Monday, September 27, 2010

In the Museum of the Sun

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water. Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.
Therefore the sage says:
He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people is fit to rule them.
He who takes upon himself the country's disasters deserves to be king of the universe.
The truth often sounds paradoxical.
Verse 78
Tao Te Ching
Jane English Translation

When I walked through the Museum of Sun Yet-sen, my jaw dropped open. The colours of the banners seemed to jolt me. In the west, many of us are painfully uneducated about the ending of the monarchy in China. I was trying my best to remedy the situation myself. Much has been spoken of, with regard to all of the dynasties of the various monarchies that ruled China for thousands of years. Yet, a humble young man from the Guangdong province who held the belief that equality belonged to all and not just the elite few followed a deep passion within.
This museum replicated the humble beginnings of Sun Yet-sen with painstaking detail only usually given to saints. It is rare that you see a person that loves their people more than any shred of power that could be given to them, and that was precisely how this humble man rose to led a nation to independence, a democratic republic.
As I walked through I noticed a complete reverence for the place. Books that Sun Yet-sen had studied, his student desk, portraits of the libraries he studied at abroad, his imprisonment in the United Kingdom by the Chinese Embassy...each and every detail of his life held up for the public to see.
Even village recreation to show the environment he came from. All as a beacon to shine out for the people that anyone could be an instrument of positive change.
As I walked along the these pathways and looked at this young man's life I couldn't help but admire the heroism and courage it took to create a republic. He realized nothing is too big to fail and I saw why China still embraces his memory today. The power always resides with the people, it always will.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We are Many - Only the Unloved Hate

In memory of SSG Lilian Clemons.  For your family, and for your son who looked me in the eyes and asked me if your death was right.  For which I found no words to respond truthfully, so I went to find the truth.  We can only bring about peace by being peace and not fighting for it.  You didn't die in vain, you changed my life.

"And I don't want the world to see me
Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am"  
-Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls

Alone, I am just one.  Together, we are the voices of many.  We outnumber them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Artist Invites Artist - Global Challanges

I knew there was something incredible about Alette Simmons-Jimenez when I met her over three years ago in Miami when she went for was seemed like an impossible dream called Artformz Alternative.  It was only five years old and survived the horrific hurricane seasons we had gone through, at a time when many galleries had shut down, she evolved the gallery into a collaborative environment that shared the spotlight and it became more about others.

In her latest venture, Artist Invites Artist - once again, a new direction is explored.    Using Kickstarter to help with projects to help anyone desiring to help artists from around the world with their projects.

If you are a giving person, and are so inclined, take a real look at how little it takes to help someone achieve their dreams. It is important to have those voices come forward to be heard, not for the sake of making money, but for the ability to have an impact on the world around us.  Perhaps to have those messages inspire us, move us or simply to discover each other. 

And perhaps even though I am all the way around the world...I am able to help her through this little post.

Visit Artformz Alternative in the Wynwood District in Miami, if you ever get a chance.  If you do, tell Alette I said hello. There is always time to help a friend.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Being Human

In the marketplace of life, who determines the value? Is it the buyer or the seller? Often we see something, ask for the price and determine then if we are willing to trade for it. I often love to go to open markets, more to watch the people than actually to acquire things. You see the wave of human drama as sellers, anxious to unload what is perishable to a public that is trying to fulfill their family's needs. Samples of produce are often cut open to display its fresh quality openly, yet when a seller doesn't have such a display, buyers often walk by the stand suspecting something may be a little off.
As I walked through an area in Zhongshan, I viewed the story board of safety tips for the community. Step by step cautions relating to a multitude of topics. The social training that all societies employ in differing venues. How often it seems we rely on others to tell us how we should behave.
Shouldn't it be as simple as this sign above?

After all, we are human and at one time or another we hang our laundry outside to dry.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Legend of Hou Yi and Chang'e

It is the time of the Harvest moon in the east. From the 14th to the 16th day of the 8th of the lunar calendar.   It is a time of celebration for the living. In the east there are often holidays to commemorate their ancestors, but the Harvest Moon festivals have great significance here in Asia. This year, being in China, I thought I would share with you one of the great legends of China as it was shared with me.

"A long, long time ago, a terrible drought plagued the earth. Ten suns burned fiercely in the sky like smoldering volcanoes. The trees and grass were scorched. The land was cracked and parched, and rivers ran dry. Many people died of hunger and thirst.

The King of Heaven sent Hou Yi down to the earth to help. When Hou Yi arrived, he took out his red bow and white arrows and shot down nine suns one after another. The weather immediately turned cooler. Heavy rains filled the rivers with fresh water and the grass and trees turned green. Life had been restored and humanity was saved

One day, a charming young woman, Chang'e makes her way home from a stream, holding a bamboo container, A young man comes forward, asking for a drink. When she sees the red bow and white arrows hanging from his belt, Chang'e realizes that he is their saviour, Hou Yi. Inviting him to drink, Chang'e plucks a beautiful flower and gives it to him as a token of respect. Hou Yi, in turn, selects a beautiful silver fox fur as his gift for her. This meeting kindles the spark of their love. And soon after that, they get married.

