Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Update: Wolves in Squirrels' Clothing Etc.


I have indeed been neglecting my posts here and my brain queue is quite full of things I want to share, if only to empty my head.  I have a tendency to share a lot via FB about the mundanaities of my daily life.  Here is one of a few interesting (at least I think so) updates.

As you may have read previously, the inhabitants of my garden space are always a source of fascination for me.  I have noticed of late, one of the band of squirrels that comes to forage has developed a "growth" beneath the fur on his back. Now, I know about such things from my upbringing in the country.  We always referred to them as "wolves."  What they are actually are a type of larval parasite transmitted by a Botfly. You can read all the sordid details of the life cycle of the Botfly here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botfly

These tag-a-longs are usually nonlethal to the host animal. The reason I know about them is the prevalence of "squirrel hunting" in the South where I grew up. My kin (I always went along, but I cannot honestly ever remember having carried a gun myself) always waited until after first frost because the cold temperatures would "kill-off" parasites like these and the meat harvested would be cleaner. Yes, squirrels were a part of the country diet, not a constant one and only from time to time. And, yes, I have partaken.

What is interesting to me, besides the fondness of  remembering life as I once knew it, are the present day epiphanies I seem to get from observing. This squirrel is not ill or sickly and is seemingly unaffected by the rather large hump on its back. Now, I know all about "natural selection" and all that but I haven't observed any procreational activities as such, so, I won't presume to know or care if this one is getting laid or not. I am sometimes envious of the squirrels' inability to be self-aware and tendencies towards ferality. It all seems freer to me.

The point is, these creatures go about their day of working (I use this term loosely, but they do build tree houses and make sure their screaming and bleating offspring are cared for), feeding, playing not-at-all alarmed by their own or other squirrels' appearances. All the while we humans sometimes overstress about such superficial issues before leaving our abodes each morning. Having been ill for an extended period of time, I simply quit going out in public. This was partially due to my physical limitations but more than I like to admit was/is also due to my mental stressing at being seen, visually scrutinized, by my fellow cohabitants in my own microcosm. The human ones.

If I couldn't bear my own gaunt and pallid reflection in the mirror, I couldn't really expect much different from any stranger on the street, right?

Humans have an uncanny way of shunning those of us who are reminders that death is constantly among us and will ultimately come to each and every door to collect its due. I don't mean to generalize humanity as a whole, but most of us just get a mite uncomfortable at the thought, sight, smell, sound and feel of death and dying. It is the very ferality within us that makes this so.

I am no longer afraid of this inevitable visitor. I no longer even fear the suffering that may come as a consequence of my mind and soul being ripped from a fallible flesh shell. I have experienced both ( without actually having breached the threshold) in my journey thus far and can only muster a mental shrug when it comes to such matters now. Life and the world we live in is more awfully fear-wrought.  Dying seems easy when facing relearning how to live, to be, in the wake of dying.

It is what it is.

Still, I get up everyday and make the bed with intent, with all its folds and pillows, just to ensure I'm not tempted to crawl back beneath the sheets to lay waiting for that final visitor to come my way.

Namaste.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Remembering: Recipes of My Youth


Growing up in the rural South may seem to some as a precursor hindrance to personal growth. I am not entirely in disagreement with this thinking, given the deep-seeded prejudices in and about the Southern psyche. I have had to grow beyond some of the skewed thinking that had entangled itself like kudzu into my fledgling worldview, but I also have had to realize all that permeated my forming sentience was not always restrictive or confining. Some experiences were absolutely beautiful happenstances of being a child of the South, thinking simply and enjoying each day for itself and the discoveries therein.

As the Summer season begins and the Sun turns its powerful and wilting gaze upon the Earth, the sights, sounds and scents of the present trigger some backward (in its purest and loveliest form)personal remembrances: The smell of pure tomato essence on a hot day when removing the "suckers" from the vines, the glimmering array of dew-drenched grass, revealing the "spiders' eyes" at dawn and dusk, the first glow of a "lightening bug" signaling that cacophony of "katy-dids" about to begin in the canopy under a star-filled Southern sky, much like the dimming of the lights in preparation for an orchestral performance in a concert hall.

