Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happy Trails To You Til We Meet Again

"Cool Clear Water" but not by Slim Whitman

This song was best when sung by Slim Whitman. But Randy Travis gives it a go here, with the real honest-to-God Roy Rogers by his side, off to the side a little too much to satisfy me. Maybe Roy was getting too old and addled to sing by then, maybe grieving Dale Evans, I don't remember, but he still looks very cool, doesn't he, to Randy's left?.

Imaginary Love: Being the Handmaiden

OK, you love your mate, you have a home and maybe a family. You have all the money in the world, well enough anyway, but you feel a little gap, a desire for humility but not humiliation. God forbid you're like me, and live alone, but even so.

Everything looks just about right to most observers. But there's a little something missing. The water-glass isn't beside your bed at night, full of cool clear water. The room isn't the right temperature. Your clothes, at least decent compositions of them, are impossible to find without effort in the morning. You wake up in the night to run downstairs and lower the thermostat. You worry about the electric bill. You wake up in the morning, and despite all your investments in supportive services and personnel, feel untended. You stop for the perfect cup of coffee, not at the kitchen table with an easy partner, but at the convenience store, where you know the clerk's quirks, and the clerk knows yours.

So far it's all ok. This is life. It could happen this way with no major mistakes. You're getting older, you understand things.You know that no one person can bring all your fantasies of perfection into this plane of existence where we are fortunate enough to abide.

But here's a game you can play, secretly, so as not to arouse suspicions of insanity: You pretend to be the gentle handmaiden for the love object of your dreams, thereby meeting your own needs by transforming your perception of the situation. You walk into your bedroom before the evening meal and you think "I am so sick of this s+++." But you change your tone and pretend to be the perfect handmaiden and you say "He likes it so-and-so. I will turn down these clean bedsheets and prepare the clothing for tomorrow. I will lay out a suggestion for the clothing for the morning, and the hairbrush will be close by. I will use the lint-brush and make sure there is no mark on the clothing from the dryer. I can take and update the beautiful leather Smythson year-long pocket calender that was a Christmas gift, and offer written suggestions on some pretty notepaper, or try to match the handwriting that drifted off before February, to mark the appointments he's been trying to remember from thin air.

I will make sure there are clean towels in the bathroom and that the razor's blade is sharp, and that the soap is sweet and fairly new. I will be sure that the magazine that arrived in the mail today is at the bedside,and I will rearrange into a more dignified position that book that was thrown into the blankets in a slovenly fashion late last night. I will try to reinsert the dropped bookmark into the most logical place.

I will be certain that the light will be appropriate when he returns from dinner to the bedroom, and I will lay the soft robe across the bed, in preparation for his coming there.I will be certain that required medications are in order and easy for him to find. Certainly a few Advil on the bedside table could come in handy. I will lay a pack of matches near every candle, lest the electric go.

I will try to lay a gentle vibe in the bedroom, and I will be certain to leave signature of my regard for all of his personal items. Then I will disappear gently. But if he starts to need me in the night, I will light a candle and I will be there, gently at his side.

It's still you. But it's the real you, you want to help your imaginary love, and there's comfort there.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Boomer Brain Reflecting on Human Achievement and Culture: Mick Jagger's Someone to be Proud Of

I was sitting in my beautiful marble and tile bathroom, for the very simplest of reasons, and, lost in thought, I put my head in my hands and rubbed my hands through my hair and across my forehead and temples. I became alarmed when I discerned I had a fever, like hot coals, but only in the pre-frontal lobe, and only on the right side, near the temple. That area was very hot, seemingly inflamed. I ran to the computer and searched. Wikipedia, for what it's worth, told me this:

"The most typical neurologic term for functions carried out by the pre-frontal cortex area is executive function. Executive function relates to abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social "control" (the ability to suppress urges that, if not suppressed, could lead to socially-unacceptable outcomes)".

Naturally we don't want to devolve into anything crumpled up and tortured, and we won't. When we Boomers suspect that our kids have started salivating at the thought of having us declared non compos mentis, it does give us a little boost, gotta pick up our heels. I realize, of course, that the current political situation has driven my prefrontal cortex to the brink of something from "Mission Impossible": "This tape will self-destruct in twenty seconds." I mean how much more can a sane person take? And, uh, what was that mission we were supposed to do, again? Oops too late. Brain's shorting out and getting hot in spots. But hold your horses kiddies, it's just a short, and there are boxes of new fuses down in the basement.

