Untethered Dog

You Never Know Where He Will Go

Shattered Glass

They killed pregnant women at Wounded Knee.

Four of the women — four of the 150 to three hundred (estimated) people slaughtered by the United States on December 29, 1890 in southwestern South Dakota — were women with child.

Driving to the All My Relations Gallery yesterday afternoon, with the Minneapolis skyline on the horizon, I thought about how narrow can be one’s view of things. How days can go by, weeks, months, years, even, I suppose, while stuck entirely within one’s own sphere of concern. This is not to trivialize the day-to-day care-taking and self-sustaining endeavors that consume our days. Those are necessary. Those acts give meaning and purpose to our lives. Yet it is not either/or. We sometimes are able or are forced to see a layer beyond our own, and usually one of the first things we realize is how rare it is to do so.

In “Kiksuyapi 1890 (Remember, Don’t Forget)” Angela Babby depicts four women who died that December day, thirteen decades ago. Wounded Knee remains the largest massacre in United States history.

Babby said she was inspired while studying old black-and-white photographs of the scene. She had looked long at one of the photos before realizing what she was seeing: what at first appeared as a pile of blankets were, in fact, these women.

The colors Babby’ uses to convey the women are bold and beautiful — greens and oranges — and ornate in detail, such as of the moccasins Babby finds on the women’s feet. Babby’s colors are also haunting: the purple dark skin of death.

Babby used color in “Kiksuyapi” to “show the culture laying in a heap on the ground and to give the sense of being there.” I love old black-and-white photographs for how they allow us to focus on what is important. They convey sincerity and importance. Yet, in this current, image-frenzied world, in which we Instagram our dinners and our kids’ second-grade graduations and nearly every other happy occasion, black-and-white photographs from another century sometimes obscure reality. They can make it too easy to think we are far removed from what we are seeing.

The scene in “Kiksuyapi,” the aftermath of the slaughter, captured by Babby in iridized glass, shows the face of a mustached white man looking back toward the women from some distance. He looks Stalinesque. At once I also read into his face new awareness; it’s as if he’s now realizing what has been done. What he has done. What we all did. It’s a moment after the heat has been lowered when he must face what is beyond him. He no longer sees only what is before him.

Near the man lies a dead horse. I look long at that horse. What we put the animals through. What we do not often see about them. (Minutes before I walked into the gallery, while looking for a parking spot, I saw a dog, a pit-bull, perhaps, chained to the front of a house. He was alone. He looked at me. A sign on the front of the house said “beware of the dog.” We should also have warning signs for people who put their dogs in positions where their fear overcomes them. But I digress.)

Scattered about the prairie are other men. They linger. Some carry on conversations but most seem, to my eyes, to be standing in attention. They are products of the world we had created to that point. Those of us who are white, who have benefited from the raised consciousness that has followed Wounded Knee (it is clearly there even if unevenly exhibited), might assume that had we been there we would have acted differently. About this almost certainly we are wrong.

The view of personal responsibility, of pure autonomy, goes only so far. We are responsible not just for ourselves but for the world we shape. We are, in turn, shaped by that world. We don’t make it all up. We are shown what is right and what is wrong. Inside is both love and hate. We know what prevailed that December day. Which will we encourage more of at this moment?

Usually when we are in our own spheres others are impediments to us, not opportunities. Art reminds us there is more. Art shows us new possibilities. I spent nearly all my time at the All My Relations Gallery standing before Babby’s portrait.

The massacre, which some historians have said began over a misunderstanding between an American soldier and an American Indian who may have been deaf, took less than an hour. Of the dozens killed in that sixty-odd minutes, some sixty women and children were gunned down. Their lives abruptly ended. Their pain unleashed into the world in which we all live.

Blankets were placed over their bodies.

New Sensation

I cleaned my garage the other day. This is an under-rated accomplishment.

Mind you, there really wasn’t a ton to do. I own no power tools. Hang a broom here, discard some strands of wire there, clear off the single shelf, find a place for some planter’s boxes I want to keep but not immediately make use of. That sort of thing.

In other words, no Herculean effort, to be sure. But sometimes it’s not the monumental problems that weigh one down. In fact, in my experience, it is the small and mid-sized matters, too long unattended to, that are the real humdingers of despair. At least in the First World. When you have enough food, clothes, shelter, and health care.

