The date is July 10, 1851. It’s Thursday, the morning is turning out to be fine and hot, and there is just enough of a breeze to keep away the stench of those living across the way, in their shanty towns, popping up like razor stubble on the face of some unwelcomed guest. A good, hard rainstorm would most assuredly be a welcomed guest this evening when they all gather about the village square to debate. They are miserable, and I am tired of hearing all their stories about how France and Britain wrecked this, France and Britain wrecked that. Nobody has any idea how I was gutted by tariffs imposed by France and Britain! How Daguerre was just cast aside! It cost me everything to ship materials from the outlying territories. Besides, going bankrupt once was enough!
As I was saying, the weather is pleasant, for now. I am writing to you from my modest apartment in the Bry-sur-Marne. My dear, you would love it here; there are mice everywhere. The Templar Priory has furnished me all that I require in exchange, rather insistence, I use that which I require to paint dioramas for each convent and church that has requested as much for their altarpieces and prayer halls. The Priory claims this to be a divine contract; my penance for confessional revelations. The irony does not go unnoticed in that living among the purveyors of crime dramas for many years makes me guilty by association in the eyes of the Priory; they continue to entertain the notion of my direct involvement in the death of my dear friend, and partner, Nicéphore Niépce. They think I had something to do with the fire that destroyed my home, my business, all my records, my supplies and materials . . . all those notes; books and notes and papers of Niepce’s, and mine too, of course! It’s all very convenient, as they say. A pension, in exchange for the secret to capturing details that are now free for the asking.
In fact, if it weren’t for my pension, I’d be dead. Maybe I should have listened to my father and become an architect; I could have been a designer for the royal court. It really was wonderful all those years ago when I was the apprentice, such frivolity, so care-free; the parties were famous. That experience led me to where I am now, comfortably painting my dioramas inside these godforsaken churches and convents. They really do need divine imagery to change the attitudes of their flock, and my dioramas are just the thing; it’s not like those people are living here against their will, and, my paintings will gladden their spirit, dispelling the trivial absurdities to which they have burdened themselves. This is my legacy to those truly in need of salvation; Daguerre and his Diorama of the Fantastique Paradis!
Honestly though, if it weren’t for Isadore’s constant grievances about the smallness of his pension when he need only look down for some perspective, and, Delacroix’s perpetual insults labeling me a cur, a mountebank, and a tricheor, I’d have nothing to live for – Talbot ruined everything. Fortunately, his process literally pales in comparison to the details of Daguerre. Thankfully though, I have Delacroix to consider as it pertains to your well-being; he was just going to toss you out his studio window when he finished drawing you, and quite a superb drawing if I must say so – you never looked more radiant, or lovely. Curse him, and his words: “Paint a picture, it will last longer”, bah, amateur. I told him; “Everyone admires his sketches of you more than all his paintings combined.” He really captured your playful nature, the intensity of your eyes, and your whiskers. As for Talbot, his interloping proved my point. Now everyone just wants to record images of their pets, or how much food they are about to consume.
Oh, my dearest Princess, I don’t mean to bother you with all these boring details. The real reason I am writing is to tell you that I was asked, again, to describe my first Daguerreotype image, you know the one of the house across the street at Boulevard du Temple; it’s just criminal! This must the hundredth instance I have to recall this moment. Perhaps I should tell the truth this time, that I was just trying to apprehend the miscreant child plotting to steal the bread and milk deliveries again; the little bastard. You can see him looking out the third-story window at the throng of people milling about. The police, as usual didn’t care, and, this time I had evidence! All they are curious about is who the person is getting their shoes shined! That actor, Jean E. Fromage. Nobody will ever remember him. His acting is so bad. I am sure there will be a sub-class rating for the kind of dramas those people flock around. Like Bees to flowers they are; Bee dramas.
Sadly, I must end this letter as I feel a bit light-headed. Perhaps my breakfast is causing me some discomfort as there is a tightness in my chest I have never felt. It would do me good to have you sitting here in my lap while I gently stroke you from head to tail. I would welcome your scratches as I miss you greatly.
He reported that these moments manifest clearly and succinctly as vibrating looped still images; little movies a fraction of a second in length. They are his first memories.
He said that it began in Greenbelt, MD. He was one and a half.
He was sitting on the kitchen floor, underneath the Formica topped aluminum table. The view looked huge, but closed in like tunnel vision.