Another seasonal treat we enjoyed during Summers past were blackberries. The prickly vined, heat-loving berries that left more than a few stains (and scratches) on my person, clothing and memories. Good stains, the kind that are indelible and remind one of sweltering childhood days well-spent.

There was a particular hill, simply monikered "Blackberry Hill" by us kids, that was the ultimate and endless source of this sweet, inky treasure. The "hill" was actually just piled remnants of soil and refuse timber that had been removed when a gas pipeline was interred, cutting a swath of treeless land through our tiny rural community like a scar of modernity. The hill was there for enough Summers for me to remember it and the fun we had there. It was an absolute tangle of briars and vines, much like the briar-patch described in the Uncle Remus' Br'er Rabbit stories that comprised my youth, along with Garis' Uncle Wiggly adventures as well as Twain's great storied epochs. These works, while sometimes considered controversial in modern times, taught me more about the purity of imagination and sense of community among all creatures, both imagined and real and painfully flawed, than the fire-and-brimstone sermons in the white-clapboard Baptist church nearby. Anyway...

We kids (and as in most of my stories, "we kids" means mostly just my brother and myself, sometimes with a kismet addition of visiting cousins or distant relations, far removed) equipped with hand-me-down bikes and swords of sticks, managed to transcribe two paths that intersected at the peak of this almost two-story hill. Not a task done easily and bearing us with a bevy of scratches, but it greatly increased our access to the sweet dark fruit of our labors of intent. We would gorge ourselves on this heat-sweetened sticky bounty and, when satiated, pick all the ripe ones left to bring home to Mama.


And, what she did with them was plain, simple magic. She'd make cobblers for the most part, as any good Southern woman and mother would do. She was originally from East Texas (on the fringes of what I believe to be the true South) Her cobbler crust is buttery and spongy, like angel cake, soaking up the butter and juices of whatever fruit with which it is baked. I rarely touch a cobbler anywhere otherwise, not reveling in the (sometimes bitter-tasting) pie-like crust I see so much of everywhere else. They're just not like Mama's.

While she busied herself with the makings of a homemaker's day, we'd return to the hill and let our imaginations ink themselves on the recently paved road to our rural enclave. Those berries stained our fingers as we used them to tattoo our names, ideas and fanciful patterns atop the gritty road top. Wild creatures and worlds came to life before our very eyes, of our very own making. Sometimes these images we scrawled with our amatuer hands would last weeks before being blanched by the hot sun and finally scrubbed away by a not-too-infrequent afternoon thunderstorm. I remember getting in trouble with my father for this, something about marking up the road that led to the church didn't set right with him, but I don't like to think about such things.

I like to think about my Mama's magical way with blackberries. The simplest being, upon our return from the heat of the day, welcomed with a glass of milk, iced with frozen blackberries, a touch of vanilla extract and sweetened with a little sugar. A spoon was provided for fishing out the berries and, with each retrieving dive, made the milk a little more bright purple each time. Pure and simple magic that refreshed my parched body, sweetened the sometimes bitterness of life and saved my soul and imagination (and most likely my hide, a time or two) from a father's reproach.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Trailer Park Daily: Pecking Order


I have always enjoyed the opportunity to observe the local flora and fauna wherever I may find myself. Doing this has been facilitated by purchasing several bird-feeders over the course of the last few years while nomadically travelling mostly across the great state of Texas, with a year-long stint in central Oklahoma. I use the descriptive "several" because if you have ever observed over-zealous squirrels feeding, then you know the havoc they can wreak on a plastic seed-dispenser. Once, I returned from a weekend away to find my feeder completely chewed through and lick marks in the seed dust adhering to the insides. Yet, I haven't minded. I'm glad they congregate alongside the birds as well as the few moments or extended hours of observation they provide by just being...well, just being.

