OLYMPIC DICHOTOMY


 The Olympics are a peaceful celebration of our warlike natures, ie our contradictory natures.  F. Scott Fitzgerald believed that the mark of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to sustain opposing opinions.

The athletes smile in a celebration of warmth and fellowship at the opening ceremonies, which then turns into a celebration of competitive virtues.  The opening ceremony is win-win , the rest of the games is win-lose.  The opening mimics peace, the competitions mimic warfare in a civilized manner.

The Olympics appeal to our desire for fellowship, and our desire for status.

Putting these considerations aside, the Olympics places the hopes, dreams and lifelong struggles to succeed of athletes from around the world, front and center for a short three weeks.  We meet all these fine people and marvel at their beauty and then gasp in wonder at their prowess in their chosen sport, while the media tries its best to keep us abreast of daily action across the globe.  When the competitions are over, we are filled with desire to improve our own ability to run, jump, swim, etc., or to simply stay in shape.  We are tired from all the television coverage, but we wouldn’t have missed a minute of it.

In the spirit of comradeship, we wish them all well.

THE POWER OF WORDS


We give great thought and read much about the harm or good we can do to children by our words.  We have the power to create good or bad memories.  And yet, the very words which did either harm or good are seldom remembered by us.  We can be either mentor or tormentor.

The particular sensibility of the child has much to do with it of course.  The ability to absorb praise and encouragement and discard critism is an important factor.  Several middle-aged men of my acquaintance have lived their lives having missed a positive relationship with their fathers.  In each case it has been the father who has fallen short in this relationship with one another, at least in  in the man’s recollection of childhood.  We spend much time speculating the reason for this, yet the feeling persists that they have not been loved by their fathers.

We have just teceived a disturbing letter from a man whom we have known since his childhood, in which he  discussed at length the failures of his own late father in his personal relationship to him.  He tells of how pleased and excited he was when Dr. Advice and I came to visit occasionally and took a real interest in both him and his brother.  I don’t even remember some of the small incidents he related, and yet they obviously meant a lot to him.  His brother, on the other hand, though harboring the same  resentment against the father, has been able to bury those feelings like water off a duck’s back.

Yes, we need to be VERY careful how we handle these tender childhood sensibilities.

LUNCH WITH THE GIRLS


I have lunch with my girlfriends every couple of months.  I guess I should properly say they are my women friends, because none of us have been girls for about 70 years.  But they were my high school girlfriends and it’s nice to fill in the lost years. Only two were my actual friends, one a bridesmaid in my wedding 65 years ago.  The others I knew of course, but we weren’t really friends.

One was interested in girl’s athletics, and my interest was contained in being a cheerleader for the boy’s sports.    Another was a serious looking girl on the honor roll, and I never quite made that either.   My great interest in education had come early and then made a detour in high school and then resumed after some time in college.   Another had no interest in befriending me so I labelled her a snob.   Another was a girl who was also in the ROTC in a competing battalion. This was the only way I ever saw her; when we were marching up and down the field in our very cool uniforms. It’s interesting to see the changes those years have brought.  When we began doing this a few years ago, I had to look at their pictures in the high school year book to recognize them.  I wonder if they did the same?

The first  luncheon we had, a woman sat at our table and I asked my bridesmaid who she was.  She said “Oh, she’s the ballet dancer”.  She has become quite comfortable in the ensuing years, and though we had seen newspaper pictures of her when she danced in the SF Ballet and the New York Ballet, I found it difficult to reconcile the two images.  I always thought she looked like a fairy princess.

I lunched with another group of women the other day and recounted the high school lunch.  Several thought it would be fun to find out what happened to old boyfriends.  One was scornful, and couldn’t understand why anyone would want to connect with people they had known so long ago.  But her husband  recently called  a man he knew as a teenager, telephoned him, and they have had many pleasant conversations.