In front of him, the cabinets seemed to glow pale-yellow white. To his right, a white door to the outside was open, filling the room with light.
Clinging to the metal storm door, he held himself up and looked out. A concrete sidewalk directly in front, and a little patch of grass just to the right. There was a fence, and a gate.
Through the door, he could see his brother and sister outside playing. His brother was riding his tricycle on the sidewalk. His sister was sitting on the patch of grass. Half of her face is covered, wrapped in a bandage.
Once outside beyond the storm door of the kitchen, he felt the sidewalk, the fence, and the gate. The sidewalk led to a ribbon of sidewalks. The sidewalk was very significant.
He didn’t know that doctors were about to cut him open and remove the two growths that had attached themselves to his lower descending colon.
His sidewalks led to New Carrollton, MD. He was two.
The Carrollton house had a basement with several rooms; a laundry room, a work room with a table that had a large scale electric slot car figure eight track set-up, and the main room. The main room had a couch, ironing board, television, and a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor where he was molested. He was molested by a babysitter. A teenage male that lived down the street masturbated in to his mouth. Everything about the whole act remains. However, it was not verbally articulated until thirty years after the fact.
His older brother was called James. He followed James everywhere. While visiting his grandparents, he followed James outside, down the brick sidewalk, and across the street. James hopped up on a wall and sat, but he couldn’t get up to join him. James helped him up and together they sat. James teasingly pretended to hop down and run. But, his little brother didn’t pretend and ran out in front of a speeding taxi-cab. He can still feel the impact, and then waking up in the hospital, the whole right side of his body broken.
He had to crawl now to get around, and needed assistance while his body healed. His mom would feed him as he sat in a high chair. She burned his tongue with a hot spoon feeding him chicken soup. He still has a scar on the tip of his tongue.
He fell off the couch, convulsing, not breathing, hitting his head on the basement floor. When he woke, the world was pink. His parents would wrap him up inside a blanket like fruit in a paper bag whenever this happened. This time, he was on the way to the hospital. He woke again inside an oxygen tent. The doctors didn’t seem happy when they found poop shoved in to the ventilator.
He liked his playpen. He liked that his legs could fit through the bars, and his toes could just reach the ground; mobility and independence. When it got warmer, his mother would place him in the wheeled playpen and take him outside. He was able to commandeer the playpen off the front porch, down 3 stairs, down the driveway, and off down the street before his mother caught up to him. It was exhilarating.
He followed two older girls walking their dog. The shape made by the girls rear-ends inside tight blue jeans created distinct lines that made two flowing waves as they walked; a hypnotic pattern. The shape, movement, and color held great interest for him. As he reached out to touch the flowing waves, the dog, a standard poodle, had other plans. In the blink of an eye, the poodle bit him in the face, nearly taking his eye. There was blood everywhere.
He was standing in the kitchen because he heard a noise coming from the basement. His father ran up the steps yelling; “Get in the tub!” Moments later, sirens. From the bathroom window, he could see fire engines. They parked in front of the house, the flashing lights reflecting back off the bathroom mirror lit up the small room. The bathroom door was opened by one of the firemen that were now inside his house. The house was on fire. A faulty outlet in the basement.
The new home in Bowie was twice as big as the Carrollton house. He’d just seen it, and the room he would be sharing with his brother. It was a big deal that he got to sit in the front seat of the new Pontiac Tempest. In the back seat, his brother and sister fought while mom sped everyone back to the Carrollton house to finish packing. A drunk driver made sure that process would not go smoothly by running through a stop sign. The Pontiac Tempest versus a Ford Galaxie. Seat belts and car seats were not mandated at this time. People can, and did, get hurt.
By summer, the family had settled in to the Bowie house. Even their dog, Bee-Gee had adjusted without incident. But sometimes, it’s hard to see small dogs at night, and that is how Bee-Gee got run over by a car. She didn’t make it, and the car got away.
School started in September; kindergarten. He was five and a half now.
Many of my artist friends tell me: When engaged in the process of art making, before, during, and after, in addition to producing a piece of art, one outcome is catharsis. Art is expression, and expression is catharsis. The artist may have multiple reasons for producing a work; a commission, an exhibition, an assignment, or just for fun … those are just some of those reasons. But, I think no matter the reason, catharsis will always exist as a natural complement to art and creative expression. Art is healing.
