Every so often I have a dream that was obviously intended for someone else. Last night’s tour of the unconscious mind was a case in point.
My dream self popped up in a hole-in-the-wall greasy-spoon diner somewhere in New York City.
The place was little more than a narrow closet: four or five two-tops running along one wall, a battered white enamel display case stocked with an assortment of plastic-wrapped mystery-meals, and a narrow aisle in between. At the back was the cash register and a doorway leading to the kitchen.
In the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting last weekend we’ve seen an outpouring of support and solidarity for the victims. Strangely, I find this almost as depressing as the event itself.
Where was all this sympathy, this solidarity, when our poltitics, our media, and our social discourse were being hijacked by the Pat Robertsons, the Donald Trumps, the Tom Cottons, the Bill O’Reillys? We have created a society where attacks like this are not just tolerated but encouraged, every single day, and millions of people sit in front of blaring televisions and nod and thump the arm of the La-Z-Boy and mutter “Damn straight! You tell it!”.
Or worse, they sit in mute disgust and do absolutely nothing.
Like millions of other people sitting in front of their computers yesterday, my reaction to the sad story of Cecil the lion was both visceral and vehement. The impulse to react accordingly was irresistible: it was also wrong.
The fifty-something American from Minnesota whose adventures launched such a firestorm was perfectly cast for the role of villain. He was a dentist, a job that arouses pretty negative feelings in many of us; better yet, he was obviously a wealthy dentist: How many of us can afford to walk away from our jobs for weeks at a stretch to go jaunting off around the globe (especially when we have dental bills to pay)? Most importantly, he was an avid sports hunter, not just of the local turkey and deer but of animals that most of us only dream of ever seeing in the flesh.
It always amazes and amuses me to see how a whole nest of unconnected obsessions can manage to circle around and overlap when you least expect it.
I finished a painting a couple of days ago to which I gave the title “Orithyia”. The name refers to an incident in classical Greek myth in which Boreas, the god of the north wind, takes a shine to a woman (or possibly a nymph, depending on your source) named Orithyia. When his courtship — admittedly clumsy, as Boreas is the rough north wind, not the suave west wind — does not win her over, he simply carries her off in a whirlwind and has his way with her anyway.
The ruler of the Aztec empire was called the “tlatoani”, which roughly translates to “the one who talks the loudest”. From the founding of Gran Tenochtitlan in 1325 to the final collapse in 1521, the Aztec civilization survived for a grand total of 196 years, during which time they had become so hated by all of their neighbors that even the rapacious Spanish invaders were embraced as the lesser of two evils.
In 1966, just as the war in Vietnam was hitting its stride, my father retired from the US Air Force.
Packing up the wife and three small children (the oldest — me — having just completed the second grade) he returned to the town of his own childhood, a place in the Appalachian foothills of northern Alabama with the peculiar name of Boaz.
Some time back I wrote a journal post here in which I bemoaned the fact that a couple of pieces of artwork that I had just completed seemed to be falling flat with my usual public. In retrospect, I realize that I may have sounded petulant, and perhaps even just a tiny bit snobbish.
From “Mathios Paschalis among the Roses”, by George Seferis:
Her aunt was a poor old body, — veins in relief, Many wrinkles about her ears, a nose about to die; Yet her words always full of wisdom. One day I saw her touching Antigone’s breast, Like a child stealing an apple
Will I perhaps meet the old woman as I keep descending? When I left she said to me “Who knows when we shall meet again?” Then I read of her death in some old newspapers And of Antigone’s wedding and the wedding of Antigone’s daughter Without an end of the steps or of my tobacco Which imparts to me the taste of a haunted ship With a mermaid crucified, when still beautiful, to the wheel.
(Excerpted from “George Seferis: Poems”, translated from the Greek by Rex Warner, Nonpareil Books, 1960)