Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Are the Ghost Hippopotami Hiding Behind Jesus?

I paint fantasy landscapes, which I call scenes from Planet Arupa. The last time I hung a few at an art opening, someone pointed at one of them and said, "What are you saying with that one?" This question emptied my mind completely of all thought - the end point of Buddhist practice! Finally I said, "Nothing."

Paintings are supposed to say something? I thought that making paintings say something was the job of art critics at the New Yorker. There will be a photograph of an enormous white canvas with a small red dot in the middle, accompanied by three pages of: "Never before has the ontological vortex delineating the cusp of neo-modern pragmatism, as foreshadowed by Nietzche and, perhaps, Emerson, been so boldly presented as in..."

I always figured I'm just not smart enough to do paintings that mean something. So I asked Freeman if it was necessary for a painting to mean something. He said, "Well, that's part of it." He even admitted that he will face a blank piece of paper and think, "What do I want to say?" This I have never done. He then said that a painting should tell a story, even if it is a simple story.

So I looked at my painting of Jesus and a large dog watching an Angel who is standing on a hill that is being climbed by little guys with blue hair. Three small ghost hippopatami are standing behind Jesus, peering around His robe. What does this painting say?

Jesus is all over the place these days. He is even helping the New York Knicks (of St. Lin) and the Denver Brocos (St. Tebow) win games. He is backing all the Republican candidates for President! So why should He not be in my painting directing traffic? The ghost hippopatami are tagging along from the Big Game Preserve in the Sky that shelters all the extinct and endangered species that have left this world. The giant dog is there because, due to translation error, the line "Father, Son and Holy Canine" never made it into the Bible. Dogs are Love and Love is Spirit, Amen, Amen. Jesus, the ghost hippopatami, and the Holy Canine are watching the Angel in case she needs help (angels are so very busy these days) and the little blue-haired guys are senior citizens attempting to migrate to Canada before they turn 70, after which point the Canadian government will reject them. Since Jesus is backing candidates who want to do away with Social Security, watching over them is the least He can do.

That is what I am saying.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


It is impossible to live on this planet and be entirely unaware of the freak show that is passing for a presidential campaign in this year 2012. Lately I have been drawn into the insane fulminations and strategies to oppose any health insurance plan that allows women to receive contraceptives. How can people be against abortion AND against contraception? Do they want to go back to the world of my childhood where women had eight kids, three teeth, and worked 18 hours a day seven days a week? What is wrong with these idiots!

I find myself remembering a heroic woman named Gertrude Neilson, a retired medical doctor who, at age 75, ran an illegal womans health care clinic in her home on the edge of the University of Oklahoma campus. In Oklahoma in the 1960s it was a felony to sell or otherwise provide contraceptive devices to any unmarried person below the age of 21. There were a few gas stations around town where the men's room had a machine that sold Trojans at three for a quarter. At that price they were famous for breaking, in flagrante delicto. There were folk remedies involving coke cola and saran wrap. And there was trying to jump out of a 4th story window, as one my dorm mates, who found herself pregnant and disowned by her religious fanatic parents, tried to do.

But that wasn't all we had. We had Dr. Gertrude Neilson, whose name and phone number were written on the walls of every lady's room on campus and for a several-mile radius beyond. She provided contraceptives, sex education, and well women's care to any young woman who had the courage to knock on her door.

It did take courage. We were for the most part virtuous young ladies brought up in the 1950s, crossing our ankles and waiting for Mr. Right, as God and our parents expected of us. In going to Dr. Neilson's unmarked door we were defying our parents, God, and the State of Oklahoma.

I remember my journey to Dr. Neilson's door. I had fallen in love with beautiful Brenn of the wavy black hair and big brown eyes, who read poetry out loud. Our attempts to stop the train just short of the Promised Land were becoming increasingly feeble and half-hearted. We planned to spend the rest of our lives together, so how wrong could it be? I called Dr. Neilson and in a tiny, quaking voice requested an appointment. She had a pronounced Norwegian accent and a rich, warm voice. "You come in and see me. It's okay. I see you soon!"

She lived in a big, two-story brick house surrounded by beds of flowers. I walked up the path to her door and across the big wooden porch like a person on her way to be hung. I rang the door bell and stood there, quaking and wondering if I was going to pass out. I was a sinner, and, with this act of premeditation, a first degree sinner.

The door opened and big, wonderful old woman who looked like the star of every oatmeal commercial you've ever seen reached out one big calico-covered arm and pulled me in, chuckling and making warm, little clucking noises. She interviewed me, went over me from head to toe, gave me wise counsel about love, sex and life, and then gave me birth control pills, saying, "Now, these take one month to start working so you stay on the wagon for one month!" shaking her finger vigorously. "Then you come back and see me again, so I see you are okay!"

I floated out of her office on a pink cloud of love and anticipation. On behalf of all the many hundreds of young women you saved from forced marriages, lives postponed, back alley abortions, suicide, Dr. Neilson, I thank you.