In the winter there was a feeling in the back of my chilled mind that, when I went into the garage, this still new-to-me place where I parked my car, with its cracked concrete and weathered walls, I was entering a space of unnecessary disarray. (I do not have OCD but, in a few areas of life, including that of my personal space, I am sympathetic to what that must be like.) Which is no thing for a day or a week or maybe even a month but after awhile, at some point, you realize that your mood lowers a bit when you encounter that which you have not faced. It’s like the pebble becomes a boulder. Yes, this is true even where misaligned shovels, ladders, and garbage cans are concerned. At least for me.

Now when I go in the garage, whether to retrieve a sprayer or grab the little buddy’s ball, and everything hung up and on the shelf in a way that pleases, easily accessible and yet not in the way, it is most satisfying. Like realizing anew that you dropped that extra pound around your belly.

I watched a YouTube video some months ago in which Jordan Peterson was telling a bunch of undergrads something to this effect: don’t underestimate the power in cleaning up your room. Yeah.

The Sky is Falling

I squint my eye and face the north sky. I see a winged foot, a whirligig of silver maple seed, break from a tree that is ten stories high if it is a foot.

I have not noticed this tree before. Though already in the short time I have lived here I have walked beneath its outstretched limbs a few dozen times. Sometimes you miss the massive things.

I follow the twirls as the golden winged foot helicopters toward me. The seed seems somehow to fly both slowly and quickly at the same time.

I watch it cross two backyards, watch it travel over cars and garages, until it dives down and tucks into an overgrown patch of Irish-green sod feet from my feet. Sucker must have traveled sixty, seventy yards.

While a solo voyage, this winged foot is hardly a pioneer. In fact, that silver maples and another I spot on the other side of the block are filing the alley, our gutters, our lawns, with these golden winged feet. You might say they are everywhere. On everything. You might say they are a nuisance. In a few minutes, the kind old gentleman on the end of the block and I share words to this effect. (I think it would be funny to knock on the door of a silver maple tree owner and ask them to pick up their mess.)

Yet I read up and learn that the silver maple’s intentions are good and, besides, it can’t help it. It is reacting to the frightful winter we just had. This tree is simply smarter than you think.

The winged feet are designed to travel. That is the point. The point is not to fall straight down. The point is to spread seeds in the hope more seeds will mean more trees will grow. In that respect, we should thank them. For the trees could survive without us but we could not survive without the trees.

Stressed silver maple trees produce more of the golden winged foot seeds and after record-setting snowfalls and polar vortex temps this winter, like the rest of us, these guys must have been a little worried about their survival.

In other words, the seed that I watched fall to my feet did not land indiscriminately. It landed seed-side down. It landed precisely between the blades of my sod as a means to plant itself and grow into something new.

How can you do anything but admire something with which you share a purpose?

Houston, Do You Copy?

There are times when I cannot make a decision.

Not a large decision.

Not a small decision.

My mind in these moments is like television sets in the old days when they did not work. The antenna was broken or something and all you saw on the screen was what we referred to as “snow.”

In my head I think of what is going on as something like that. There is too much static.

Indeed, the mind’s not empty — it is, rather, the opposite. Too much something. Just like with the TV, there is a lot of electricity going on, but nothing coherent can be read from the currents.

I don’t like the machine comparisons so often used to describe the human body. The body, and its brain, are decidedly different from that of a machine and when we make the comparison we run the risk of minimizing these differences. We can mistakenly view the body as a series of impersonal parts rather than an organic whole. Yet it’s the language I have — it’s what seems to fit.

Static. I don’t know if I want to go for a walk or clean the house. I don’t know if I want to eat eggs or Cocoa Puffs. I absolutely do not know whether I want to play the harmonica. The latter example is not likely since I do not own a harmonica. But you get the picture.

I’m not sure what brings about this state. My sense is that we all can take in only so much sensory stimulation at one time and sometimes I take in my limit pretty quick. Actually, I don’t know how quick — I just know that I have. And I suspect it is quicker than for others, given how easily it is for me to stray outside my competence.

One distinction I can make is that of new learning versus old learning. When I engage the world during tasks that are foreign to me, my store of energy burns more quickly than when I engage in familiar tasks and processes. Today, for example, I did a number of house projects many of which aroused good and positive feelings — I was glad to have gotten theses tasks done. Some had been on my to-do list for weeks. Yet these were largely knew tasks for me and by the end, the person I was working with very well might have sensed my impatience. I wanted much to turn my attention to the familiar. My way of giving my brain a break.