This Boomer generation, so well-intended, didn't get in on the inside track to save mankind, which is where we thought we were going for awhile, but we did ok. Like every generation of warriors before us, we too, like Odysseus, grow old and feeble, and die. Imagine Timothy Leary's ashes, by his directive, shot from some cannon into space orbit, his own little psychedelic redemption. Carl Sagan tried his best to legitimize some of his most far-flung thoughts, and helped NASA send out that Voyager Golden Record depicting our status here on earth. Aldous Huxley thought about it....he was right, we got our Soma, aka Prozac, and we became the Prozac Nation. But we still weren't saved. Who would have thought that some spaceship or some drug wouldn't have come along and rescued us by now?

I like to think at times of John F Kennedy, with his eternal flame at Arlington, fluttering at times, and Jacqueline, her dignified bones beside him, but then what? Then I remember Joe DiMaggio sending roses daily to Marilyn Monroe's grave. And Happy Birthday, Mr. President, courtesy of Jean-Louis couture.

I think of the poets and the playwrights, Shakespeare, Eliot and Yeats and so many more, who seemed so transcendent in my youth,and then I think, or rather I know with great sadness, that fewer and fewer people read and will be educated in such a way that these writers will ever matter again.

And what about our achievements in terms of perfecting the human body, those who have strived to reach the highest levels of physical aptitude? Well then I think about poor Marion Jones in jail. I read this week's Economist and am reminded of the Olympics in Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972, and what may yet happen in Beijing 2008.

We're just like any other athletes, dying young. Well. Younger than we thought we would, considering we thought we were immortal. The Rolling Stones are one of our best stabs at Boomer holiness, they will go on and teach the younger generations what it is to grow old, and what it can be, physically at least. Mick will strut and fret his hours upon the stage, and outdo all others. He'll be irreverent. He'll break rules and keep some. We can't hope for a whole lot more, out of the ashes of our generation's youth, than what old Mick Jagger does, and did. That's exaggerated, but he made people happy and brought them together. Martin Scorcese says the Stones' music helped him him through many a troubled time, and Scorcese will honor them with his upcoming movie.

Mick Jagger honored his father, took him along to Buckingham Palace when he became Sir Mick Jagger. He may have coveted and adulterated a wife or two, but he didn't kill anyone. That's at least a few of the Ten Commandments. He's got an awful lot of energy, it's got to count for something good. I wish I had it. This little flame on the side of my head feels a little better when I think of Mick Jagger. Which figures, since that side is associated with recall of music and art, albeit, if lesions, then losses.

So I rub the side of my head and wonder what's going to go next. No worries about the impulse to perform socially unacceptable acts, or to form new longterm memories worth acting upon, never mind, that's on the other side. I had a killer fever there long long ago. Next to go will be remembering who-the-heck-are the Rolling Stones.

My Master's in Psychology sticks with me enough that I know none of this temple rubbing and frontal lobe localized fever-stuff is really true. But it's fun to speculate about. Like old Heads used to do.

I'll just sit here and wait it all out. Luckily I don't mind playing solitaire.

And for those who didn't make it:

"To an Athlete Dying Young" by A. E. Housman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

Hillary as Lorena Bobbitt, Cruella Deville, and Dr. Strangelove: Getting Back at Bill for Monica and the Cigar?

This is a repeat, back by popular demand

Hillary as Lorena Bobbitt, Cruella DeVille and Dr. Strangelove: Getting Back at Bill for Monica and the Cigar?

I used to believe that Hillary Clinton wanted to be President of the United States because she felt a higher calling to serve the people. I never doubted the sincerity of her earnestness. I admired her for raising a level-headed, highly motivated daughter. When she apparently forgave Bill for what he did in our nation's Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky and that cigar, I thought "God, that has to have been tough to rise above that, to be so high-minded to deal with the disgrace and humiliation brought upon her, her daughter, and the Presidency, by Bill's philandering, broadcast worldwide." How many women could do that?

