“Art Makes the Real World.”

Still life by Paul Cézanne

The title of this post is a quote from an autistic artist named William Scott, who was featured in a PBS Newshour segment on an exhibition of art by disabled artists at SF MOMA.

I think he is exactly right.

The world we see in the news–of conflict, violence, hatred, accusations, recriminations, and revenge–is not genuine. Artists offer us visions of a world that is more real because it reflects the desires, values, and aspirations of our better selves.

You can learn more about William Scott and the Creative Growth group he’s part of here: https://creativegrowth.org/william-scott

https://creativegrowth.org/william-scott

In Praise of “Ruby in Paradise,” a Movie that Presents Conflict and Emotion in Honest, Real-Life Ways

The other night my wife and I re-watched “Ruby in Paradise,” the 1993 Victor Nunez film starring a 25-year-old Ashley Judd. We didn’t remember anything about the movie except that we’d like it the first time. And we liked it just as much this time.

What struck me most about the story of a naive woman who leaves her backwoods Tennessee home to make a new life on the Florida shore is how much the writer and director trust the characters and situation to develop and carry the story’s conflict and emotional weight.

There’s one incident of sexual harassment and Judd’s Ruby has consensual sex, but otherwise the movie is refreshingly free of the violence that substitutes for conflict, gratuitous sex that takes the place of emotional content, and addiction that stands in for personal peril in movie after movie, TV show after TV show, and even book after book today.

The movie is also free of the shallow values and empty ambitions of so much “entertainment” today, in which glitz and power seem to be the only things anyone desires anymore.

As a result, the viewer is able to invest emotionally in the hardships and triumphs of a young woman with modest ambitions trying to become her own woman in a world where that isn’t easy.

The movie is available on Prime Video right now.

A Glimpse of Our Island Life…and My Memoir

The view from the cabin on our last evening there this year.

For many years, Sylvia and I have been spending part of each summer in the San Juan Islands, on land her parents bought back in the 1960s. We just returned from our latest sojourn there. The land contains two small cabins, one of which began as her family’s tent platform and I use now as a writing studio, which sounds much loftier than the space deserves.

The cabin land is what they call high-bank waterfront, which means there’s a beach below but it’s a long ways down. The cabins are nestled into a forest of mostly Douglas-firs and grand firs, with a sprinkling of lodgepole pine, hemlock, and alder. There are other cabins nearby, but only one that is close and it is generally vacant except in the summer.

When we’re on the island, we live a simple life close to nature, with eagles, kingfishers, and Great Blue herons winging by, seals and otters splashing in the waves, and deer grazing on the oceanspray. Although there is a village on the island, we rarely go there. When we do, it feels as if we’re reentering civilization. But of course we use the internet to stay connected from the cabins.

I mention all of this now because I recently completed a memoir about the time Sylvia and I spent a full year up there, during a sabbatical from teaching at Portland State University.

It was a tumultuous year during which my mother died, Sylvia’s mother faded into the fog of Alzheimer’s, and we faced a series of hardships on and off the island. It was also a transformative year, in which the hardships themselves gave me new vision and strength.

I’m in the process of looking for a publisher for the book now and thinking I might post short selections from it in the weeks ahead, as well as some of the pictures I’ve taken of island life.

For now, here are a couple more shots from this summer:

I woke up to this view one morning.
Mt. Baker from the shoreline.
Evidence of some of my island activities: chainsawing and crabbing.

Back in One of My Happy Places

The view from my apartment at the Collegeville Institute.

After three Covid-forced years away, I’m back at the Collegeville Institute this week and next, leading a workshop called Apart and Yet a Part. I couldn’t be happier.

For the next ten days, I’ll be meeting individually with writers who will spend their days with no commitments other working on their own writing. Evenings, we’ll have dinner together and post-dinner discussions about writing and life, a book exchange, a meditation walk, and a final-night reading of new material.

This is the land of Minnesota Nice, which isn’t as glib as it sounds. Our power was out this morning and it strengthened my belief in humanity just to watch the staff here interact with the physical plant workers who came to get us back online. Everyone was respectful and helpful and thankful and had a good sense of humor. Why aren’t we all this way with each other all the time?

The Beauty and Care of Children

Yesterday morning, I heard the sound of children’s voice, and when I looked out the window, a preschool teacher was taking a picture of her students with our ridiculously large rhododendron as the background.

Those sweet faces and smiles were exactly what I needed to see after the awful news out of Texas the day before.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the discussion of guns and gun violence in this country, we need to do everything we can to protect our children in every way, not only from killings but also poverty, neglect, and abuse. If we aren’t willing to care for and protect children, whether they are ours or someone else’s, what kind of a society are we?

Still There Is Much That Is Fair…

I took this picture after a fierce deluge battered our just-blooming dogwood tree yesterday. It seems a good illustration of the Tolkien quote below–the kind of reminder I need with all that is going on these days.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien