us who had always turned up our noses at the very thought of margarine were happy to get it if we could. Meat was rationed, which tested the ingenuity of housewives everywhere. Cigarettes weren't rationed, but were in extremely short supply. Those of us who smoked were constantly looking and asking, trying to find new sources.

We rolled bandages and knit socks and sweaters for the troops. With every pair of olive drab socks I knit, my mind would be full of thoughts about the soldier whose feet those socks would keep warm, and in my heart I would be wishing and hoping that he would stay safe.

We sent boxes and letters overseas to those we knew and to those we didn't know. Everyone was involved in comforting the troops in any way we could. The death toll was high, and by the end, hundreds of thousands of men were killed in battle, in contrast to the 4,000 plus we have lost in this even longer, and still not ended, war.

As I watch how people I see from day to day react, or don't react, to today's war, I am struck by how little most people are affected by it, except when someone they love is overseas. It is not part of the fabric of everyday life as it was in World War II.

I was horrified when, after 9-11, President Bush told us all to "go shopping." What a contrast to President Roosevelt who challenged us by enumerating the many things we could do to help the war effort! We were inspired by being asked to help, and it made us feel better to pitch in and have something useful to do.

Also, that war seemed necessary. We had to stop Hitler from overrunning the world, which was what he intended to do. In newsreels, we watched as panzer units rolled across Europe, easily going around the famed Maginot Line in France, which had long been thought to be a real protection against possible German aggression. We saw V-bombs, or rockets, fall on England, and the English be unable to stop them. They packed into bomb shelters during the endless air raids, emerging time after time, when the all-clear sounded, to view the new damage, which was usually extensive.

We saw books being burned, windows of Jewish-owned businesses being smashed, and Jews being persecuted in every way, until they began to disappear into the loathsome concentration camps and the gas chambers.

Hitler covered Europe, threatened England, marched across North Africa, and went all the way to Stalingrad before he was stopped at all.

In the Pacific, the war went on against the Japanese over a wide area, starting from Hawaii, where the Japanese first attacked us, and moving on from island to island in the South Pacific, to the Phillippines, and finally Japan. The threats in that war were real and world wide. Our way of life and democracy were, for a while, in grave danger. It makes me angry to think we embarked on a preemptive war based on lies and misrepresentation. The reasons given for it were untrue, and those wanting the war knew they were untrue. It is a crime to cause soldiers to lose their lives for concocted reasons. How can it be defended, in the light of what it means to each soldier who falls or dies?

On that August afternoon, we all hugged and laughed and cried and were full of a heady exhilaration. We kept saying to each other, "It's over, it's over!" and hugged each other again. Finally, we all began to wander back to our homes, or gathered at someone else's home, to celebrate.

At my mother's house, several old friends gathered in her large screened veranda and sat together in the fading light to talk. "War is so awful," one said, "I wonder if human beings will ever get beyond it, or if we will go on fighting bigger and bigger wars until we just blow ourselves off the planet?" Everyone nodded. We all seemed to be wondering the same thing. "I feel as if we could avoid it, but only if we all wanted to, and worked together to prevent it," said my mother. Our next door neighbor, who was a colonel in the army, said "That would only work if people wanted to abandon war all over the world. No country could do it alone." I said, "I wish all countries could organize together to stop war," and my stepfather said, "Yes, all nations united together. I wonder if that will ever happen." We all hoped so, and as night fell, we grew quiet, listened to the crickets, and hoped for the future of the human race.

In World War II, we were ready to make sacrifices and put in our efforts, working together to help in any way we could. In today's war, we are not asked to do anything, and I am still insulted by the suggestion that the best thing we can do in time of trouble is "go shopping."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

War Should Be Our Last Resort

I wonder if it has ever struck anyone else as strange that we take such pains to protect the red-legged frog, yet send our young people to war. Granted, young human beings are not in danger of becoming extinct, but why have we sent them to fight a nonsensical unnecessary war? Why didn't we keep the Al Quaeda busy in Afghanistan, as we started to do, so they wouldn't have gone to Iraq to give us trouble there?