But now, through a multitude of debates and because the media captures everything right up to the edge of toilet stalls, we've had a good look at the real Hillary. Despite her most recent civility toward Barack Obama, I find it hard to validate my previous admiration for her. My objections aren't particularly substantive, they're pretty emotional actually. It's just that Hillary's civility seems to be offered with clenched fists and gritting teeth. Her answers come too fast and smooth, verging on pathology. She's too glib. Her laughter is frighteningly manic. There's a Dr. Strangelove quality about her: I think of the way Peter Sellers would lose control of his arm and grab it back. She has used cut-throat Cruella DeVille sarcasm to deflate Barack Obama, subtly revealing how desperate, clawing, clamoring, bitter and vengeful she really may be.

Rather than devolving into Lorena Bobbitt with a butcher knife, she could be getting revenge another way. It's conceivable she rose above Bill's sexual escapades with the ladies, not because she has a well-developed spirit of foregiveness, but because she knew she was going to go for the top prize and that Bill, hate him though she might, would be her ace in the hole. He's pretty efficient out there on the campaign trail, albeit looking crazed and sexually frustrated, using skilled but convoluted tactics to get back to his easy chair on Pennsylvania Avenue. In his own wing.

Could Hillary be obsessed, using Bill to get the vote, with the ulterior motive of humiliating him once the Oval Office is hers? She will have the means at her disposal to do that.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Our Own Gladiators: Hillary and Bill by ten points in Pennsylvania?

Ok. So that's pretty much that. We are bloodthirsty Romans encouraging our gladiators to fight to the death. That's us. The Clintons have taught Americans all the worst things but Democrats want them back. We've seen Hillary lie, attack and undermine her own party. We've watched her acting like someone she's not, snorting down whiskey and telling tales about her days out shootin' with dad. Back in the day, Bill taught everyone forever, including our school children who took it to heart, that oral sex doesn't count as "sexual relations", and taught husbands everywhere that marital fidelity is not important in that regard. Hillary taught women that you don't have to love, you just have to use your husband, hang on to him for political and business purposes, even when he does very weird things in the highest office in the land, and says very strange and damning things out on the stump.

We read books and watch shows like "John Adams", full of self-regard for our ability to admire the high standards of the Founding Fathers, but our votes reveal our regard for profligacy and mean-spiritedness. Who are Americans these days?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mad as a Hornet: Hillary Victorious in Pennsylvania? Where are the Gladiators and the mood elevators when you need them?

Thank God my father the doctor taught me to never throw out old medicine, the expiration dates are just the tricks of the voracious money-hungry pharmaceutical companies...because I'll be digging through my drawers looking for help from the 1990's tomorrow, now that I have got to accept the fact that the Democrats are no damn good either.I want to be a Democrat, I really do, and I have tried, I mean Georgie Porgie has made a joke out of the Republicans, but if you can't be proud of the Democrats either, then what do you do?

This has been ridiculous. The Democrats, hee-haw, hee-haw, donkey-time. Bill Clinton, oink-oink. The Republicans, asses and brain-washees, I can't take it anymore! Michelle Obama said she was proud of her country for the first time, I think maybe I've been proud of my country for the last time, and I can't even remember when it was. Maybe when Al Gore gracefully accepted the Nobel Prize. I forget. I've had it! I'm heading for the hills! How could such dirty politics as the Clintons play lead the voters to the booth in her behalf? I wasn't even that sure about Obama, but this victory for Hillary is enough to make me renounce my citizenship. I am a woman in a fury right now, and at least ready to throw it in and jump back to the Republicans, who rocked my cradle.

No doubt I'll erase this after I sleep on it, but as for now, I'm ready to fight it out for a hundred years. That's no way to go to bed, but there's no one in the bed to make up with, as mom always advised. Don't go to bed mad, they say, work it out, but guess what? Tonight I would take a tranquilizer from the 2000 election days, if I had it, and my brain's internal defragmenter would find what it needs in that old thing, and I'd start new tomorrow. Back to work, back to hope, back to dreaming through the day.

OK, Here's Pennsylvania's Primary at Last

Mike Barnicle, Boston Globe newsman, just said something really funny on Morning Joe. He said (I'm paraphrasing) that even if Barack Obama ultimately wins the Presidency and is in a limo going down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, the Clintons will be there, throwing down strips of nails to disable the limo...they just won't give up!

