It should be no surprise that in these days of Advent my thoughts turn to the last four things: to death, judgement, heaven, and hell. I’ve written about these things, or had guest bloggers write about them often enough before. Some unexpected things have come to my attention this year: some strange connections to these last four things.
Since moving to New Haven I’ve started to learn about New Haven history and about New Haven luminaries and their lives and influence. Scattered about New Haven are banners with the picture of famous New Havenites. As I walk to the art supply store, I see the visage of Robert Moses and Karen Carpenter side by side. I’m no fan of Robert Moses, but of Karen Carpenter…
Yes, I am a fan despite the commercial, or even “Adult Contemporary”, status of their musical oeuvre. Perhaps I can hear a certain sort of genuine broken-heartedness in Karen’s voice that comes from the knowledge of her illness and death. It’s the 20/20 vision of hindsight that reveals the hand of death in “The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait.”
In the Carpenters Christmas special from 1978, the brother and sister duo are hosting a celebrity-attended Christmas party with the likes of Gene Kelly, Georgia Engel, Kristy McNichol and her brother Jimmy. Karen prepares a sumptuous feast for the guests, and they in turn present gifts to all in attendance. The McNichols bring the gift of family. Richard Carpenter gives the gift of music, and be fore going in to his dance, Gene Kelly philosophizes about what these gifts really are; what they really mean…
The gift you give is really the gift you most want to receive, and Karen gives food.
There is a trend toward a certain sort of absurdist comedy. A comedy of poor taste in which the punch line is AIDS, or The Holocaust, or Anorexia. Watching The Carpenters: A Christmas Portrait is difficult with the knowledge that Richard is stung out on Quaaludes and Karen is teetering toward her own tragic end. It’s hard not to laugh at the idea of Karen’s most desired gift being food, but as you watch this skeletal woman sing and dance, tell jokes, and put everything she has in to entertaining us it’s harder not to ask oneself: What happened? Where has judgement gone? And it’s hard not to judge.
I’ve been listening to a lot of old Christmas specials, and they all come with their own sort of death, judgement, or even Hell. Knowing the difficulties that Judy Garland was having during the production of the Christmas special, or the Hellish times experienced behind closed doors at the Crosby home while watching Bing and his boys celebrate Christmas.
In writing this post I wanted to hold up a special or two that I thought escaped the scandal of death, judgement and hell, but there were none. Perhaps that’s just where heaven is. Perhaps heaven is in the grace given to us despite our sinful nature. Perhaps heaven is the realization that even as we wallow in sin, as we relish our short comings we are still able to accept gods grace, and perhaps that looks like this:
Perhaps you’d thought that I’d let the anniversary of Uncle Frog pass, that I was just going to let this new year pass as I’d let pass All Hallowed Eve, Armistice Day, and Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps you’d thought that, unlike my first post, the plethora of Christmas advertizements starting the day after Hallowe’en had gotten to me and I had given up.
I will admit that that last musical interlude was not so brief, and I wouldn’t blame you if you’d given up on ever hearing from me again, but today starts a new year, so Savior Rend the Heavens Wide and let’s start the new year right.
There have been many things about which I’ve wanted to write the last quarter including: how Yale killed my cat, moving to New Haven, living in a Douglas Orr apartment, or how the American Legion in Hamden Connecticut had no poppies to sell for Armistice Day. I could also write my great list of places at which I will not shop and products I will not be purchasing because they started “holiday” advertizing long before Advent.
Instead I want to ease back in to writing. I want to take the opportunity of a double new year (both dominical and sanctoral) to start getting things in order, to start the new year right, but quiet meditations on the peace of the winter to come, or the expectation of the baby Jesus with warmth and kindness, are not what is called for. Rather, what is called for, is the rending of the heavens as was read in Church today:
Oh that thou wouldest rent the heauens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountaines might flowe downe at thy presence, As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boyle: to make thy Name knowen to thine aduersaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence. When thou diddest terrible things which wee looked not for, thou camest downe, the mountaines flowed downe at thy presence. For since the beginning of the world men haue not heard, nor perceiued by the eare, neither hath the eye seene, O God, besides thee, what hee hath prepared for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that reioyceth, and worketh righteousnesse, those that remember thee in thy wayes: behold, thou art wroth, for we haue sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saued. But we are al as an vncleane thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy ragges, and we all doe fade as a leafe, and our iniquities like the wind haue taken vs away. And there is none that calleth vpon thy name, that stirreth vp himselfe to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from vs, and hast consumed vs because of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father: we are the clay, and thou our potter, and we all are the worke of thine hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquitie for euer: behold, see we beseech thee, we are all thy people.