A mortal's life is limited, of course. So in order to enjoy his happy life with Chang'e forever, Hou Yi decides to look for an elixir of life. He goes to the Kunlun Mountains where the Western Queen Mother lives.

Out of respect for the good deeds the has done, the Western Queen Mother rewards Hou Yi with elixir, a fine powder made from kernels of fruit which grows on the tree of eternity. At the same time, she tells him, "If you and your wife share the elixir, you will both enjoy eternal life. But if only one of you takes it, that one will ascend to Heaven and become immortal."

Hou Yi returned home and tells his wife all that has happened and they decide to drink the elixir together on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month when the moon is full and bright.

A wicked and merciless man named Feng Meng secretly overhears about their plan. He wishes Hou Yi an early death so that he can drink the elixir himself and become immortal. His opportunity finally arrives. One day,when the full moon is rising, Hou Yi is on his way home from hunting. Feng Meng ambushes and kills him. Feng Meng then runs to Hou Yi's home and tries to force Chang'e to give him the elixir, however, without hesitating, Chang'e picks up the elixir and drinks it all.

Overcome with grief, Chang'e rushes to her dead husband's side, weeping bitterly. While she is by his side, the elixir begins to take effect and Chang'e feels herself being lifted towards Heaven.

Chang'e decides to live on the moon because it is nearest to the earth. There she lives a simple and contented life. Even though she is in Heaven, her heart remains in the world of mortals. Never does she forget the deep love she has for Hou Yi and the love she feels for the people who have shared their sadness and happiness."

Now make a wish, for this is the time of harvest celebration, which is both a celebration of life and of love eternal.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Overcoming the Hardness of Life

The softest thing in the universe
Overcomes the hardest thing in the universe.
That without substance can enter where there is no room.
Hence I know the value of non-action.

Teaching without words
and work
without doing
Are understood by very few.
The Tao Te Ching - 43rd Verse
Jane English Translation
I had written in an earlier entry of a find of a tree growing through a boulder, located at a museum in Nanjing. While on my sojourn in Zhongshan we came to a little oasis in a park. It isn't often I get drawn to do strange things, but I felt compelled to climb in to and area where I just felt like I would find something similar. There it was, the seemingly impossible, another tree that come up through a boulder. The one above in Zhongshan, the one below in Nanjing.
I reflected on my journey, how the softness in my own life seemed to open more doors than with a hard stance. Often with the hardness, it went against my nature, making the pressures of life seem unbearable at times. When I looked at these trees I thought about the journey from a small seed to go through where no light existed, by a force of faith, that some amount of space came and it reached up towards the light and water. As its roots expanded, the softness made way up and out of the rock.
Should it be an impossible journey? Should it be so hard? Often I wondered about the times I needed to have just a little more patience, just a little more strength to push through. At the same time I looked and actually could observe the action and nonaction at the same time. They may not be perfect trees out there on their own, growing without opposition.
But in this oasis of calm, I saw the harmony of how life can actually be soft even when it appears to be hard.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Burning Incense without Prayers

This is the only Buddhist Temple I have been to in China. Not that I frequent Buddhist temples for religious reasons, but I tend to visit temples because they are the symbols of believing in something bigger than yourself. For that feeling, I love to look at the expanse of the sky to realize how small I am, but in the neon haze, it often can be difficult to feel that sense of smallness we often need.
In this temple, the monks are completely vacant. There were no nuns, just the statues remained with a few people keeping up the temples, selling incense and prayer papers. I watched a woman carefully go through the practiced ritual with almost a moment of hesitation as she shoved her prayer bucket into the flames.
I looked at the flames and wondered for a moment if the ashes would speak for her. Half of the time I stared at the flames and wondered how often we do little things like this in times of trouble to make ourselves feel a sense of peace about the circumstances that pass through our lives like seasons. When we think of past wounds, are they still there or have we covered them up with rotting bandages?
It was my turn and I was kind of wrestling with the plastic covering the incense. A flame tender assisted me as I decided to burn them; not for myself, but for all of the people that seemed to lack hope. With all that my eyes had seen in China, I felt I had much to be thankful for, so without prayers I took the incense and placed the sticks in various places, spreading them out so the scent could waft through the temple. There were no names, just silence. There were no bows, just my paces.
I followed the young woman who modeled the way for me. All along the way, I thought of the people without names who I had only seen. Without belief in anything but the stars I could see that spiral out into galaxies, I felt small, and smaller still did my life seem to appear. I could not feign any sort of reverence, but I did pay respect to the purpose of the place. I had no complaints in the heat of the day. But, for a moment I understood why people pray. Life can be hard. The task is living, not dying. There is pain in life. You can do everything possible in the world to avoid it. You can protect yourself from others.