I'm amazed at the image being portrayed of Pennsylvania during this election, and particularly that Hillary, who should know better, is playing into it so voraciously. She's been trying to appeal to voters in Pennsylvania by pretending that she's a beer-guzzling, gun-toting hick. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and I know that this characterization is totally skewed. Sure there's a T-shaped demographic there that suffers more than most from poverty, but you don't have to play hick to get along with folks who like to hunt, fish and drink beer.

How did it happen that the Wellesley graduate reinvents herself as a working man's hero, and the street smart, albeit beautifully educated guy, who really did get down in the trenches and jive in Chicago, is now considered too urbane and elitist to win the common man's vote? It's a skewed racism played to the hilt by the Clintons! It's not really that she's the working man's hero, or a woman, she's been playing some kind of crazy white card in Pennsylvania,I just can't figure it out.

I still haven't been able to wear my Obama t-shirt, and I would never wear a Hillary one, she's sold her soul. So much depends on the Vice-Presidential candidates who are eventually chosen in each party. For now I'm lost but then may be found. Maybe we'll all be surprised and educated tonight when we find out what Barack's nine million dollar campaign in Pennsylvania could or could not do.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Giuseppe De Lampedusa's one-and-only Book "The Leopard"

Many of us in small picturesque towns like Cape May are, for some reason, of above average intelligence. Some of us have been here for generations and have been loving and contributing to the area forever. A number of us are baby boomers who settled here after weathering the sixties. People keep coming, with stars in their eyes because they see the town for what it is or could be - a little piece of heaven, a great place to pitch stakes and earn a livelihood. Whether we’re idealists who want to settle into paradise or the black sheep of our families, - eschewing cities, suburbs and tangled roots to plant morning glories by the seashore and escape into small town life – whoever we are and any way we got here, many of us are mighty smart, and full of longings still.

We’re all growing older together, and we all benefit from introspection about our lives and the currents of time that bring us to the present. Many local residents travel far and wide. If we had a huge world map at City Hall, and everyone rigged up thumbtacks and strings to show the towns they travel to each year, we would have an astounding tangle of strings: our beautiful minds working together.

We can always learn from others who have gone before us in other places and other times. One man in our last century who had an astonishingly clear sense of place in time and history, and a breathtaking eloquence to portray it was Giuseppe di Lampedusa. He was a Sicilian nobleman who died in 1957. Before he died, at the age of 60, he wrote his one and only book, The Leopard.

It is this book which has brought me out of years of intellectual lethargy and seclusion. This is not really a book review, but an exhortation and a trust that those of you who are thirsting for a phenomenal read will just go to or wherever you go, and thrill, as I have, to this piece of writing.

The story, as you might guess, is timeless. Although it’s been called Italy’s Gone With the Wind, it’s not: it’s short and easy to read. It’s very funny. The setting is Sicily in the 1860’s, during the unification of Italy and the death of the aristocracy. It’s written from the point of view of a Sicilian prince who, with great good humor, comes gracefully to peace with the losses and disappointments in his life.

The man is in touch, well-integrated. He has it together as a contributing member of society, well-respected, in good standing with the church and the state. He is an amateur astronomer, and ponders the celestial spheres through the telescopes in his study. Although his family is not turning out to be quite up to snuff, he doesn’t dwell on his disappointments, it’s not his nature. He delights in his adopted nephew, Tancredi, a budding revolutionary working against him, who captivates, enthralls, enchants, and loves his uncle and all those in his sphere. Although the Prince’s own daughter is in love with Tancredi, she is homely and cannot compete with the beautiful Angelica, and even the Prince does not begrudge his nephew the charms of Angelica.

On a nighttime carriage ride with his priest (as he goes to visit his mistress), the Prince observes the rebel bands at their small bonfires outside the city and realizes calmly “that perhaps Tancredi was beside one of those ill-omened fires, his aristocratic hands throwing on sticks being burned to damage just such hands as his.” The writing, as all of those English majors living here in the community could attest, is superb.