Now this isn't an attempt on my part to expostulate on what or who each of them represent or why this or that is relevant to today's societal or political climate. I'll leave that to the Orwellian scholars and conspiracy theorists. Much less, I do not want to even venture into being a pivotal part of the equation, I am content to merely act as the catalyst "seed-bringer." I am well aware of my selfishness; the motivation is more along the lines of pure escapism or gleaning inspiration. There is no "behind-the-scenes" altruism or "between-the-lines" meanings.  My clumsy prose contains too many words in its own right to be hailed as a lacy veil for deep profundity, more so likened to that clunky ill-fitting sweater you got for a Christmas gift, the one you only wore the day of 75 degrees and you wish would shrink to not-at-all-fitting size.

 Case in point: That last sentence.

There may well be a parable here somewhere, but that will be ours to discover separately.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Art of the Past: Tired of the Mire of Over-Thinking

Phrenology series: Desire by Mateo
I can feel myself getting stronger with each day that passes. But, I seem to be in a daze of angst while trying to once again join the world of the living. I had prepared myself for the gloaming, the fading away and not "raging against the dying of the light." And, I was okay with that. I was actually more than okay with it, I relished it. I became enamored with the promised respite from the suffering I had long become accustomed.

I now find myself in flux, a purgatory of sorts after a brief and frenzied period of hyper-productivity. I just chalked it up to the process of leaving; I had relinquished and accepted what I thought was the end of my his-story. I was in a mad dash to proffer a few last minute details while I was still able. The urgency was a highly intoxicating elixir to my creative self, the only part of me that didn't want to die.

That last sentence seems contrary to what I believe might actually happen once one passes through life's back door. I would like to be completely certain that the creative self, the psyche, the soul, lives and thrives once free from the physical constraints of the highly fallible and susceptible flesh.

Enter: Self Doubt. Not entirely an enemy, but not a best friend to anyone, either.

I realize I am over-thinking things and I must allow my mind and body to become re-balanced with my renewed spot in the grand workings of life. I have to admit the things I lost (job and steady income, sense of daily purpose, validation of being of the legitimate hard-working class, etc.) were the very things that were eroding my painter's soul and making me completely miserable. Not that being an artist isn't all of the things aforementioned; it is a matter of intent. My material life is now far less lush, but it may just be the prod I needed to find my way, not back to self exactly, but to the me that is an integral part of the collective we.

I am working on some very difficult posts that will eventually find their way to these pages. I am dredging up some past and present demons in order to make the river flow easier and vacate my soul and memory of some long-settled silt. In the mean time, I am following the rhythms of grace and nature, hopefully emerging with a renewed determination.

I have recently been having extremely vivid and thought-provoking dreams. And, if there is anything I have learned from this artist's life of mine, these periods of dreaming are always followed by a time of lucid and energetic phase of painting. Ebb and Flow. This gives me hope and comfort in these trying times of readjustment.

Namaste, Friends.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Art of the Moment: Heart Strung

Original Sketch of Heart Strung by Mateo 2012
I have always been fascinated by illustrious anatomical elements of the human body and the roles they play as interpretive symbols in writing, visual arts and music. I have explored these in the past and am currently working on a series of works  based upon the human heart in different allegorical scenarios. I did the sketch above in late January while feeling very weak and lousy health-wise. In my physical sickness, my mind/soul/heart wanted to be free from its fleshy binding. The idea of an industrious heart being tied to a scape of barrenness is the resulting idea. There are other elements involved, but I like to keep some of my ideas close to self and allow the viewer to decode and interpret for him-/herself. A detail of the nearly complete acrylic painting appears below. I intentionally kept a spartan color palette and in a darker range in order to be able to convey an inner luminosity. I hope you enjoy this little insight into my methods of madness and creative process, for expounding is not something I have ever particulary been comfortable doing. But, that is one of the purposes for this blog: to unbind my mind and thoughts from the sometimes constricting, self-imposed boxed-in life experience.

