386. BEWARE: Killer Wanna Bees

Years ago we were supposed to be invaded by swarms of Africanized honey bees, known as Killer Bees. Saturday Night Live did skits on the Killer Bees. These bad mannered bees eventually did find their way into the Southwestern states where they have killed some outdoorsman types, rock climbers and landscapers, a hog here,  a dog there, and have attacked many a baseball player with aromatic hair gel. The swarm will sting a body  over 1,000 times, injecting more venom than a human body can tolerate. Victims swell up and die, unable to breathe.

And how did these stinking thugbees get loose, you ask?  Human intervention and accident. In the 1950’s Biologist Warwick E. Kerr interbred honey bees from Europe and southern Africa in an attempt to increase honey production in Brazil.(I am not making this up. I am paraphrasing Wikipedia here.) Great idea, right? What could possibly go wrong?  But, you guessed it– these hybrid bees were very defensive and swarmed aggressively. They had to be kept in containment as the research progressed. But in 1957 a visiting beekeeper not named Bill Buckner thought he’d take the lid off the bees’ hives. Twenty six swarms of Tanganyikan bees escaped through the wickets and into the wilds of Brazil. The rest of the tale is history, stupid history of man playing God and screwing up nature’s balance yet again.

Image result for attention addicts picturesI’m not writing about Killer Bees, however. I merely mentioned them to funnel you ala the old bait and switch technique into my topic–>> Wanna Bees. These are not insects but humans who buzz about.  Hungry and strangely defensive? Yes, but not for pollen or nectar. Nosirreee. They seek attention and any supplemental benefits that come from attention. Fame is the ultimate goal for Wanna Bees. This may come from performing or politics (really, what’s the difference?) or writing (doubtful, not enough face time) or the other arts. Sports has its share of wannabees, hot dogs who not only seek but create drama… because that’s where the cameras go, and bored American audiences crane their necks to see what’s gonna happen next. But the largest swarm ever released comes from the Hydra Headed, Medusa like beast known as Social Media, which inadvertently spawned and released the pathological Wanna Bees into the world about 15 years ago. This correlates roughly with the rise of the celebrity, noun, a useless but attractive Wanna Bee, see Kardashian/Jenner. Synonym, weasel-pede. Primarily American usage.

Andy Warhol was prophetic when he declared, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.” That was in 1968, Blogabillies.  Since then the world and its pool of potentially famous humans has grown substantially. Basically it’s doubled from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people. If each person gets his/her 15 minutes of fame, you and I are going to have to wait a long, long time till Zylpada Zyabrowski finishes her turn, assuming we go in alphabetical order.  I’m sure a math geek can calculate the number of hours required, and an engineer can rig up a system to broadcast each famous person, and a political delegate hunter can measure by polls how famous a person is for the allotted time… However, this 15 minutes of fame thing is really getting old. All these “famous” people aren’t all that interesting. Nonetheless we continue hoisting another Baby Bieber up the flagpole of popular appeal until everyone salutes. We step back and yawn, “Wow, that dude is famous. Could you pass me the salt?”

About the time the Killer Bees were released, a new way of parenting was being practiced– indulgence. My buddy Clark once told me that indulgence was the worst form of child abuse ever. When I prodded him for his justification, he told me this.

“You know if a kid gets beaten or sexually abused, he/she can eventually get over  it through counseling and medication, right? But the thing with indulgence is this: THE KID DOESN’T EVEN KNOW HE’S BEEN ABUSED. Instead, he’s been sold a script that he is so very precious and entitled to special treatment by everyone, all the time, everywhere. He’s screwed for life cuz he’s totally unprepared for unfiltered reality. It’s so awful.”

I could not disagree. He’s usually brilliant anyway, an anthracite diamond from Cambria County.

For myriad reasons, parents in upwardly mobile segments of America wanted more for themselves… perhaps because they worked themselves silly and were told by voices on television and radio that they deserved more of everything, all the time, everywhere. At the same time the American economy was booming at such a force that the dollar’s buying power increased, causing a unique problem known as deflation. Suddenly in the late 1950’s the dollar magically bought more. Prices dropped. All signs pointed to success, world domination, and the righteousness of the American Way.