To read this book can be like lifting an illuminated manuscript into your hands and becoming intoxicated by your own understanding. All of the political, community, family and personal issues so brilliantly wrought here will ring true today with the most satisfying clarity. And I hope this book can edify, humor, and comfort many of us, cast now on our various shores.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Just for old time's sake

A little three minute flashback to 2001 Space Odyssey, including my favorite scene, the one I loved best, but could never really understand: the scene in the bedroom.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Losing your memory: In case you missed, or think maybe you missed, David Brooks' column in the New York Times last week

This is so funny, and mighty comforting to anyone having senior moments!

The Great Forgetting
Published: April 11, 2008 in The New York Times

"They say the 21st century is going to be the Asian Century, but, of course, it’s going to be the Bad Memory Century. Already, you go to dinner parties and the middle-aged high achievers talk more about how bad their memories are than about real estate. Already, the information acceleration syndrome means that more data is coursing through everybody’s brains, but less of it actually sticks. It’s become like a badge of a frenetic, stressful life — to have forgotten what you did last Saturday night, and through all of junior high.

In the era of an aging population, memory is the new sex.

Society is now riven between the memory haves and the memory have-nots. On the one side are these colossal Proustian memory bullies who get 1,800 pages of recollection out of a mere cookie-bite. They traipse around broadcasting their conspicuous displays of recall as if quoting Auden were the Hummer of conversational one-upmanship. On the other side are those of us suffering the normal effects of time, living in the hippocampically challenged community that is one step away from leaving the stove on all day.

This divide produces moments of social combat. Some vaguely familiar person will come up to you in the supermarket. “Stan, it’s so nice to see you!” The smug memory dropper can smell your nominal aphasia and is going to keep first-naming you until you are crushed into submission.

Your response here is critical. You want to open up with an effusive burst of insincere emotional warmth: “Hey!” You’re practically exploding with feigned ecstasy. “Wonderful to see you too! How is everything?” All the while, you are frantically whirring through your memory banks trying to anchor this person in some time and context.

A decent human being would sense your distress and give you some lagniappe of information — a mention of the church picnic you both attended, the parents’ association at school, the fact that the two of you were formerly married. But the Proustian bully will give you nothing. “I’m good. And you?” It’s like trying to get an arms control concession out of Leonid Brezhnev.

Your only strategy is evasive vagueness, conversational rope-a-dope until you can figure out who this person is. You start talking in the tone of over-generalized blandness that suggests you have recently emerged from a coma.

Sensing your pain, your enemy pours it on mercilessly. “And how is Mary, and little Steven and Rob?” People who needlessly display their knowledge of your kids’ names are the lowest scum of the earth.

You’re in agony now, praying for an episode of spontaneous combustion. But still she drives the blade in deeper, “That was some party the other night wasn’t it?”

You lose vision. What party? Did you see this person at a party? By now, articulation is impossible. You are a puddle of gurgling noises and awkward silences. After the longest of these pauses, she goes for the coup de grâce: “You have no idea who I am, do you?”

You can’t tell the truth. That would be an admission of social defeat. The only possible response is: “Of course, I know who you are. You’re the hooker who hangs around on 14th Street most Saturday nights.”

The dawning of the Bad Memory Century will have vast consequences for the social fabric and the international balance of power. International relations experts will notice that great powers can be defined by their national forgetting styles. Americans forget their sins. Russians forget their weaknesses. The French forget that they’ve forgotten God. And, in the Middle East, they forget everything but their resentments.

There will be new social movements and causes. The supermarket parking lots will be filled with cranky criminal gangs composed of middle-aged shoppers looking for their cars. As it becomes clear that a constant stream of blog posts and e-mails decimates the capacity for recall, people will be confronted with the modern Sophie’s choice — your BlackBerry or your mind.

Neural environmentalists will emerge from the slow foods movement, urging people to accept memory loss as a way to reduce their mental footprint. Meanwhile, mnemonic gurus will emerge offering to sell neural Viagra, but the only old memories the pills really bring back will involve trigonometry.

As in most great historical transformations, the members of the highly educated upper-middle class will express their suffering most loudly. It is especially painful when narcissists suffer memory loss because they are losing parts of the person they love most. First they lose the subjects they’ve only been pretending to understand — chaos theory, monetary policy, Don Delillo — and pretty soon their conversation is reduced to the core stories of self-heroism.

Their affection for themselves will endure through this Bad Memory Century, but their failure to retrieve will produce one of the epoch’s most notable features: shorter memoirs."