Dr. Advice never let his friendships get dusty.  He stayed connected through all the years, until the last one passed away a year or so ago.  He is a communicator in the first rate.  It’s all about communication.  We are not meant to be lone wolves.  We need to exchange ideas, to find our place in the world.  We are constantly evolving, learning.

I’ve been so happy to meet with these high school friends often.  I’m sorry for the years we missed, because every one of them is an interesting woman with so much given and so much more to give.

 

LITTLE RUNNING DEER


Little Running Deer  sculpture by KSR

The little Navajo boy  seemed to be beside me wherever I moved.  He was about five years old with a crippled right leg which caused him to use a little crutch.  Rather like

Tiny Tim of Dickens’s Christmas Carol fame.  We were in Gallup, New Mexico for the annual Indian Market and I was sketching some of the colorful booths and people while Dr. Advice was conducting business elsewhere.

After about twenty minutes or so of the child’s following me, I leaned down and asked his name.  His large dark eyes looked straight into mine and, true to Navajo suspicion of strangers, he said nothing.  I asked him how old he was, and he held up five grubby fingers.  His parents didn’t seem to be around, but there was a small group of boys a little older who apparently were occupied in watching after him.  I motioned to them to ask if he belonged to them, but their reply was the same solemn stare.

Since most children like to draw, I asked him if he would like some pencils.  He briefly nodded, so I fished out a few colored pencils and offered them.  When he didn’t take the, I thought perhaps he had nothing on which to draw, so I found a small empty notebook and held it all out to him,  He looked over to the other boys as if for permission and then pocketed his loot before giving me a happy sparkling smile with two missing front teeth.

Continuing my sketching, I became aware of a young Navajo woman in a long flowered skirt watching us.  I asked if she were his mother, and she gave a slow nod.  She looked very poor but around her neck she wore a lovely turquoise squash blossom necklace.  I took a five dollar bill from my pocket and asked if I might photograph the her son.  She quickly took the money and nodded again.

It took a few minutes to have her move the little fellow to a different location for a better backdrop.  Of course when I took his photo, all the other boys came forward for their “turn” in front of ther camera!  Fortunately, there were only three of them by that time.!

I never knew his name, but knowing a bit about Navajo family clan names, I thought maybe he could be of the Deer clan, and I named him Little Running Deer in my heart.  I like to think that in his future he would be able to run and play with friends, an perhaps even be an artist who could put his tribal legends with paint onto canvas.

 

THE ELIXIR OF LIFE


I have just discovered my latest beauty secret from a small 75 year old lady who works at McDonalds.  It was her birthday and I complimented her on having such smooth wrinkle free skin.  She sat right down and said it was due to olive oil.  That’s right; pure extra virgin olive oil.  I remembered my grandmother’s skin as being free of wrinkles also, and that she too used olive oil.  Oh, why does it take me so long to realize that other people know more than I do?

My bathroom counter and cupboard is filled with expensive jars of stuff that assured me the skin of a 20 something.  None of which worked I should mention.  But I am a sucker for a pretty young saleswoman who says she actually uses her product and see what it does for her?  So I reach for my credit card and add another jar to my collection.

Anyway, seeing is believing and I don’t believe such a nice old lady would lie to me about such a serious matter.  So I came home and poured olive oil into a small container to place in my bathroom.  I have used it for two days, and you know, I think I see a difference already.  Of course, it would have been better if I had started earlier—like maybe 40 years ago, but better late than never.

I’m going to tell my friend Cheri because she just planted a whole olive orchard, and it’s just the right time for her to use it and  in a couple of years I will be able to get all the olive oil I need and my skin will continue to look radient.

STYLE, TASTE AND CLASS


Style and taste are commodities people desire.  Style itself represents a deviation from the ordinary.  It has to stand apart from the world as it is given in order to qualify as style.  Clothing is a tool.  What one wears depends on whom one hopes to influence.  It sometimes signifies our station in life, such as our jewelry or the enormous hats worn by Queen Elizabeth which are so easily spotted in a crowd.