Another way to put it: Let’s say you do not know how to speak French and you walk into a French language class. An hour later your brain is going to have been stimulated in ways very different than it is probably used to. I think this form of stretching is important and gives you benefits they go well beyond that hour. But it’s not surprising that you might to feel taxed for awhile immediately afterward. You flexed a flabby muscle and that muscle is going to be a little tired and maybe a little sore. (Forgive me all the metaphors in this post. I could easily insert more of them — be grateful I am not more out of control.)

Whenever possible in these moments I meditate. I take some breaths. I close my eyes. I take a short nap. I let the static die down. After a while the energy store replenishes. (Though I am still more likely to immediately seek the familiar.) Sometimes it really doesn’t take too long.

That is why I decided to write this post. This, writing, is, for me, another sort of stimulation — one that adds energy rather than takes it away.

Life Is Easy

You think the next day of the man in the jacket on a hot afternoon standing on the pavement who turned to you and told you about his two dachshunds. He chuckled at the thought. The dachshunds are 14 and 16 and years old, respectively, he said, they are father and son, barely more than a year apart. He laughed again and his eyes reached for his wife, who stood there, too, as he told of another dachshund they had some years ago — how many, honey? — who lived to be 20. The man smiled so easily, so comfortably, as if he knew something you didn’t and that something was good, really good. His wife, too, was not stingy with her smile. She wore a bright yellow shirt. She added that the dachshunds had German names because they were German dogs. You could not understand the German names she spoke but it was OK, all just fine. Just then, their adult son had crossed the street and approached us. They took him in as if he were part of the breeze. He was much taller than they. They waited at the bus stop. The three of them were going to take the bus. They smiled so easily. You sensed that in our categorical world all three would, somewhere on some official forms in some office or hospital, have long been documented as having a cognitive impairment. Yet it was you at that moment who fought a battle in your head, who kicked around petty concerns and uncomfortable sensations, the sorts of voluntary attentions that keep you at such moments from offering your own easy smiles and telling stories and soaking in the warmth that is all around, readily available to be found, by you, for you, always.

Life is Hard

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.

In 2017, suicide claimed the lives of more than 47,000 people.

Some 123 Americans kill themselves every day.

On average, there is one suicide every 12 minutes.

On average, there is one suicide for every 25 attempted suicides.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 20 to 25 percent of Americans 18 years old and older struggle with depression each year.

The NIH estimates that half of all persons experiencing an episode of major depression receive care for their condition.

Cold Calls

Impressions from my first visit to Acme comedy club:

– Nice venue. We had good seats with a small table for drinks and there didn’t appear to be many bad ones. No bad seats, I mean — I can’t vouch for the drinks. Nice crowd on a Wednesday night. Strangely, it was sauna-warm in the bar area and wish-I-packed-a-sweater-and-maybe-mittens-too cold in the seating area.

– They need to tighten time. Between the three comedians and three amateurs (more on the latter three in a minute) we sat there for more than two and a half hours without a break. (After the show the crowd turned as one and formed a line for the bathrooms). You got the sense neither the featured comedian nor the headliner were on the clock. They would have benefited from being on the clock.

– The three comedians who clearly were on the clock were three amateurs given three minutes each as part of some sort of comedy competition they had won, the rules of which were not clear. First of these three was painfully bad. I mean two of every three people pulled from the street had a better shot at getting laughs. He seemed like a fine fellow. Hopefully he makes a lot of money doing something that does not require the telling of jokes. The third contestant was not appreciably better. The second was young, had energy, and you could see, with ten thousand hours of practice, that he could possibly make a serious foray into the profession.

– Linda Aarons, the featured comedian, reminded me a little of Steven Wright (a favorite) in that she is dry and doesn’t modulate her voice much. She also has a gift for one liners. The world needs more female comedians. Aarons’s gender jokes — she quipped about her husband Larry’s domestic abilities and desires (or lack thereof) and later remarked that we have a name for woman who likes to date younger men: a cougar. We have a name for a man who likes to date younger women: “we call him a man” — usually hit the mark. She had a very funny visual gag in which she mocked a failed gymnast who had still raised her arms as if she had in fact nailed the landing. Aarons’s act could have used some tightening but I would pay to see her again.