I was fortunate to be part of a group invited to a personal showing of Beyond Beautiful: One Thousand Love Letters, by Peter Bruun, and Maryland Art Place. Before I attempt to describe anything – please go and see this exhibit! It really is beyond beautiful, on so many levels. Rarely, do we get to be a part of something that is deeply intimate, yet shared universally. We take that stuff for granted.
As the artist spoke, he described the many ways in which transformation occurred during his process, and the role he had to play as caretaker of other people’s confessions while managing his own. Meanwhile, my synesthesia response has visually manifested the form of the incidental doctor – I feel as though I am witnessing in a kind of doctor-patient privilege relationship. Now, I feel I am ethically and morally bound/obligated not to share the intimate details; you must experience this for yourself and decide.
Here is what I will share. Each work has a textual component, a letter, and a visual component, a drawing – and there are hundreds of them. They are all uniform shape and size, grouped by theme, with the inclusion of some stand-alone sections that serve as introduction and emphasis. This is helpful in and of itself for basic cognitive recognition and storage purposes, at least for me. There are four themes being presented at this space (MAP): “Forever Family,” “Cupid’s Arrow,” “Wild Horses,” and “Love Thy Self.” The other half of the show is being exhibited in another space. But it doesn’t mean you will leave this exhibition feeling unfulfilled. There is a kind of irony that in today’s world where people’s privacy is ever encroached upon for reasons other than positive, here, we are invited to examine snapshots of this privacy.
Once I acclimated to the space, my visual perception became layered so thickly with color, shape, sound, vibration, wave forms of moving energies and moving pictures; this, on top of all the works exhibited.
The drawings that accompanied each work’s textual component came to life for me; elegant and simple, capturing a moment that encapsulates the very spirit for which it was intended. The work was so alive, so many souls talking. The drawings are all in response to letters received by the artist. Letters intended for sympathy, empathy, condolences, support, and love, addressed to the artist after losing his daughter, and how things change, and how circumstance changes things.
The writings; the pieces that drew me in visually were the ones I read. The ones I read related so deeply to the point, I could not read anymore. I simply understood. I have experienced loss under circumstances that our world readily defines as sad, tragic, pitiful, preventable – drug overdose. But, people do make their own choices. And, we are left seeking some kind of understanding. In this context; the hardness of addiction – I can’t synthesize what it means for you. But, I can say this: One thing all humans share, and have a stake in, is love. Love helps fill up the holes left by loved ones, family, and friends who made a choice that ripples forever.
I am including the direct link to Peter Bruun’s exhibition website detailing everything about the work.
When I go to an artist exhibition, I go there to ‘feel’. Exhibitions are different in terms of how I feel when compared to going to a museum. I still ‘feel’ when visiting a museum; it’s like seeing old friends. But, an exhibition is like meeting someone new, a blind date. I am always thinking; “will I hit it off with this new body of work?” Or, will I feel unable to communicate in some way. My emotions know the answer. So, I filet them open and lay them out in front of me, like some kind of food – because it is nourishment, after all.
Let me tell you how I felt walking in to Ruppert’s exhibition: I wanted to interact with the works, desperately so. The Vine(s); I wanted to climb on them, or wander in them, touch them and feel their texture. I thanked them for the life they gave to be there in context, and, cursed them for the life they live because vines like that are essentially vampires, sucking the life out of anything they come in contact with. I wanted to physically embrace the stone boulder and lay on it like I do when I am out in nature, its cast-metal twin could certainly tag along – one never knows the value of earthquake detection until the big one hits. To not be able to manipulate the magnet shavings was agony. It made me wonder about other planets and if they might have oceans of magnet shavings like that. I had (to resist) the urge to crawl all over the thick black iron wedge slices, they seemed like big hunks of some kind of black cheese, for a hungry giant to eat. The tall, thin narrow slice of what looked like a cross section of something from an unknown part of the earth, or a horrible splinter removed from the Earth and displayed like a medical oddity.
All of these works, for me, they were really beautiful to behold. This is how the exhibition made me ‘feel’. I didn’t go there to read. However, I did read the available literature detailing the artist’s influences and methods later when I got home. I am not going to paraphrase or summarize any of it, but I will offer a response. Regarding Ruppert’s influences; I can certainly sympathize with the extreme fascination of ‘slices of time, exposed, showing erosion and decay’. I am not really sure ‘time’ is the correct term, although time is relative. So, maybe the term ‘time’ is true and false simultaneously, like Ruppert’s expressions of the in-between paradoxes.