We all have style.  Style in our choice of clothing, style in our home decor, or in the food or artwork we create.  A painter, sculptor or writer develops an identifiable style.  That is frequently why people collect certain artist’s work; they like their style.  They can on occasion deviate from that comfort zone.  Writers such as John Grisham for instance, who habitually takes us on convoluted tales of courtroom drama, is also a great sports fan, and has occasionally abandoned that pattern and written equally fine stories involving both baseball and football heroes.

Teenagers of any era dress according to their “style”.  I attended a social function last week where an older woman sitting at my table was aghast at the short skirts the 13-14 year olds were wearing.  She proudly told me that her granddaughter dressed modestly with longer skirts and a higher neckline.  Well, good luck Grandma, wait until she goes to her first dance and sees what the other girls are wearing.

Taste is a quality determined by social mores.  There is “good” taste and “bad” taste.  But who determines which is which?  A woman wearing short shorts and go-go boots to a funeral would probably be considered dressed in bad taste by most of us.  But who came up with the idea that the simple black dress and pearls was the epitome of “good” taste?

To paraphrase Picasso:  Good fashion is the elimination of the unnecessary.”  The other guideline is “less is more”.  Good taste of course involves much more that the clothes on our backs.  It is evident in our speech, our homes, the gifts we present to others, etc.

If you met yourself today the way you looked twenty or thirty years ago would you recognize yourself?  We are all quite different year by year though we don’t see the difference until we see a photo, and then we either laugh ourselves silly, or quickly try to tear it up before anyone else can see it.

Now “class” is a whole other animal.  Style and taste can be acquired, but class is an intrinsic quality.  As Nathan Detroit said about class in Guys and Dolls:  You either got it or you ain’t.

But life is short, so my advice would be to follow your own White Rabbit.

THE JOURNEY


Emmett Oliver by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen

For at least 8,000 years before Euro-Americans arrived, there flourished on the western shores of the North American continent a people and a culture highlighted by the omnipresent dugout canoe.  They hunted the sea, the woods were full of game and berries, and the air with fowl.  Food was easy to find.  They created masks and totems and made their houses and canoes from the wood; they shared an essential friend in the cedar tree.

They made clothes and blankets from its thick brown pelt.  They created masks and totems and made their houses and canoes from the wood.  They built strong seaworthy racing canoes to engage in annual competitions between the villages.

All the young strong men helped paddle the large canoes, and one of the best and strongest was Emmett Oliver, a young Quinalt Indian from the Western coast of Washington state.

By 1985 dugout canoes were almost a lost art in the Pacific Northwest, found mostly in museums.  Some had not carved a canoe for over 50 years, and some tribes had never done so.

Emmett Oliver, then the Superintendent of Indian Education for the State of Washingon, remembering the unifying effect the canoe races had had in the early years, decided to return the  event, giving particular pride back to the various tribes.  Each group would of course be responsible not only for carving their canoe, but for obtaining permits, raising money, and cutting their own trees.  Carving workshops were formed and finally, framed by the rising skyline of the city of Seattle, 18 canoes were ready to paddle across the Puget Sound.  With Emmett aboard a Coast Guard command vessel, and with 5,000 people ready to greet them, Paddle to Seattle was accomplished on July 21, 1989.  The paddlers performed as though they had manned those canoes lifelong.  Their shoulders bore the traditions of 8 millenia.

This year Emmett’s son, Marvin Oliver, well known artist and professor of Art at the University of Washington, has designed a North Coast painting on the sides of the Oliver Family canoe, and Emmett’s daughter Marylin Bard, along with 2 granddaughters, will be included in the crew.   The race has grown exponentially year by year, with 89 canoes taking part in 2011.

This year in July,  when the first of 100 canoes are spotted, and with sunlight reflecting off the waters of Puget Sound, a very old man in his 100th year will be on the shore, waiting for the first canoe to beach.  The strong muscles of his youth have long been absent, his eyesight may be weak, but his heart is strong, and in his memory he feels the pull of the water, the sunlight on his back, and the thrill of the race as each paddler chants and shouts out his encouragement to his companions.  The pride in his family is strong, knowing that this race is part of the legacy he has left for his family and for his people.

