The Lost Art of Making Do

When I can, I walk with The Ladies in the mornings. They range in age from sixties to early eighties. We walk up and down the dirt road, two miles in all. It allows lots of time for conversation. Many of them have lived in this tiny town most, if not all, their lives. They talk about the stuff of life, matter-of-fact, and do not dwell on the big questions. They are not blind to the big questions, far from it, but they think that if they pay attention to the details, the big questions will take care of themselves.

It is refreshing to be around them. No one talks about being unfulfilled—they are mostly retired from their jobs as factory workers or assistants, but even if they were still working, you get the feeling they wouldn’t complain. Be grateful to have a job, they would say; work at it earnestly and honestly and treat people the way you would like to be treated.

There is a simple honesty to the life of making do with what you have that is lost in our age of instant gratification. We want more because there is more—it is shoved at us so relentlessly that we have forgotten we have the choice to decide our own happiness.

The Ladies have mastered the art of being content.

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April Showers

I wonder if there’s anything more satisfying than an April shower?

This morning I woke up to the little pitter patter of rain drops on the thawed pond, each drop making its circle of ripples until the whole surface shimmered. Then a waft of fresh air came through the open bedroom windows, air that had moisture and something green in it–the smell of damp earth and things growing.

Winter, my dears, is over.

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True Story

Once upon a time, in America, there was a person who wanted something very badly. This person held solid conservative values. She believed in hard work. She believed in family. She believed in the church and service to her community.

But this thing this person wanted, it turns out, wasn’t so easy to get. Everyone in her community agreed she should have it; it was the perfect fit for her sensibility.

She discovered, when she tried to get this thing, that she had to have a criminal history background check. After that, a child abuse background check. Then, once she cleared those, she needed to be finger printed and those fingerprints registered with the FBI.

So what was this thing that required such a thorough investigation of her background, her character and the assurance of future identification just in case?

Was it purchasing a gun?

Oh, this is America, people. Of course not.

This person wanted to work in the Children’s Section of her local library.

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The Commodification of Creativity. . .

. . .is nothing new. Renaissance devotional panels were commissioned and the patron usually insisted that their likeness be inserted, next to the Madonna and Child. Kind of like a selfie with the Pope.

So it’s nothing new to have artists paint for patrons.

But these days, though, there seems to be  a proliferation of what is euphemistically called some version of “idea tanks.” A pseudo-creative tag that hides the business of commodifying creativity. Here’s how it works: business people get an idea, which invariably is more or less a rip off of something that has already been successful, hire a “content provider” to make it and then market the heck of it.

This is a commodity, pure and simple. It is not a labor of creativity. It is a labor of…well, labor. Kind of like factory work. There’s nothing wrong with factories and the commodities they produce, but creativity is not factory work.

Creativity is for taking leaps and pushing boundaries and all about making the artist grow and when she presents her creative work, the public, experiencing it, grows too.

Think about Andy Warhol and how he presented our commercialism as art and how it made us think about our world. Think about The Catcher in the Rye, and how it defined adolescence. Think about Piero della Francesca and how the stillness in his frescos ring with the exhale of God. Think about To Kill a Mockingbird and the photographs by Dorothea Lange. Even thinking about them, picturing them in my imagination makes my lungs fill with cool, fresh air.

If all we feed people are commodities—stale air—they’ll never know what they’re missing, because they’ll never how much more inspiring it can be. It doesn’t have to be all worker ants and the ones that control them. Or maybe it does.

The Renaissance is over. The age of communication has begun.

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