Please, go and see this exhibition before it closes. You may leave feeling a sense of renewal, or casually observe that you do have an appreciation for life.
This everyday thing has been available to purchase only for about eighty years, but there has been a need since the dawn of humanity. In fact, there were many versions and alternative uses before the available versions being used today. And today, it is a matter of preference as well as need, and accessibility; unless you advertise it, nobody will even know you are using this thing.
The early incarnations and uses for this thing is just lined with diversity. The research is padded with all kinds of interesting bits, and, leave it to the Japanese to correctly identify the precise need and use, and stick with it. But, that was long ago before strip malls, convenience stores, and gas stations began to absorb the great American landscape, stringing us along on the great adventure.
Also, throughout its existence this thing has provided much needed relief, saved countless lives, and probably prevented countless other lives from even occurring. Just the name of this thing has been known to stop a man in his tracks and freeze his heart cold which demonstrates the power of everything surrounding this thing. Half of humanity created a stigma surrounding this thing because of ignorance, and misunderstanding. Laws were passed, and legislation continues to this day surrounding where, when, and how this thing is used. Moreover, one can scarcely imagine a world without this thing, or the thing that would have to replace it. Also, this thing can kill you if it is used irresponsibly.
Not mentioning offshoots and variants on the theme, today this thing is still relatively the same as it was when it got snatched up, legally, in the early part of the 20th century and transformed in to what it is today; cylindrical, and made mostly of natural materials with a variety of discreet lengths and ranges for specific need. The competition to produce the best overall thing is fierce; competitors are out for blood! Moreover, a significant detail about this thing, since its first recorded application the use of a similar material has been its main component. So, it may not be the number one rated thing but believe me when I say that it is right up there, period.
I love graphic novels. They have always been a big part of my life from as early as I can remember; from simple comics produced by Marvel and DC, and EC comics. Underground comics like Zap Comix, created by geniuses Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Harvey Kurtzman, Spain Rodriguez, Robert Williams, and S. Clay Wilson. Groundbreaking efforts from Metal Hurlant and Heavy Metal with artists named Enki Bilal, Richard Corben, Jean Giraud aka Moebius, Liberatore’, and Milo Manara just to name a fraction. These are the examples of my art heroes, my art mentors, my guides in helping to understand different points of view not entertained or expanded upon by other media sources for whatever reasons regarding topics that profoundly impact society and individuals from all walks of life.
Two topics in particular that have had an enormous impact on humanity are eloquently conveyed in graphic novel form; The Jewish Holocaust as portrayed in Maus, by Art Spiegelman, and the Islamist Fundamentalist takeover of Iran as portrayed in Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Ethnic cleansing is not an easy subject to stomach let alone teach without some trepidation. Most media sources gloss over much detail in exchange for visual/emotional sound bites, be they inert and innocuous, or shocking and incomprehensible; either way it seems agenda supersedes teachable moments. That said, the graphic novel, like Maus and Persepolis, seem to be a most excellent form of teaching and conveying information that otherwise might get lost in a world where 30 second sensationalism is pervasive and truth is an afterthought, and other forms of media miss the mark in involving people, and invoking change.
I write this without hesitation and with full confidence for many reasons. The first reason being that graphic novels offer something much more than just data; textbooks lack personality and often lose the interest of the reader. Moreover, graphic novels stand apart from television and other books in that they invite the reader to become a part of the story whereas television although closely related doesn’t quite invite deeper cognitive experiences the way a graphic novel does. The standard printed novel and book convey an abundance of detail when it comes to storytelling but are lacking when it comes to inviting the reader to implement closure as frequently or deep as the graphic novel. But this is not to say that novels don’t invite closure, rather I feel the cognitive connections are different. Another reason I think the graphic novel is a better method is due to the inclusion of highly personal artwork. Textbooks typically use generic illustrations, data charts, and sometimes photographs to support information. Rarely does a standard novel use any form of artwork other than the cover, but this aspect is extremely vital in that many people will choose a book based on that artwork; it helps to complete the sale in the mind for both author and reader.
Another thing about graphic novels is that they seem to be something like a living document; a record of creative expression and unique perspective. Actual documentaries like films, picture books, music, and visual art are quite different than the graphic novel but can be just as successful at dealing with complex issues, but the graphic novel seems best suited for this purpose. The impetus for this particular assertion originates from my experiences and desire to engage in higher learning techniques like transcendental meditation, visualization and affirmation, and learning as play, just to name a few. It is as if a graphic novel is being played in the mind; a transparency overlay embedded in the visual cortex, or something.