Friday, April 11, 2008

"The Doctor" by Sir Samuel Luke Fildes....(some history for my family)

If memory serves me, both sets of my grandparents had reproductions of Sir Samuel Luke Fildes' 1891 painting "The Doctor" somewhere in their environs. Theirs were probably tossed out years ago by disapproving offspring, for being kind of schlocky, but I love that picture and have loved it for a long time.(For a clearer view of the picture, click the title above.)

Fifty-some years ago I would stare at this picture and it would arouse tremendous feelings in me: a longing for love, and pity and concern for all involved: the poor mother collapsed in sorrow and fear, maybe prayer, at the table by the window; the father, ineffectual, at loose ends, standing by her with a hand on her shoulder, and another in his pocket, wondering if maybe he could, in good conscience, head off alone for the local tavern.

The doctor, the one with the power, brains, education, medication, and all the answers, sits puzzled but challenged and confident, pensive, powerful, beside me, oops, I mean beside the sick little girl. The girl is laying, feverish, in a humble and beautiful home I want still, upon pillows and a makeshift bed of beautiful chairs I want still, near I lamp I want still, with a bird in a cage and a glass of flowers in the window that I want still, and the attention of a man who is going to save her, which, well, let's face it, I want still.

A friend from gradeschool has written since reading this post and pointed out to me, most eloquently, that the loving family has made the girl's makeshift bed, using their finest Chippendale chair for her head, and the kitchen ladderback chair for her feet.

One of my grandfathers, Leroy Edgar Chapman, actually was a doctor, who had an office next to his home in Warren, Pa. where he saw patients, x-rayed them with his own little x-ray machine, and mixed up his own pink medication, mostly phenobarbital I suppose, and put it into corked bottles dispensing it to his patients, who absolutely thrived and adored him. He walked across the driveway each day to have lunch with my grandmother Lena, a Swedish woman of some intellect, who, despite having daily household help (from a dear Mrs. Bunck), nevertheless loved preparing the food and the table herself for her big old busy man. He did at least one emergency appendectomy in a patient's home in his sixty years of medical practice. He was proud to have delivered triplets in a homebirth. He was a towering man, 6' 3" or so, and beloved for his intellect, his great humor, his humble, dishevelled brilliant shambling ways, (his occasional whiskey and gingerale),and his years of contributions to the State of Pennsylvania.

My Grandfather Chapman spent a lot of time in Harrisburg while my father was growing up in Warren, serving in the Pennsylvania Senate for thirty-some years, and as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He gave an impassioned speech to the Pennsylvania Senate back in the early fifties, extolling the history of our Founding Fathers in Philadelphia and urging the allocation of funds for the restoration of Independence Hall, which was falling into rack and ruin at the time. To demonstrate their gratitude for his service, constituents and state officials dedicated 800 acres of land, including a 68 acre lake to him, Chapman State Park and Chapman Dam, in Northwestern Pennsylvania, which has almost faded from my family's memory, since I settled at the Jersey Shore, away from my family roots. In any case, since he was a doctor, it's understandable that he had a reproduction of "The Doctor", (hanging crooked in his office as I recall), most likely the gift of a grateful patient, since he was not one to toot his own horn.

The reproduction of "The Doctor" in my other grandparents' home had a different flavor there. Those grandparents, David Raymond ("Bugs")Thomas and Emma Rebecca ("Peggy") Parsons Thomas, who had four children, were the ones by the window, the hardworking folk who were neat and clean and disciplined, notwithstanding the bottle of whiskey my grandfather kept hidden in the basement for occasional shots. Their "Doctor" print, which was hung in a little guest house, spoke to me of love, of the love my grandparents felt for their children,and probably even their grandchildren, (maybe even me!, little sickly me, when my parents were away and I stayed with them throughout first grade during one of my many bouts of pleurisy and pneumonia?) It spoke to me of the hopeful anguished dependence they had on their doctor, I still remember his name, Dr. Jacquish, in Punxsutawney, because my grandmother talked about him so often.

