Friday, July 20, 2012

Watch Your Step

Sometimes you notice right away. Other times you look down, unsure, and gently lift your foot to see whether treasure lurks below. And still other times, you walk away and it is as if something is following you. People start to notice. You suddenly realize you've stepped in it. You know...humanity.

So here you are yet again with lifted foot. And on the bottom of your shoe you discover another report from the Modern Library. Entry # 66 from the Board's List is W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage.
W. Somerset Maugham

I found several noteworthy passages, but will relay only one here, wherein Philip's friend refuses to critique his paintings, and offers this explanation:

"People ask for criticism, but they want only praise. Besides, what's the good of criticism? What does it matter if your picture is good or bad?

The only reason one paints is that one can't help it. It's a function like any of the other functions of the human body, only comparatively few have got it. One paints for oneself: otherwise one would commit suicide. Just think of it, you spend God knows how long trying to get something on canvas, putting the sweat of your soul into it, and what is the result? ....Criticism has nothing to do with the artist. It judges objectively, but the objective doesn't concern the artist.

The artist gets a peculiar sensation from something he sees, and is impelled to express it and, he doesn't know why, he can only express his feeling in colours. It's like a musician; he'll read a line or two, and a certain combination of notes presents itself to him: he doesn't know why such and such words call forth in him such and such notes, they just do. And I'll tell you another reason why criticism is meaningless: a great painter forces the world to see nature as he sees it; but in the next generation another painter sees the world in another way, and then the public judges him not by himself but by his predecessor...We paint from within outwards - if we force our vision on the world it calls us great painters; if we don't it ignores us but we are the same. We don't attach any meaning to greatness or to smallness. What happens to our work afterwards is unimportant; we have got all we could out of it while we were doing it."

So there is the point. It matters not what you do, if it is the right thing for you. Seek the right path. You will find serenity and fulfillment, and therein, greatness.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Indelible Etchings

As discussed previously, growing up in rural Maryland was somewhat of a boring existence. So when the opportunity presented itself in the 5th grade to audition for the "Folksingers" choir it was not to be missed. I was surprised that I made the cut. We learned lots of songs that have remained in my repertoire, kind of like the highly useful Spanish and German dialogues of the 9th to 11th grades. After all, who could forget such phrases as: Donde esta la Biblioteca? or, Zeit wann kannst du um die Ecke sehen?

All of the popular musicals were mined for material. I never could have imagined that 40 years in the future - how much I would value the ability to sing 'Edelweiss' to my Mom on her deathbed.

So occasionally I challenge myself to recall the other tunes, because well, you never know when you might need one. Some of those tunes that bubble back to the top never really seemed like songs. More like poems that were set to music. For instance there was "The New Hungarian Folksong":

Oh how high, green forest spread your highest tree.
How long since its
latest leaf fell silently?

How long since its
latest leaf fell silently?
Now a lone bird seeks its mate so mournfully.

High above the clouds a lark now earthward flies.
Sad her heart forlorn amidst the empty skies.
Sheltered, hidden
under shade of leaf and flower

Still she mourns the mate who left her lonely here
OK, if you never heard it I'm not surprised. But it had a haunting tune. Well of course I digress, because after all circumlocution is an essential part of the format, and I refuse to respond to criticism.

But there was another such tune that I learned, and I am reminded of it on this 4th of July. You may not have heard the musical version, but sit back and consider the "lyrics" of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" and see if there isn't a special meaning in them for you.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Happy Birthday America. Set yourself free.