I am not in favor of war as a means of settling things, but at least going to Afghanistan made some sense, since the perpetrators of 9-11 were trained there, and were committed to the intentions of Osama bin Laden.

If we care about our own young, we should never rush to war as a way of getting what we want for our country. War should be absolutely the last resort, and should not be used until every other method has been tried. We should use diplomacy first, and be imaginative and persistent in our efforts to reach understanding and agreement. There is no excuse for using lies, propaganda, and fear to take our country to war. Nor is there a good excuse for refusing to talk to countries with whom we disagree, and whose ideas we disapprove of.

We are already at peace with our friends; we can only make peace with our enemies. This requires communication. Refusing to talk to them will not cause them to change their ways--why should they? We should find any areas of agreement and mutual need that may exist, and use them as a starting point to build from.

Unless and until we have exhausted every possible way to stay out of a war, we have no right to start one. And until we have exhausted those possibilities, we should be ashamed to send our sons and daughters into harm's way. It's an awful thing to do. Especially for a lie.

When Jesus said, "Love thine enemies," he probably meant we shouldn't kill them.

Think about it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I got so sick of either hearing Rev. Wright expostulating, or hearing about him, or hearing TV journalists ask talking heads, "Has Barack Obama's campaign been derailed by Rev. Wright?" After the first three or four times, I couldn't bear to listen to their speculations any more. They didn't know. I didn't know. But the constant attention to the effect of Rev. Wright, and the questions about it, were far more likely to affect the campaign adversely than the actual things that happened in the first place. Enough already!

Now that North Carolina and Indiana are behind us, I guess that outworn question will be replaced by something new. Thank God for that, but I hope the next obsession won't be even worse.

Ted Turner had a good idea when he started CNN, and I'm sorry he no longer runs it. Now it has become less of a news channel, and more of a place for gossip and opinion instead of straight news. That's what distresses me about all the so-called news channels--all of them lapse at times into the kind of reporting that used to be relegated to the tabloids. Is it too much to hope for good journalism without innuendo and smarmy questions?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The "Impossible" Is Waiting in the Wings

I was thinking about how much we limit ourselves by closing our minds to what we don't yet know. I'm old enough to remember Dick Tracy and his two-way wrist radio, which seemed fantastic and impossible at the time. It doesn't seem impossible now, so it wasn't impossible then, but the increments of knowledge needed to create it had not yet fallen into place.

When I was a little girl, the sound of an airplane drew us all outside to watch with excitement and awe, as it was such an unusual event. Little did we know that not too many years later, the skies would be full of planes, ever larger and more sophisticated than the little bi-plane that so impressed us.

Some time later, we climbed up into the cupola above the attic of our big old house in Geneva, Illinois, to see the Hindenburg thirty-five miles away above Chicago. There it was--the enormous dirigible, long and silver, gleaming as it seemed to float there, not moving. We were so impressed. This was the future right before our eager eyes! But, before long, the dirigible suffered its terrible demise in New Jersey while the world watched in horror, and it was part of the future no more.

When I was still a kid, my family acquired a Franklin "touring car," a convertible four-door. It was "used," but to us was a marvelous machine. How excited we were when my father took us out for a spin, and we actually reached the terrifying speed of 37 miles an hour! Surely no one would ever dare to go faster than that!

One of the great things about living through several generations, is the perspective gained by seeing inventions come and go, wars begin and end, ideas go in and out of favor. The latest inventions and the biggest fads always seem so important, but are soon replaced by something new and become humdrum, or fade into obscurity. The newest thing becomes less meaningful the longer you live. Eventually it is seen as part of a long series of things, ranging from what we have already discovered to what we will discover tomorrow.