Once in childbirth, during my grandmother's apparently doomed labor, the doctor had given up, because the baby was a complicated breech. My grandfather "Bugs", occasionally hot-headed, didn't know nothin bout birthin no babies, and had been consigned to an outer room, boiling water in the kitchen maybe. But when he was informed of the situation, and that death was near for somebody, he stormed into the bedroom, said that nobody was going to die, and he pounced on my grandmother's stomach and turned that baby around. It worked. Two of their daughters eventually married doctors. No small wonder.

Imagine what Dr. Jacquish must have seen of my grandmother, a demure and pious Christian woman surely loath to share the required intimacies during those home births, and also during the influenza of 1918 when Dr. Jacquish asked her which of her stricken children he should save, the 4 year old or the infant, and she had to choose one, and asked him to sit through the night with the 4 year old, since she had known that one longer. And so the infant Linford Thomas died. Those were long and heavy-laden nights, and she talked more-than-fondly about that doctor until the year she died, in 1978.

My father William Leroy Chapman also was a doctor, a big-city specialist in Pittsburgh, as was his brother-in-law and partner, my Uncle Bill. There is a wing of Shadyside Hospital, The William M. Cooper Pavillion, named for my uncle. He and my dad and their other partners were top diagnosticians in the fields of internal medicine, hematology and oncology. My dad took early retirement at age 62, preferring golf and travel to work, while my uncle, highly motivated towards academic and professional achievement, decided to go to law school in his early sixties, and continued to work as a physician and attorney into his eighties.

Another uncle, John Urbaitis, the husband of my father's older sister, was a brilliant and well-respected psychiatrist, the chief administrator of Warren State Hospital, a beautiful place then with extensive gardens and old trees. My uncle gave my father a tour of the inner sanctums of the hospital before Thorazine came on the scene. I, five years old and holding my father's hand, (why didn't I stay back at the house with mom?)remember it maybe too vividly. Was there a huge screaming patient chained to a wall, as I thought I saw? No, my father told me many years later, that couldn't have been, no way and no how. But those patients were not looking quite as comfortable to me as the little girl propped on the pillows in Sir Samuel Luke Fildes' portrait of "The Doctor." My Uncle John's son, my cousin John Jr, also became a doctor affiliated first at Johns Hopkins, and later, as psychiatrist extraordinaire, world traveler, and urbane gentleman, remains settled in Baltimore.

So naturally I, who was talked out of becoming a doctor by my father because of what he foresaw as the end of old-time medicine and the beginning of the insurance companies' domination, have a copy of "The Doctor", which hangs above my piano. It's a big old wrinkled framed thing I found years ago in a junk store for fifty bucks...which means the world to me, and which I know will influence someone sometime, and certainly played into the unconscious of all five of my children as they grew up. The picture affected and influenced me profoundly as a child, for more reasons than one. I tell all these things about this painting principally for my family, because the stories are old and will pass away one day, but no need to let them fade yet.

Above all this, the painting gently conveys Sir Samuel Luke Fildes' compassion for the poor, and beyond that, his understanding of the anguish a parent feels when a child is in dire straits. Thank you Sir.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

No way an elephant can paint! (Spoiler)

I just discovered how it's most likely has to be magnets!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Elephant Painting A Self-Portrait?

Are you ready for this? There's almost no way you could be. Got it in my mail tonight, and it has knocked me for a loop. If it's real it's a psychological revolution, isn't it? It's definitely a revelation. As it says in the I Ching "Far-reaching speculations can be linked with this idea" ....I remember back in the day when I saw something in the eyes of certain animals that revealed they were so shockingly more aware and full of understanding than I was. I sometimes thought certain animals were trying to find a way to demonstrate how intelligent they were. Is this an example of that, developed by loving and caring tenders, or is it illusion developed from tedious and perhaps brutal training, as a money-making gimmick? Could such training exist? Is it an illusion? Is there a hand in a glove? You decide. I have no idea. But I do know it's one of the most interesting behaviors I've ever seen. If only the whole elephant were in view the whole time. And I would have liked to see his or her face, and to have locked eyes, as I have done with elephants in the past.

Thanks to Harriett and Chickenphish

*Day later Addendum: The more I remember my elephant friends, and looking in their eyes, the more certain I am that none of them had the slightest inclination, at any level, from cellular to cerebral, to become an artist, let alone to paint a self-portrait. There's no way this is true. I can't believe I could be so gullible in my old age, even for a moment!