Those parents came to adulthood during the Great Depression and World War II. They did not know what surplus meant since the excess of the Roaring Twenties fueled the near total collapse of the stock market and banking system in the U.S. over a generation previously. Here was a new opportunity to get it wrong again. Those parents might have suffered through bleak decades of war and deprivation, but their little ones would not want for anything if they could help it. Free time, sports, entertainment, convenience foods, miracle drugs, and other indulgences exploded as if to confirm that America had found Nirvana. The kids of that era were given more than any previous generation had dreamed of along with a  system that would keep the dream alive. Television became the opiate of the masses, hypnotically calling them onto the treadmills of consumerism, pulling them deep into the vortex of unending debt.

Voila!! There is the recipe for today’s indulged children no matter their age.

Today’s Wanna Bees sting with cyberwords and emojis, thousands in a minute. They Twitterpate their adversaries with 180 cc’s of deadly venom at a time. All for the sake of more honey. They don’t even know they’ve been abused, honey junkies one and all.

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387. Little ChrisT.

Woke up to a stunning Facebook message this morning. I saw the death notice of a man I so admired and respected, and whose occasional company I enjoyed greatly. His crisp, clarion voice of true authority; and sharp, sincere gunshot laughs; his strong smile; eyes that led like a long dock out into deep waters…gone? Dead? Impossible!!  He’s ten years younger than I am and in better shape. Let me reread this. I rubbed my eyes and wiped sleep off my face, but the words on the page remained unchanged. “We are devastated by his loss”, Keri wrote. I am in that gutshot we. Something like an earthquake rattled the shelves in my mind. Containers of fond familiarity and jars of pickled reassurance smashed on the rocks of reality below. Waves of shock and confusion hit. Sorrow for his wonderful wife, his kids, his son’s upcoming wedding… all swirled together into a melted mental muddle. As I stared at my monitor, it kept ringing with replies to Keri’s post from friends and loved ones. “Boink, boink, boink”, sounds of life echoing back from a well of sorrow to news of his death. What? How? Why? Too much to process. 51. Spring Gardening. ER??

No, no. Restart, reboot. It can’t be true. Surely this is one of those elaborate Eastern European scams from Slovenia you hear about on the news. I had a false obituary posted on line a few years ago that led to Ancestry . com or something.  That’s it. Just restart your computer and update your malware, that’ll do it. Good as new….

No matter, Chris is, was, and will forever be a man of God. The only question is this: Is the rest of Chris T. Little in heaven now? A big chunk was already there. “He is surely with Jesus now… cuz he always was”, a soundless voice fluttered across my mind, like a dusty butterfly… “he always was”. As I stared at his name, Little Christ kept imprinting on my brain. Pastor Chris T. Little was a Little Christ in our community. Like Jesus he was deeply loved by many but also deeply depreciated by folks who should have known better. And there are always the folks with one footprint in each camp, watching which way the winds of popularity blow. No matter. Chris loved you all because he forgave you all and trusted Jesus to do the math. He did not waste time on bitterness, jealousy, or pretense. His words “I don’t have  time for that”, echo in my memory. That’s one thing I loved about him:  he spoke the unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, many folks like their truth the same as their hot dogs–slathered in sweet relish. Chris, however, spoke the mustard seed truth. That’s what mattered to him.

When I first met Chris, I noticed our extreme differences. I never imagined that we would call one another friend one day. He was a Navy engineer and a United Brethren pastor. Those of you who know me know that I am not an institution, authority-loving sort of guy. I am a former English teacher and a current professional counselor. Okay, and I’m a rebel. I backed into God while covered in the excrement of my own sin not out of my own proactive glorious righteousness. But Chris never asked me to give a faith doctrine defense in order to stand next to him. No time for such nonsense– like Jesus.

Chris and I consulted on some shared cases. Ours was a two pronged approach– his side was spirit led; my prong was more secular, mental health led. Still, we respected one another and were good teammates, serving God in different and unequal ways. He was the quarterback. I blocked.