When comparing the graphic novels Maus and Persepolis as they relate to concepts found in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics one doesn’t have to look too far as both Maus and Persepolis convey all of the concepts covered by McCloud.
To begin, Maus and Persepolis follow the concept of six steps; idea/purpose, form, idiom, structure, craft, and surface. In fact, both graphic novels start out with an integrated preface/intro by each author who states their idea/purpose quite plainly. In Maus, Spiegelman begins the book with a flashback to 1958 highlighting an incident of his childhood where he was the recipient of uncompassionate behavior (Spiegelman 5, 6). It becomes clear in the next few pages that the author wants to move forward with his book, and is urged by his Father and stepmother to complete his book (Spiegelman 11-13). In Persepolis, a young Marjane was motivated by her experiences and reveals her contemplations with God which seem to be the impetus behind her idea/purpose, helping her to understand what is happening to her country, the people, and the future of both; she wanted to be a Prophet, and in a way she is (Satrapi 3-9). Whether these authors know it or not the six steps add up to what amounts as a living document of truly significant historical events. I understand that each author may have intended something completely different and that their idea stage in no way relates to my point of view, but I feel that the beginning of each book, including Understanding Comics, clearly states an intent, or idea.
Moving forward, in terms of graphic style, line use, symbolism and use of iconography, archetypal utilization, closure, timing, and flow, both graphic novels utilize these concepts with plenty of differences but each work stands alone quite strongly, and, both works relate.
First, let’s look at graphic style. Maus is very masculine and rife with background details whereas Persepolis is more feminine and delicate with minimal background detail yet still conveys as much power and strength through the use of black. The graphic style of Maus is reminiscent of works by artist Robert Crumb and the underground comic art of the 1960’s; each drawing utilizes a type of hatching and shakiness adding life to each page. The graphic style of Persepolis has the boldness and smooth intimate delicacy of art nouveau yet is rendered completely in solid black and white, and like Maus, adds life to each page.
With graphic style comes the use of line. The use of line in Maus has great movement and energy, and, is very heavy handed for all characters and subject matter while background details are penned with a bit finer line and executed with consistency throughout the whole book. The use of line in Persepolis is consistent throughout but is flowing, smooth, and more refined, and, with lots of negative space used as white outlining when all solid black is being used. Each graphic novel uses line in a way that lends support to the intense subject matter and who it is written by and for. If the line use styles were switched I don’t know if the graphic novels would be as successful in being effective teaching tools.
Next comparison is the flow of the panels and how each story progresses. Both graphic novels follow a fairly conventional flow of panels for storytelling, and this is just fine. Each book could have easily integrated some really wild placement of panels because each story has such intensity but simplicity always trumps sensationalism. This simplistic convention really helps to move each story forward with ease as opposed to using other forms to emphasize climactic moments; this simple flow really showcases the merit and strength of each story.
The use of time is really wonderful in both graphic novels, and both utilize time quite differently. In Maus, time jumps back and forth as the story unfolds, it is seamless and expected because Maus is being narrated by the author’s father Vladek, in present day while taking us back in time so we may experience what he experienced. In Persepolis, time progresses naturally as Marjane grows from chapter to chapter. There are also flashback time jumps inserted to accommodate the stories of other characters, but Marjane narrates and tells her story much like Vladek; it is as if the story is taking place while we are reading it as opposed to a mere re-telling. This use of timeline really helps to connect emotions to the subject matter and provides even greater context for closure.
Regarding closure, both graphic novels utilize this concept quite effectively. We really don’t need to see violence and gore when we can imagine it beyond any comprehension. Using lots and lots of artwork specific to these graphic novels to show violence just wouldn’t work, but it does work in how it is minimally conveyed, and, when showing the aftermath of such events; our mind can easily fill in the blanks. Moreover, closure is attained not just between the frames but during the frames as well because of what is being said; we are invited to imagine everything as each story unfolds just through storytelling.