However, in doing so, a person then gives up on living by being too afraid to live and only thinking of all of what 'might' happen to them. In focusing on what 'might' happen, you might might miss all of the good along the way.

Here is to walls coming down in order to be free...wherever you are.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Art...Real or Fake

I saw a post from one young blogger, a great young woman who is studying literature in the United States. She did a film review, an ironic choice of "F is for Fake", the very last film that Orson Welles released in his lifetime in 1973. I have always been attracted to people who seem to be rebels, but who they really are is always up for interpretation. The premise of the film goes into the question, What is art? In Orson's view, art is all fake.

But what about those who just are driven to create? It made me look at my own journey. I am drawn to people, and often they are drawn to me and tell me their stories. Often, they are filled with pain, the pain associated with life. I remember when I was in Paris, and a strange man saw me the Buttes Chaumont, which is in the XVIII district of Paris. He saw me photographing all sorts of things in the park, and followed me, just watching me. Finally, he came up to me and asked if I would join him for coffee.

"My English is not that good, so it would be nice if I could talk to you." He began. There was something about his approach. Something so honest about it, that I couldn't decline. So I agreed and left with him to a nearby cafe. He was holding a satchel, not really much of one. He was asking about my French, and began to tell his story.

"I have lived a horrible life." He started slowly and then opened up his bag. He reached inside to pull out a large envelope and laid it on the table in between our cups of coffee. "I have asked many strangers, to write about me, and I think you are a writer." As he poured out his life before me, I listened to detail after detail. A life, that at many times, went through many valleys that were dark and horrible. The agony of his life was centered around one event. One event he kept reliving over and over again. It was over a lost love. There was a Romeo and Juliet quality to the story, but I wasn't falling for it.

There was a woman he loved very much, when he was very young. He had asked her to marry him and she agreed, but her father opposed the marriage. He still pressed her for her hand in marriage, but at the time, she was not in the position to go against her father nor go against the love of her life. So she made a different choice, and threw herself to her death in front of a train...dying instantly.

He never let go and kept living in a beautiful, dark hell of his own making. He didn't give himself permission to have a life he could live. When he finished his story, I asked him one question.

"Why haven't you let yourself live? You died that day...and every day for over 20 years, you have kept throwing yourself in front the train with her. She chose to die. You need to choose to live." His eyes welled with tears. I don't know why no one had told him that before. I don't know why he came up to me that day. I looked over the envelope's contents...and the words, in so many different chaotic writing was full of drama and pain.

Pain is very easy to hold on to and becomes the identity of a person. Sad and dark lives that should have been or could have been something else. I have seen people defend their pain. Justify it. Violently protect it. But a wound that continues to be ripped open again and again...never heals.

You don't stay in these valleys of keep walking through it.

So, I view art differently. Art doesn't have to be fake. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to create, to be flawed, and not care about comparisons along the way. Because I am not trying to be anyone else but me.

Leave the fake images and plastic in Hollywood. So, as I grow, evolve and learn differing crafts and developing talents...I share this virgin effort with you, called...simply "What If..."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Eat or Be Eaten?

I often view the markets with a mixture of pleasure and disgust. I can't help that side of me, as I gradually became a vegetarian bit by bit. It started off as I started growing physically intolerant of meat. Now, as I have become more sensitive, the smell of the flesh of dead animals bothers me. It was a strange evolution for me, but I have managed to stay away from red meat completely.
I walked through the market, and felt the heat of the day as we were all walking through Zhong Shan, and saw people who just needed to sleep. It's like that with the body, if you fail to listen to its needs it just kind of gives out on you.
As I wandered by, a friend and I noticed these two fish who had been cut wide open to display their freshness. I was totally horrified because their hearts were still beating. Half of their bodies were gone, and there were the hearts, still pumping blood. I felt done. The last bit of meat I had left on my menu was gone.
They were still struggling to live and somehow I became completely sympathetic to their pain. No, I don't get after people who need meat to live. However, in a very strange way I wondered about my growing intolerance within myself.
I looked at the fish heads, with mouths wide open and then saw the fish in the pond outside, fat and swarming to be fed, ever so trusting, poking their heads out of the water.
What a different view life has in this pond for them. Maybe in a few months I can eat salmon steaks again...maybe, but only if they are killed swiftly with a bit of mercy. Or I could just stay as I am...not missing the taste of their flesh, and choosing to go a different way. We often forget about the lives that feed into ours. How little would it take for someone to view us as little more than fattened cattle if intelligence was used as a food guide?