– John DeBoer, the headliner, especially could have profited from imposed constraints on his time. He really didn’t do an act, per se. He came with prepared bits, clearly, but did a lot of talking with the audience. I gather he makes his living with gigs at private events and I can see where that sort of approach would play in such a setting. Me, I go to a comedy club to see preparedness. Even in a small venue you can’t always hear the replies from the audience and so there were times when jokes were told and you had to check with your date (“what did he say?”). Unintended time delay is not a hallmark of good comedy.

DeBoer clearly feels comfortable on stage — he has good presence, not something I say about all comedians at this level — but I would have preferred a more polished act. He made some funnies about social media, in particular about why he can’t be on Twitter (“I have no filter”) but pulled from that well too many times. He also laughed at his own jokes for too long. He loves to laugh and at one point delivered a poignant and spontaneous line about laughter being more important than money that landed with at least me. Yet a comedian needs to foremost be in control of everyone else’s laughter.

Ticks: When he told a funny story he assured us it was true by crossing his heart, telling us he hoped to die, like a middle schooler. When here I had little trouble believing the story was true to begin with. At one point DeBoer borrowed Aarons’s gymnast raised arms and that was funny. The first time. It wasn’t funny the fourth time and only served to show us that somehow he had pit sweat going, which I don’t know how that was possible because, did I mention how cold it was in the seating area?

Get Lost

I didn’t want to go down that path. I thought this would be a shorter walk. The little buddy led us there. Not for the first time he showed me the way to wisdom.

DQ Is Right

Had Dairy Queen for the first time this season last night. Went with the old standby from my fat days: the M&M Blizzard. I had a coupon. The coupon primed me. I was making dinner and I saw the coupon and I said to myself, “let’s you and the little buddy hop in the car and go get a treat.” I enjoyed the first couple of bites. Otherwise, my treat was not especially satisfying. I wanted the candy pieces to go away. Halfway through I wished I had gotten something without the candy pieces. Can you get a fudge Blizzard? A chocolate? On the menu the choices are all cookies and candy — all the choices have brand-name logos next to them. I am pretty sure I once got a fudge Blizzard. I don’t remember there being all those logos. I used to be able to get something without candy pieces. Something without the candy pieces would have been better.

‘Blood’ Complicated

After I saw the first film by the Brothers Cohen at the Trylon the other night people asked what I thought. That is a decidedly simple question that I found surprisingly difficult to answer.

While watching that film, Blood Simple, I squirmed in my chair. I picked at my fingers — a clear sign that tells me I am nervous. There is something about expecting the unexpected that puts you on the proverbial edge of your seat. No doubt my experience was in that way different than theater-goers watching the same movie in 1984. They didn’t yet know what it was like to see Fargo. They didn’t know a gun could go off at any time — that a guy might at some point get stabbed through the back of his hand from an open window we didn’t even know was there.

I am generally not drawn to gory movies. I am more of a character study guy — more of a romantic (even if the romance is inspired by a horse or a city or baseball). I seldom think to myself: “I am in the perfect mood for No Country for Old Men” or “I am simply too happy — let’s watch Miller’s Crossing.”

Yet there is no doubt the Cohen Brothers have a sensibility that is wholly unique. My theory is you can’t be exposed to high-level artistry without being affected. You may not like it but anyway liking things is a bit over-rated. Blood Simple isn’t an all-time great film — I know of no critic who says so — but clearly it was created by artists who know how to stir your insides. Why we consume art to begin with.

And, well, I was stirred. For the movie’s aftertaste lingers these days later. I might say I am enjoying — profiting from — the experience more on Tuesday afternoon than I did on Sunday night. What comes back: Heavy rain on a windshield. Dust on the road. M. Emmet Walsh’s laugh, as though he heard something funnier than you said. Frances McDormand’s skin. A furry dog hopping into an open window. Black dirt. Boots on hardwood. Dreary humans struggling within a paradigm that leaves them in near total confusion in the middle of a starless night.

The Cohens have a gift not only for putting quirky dark characters on the screen but for creating atmosphere; they bring you into the world inhabited by those characters. Once arrived you do not leave upon exiting the theater.

I suppose that is the desired effect: to make you just uncomfortable enough that you don’t want to — or cannot — quickly know what it is you think of what you just saw.