The final comparisons have to deal with symbolism, iconography, and archetypical utilization, and both graphic novels display many of these elements throughout each work respectively. Maus begins with its cover art, the perversion of an ancient iconic symbol that originally represented transcendence through the cycle of life in many cultures long before Hitler’s derangement and perversion in to a hated icon. The cover art of Persepolis harkens more archetypical imagery blended with symbolism indicative of Middle Eastern culture; the inclusion of a sad girl adorned in a veil conveys a new symbolism when paired with the stylized motifs. In fact, Persepolis conveys much more symbolism throughout compared to Maus. Moreover, Persepolis blends its symbolism together with archetypes to create new symbols, icons, and identifiers in juxtaposition to tradition. Furthermore, the use of repetition in Persepolis really enhances the underlying messages in this respect (Satrapi 5, 11, 18, 28, 40, 89, 95, and 103). Maus relies upon archetypical utilization by portraying Mice as Jews and Cats and Nazis. This convention makes the symbolism much stronger, especially when iconography is paired with imagery in some of the panels, particularly the chapter title pages (Spiegelman 9, 25, 41, 71, 95, and 129).
I have read Maus dozens of times since its first release in Raw Magazine but this is my first reading of Persepolis. Admittedly, I always passed it by for some reason or another when selecting graphic novels for purchase; I am thankful that I now have a copy to hand down to my son when he gets older. Both stories are living documents and deserve much more attention.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994. Print.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003. Print.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. 1. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.
Well, to tell you the truth, I sit here feeling just a wee bit melancholy. Not gloomy, rather, a small amount of pensive sadness which leads me to reflect upon a moment in which I am compelled to measure a pervasive lust and desire for pancakes.
The moment of which I speak came about in a small town in Florida known as De Leon Springs. De Leon Springs has the distinction of acquiring its namesake from the legend of “Ponce De Leon and the Fountain of Youth”.
As history goes, Native Americans visited and used these springs as early as 6,000 years ago. In the early 1800s, settlers built sugar and cotton plantations that were sacked by Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War. By the 1880s the springs had become a winter resort, and tourists were promised “a fountain of youth impregnated with a deliciously healthy combination of soda and sulphur.”
I was in De Leon Springs back 1996 visiting my Father, whom I hadn’t seen in a long, long time. I was in Florida by way of New Orleans; it was my first time experiencing Mardi-Gras, and I recommend being there during Mardi-Gras at least once in a lifetime – along with experiencing Las Vegas, watching any Top Fuel Quarter Mile Dragster Race, swimming with a dolphin, or paragliding. Sorry to drift off topic but pancakes will do that to you.
In De Leon Springs, the State Park to be exact, there is this little place affectionately known as the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant. Now here’s the thing, at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant, guests can make their own pancakes right at the table.
I am not just talking some kind of packaged powder pancake to feed a modest stream of tourists, oh no! I’m talking about a thick, smooth, home-made batter. A pancake batter that transcends time and space to bring you back to the mornings sitting at your Grandmother’s porcelain topped kitchen table, shining ever so brightly under the diamond etched, opaque, banded, round milk glass light fixture that emits an ever so soft hum while the whole ceiling seems to vibrate from the fluorescent bulb … It’s that kind of pancake batter.
In their own words;
“Each of our tables are equipped with a griddle and we bring you pitchers of homemade pancake batters (both a stone ground mixture of five different flours and an unbleached white) and you pour them on and flip them over right at the table. You may order blueberries, bananas, peanut butter, pecans, chocolate chips, apples or apple sauce to create whatever sort of pancakes you choose. We have sausage, bacon, ham, eggs, homemade breads and an assortment of other treats to accompany your pancakes”. http://www.planetdeland.com/sugarmill/sugarpage2.htm
So, today as I write this, I am sad I couldn’t get pancakes, but I’m happy I did eat here once. I drove from Annapolis, Maryland in a Toyota Tercel nonstop to New Orleans; down through the valley spine of the Appalachians in a torrential downpour all through the night and in to the early morning hours; through the red dust of an Alabama dawn where the median was scarred repeatedly with the checkerboard patterns of tire tracks which were undoubtedly horrible car crashes; then on through Mississippi to New Orleans for a 3 day visit. I departed New Orleans, again in the middle of the night.
I drove through the coastal towns not yet ravaged by hurricanes many years off and no way for me to know about it in advance and warn them. But then again, people choose to live where they want to sometimes, and sometimes life chooses for them.
I drove through the Florida Panhandle in the wee hours of the morning. The now accursed Tercel, which made my legs go numb after so many hours of subjecting myself to factory seating, was running on fumes and it was one of those moments when you find yourself praying out loud “come on little car I love you I know you can make it don’t run out of gas now”.