One epic case we shared over nearly three long, tough years. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the details, so I’ll keep them confidential as they should remain so. However, Chris stood tall and immovable against Satan’s powers and principalities. His voice thundered with the Holy Spirit as he claimed the truth of the Scriptures and refuted the lies and deceptions of Lucifer’s minions. In the process a soul was rescued from the bloody battleground between heaven and hell. As each brain curdling encounter ended victoriously, he’d smile and laugh at the incredible happenings we had witnessed. “Well that was fun, huh?”

We talked a lot back then. I never would have managed to come through that extraordinary experience without him. Like any friend I’ve lost in my life, I wish I’d talked more often, but there was no urgency, or so I believed. But there is urgency if you do not take your next breath or day of life for granted, or believe it’s an automatic that you will awake in the morning. Once he said out loud what we both were thinking, “You think God is gonna ask us to do this again now that we’re trained?” My answer?  “I sure hope not.” And yet, compared to being comfortably alone versus uncomfortably present with my departed friend,  I would gladly take the discomfort option all day long.

I pray that his mission, though cut short, was still complete. Chris T. Little was a good and great man. Yet he was a humble servant of Jesus Christ.  A Little Christ who led and fed many souls at the altar of God, one mustard seed at a time. Mother Teresa was a Little Christ.  St. Paul. Martin Luther King too. They revealed the majesty of our Supreme Savior in how they lived their humble lives amid a forest of mustard trees.

Dying in one’s own garden seems poetic as well. Planting requires effort up front and patient faith in the future crop. Although Chris is no longer with us, his crop will be a hundred hundred fold.  John 12: 24 tells us, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Until we meet again, my Little Christ friend, in a forest of mustard trees. Be with God.

385. finer details

I’m getting obsessed with my wall mural, folks. I may need a paint night intervention with a fire hose to separate me from my paint brushes.  The big forms are taking shape with large dollops of desert colors. And there is sort of a pattern coming into view, a 360 degree panorama of the Catalina Mountains plus some poetic licensed violations of nature. My sun actually sets on the west wall just like at my  daughter’s back deck in north Tucson, but in my office it’s behind the seat where most of my clients choose to sit. Having defined the parallel universe thusly, I dare not introduce another sun… unless I want to go full Dali. I am tempted to paint numbers on my white sun as if it were a clock face, no hands though. Why paint yourself into a time corner when you live in a circular world? Time is not flat or square, right? Columbus proved that, I think. I think a bird’s wings would be sufficient to suggest the clock hands and “time flies” theme on my bone white sun’s face. It’s not photography or realism that I’m going for. It is a dreamscape instead with a condor of consciousness swooping across.

On the east wall is open desert with some stone towers and burnt orange foothills to frame the emptiness, borrowed from a DeGrazia painting I saw. I placed a small rising moon opposite my enormous setting sun. Not sure where it’s going to end, but the process of working on such a  huge scale is very freeing, exhilarating even. However, I have to calm my exploding creative flatulence as clients arrive, expecting my full focus. So far, one took a picture to show her husband, and one gave me constructive artistic criticism. “You might want to go impressionistic and just suggest mountains, you know? soften the lines.” No, I’m going for surrealism, mate, but thanks anyway. None of this stuff actually exists except on my walls. In a way it’s like walking into my 12′ by 12’mind matrix. Terrifying. Strange. Beautiful.

Most folks hardly even notice the grandiose overhaul, which is pretty amazing to me. In my old office bathroom I smeared dark maroon paint on three walls of the claustrophobia inducing room. My billing lady said it looked like someone had been hacked to death in there. Not a word from anyone else for six years. Maybe they thought I was a mafia “cleaner” and they were too scared to raise my suspicions. Perhaps I should have littered a plastic finger or two in the corners, you know? Maybe a bloodied watch or a shoe for the full noir effect. Wait, it’s supposed to be warm and fuzzy and safe in therapy bathrooms, no masks, clowns or tool company pinups. Drat! boundaries kill all the funny folks who will kill you without boundaries.