Looking at a new sanctoral calendar year beginning on Saint Andrew’s Day, or the start of the dominical year with the commencement of Advent. I’m compelled away from the quiet contemplation of the drowsy-hearted, toward the active anticipation of one who knows that he will die. Wachet Auf! Be ready to accept the call as Andrew did.
Perhaps this is not easing into writing after all, but with the beginning of a new year so comes a bit of cleaning, including airing our thoughts. When we clean our clothes it’s the stick in the middle of the washing machine that does the work. That stick is called an agitator. The agitations that come with doing a bit of cleaning or of moving in to a new place are naught when compared to the agitations of the Advent of our Lord:
…in those dayes, after that tribulation, the Sunne shalbe darkned, and the Moone shall not giue her light. And the Starres of heauen shall fall, and the powers that are in heauen shall be shaken. And then shal they see the Sonne of man comming in the cloudes, with great power and glory. And then shal he send his Angels, and shall gather together his elect from the foure winds, from the vttermost part of the earth, to the vttermost part of heauen. Now learne a parable of the fig tree. When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaues, ye know that summer is neere: So ye in like maner, when ye shal see these things come to passe, knowe that it is nigh, euen at the doores. Uerely I say vnto you, that this generation shall not passe, till all these things be done. Heauen and earth shal passe away: but my words shall not passe away.
With this in mind, what is important? Yale killing my cat? A new life in a New Haven? A new apartment? Remembering Remembrance Day? All of the things I will not support for advertizing sake, and probably wouldn’t support any way?
I’ll take my cue from the collect for the day. I’ll be inspired by the prayer we read tonight as we light the first candle on our Advent wreath:
Stir up, we beseech Thee, Thy power, O Lord, and come, that by Thy protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Thy mighty deliverance; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God world without end.
I’ll start baking.
I’m sure that “Stir up” at the commencement of the collect refers to batter for baking.
And now a word from our sponsor:
Yes, I am aware that Saint Andrew’s Day is translated as Advent takes presidence. Now, wake up and get cooking! Jesus comes!
As the song says “another opening of another show.” I have three works (Poppies of Remembrance, Left Coast Style, and Memento Ursi) in the show Urge to Fall at Alice’s Arbor opening on July 10th. For more about this show here’s what the curator has to say:
Falling, the primary experience of gravity, is the first human experience of a natural force, the compulsion of the body to plunge toward the earth which can be immediately felt and scientifically described, but perhaps never understood. Falling remains with us as a metaphor for those compulsions – sublime, deadly, or inexplicable – which drive us to voyeurism, combat, lust, depression – all the territories in which vital impulse seems to come from outside the self, to call out from impossible distances. Across mediums spanning painting, illustration, print, photography, and collage, these concerns flicker through the practices of the ten artists represented in “Urge to Fall,” touching on balance and its loss, the void, and the desire to give in to vertigo.
Here’s a link to the Facebook page for the show.
And just in case you want to check out the work of the other Shoestring Press artists in the show here’s a list:
It’s an odd question as it seems to suppose that the generation that protested the war in Vietnam would naturally be the more patriotic while being, supposedly the least patriotic that history had seen to that point. I also found it odd as the question of the patriotism of the Xers was not called in to question.
I am, perhaps in a unique position to posit an opinion on the patriotism of generations post-World War II. In some ways I stand with one foot planted in the territory of the Boomers, somewhere to the East of No Man’s Land, as my parents were of the Greatest Generation, and my siblings are Boomers. However, if one foot is in the East, my other foot stands firmly in the Western land of Gen X as I was born in 1968. I therefore have a Boomer upbringing while all of my cultural touchstones are X.