Well, I didn’t run out of gas, and I didn’t beat the car with a hammer or a tree limb either. I made it to my destination, Deland FL, although I wasn’t sure of the time; perhaps sometime around noon.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I experienced what my Dad had talked about the whole night; pancakes at the Sugar Mill. It was fantastic, or course. Everything one dreams as the prefect pancake, and pancake experience; ambiance has a lot to do with it. But, I couldn’t help think about some of the other places I have eaten, especially over the past few days in New Orleans. I had eaten so much food, things I never knew was food!
Decades before, I had been on a family trip to Florida. We ate at a place in St. Augustine that sits out on a pier, a restaurant that markets itself as “Feed the Fish While You Dine”. It was such a metaphor. The huge, fat, overfed ocean catfish that probably spend their entire life living around the piers of that restaurant, never meeting other fish to hang out with and go fishing, or something, and, the sea birds that circle the place and snatch food right outta your hand before you can even toss it to the fish in the water; greedy opportunistic bastards.
But, Florida being so full of attractions, I had expected no less by way of pancakes, I was skeptical, at first. After all, Florida was/is a kind of marketing experiment, given all those glamorous billboards advertising fairy princess castles in the middle of a swamp …
Well the point is this; Best pancakes I’ve ever had. And, if you have a story about a favorite food and the journey you undertook to create the synchronicity between your taste buds and some kind of harmony with the universe, then the world needs to hear about it. It may be about the tastiest Blintz, or finest slice of pie, or perhaps even the best fish fry from somewhere in upstate New York. Let’s hear of it.
I remember when I was a young child (late 1960’s & early 1970’s), and my Mother insisted on sending me to catechism school on Saturday mornings. I did not like this for a number of reasons, one of which being I would miss out on the fabulous cartoons being aired on television. Back then, television was a bit more innocent, and the choices for wasting time through televised entertainment were slim to none but momentous nonetheless. Unlike today, where ten thousand channels show nothing but crap. Oh sure there are educational programs, but I’m not going to pay any amount of money to receive pointless broadcasts along with educational materials that should be given for free. The infectious disease that is television is a whole different monster altogether and not really part of this little story.
With regard to being sent to catechism school, and attending church, Catholic Church, I felt early on that it was nothing more than a sham, a tool of control, a means to persuade individuals into a certain belief system that was fundamentally opposed to attaining spiritual freedom – It just didn’t feel right!. So, I skipped pretty much all those classes and hid out in the tract of woods at the end of our street where I grew up. Being close to nature was my church, and I spent my time observing all I could in that environment.
Now going to church on Sunday was another chore in and of itself. And, I would have to be extremely inventive with my reasons for not going. Nothing was sacred in terms of an excuse – from stomach aches to smallpox, and bee stings to snake bites. I utilized all my skills to avoid sitting in a huge, sterile room with some guy uttering nonsensical, deeply ominous babble. Whenever I did end up going, I just wanted it to end. So, I amused myself observing and admiring the Stations of the Cross sculpture reliefs hanging on the wall. I would pretend to know all the words in the hymnals by humming loudly while mouthing out words; I lip-synced. Sometimes I would fart, and since the church pews, no pun intended, were made of wood the sound would resonate, and the pew would vibrate. Many are guilty of this.
One thing my Mother was successful in was getting me to attend classes that prepared me to receive my first Holy Communion and Confession. I remember that quite well, and to this day for the life of me can’t find any relevance to the natural spiritual grounding within my being, other than the practice of affirmation of belief. We practiced with corn flakes and tea or cherry soda for hours, weekend after weekend, listening to the instructions on what to say, and when to say it, how far to stick out our tongues, to crunch and chew or not to crunch and chew – all of the things that were deemed appropriate in receiving the Eucharist, seriously. We were told that the very last thing we would want to happen is to slip up in our little ceremony and commit a mortal sin right there in front of the whole Catholic Church. Indeed, if we said the wrong line at the wrong time or whatever, we would be committing a sin. Yeah, no pressure there.
Needless to say, the ceremony went off without a hitch. Everyone said a proper Amen, and instead of cherry soda the chalice was filled with grape juice (not sacrament wine). When it was all over the adults herded all the kids outside in their little white robes and satin sashes for a group photo. It was hot; the kids were miserable, sweating, and ready to go home. The one thing that really stood out for me as the most endearing part of the whole ceremony was that the priest presiding over the ceremony looked exactly like Jonathan Winters; I kept waiting for him to do some shtick, like the ones I had seen the real Jonathan Winters do on Laugh-In. This guy was like a stand-up priest, not part of the regular rotation of rectory fathers.