So now come the long hours of detailing the big shapes, adding dimension, shadows, textures, suggestions, contrasts, etc. In some ways, I suppose, it’s like language in that I have the nouns, verbs and tone of voice, mood, vocabulary, theme, and some sense of symbolic narration on my walls. Does that make sense to you? The main nuts and bolts are in place, but now I’m tweaking the subtleties, adding nuances and hints. Adding adjectives and adverbs, prepositional phrases, clauses, only with paint instead of consonants and vowels. I think you are following me, right? Nod here. Thanks. So I add a stoic cactus, or a hundred cacti, an abandoned adobe house, some sage and agave, and parched washes crying out for a single drop of rain.

Or take a song, you musical peepers. You lay down a rhythm, develop a few choruses, a bridge, then write some snappy lyrics that capture the feel you were after… and eventually you play it over and over, adding the bass, the drums, a keyboard, maybe guitar, a sax or harmonica solo along the way. You jack up the vocals, perhaps add harmony, steadily moving toward a sound you know you’ll recognize though you’ve never heard it before. A vague, shadowy template floats in your head like a goddess until one day you meet her in the flesh. How does that work?

What is that? Creative spirit echoing back from the hidden caverns of the cosmos. Inexplicable to scientists who insist on repeatable proof in line with the holy grail of the scientific method. What sad boys and girls they are. How do scientists explain falling in love with one special soulmate? It’s not reproducible; instead, falling in love is anecdotal and eccentric as all heck. Probably irrational at many points, but ultimately it keeps the species viable enough to produce other little scientists who don’t believe in what they cannot prove repeatedly. Mystery, my friends, mystery defies scientific investigation. The revelation of creation is still a mystery.

Details, all details, follow the big picture, my blogadillos. They hang on the larger slabs of reality. You get your dirty car detailed; you seek details to understand and sometimes to believe or remember; you ask for details when you smell a rat. Details trap the rat on little slivers of truth.  Smaller strokes made by tiny brushes move like little creatures underfoot. In this case they are under my grip. Baddabing:  a cinnamon line appears to define a random ridge from a purple mountain against a sulfur yellow sky. Intuition rules this palette of endless color selections. The paints talk to me, persuading me not to wash them away but rather shift the hues I had in mind. I comply because there is no right answer, and wrong answers scream immediately. “You can’t have pink cactuses… or can you?”  I need to explore that further.And when I figure out how to transfer my photos of the mural project onto my computer and then upload those to the blog, I’ll share the inner workings of my brain with you, my fine, fine seekers of truth.  Aloha for now.

 

384. Love Now

I’ve been off the grid for the past ten days or so. A week in Tucson with my only grandchild so far, Leah, who is three going on forty three. Sunny days and mild temperatures just reset your groove. Playing with a three year old will do it too.  I also got to help redecorate a 20 x 20 foot playroom for my daughter and son-in-law, smearing drywall compound and paint until ugly gave way to beauty, just before my arms and back fell apart. It’s scary how little endurance I have for real physical work anymore. There was a time when I could work all day at a project and be ready to get back to it the next day. Those days are over. Now exhaustion sets in around four hours into steady labor, followed by ibuprofen and sleep. Sixty years old in the body but twenty five in the mind equals a deficit of 35 somethings.

It’s very satisfying to see indisputable progress appear at your fingertips. In a way, painting and redecorating yield a similar satisfaction to blogging. Something is there at the end of a session that was not present earlier. I am nothing if not creative. Likewise, if I’m not creating something, then I am nothing. I love color and music and shape and rhythm. I never grow weary of art. How can you tire of saffron/cinnamon paint called Moroccan Sky as it floods across sterile white primer? Like watching blood flow through a pale, transplanted heart as it beats in the new living patient. Okay, I’m overly dramatic, but I do get excited when I see transformation flow out of a two and a half inch paintbrush.  Light and mood follow color. They have no choice. Bedouins may clomp across the baseboard in a camel train, and it’s all right.