When I was small, everything that has since been discovered was already possible then, we just hadn't found out about it yet. So it would be ridiculous for me to close my mind to new possibilities in any area of life. I don't know what may be possible in the future, but I do know that the word "impossible" may be as obsolete as the dirigible.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Integrity in a Dog-Eat-Dog World

The lack of judgment and personal responsibility that has led to the present housing debacle, as well as to the turbulence on Wall Street, have set me thinking about my own rules of integrity. What have I learned that rings true in a cosmic sense, not necessarily in a worldly sense?

I take my cue from the physician's Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm." I think this is an important concept for us all, not just physicians. I can't harm others and get away with it. This has nothing to do with whether or not I get caught, it has to do with the eternal balance of the universe, which will return to me what I have given. I might not like this, but I have to admit it 's fair. It will do me no good to be clever enough to hide the way or ways in which I'm doing harm. What I do will eventually come back to me like sheep returning to the fold. It may not happen immediately, but it will happen.

Most of the things I do, or that anyone does, are preceded by thoughts, emotions, and desires that impel us to act in certain ways to get what we want. If what we want harms others, it's easy to rationalize and convince ourselves that the end justifies the means. Well, it doesn't. The eternal balance of things never stops working. I might gain temporarily, or even for a long time, and become rich, or famous, or powerful, or whatever I think it is that I want. There are examples all around me. Those who step on others to get ahead seem to thrive. It's tempting to wonder how I could ever succeed without putting myself before others to get what I want.

But somewhere in my thinking and feeling about what I want and how I will get it, there is a place where the "rubber meets the road," that spot where I know I might do harm in some way, and where I either brush it aside and go on, or where I stop and take a closer look. When I was a kid and had a chance to take something without getting caught, I had to decide whether or not to do it. Not being too clear on the concept then, I took it. This happened in grade school, and it was someone's Girl Scout dues. What happened at the Girl Scout meeting showed me how much my stealing a quarter affected the person from whom I took it.

That was how I learned that even if you don't get caught, you still haven't escaped the consequences of what you do. If it hurts someone, you are responsible for it, and have set in motion an energy that will return to you, all in good time. This must be the way the Universe teaches us to treat other people the way we would like to be treated.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Is The News Really News?

The news media is driving me crazy, especially the stuff that is dished up on TV. This juggernaut known as news tramples on common sense under the guise of reporting, but most of the time that's not what they're doing--they are rehashing and speculating endlessly about the candidates, the primaries, the war, and other events happening in the world.

First, there is a nugget of news, then it is repeated, sometimes inaccurately, sometimes with parts missing or distorted, then this distortion is repeated again and again, and discussed and picked over like a turkey the week after Thanksgiving. Why doesn't somebody just report the news?

I don't want to be told what to think about the news, I want to hear it and decide for myself. I want to know what is going on in the world and not just hear over and over what TV newscasters have decided is their favorite story. Unfortunately, I often find the most interesting news on page eight or ten of the local newspaper, and it takes several days for it to get picked up and find its way into the forefront of the news presented on TV, if ever.

Sometimes a report of what someone said shows that person talking, but we can't hear what they're saying, because the reporter is telling us instead. All we can do is watch his or her lips moving while the reporter drones on and on. Talk about frustrating! I don't want to be told what someone said, I want to hear it myself.

Those in the media take stories that might have been of interest when first reported, and then they beat them to death for days and days, get talking heads together to speculate ad infinitum about the ins and outs of a subject that has already palled.

I think part of the problem is that newscasting is mostly aimed at an immature, uninformed audience, rather than at an adult, involved audience, thus ensuring that no one will ever get informed, at least not by TV news. Also, apparently it is easy to pick up and use what has already been said without having to give too much thought to its accuracy, or to how many times it has already been repeated. We get little snippets and tidbits instead of real news. Often, interesting items are caught in the rush just before going to a break.

Well, have all the breaks you want, but in between breaks, please, please give us news, and don't paraphrase it, tell us what you think about it, or what we should think about it. Just give us the news and plenty of it, and let us decide for ourselves. Please.