Detail: Heart Strung acrylic on panel by Mateo 2012

Remembering Uncle Skeet

*

His real name was Gregory. We called him "Uncle Skeet." The origin of this moniker and, well, most of the details of his life are sketchy at best and mostly unknown to me. He wasn't even in direct relation with the rest of us, but in my family, that seemed to matter less or not at all.  In fact, extracting any details about my family's history is and has always been an act of futility. Many of those with first hand knowledge of these events have long been passed or have rewritten such memories for themselves in a way that is conducive to more palatable remembering.

The onset of the Memorial Day weekend prompted me on this trail of remembering. I am fairly certain he served in one of the world wars, probably the latter.  I just remember him being a permanent fixture in the family homestead, cared for by the matriarch, my grandmother. Her life is one chock full of strays and sordid tales all her own.  She is one fascinating lady and I mourn not being able to spend time in her presence as I once did. But, that is another story for another time.

My memories of Uncle Skeet primarily consist of him occupying a certain chair in a certain corner in front of a certain ceiling-height plastic plant. I spent the majority of my summer days at my granny's working the gardens and their abundant provisions, feeding the chickens and experiencing various other sorts of small farm life details. Uncle Skeet was always there, in his always place resting from what I can only imagine was a long and tiring life. We always greeted him with awe and respect as children are brought up to do. He wasn't one much for words, especially when he was behind an oxygen mask for the latter days of his life's journey. He gave us cough drops as if they were candy and we took them gratefully, realizing even then, a gift from someone with few monetary resources was a great treasure.  I secretly thought of his being there was like having a living, breathing Abraham Lincoln in our lives.

He was there, in his chair, for Christmases, Easters, and every gathering that dotted the early years of my childhood. There was always a new robe or pair of slippers or some sort of comfort offering for him on these special days. I hope he felt the belonging we felt with him there. I cannot imagine my childhood without him.

In whispers and shushings throughout my young years, I ascertained a few colorful details about this talis-man. I heard he had shot a man, perhaps in self defense, perhaps not, and had served time in prison. He was a veteran and a chance few away from the always place encounters with this man occurred when he spent time in the VA hospital in Biloxi, Mississippi. These trips were enigmatic for me because the trip to the place of suffering was punctuated by the promise of a Gulf Coast seafood meal while in these foreign climes. I was a wee knee-high lad during the end of his life, so the remembering is merely a series of events, puncturing the dark murky sky of the past like ominous constellations.

Then, he was gone. Empty chair, no oxygen tank, no more mentholated candies for us kids. No more trips to the hospital or nursing home. Just a trip to the local funeral home, church and graveyard. And waiting. Waiting for the VA to send his hard-earned painted gold and black marker. If I remember correctly, I think there was something amiss with the first and another period of waiting for them to make it right again.

Although my memories are anemic and paltry, they are fond rememberings of a robust and true picaresque character.

 Uncle Skeet has long been gone for many years, but he will never be forgotten.


*the picture at the top is not an actual picture of my Uncle Skeet, but one I found while perusing B&W photos online and the visage of the man jolted my memories of the scruffy, time-worn face and attending eyes of the true Uncle Skeet.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Daily Art: (Extremely Stylized) Self Portrait

Jack of Secrets & Sorrows by Mateo

I did this painting a few years ago as part of a solo show called "House of Cards" at what was then known as the Chesser Gallery in downtown Mobile, Alabama. Creating art amongst Mobile's denizens and fellow artists is a period of my life I will never forget. Someday, I hope to recreate and live another personal renaissance there. For now, the road and my memories are my home. This painting, represents, to me, the artist as self and the burning passions that drive me. The √Član vital, the Life-driving force for meaning, substance and sustenance and being of the world and transcending its bounds to become a free-willing, full-of-faith seeker of Truth.