God’s art is all over Tucson. He has done some amazing work in Arizona, let me say.  We visited Sabino Canyon and Ventana Canyon on two separate days. I posted about Sabino last year. Ventana is quite different since you have to  go through a chic resort to get to the 80 foot waterfall that is the crown jewel of this canyon. Despite the commercial development of Ventana Canyon, God’s beauty still pulses in the hills and the stream that runs through them. Not as quiet and untouched as Sabino, still it is lush with cactus and agave and palo verde and mesquites and flowers of all sorts. Man’s hands are much more obvious in Ventana, but it’s all good. Done with respect for God’s gifts.

That’s one of the many things I love about Tucson is the reverence for the landscape and the overall Sonoran Desert environment. Whereas Phoenix paved and watered the desert, creating an artificial metropolis, Tucson grew symbiotically with the fragile  landscape, never overwhelming it as is the blistering case in Phoenix.

 

On our last day in Tucson we visited the Degrazia Gallery of The Sun Museum again. He was an amazing guy and the museum is his creation, filled with his creativity. Primarily paintings, but also sculpture and ceramics, wood, furniture, and glass, as well as whimsical arrangements of old rusty metal objects in the courtyard.  You get the sense of a man who loved deeply– the land, the people, his art, his God, his friends. He is buried there between the museum and the chapel he built for the Indians. A simple pile of blue tinted rocks with a wooden headpiece, a dog tag hangs with Degrazia engraved on it, and a heavy bronze wreath at his feet. Simple and simply amazing. Everywhere you turn you see his handiwork. The man was a creative dynamo and a free spirit.The kind of guy I would feel comfortable hanging with, drinking his Chivas Regal… and I don’t even like scotch.

Standing there at his grave, I thanked him for being true, not pretentious or aloof. A real guy who inspired me. Part of me wants to go back to the 1930’s and build an adobe house on a bluff above Tucson. Drill a well. Plant slow growing vegetation that will take decades to come to fullness. Watch as a mesquite tree spreads and builds a pocket of shade beneath it. And just create left and right, above and below. Paint the stars at night and sunrise in the morning. Sculpt anything that stands still. Stack rocks in zen formations. Cast bronze figures. Fire clay and make glass. Pound out sheets of copper. Just stay on the wavelength of making art I believed in.

One other delightful site to visit nearby Degrazia’s place is the Hacienda del Sol, a fabulous resort built out of a former girls boarding school that was constructed in the 1920’s. Desert spirits are in every nook and cranny of the place. Hand made furniture and beams, doors and tiles just seduce you; calling you to linger and get outside of time. Beauty so palpable it can bring you to tears of awe. Dali’s melted watches and clocks make sense when you transcend the bully of industrialized TIME and its command, “Go, go, do, do.” Uhhh, no, not for me. I say, “Screw you, time naggers.” Drop it!! Just be, feel the moment that you are in. Cherish the past and hope for your future, but fully inhabit the moment you are in. Life artists do this very thing when they create.

March 2016 025When we came back to PA, I knew what I was going to do. If I can’t stay in Arizona, I reasoned, I can certainly put Arizona on my office walls. I pictured the work involved on the long flight back. I’d follow my favorite phone photograph taken from my daughter’s back deck, a sunset over the western ridge of mountains. Gloriously simple. I calculated the effort and imagined the colors. Strategized the parts involved. And smiled in pleasant anticipation of the outcome. “Hey, Ted DeGrazia, I’m comin’ to getcha.” Classic rock songs played on a loop in my brain as I entertained this project… Hendrix, “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire”, “Purple Haze”, “All Along the Watchtower”. I think deeply creative folks can see a song or hear a painting, smell a sculpture or feel an abstraction. Don’t expect me to prove or explain that statement. It’s a stick built hunch leaning over a vortex of faith. Okay? So, with just a few hours of sleep after a three a.m. arrival, I went to my office and began to DeGraziate it. Pictures will follow as I finish the Sonoran Desert Mural.

 

In the moment

life pulses

from God’s fingers

through mine

across my little Desertine Chapel

And time stands still

Suffused with peace