Just as my brother and sister were brought up with a sense of civic duty I too was brought up with an understanding of my responsibility to be a good citizen: which, at a bare minimum, includes voting, paying taxes, and participating in the judicial system. But the lessons learned from the protests of ’68, the lessons learned by the generation called X, were of mistrust and self reliance. My parents taught me that working within the system would bring greater success to the nation and its citizenry. But my cultural landscape was one shaped by the generation to follow my parents, and that was and is a landscape in which doing what one must to get ahead is virtue enough. It is unimportant if you step on your comrades to do it: the ends will justify the means. No one’s actually going to help you do anything, everyone’s just in it for themselves, and there’s really no such thing as community or your “fellow” man at all, only competitors and pawns.
So what sort of patriotism do the Millennials have to piece together? We live in a country in which national holidays are the days on which one goes to the mall, or, if it is a day like Independence Day, one will go to a fireworks display in which the rockets red glare will spell out MACYS. A Sousa march means nothing, but a satiric song such as America Fuck Yeah holds a certain sort of sentiment that the younger generations ironically get behind.
There is another sort of patriotism that can be found in the youth of America. It may not look like patriotism to my parents, or even to my siblings, but it is, as am I, a hybrid of the Boomers and the Xers. It is a patriotism that takes the best of what my parents (the Greatest Generation) instilled in me, a pride in the work that we can achieve together and the responsibility to that work, but that distrusts pre-packaged or over-zealous patriotism, preferring instead a DIY sensibility born of Generation X that builds small communities within the larger communities: groups of people who are making things and supporting themselves by supporting others; treasuring cultural values as well as individual values. It can be seen all over the country wherever people are building community gardens or creating places of beauty to be shared. It can be found in a small business ethos that, despite a smaller profit margin, encourages local, hand-made and sustainable goods… and insists that part of honoring national holidays means that businesses stay closed.
I have, indeed, been thinking about the Great War of late. Even on Memorial Day as I was listening to songs of the American Civil War, I was printing poppies that were more appropriate to the War to End All Wars. I’m sure that as we approach 2018 I’ll be consumed with many aspects of just how World War One truly changed the world, and brought about almost every major event or movement of the 20th Century.
Today, as I contemplated the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; today, as I mentioned just what happened this day in history to people with blank stares on their faces, today, as I sold luxury shirts to people who refuse to give their name or contact information yet only pay with credit cards; I reminded my self that I live in a country at war, and I was ashamed.
On Memorial Day (as it is celebrated) I pined a poppy to my chest and set out to Brooklyn to work on my project Poppies of Remembrance. Once there, I printed poppies and posted them in the shop window of Shoestring Press. People came by and assisted in the project, discussed Memorial Day, and learned a bit about the poppy as a flower of remembrance.
However, on my way out to Brooklyn I stopped by my local cafe for a bite of breakfast. There was a middle aged man outside the cafe and he noticed the poppy I was wearing. This man remembered veterans selling poppies when he was young. He remembered wearing a poppy on Memorial Day, Armistice’s Day, or even D Day (today). He remembered the men, like the anonymous man on West 86th Street in Manhattan who was out selling Poppies in the days before Memorial Day, or Jack Lombardi who sells poppies outside a bank in the Whitestone Shopping Center.
Outside the cafe my conversation turned from remembering to lamentation as my neighbor said “The old guys just aren’t arround any more.” What does that have to do with anything! There is a steady stream of men and women coming back from War! We live in a country in wartime! He consolled himself with the knowlidge that the local Roman Church had a memorial service that day. ( I didn’t realize that national holidays were on the liturgical calendar.)
The New York Times printed a fluff piece (He Still Serves) under the heading of “Charicter Study” as if selling poppies was a quaint throwback. Of course, no one reads beyond the first or second paragraph, but the real meat of the article was in the wrap up:
“Outside the bank, he proffered a poppy to a strapping young man in workout gear, heading toward the nearby gym and staring at his cellphone.
“No, I’m good,” the man said, waving it off.
Mr. Lombardi shrugged and said, “A lot of young people don’t know what it’s all about — they couldn’t care less.””
Clearly that man was not good. Had he been doing good he’d have stopped and bought a poppy. He’d have stopped and taken the time away from his own important life and remembered one who did good, and died, as so many died, on this date in 1944.