 

A BIRD IN A CAGE


Many years ago, before I discovered a classier way to earn some extra Christmas money, I painted signs and Santa Clauses on store windows.  It was seasonal of course, and on the first of December, your hands froze on the glass windows, but lots of people stopped and passed the time of day with me, and you’ll have to admit, it was easy and fun.

One morning a woman stood watching me and then said she was writing a children’s book and wondered if I was interested in illustrating it.  Wow! would I!

The story was about a little Eskimo boy named Nootka of the North.  (Not too original,but it could always be changed.)

Her parents had been missionaries in Barrow, Alaska, and she brought old photo albums of their life to our house that evening.  It looked like the main excitement of their village was being tossed high into the air off a sealskin blanket, or perhaps a share in a little seal meat if the hunters got lucky.

I returned the albums to her a few days later after making a few drawings I thought she might like.  She lived  on a boat in the Redwood City marina, which was just across the bridge.  When I found her small boat, nearly hidden among larger and more posh ones, she called out to “come aboard”!

As soon as I stepped into the small cabin, a loud voice shouted “Fuck you!  Go home!”  There in the middle of the cabin sat a very large cage containing the largest and ugliest parrot I had ever seen.  She told me she had bought him from a bartender in Anchorage, Alaska, and since she lived alone, he was her “watch bird”.  It made a lot of sense, but I asked her if she would kindly cover him with a blanket while I was there, since he so obviously did not like me.

I made another couple of visits to her when the book got going, and we were both filled with hope that she could sell it to a publisher.

Time went by, and it became apparent that the book was going nowhere, so I thanked her very much for the opportunity.  The only payment I got was a few glasses of cheap wine, and the chance to be abused by a very loathsome  parrot.  But hey, it’s a great memory!

THE REDHEADS


Another Lady of the Night  KSR

Red hair is the rarest natural color in humans.  Maybe that is why I so desired having it.  As a teenager I once knelt on our kitchen floor washing my hair in a bucket filled with chamomile tea because someone said it would make my hair turn red.  Alas, no such happening occurred as I emerged with the same natural mouse shade that I went in with.

In various times and cultures, red hair has been prized, feared, and ridiculed.  A common belief about redheads is that they have fiery tempers and sharp tongues.   I have a cousin and a daughter who have red hair and neither fits that description.  Although an aunt, who was a redhead, once said of my daughter that “She doesn’t have that red hair for nothing!”  My husband had several cousins who had red hair and they were all perfectly presentable in polite company.

Another belief is that redheads are more highly sexed and mischievous than the rest, which is also untrue.  Many painters including myself, have exhibited a fascination with red hair.  The Renaissance and pre-Raphaelite artists were notable for their redheads.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story  “The Red-Headed League” involves a mysterious group of red-headed people.

Queen Elizabeth I of England was a redhead, and during the Elizabethan era in England, red hair was fashionable for women.  In modern times, red hair is subject to fashion trends, and depending which current actor or actress is currently popular it  can boost sales of red hair dye.  To name a few, Robert Redford, Nicole Kidman, Red Skelton or Lucille Ball come to mind.

In Britain, any dislike of red hair may derive from the sentiment that people of Irish or Celtic background, with a greater prevalence of red hair were ethnically inferior.  In America, film and TV programs often portray school bullies as having red hair.  The nicknames “ginger” or “red” distinguishes the recipient as being someone separate from the rest.  Medieval beliefs included moral degeneration, witchcraft and vampirism.

The color red itself, signifies danger, stop, look out  for roadblocks.  Redheadday is the name of a Dutch festival that takes place each September in the city of Breda, the Netherlands.  It is a gathering of people with natural red hair, but is also focused on art related to the color red.

All of which continues to endear myself to red hair. Maybe because it denotes a spirit, or a certain “spit-in-your-eye or “don’t tread on me” attitude that is so appealing.