The second part of this ceremony was first Confession. No kidding, you had to be there to experience the hypocrisy first hand, because I’m sure I won’t eloquently convey to you just how ridiculous it really was. I was totally prepared though with a long list of lies and general bad behavior I had committed, quite ready to spill my guts to the priest when my turn came to be ushered into the dark confessional booth. For weeks I was told how my mortal soul would be tormented in hell, or worse, limbo and purgatory if I didn’t come clean with the truth regarding all my sins to date. I feared being secluded in some dark confessional chamber booth with some old man whose face was all wrinkled and contorted. I never knew exactly what went down once a child was sequestered behind the wooden paneled door of a closet sized box without windows, and, was it sound-proof? I always saw people going in, but never coming out. Maybe I just never noticed that part? The group of kids I was with all sat in the church pews waiting for our turn, but I was surprised to see each child being led not into the confessional booth, but into a different door altogether. My fear doubled upon seeing this.
My stomach was in knots as I sat waiting. I just wanted it to be over with, as I sat there thinking of the items on my list and which things I would omit; I would lie in order to guarantee my salvation. This is what they taught me! And, when my turn came, I was led through a door, down a hall, and to my surprise I was led into a regular classroom, told to sit in a chair, and wait. It was one of those older, polished plywood school chairs. And, there were at least 30 of those chairs piled up like a mountain in the corner of the room. There were other chairs arranged in a messy half-circle, and a few desks. I sat down. After a minute or two, the priest came in, pulled up one of the chairs and sat down directly across from me. It was a different priest, not the stand-up priest from before. This priest was older, pale white, and shiny from sweating. I started to reach into my pocket for the list of lies I had prepared for this occasion, but before I could even get them out of my pocket the priest said a few words, and then pronounced that all my mortal sins were absolved. Then I was told to leave. Just like that. No Hail Mary’s or whatever else I had imagined I had to do to be cleansed of the black spots on my mortal soul. Indeed, I had envisioned my soul as one big black circle, especially because of all the previous smack-talk I had heard from the nuns, the priests, my Brother and Sister, and my family. I said nothing as I left, and nothing more did I speak concerning this matter of confession. I felt duped and relieved at the same time, but I still did not understand why I had to compile a list of transgressions against an omniscient being. I had spent days and days making that list, adding to it, all the time becoming more and more afraid.
So, what does all this mean? This is what I experienced. Moreover, was my innate spirit informing me that all this ceremony and performance was completely unnecessary, and that the whole religion thing was not real? At the time, it seemed they all just made it up. I will freely admit, I was fascinated by the stories being told of the magical Jesus who defied the odds and cheated death; disappearing after three days, leaving a warning that one day his return would be imminent, and judgment would be dealt out like grades at school, or cards in a high-stakes poker game.
Now that I am an adult, little has changed in how I perceive religion, dogma, the ceremony, and the circumstances surrounding all of it. Indeed, many stories have surfaced as of late detailing sexual abuses in the Catholic Church, and as I make attempts not to judge, I can’t help but feel so very unclean to have had any association with this hypocrisy. What seems worse is how the mainstream religions around the planet continually vie for top honors; who has the best God, and who will offer the best deals in salvation and redemption? This kind of seems like a giant pissing contest. But, I am no different than anyone else on the planet, right? I need salvation and redemption, right? Yet, I made the choice to reject all notions of resting my faith upon the shoulders of an invention just so I can pass blame on to some construct when I sin.
So then, what is faith? Faith is that which is believed as truth and fact, but can never be proven by any means, like the scientific method, for example. Heck, it seems anyone can claim to have had some sort of revelation, visitation, or communication with God these days, and then invent some dogmatic structure of morality to dress it up, like fancy ribbons on a birthday present. With all of this mass confusion, it would make sense that a messiah, prophet, or divine holy person would exert their will and manifest as living proof for all people to see. But, this is not the case. It is all a matter of faith. Religions have existed for some very specific purposes, constructed and invented by humans to answer many of life’s unexplained or unanswered questions, like: Why are we here? What happens when we die? How shall I live my life? And so on. Only you can answer those questions, and that’s your responsibility and not some construct’s burden.
If you need religion in your life to give you balance or a sense of purpose, community, belonging? Then, yes! By all means. Regardless of what construct or method gets you there; regular re-affirmation of that which gives you meaning in your life is essential for survival.