Sunday, January 23, 2022

Strange new world

                                            Backwater oil on canvas 40x30 inches, 101x76 cm

Know anyone happy right now? The strangest time in my life keeps degrading. I have plenty to eat, I`m sheltered and warm with good health insurance. By most measures I`m certainly lucky if not wealthy. Yet it`s hard to be positive as these waves of virus wash over the world taking millions before their time. We are asked to wear masks in public and get free vaccinations and a huge number of citizens wails at this injustice. In their refusal, the virus has time to mutate again. Will this go on and on and on? Sure looks that way to me now. A true fatalism is slowly taking root. This isn`t all bad. American workers have not been so powerful in years. The pandemic has shown us that, yes, life is indeed short. Why spend your life doing something you hate if there are alternatives? This is healthy. People have lost their patience however and that`s problematic.I have never heard of so many acts of aggression! Shoppers attacking cashiers, deadly acts of road rage, the murder rate skyrocketing, trains being looted and angry raucous behavior during school board  and other civic meetings. 

In blue northwest Oregon where I live, our county commission meeting had to be abruptly cancelled because of a violent mood in the audience last week. I heard of a doctor working with Covid patients being constantly abused by the unvaccinated patients accusing her of killing them because she won`t give them the unproven drug Ivermectin! And meanwhile health professionals by the score are leaving their fields. It is a terribly stressful era for healthcare workers. I`m married to one and hear about this constantly. At times it feels like our country is coming apart at the seams. How could this be happening? After all we`ve accomplished? Maybe I`m just depressed but I know many others are far more discouraged.

Backwater, the painting up above, seems  to reflect my discomfort. The inspiration comes from the Minto Brown Island wetlands near Salem OR. Sloughs and ponds parallel this particular stretch of the Willamette River. I really love this place. Depending on the light though, it can look dormant and bleak in winter.

                                           Gorgeous Portland Nocturne by Maxwell Fishback

 Portland as a city in despair is not entirely accurate. Though plenty of residents are upset with the homeless situation, that issue does not define a city. All west coast cities are grappling with this and it will improve by trial and error. Voters approved a levy to create much more housing for these people who are down on their luck, mentally ill or addicted. It must be solved here and throughout the country or no one will enjoy their lives. 
What makes Portland unique is its generosity. Here is another letter from a teacher thanking the people of Portland for helping him help his students;

This city has never failed me and my students.

When I was at George Middle School someone cut the locks and stole several student's bikes from in front of the school while the kids sat in class. One of those stolen bikes was owned by the little brother of a past student of mine. The family had almost nothing but that morning he had been given a birthday gift... the bike that was stolen a few hours later.

I went on to a popular fundraising platform, the news showed up and a few days later the people of Portland bought every one of those kids a new bicycle.

When I travelled to Bangladesh to mentor the very first special education teachers in that country, the Portland Tribune ran a front page story. They put the link to that same popular fundraising site (different fundraising page though) and before you know it, Portland had stuffed so much money in my pockets, I was able to kit out two schools in great fashion! Each teacher got the equivalent of $200 to buy supplies (the dollar goes a LOOOOOOONG way in Bangladesh). At one school in one of the poorest areas of the entire planet, Portland paid to upgrade the lunch program for half a year of healthier bigger meals.

When my class hosted the special needs prom in the city, NPR showed up and showed the whole country our best practice (and it was the BEST! kids came from as far away as Salem and Ranier to celebrate their aging out of school at 21). I used to hand make every single girl a corsage. Portland stepped up, dropping ribbons and flowers off at our school. When my girls needed prom dresses Abbey's Closet stepped up and my girls got first choice of 7000 beautiful dresses.

And two nights ago, as I was freaking out about not having enough supplies to keep my students from sharing puzzles during covid, you all stepped up and kitted me out with enough puzzles that every kid will have their own bin with multiple activities I can swap out to teach new skills and higher learning. You all just came through for the kids who sit in my special needs classroom, at my special needs school, here in this incredibly special city of Portland.

I am not one of those teachers who feels unrecognized. This city has rewarded me in ways that very few people could have imagined. I was the first special education teacher to be Oregon's Teacher of the Year. My husband and I were the first gay couple to be honored by the Rose Festival and we rode through this city (on the back of a very slippery convertible) as you all cheered us on. At the time I was under orders if I said I was gay I would be fired but when the crowds heard them announce that riding with me was my husband, they went wild. When we got married The Oregonian had 45 pictures on their website. "Oregon's Teacher of the Year marries his long time partner" I believe, was the headline. They had a video tech follow us the whole day from buying our marriage certificate all the way to tying the knot. Though I was told I would be fired if I said I was in public, we took our vows on live television.

Soon after I was fired but I fought back and got my job back. The city of Portland did not take what happened to me sitting down. They overwhelmed my old school district with demands for my reinstatement, they threw out a bunch of the school board in the election that happened just weeks later, they continued to demand an apology even years later. After the Supreme Court, Portland got what they wanted. The district apologized. I accepted it whole heartedly. All of the people that did me wrong were fired, voted out, demoted or fled in shame and changed their names. The new admin is working hard to make the district the best it can be. The teachers, school nurses, the paraeducatiors and support staff at the district continue to be some of the finest people I have ever met in education.

And now, in these really dark covid times, I found myself struggling and once again, Portland (you all, this time), came roaring in to support me and my students. There is a reason I am a good teacher. It is because I live in a good city filled with good people. They always come through for me when my kids needs something.

I just wanted to say thank you. You all bought us books, art supplies, autism specialty items and so many wonderful puzzles. Several people from town are sending over lovingly-used puzzles. To know my students will not have to share anything with each other any more takes a huge stress out of my life. So, once again, you helped me and my staff by helping our kids. Thank you Portland. May you have a beautiful weekend and know that this city comes through when it needs to. We all can make that happen.

Brett Brigham is the teacher. Among his abilities  and talents, he`s learned to ask for help. Why is that so difficult for most of us? People yearn to be constructive but don`t know how, where or when. Answering a specific request sure makes it easier.

                                                                End of November 

                                                                   Marsh Hawthorne

                                                                      The Red Oak

These are some more oil on oil paper studies, 16x12 inches, 40.5x30.5 cm. As always, when I want to think while painting, it`s best done on paper.

                                                            Study in Blue and Gray

If anyone knows the name of this tattoo artist, please let me know. I don`t want one but I still would like to know who they are.  This is artistry of the highest order. The great tattoos of the world aren`t so available to my viewing, but knowing they exist pleases me. I don`t have an exhibitionist impulse ever but I like it that others do.

 With so much of the news crushingly negative, I have avoided a lot of it and turned to science fiction for an imaginative diversion. It has sure worked. It`s been  a pleasure to contemplate the problems and threats to distant worlds and times. It seems to give me a better perspective on the difficulties of our own history. John recommended the books of Dan Simmons and I have been deeply enmeshed in his Hyperion/Endymion quartet.  Escapism might just be self care as we try to dodge the virus.

                                                              watermedia on Yupo 26x20

A recent abstraction. It was much more enjoyable to paint this without thinking 'what am I doin?' Since circling back to landscape, the painting feels sincere and even exciting. Now painting without a subject can be fun again, less fraught.

Here are a few artists that are new to me;

                                                                     Pat Brentano

                                                                 Dorothy Ganek

                                                                     Billy Childish

                                                                   Martha Jungwirth

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