Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ronald Reagan would be proud

That's the title of a video I made for YouTube.

"I have six part-time jobs and no health insurance, and that makes me a real American hero, in the kind of America that Ronald Regan dreamed about. No Pension! No Paid Vacation! None of that Democratic sissy stuff."

"No, and I am grateful to the wealthy people, the top one percent, for making my working life possible, because it is their wealth, trickling down from above, that sustains me."

"What if I get sick? Well, I don't go running to the doctor. No, No. I'm tough. I just rub on a little of grandma's lotion, then I take a shot of whiskey and sweat it out."

"Isn't it wonderful living in Ronald Reagan's America?"

Well, it's kind of funny, I hope. And relevant, because the Congress will now decide, in its painfully difficult process, whether to keep or repeal the Bush (son of Reagan) tax cuts --those tax cuts to the wealthy who can take that untaxed money and spend it to hire us little people and create thousands of jobs.

If they spend it. But they don't have to spend it, being wealthy, and they don't have to spend it in America. They can take their pre-tax dollars and invest in textile manufacturing in Thailand -- no jobs for us.

So I favor the repeal of these tax cuts for our high-income friends. Better they should pay taxes rather than you and I. The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution permits progressive taxation. It's a good thing.

Fishtown Blues. I've almost recovered from the Fishtown Art Show Disaster The pronounced euphoria this show produced among so many people is a matter of profound shock to me. The experience has been deeply isolating, because I think the show isn't half what it could be, and I look at the other people who loved it and I think -- we're not from the same planet, are we?

But I will try just the same. Kathleen (speaking to Kathleen Moles who curated the show), Kathleen, you tried and you made a great effort and I truly appreciate that. It's not a bomb. It's not a failure. It's even worse -- it's that thing that's close to being good, but not really good. And every artist and writer I know has had that experience.

You write something or you paint something and it's good, but there's a nagging feeling, there's some little something wrong and you can't quite put your finger on it. You step back and you realize that it's almost good. That's the key word, "almost."

And comes now the hardest part for an artist -- when it's almost good, you THROW IT OUT. You crumble it up and toss it in the wastebasket.

So the Fishtown art show is almost good. The right thing to do is to scrap it. Take it down and start all over again. Get it right. This is how we get to the truth, by accepting our mistakes as part of the learning process.

Am I wasting my words? Once the concrete sets on a museum show, it can never change. We are doomed to this inviolate display until October, when the show formally comes down. But I'm saying something worthwhile here. This initial euphoria from the show's opening will be wearing off. It's like the honeymoon rush, but the tired days of August will bring a truer appreciation of this show -- the beauty will have faded.

Don't let that happen. Fix the show now, before the beauty fades.

Back to the Video. Frog Hospital readers have indulged me -- bellyaching for three consecutive issues about the Fishtown art show, and most of you don't live around here so it doesn't matter, and everyone else who has seen the show thinks I'm wrong.

So, let's go back to the Ronald Reagan video. It's really good. I have been making great progress in this new medium. Learning to speak -- mumbling a few of the lines, but that's all right. Getting the light right -- I shot this one in partial shade in the park in Anacortes. Practicing my lines -- what I said I spoke out loud two times before I turned the camera on. Keeping a good pace to it, with changes in intensity -- now light-hearted, now strong and serious, some expressive hand movement and body language. There's a strong ego present -- I love the camera and the camera loves me.

But there's a really scary part to this video -- I'm kidding, right? But am I really kidding?

Three Dreams. I am working my six part-time jobs with three dreams to guide me.

1.A little dream -- to go whalewatching. Forty years in Puget Sound and I've never seen a whale. It's time. I'm going this week.

2. A medium dream -- a kayak trip with my daughter, paddling around the islands someplace, camping under the stars. My daughter Eva is my favorite camping buddy.

3. A large dream -- I leave the Skagit Valley in October, when the weather is still good, so the parting is sweet, but a little sad. I go south for the winter, to southern California, where the roses are still blooming in January. I stay south until winter is over.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Turkish Woman Who Lived in Fishtown

I'm trying ...... trying to appreciate the Museum of Northwest Art (MONA) in LaConner, but I fear the judgment of small minds in small towns. The way the small mind works is this -- since I wrote a critical comment about the Fishtown Art Show, currently at MONA, I am henceforth and forever branded as an enemy of the museum. That is far from the case, but it is the kind of talk that goes around a small town.

In fact, I am on the best of terms with Kathleen Moles, the curator of the show, and with many of the artists whose works appear in the show.

I had a long conversation over dinner with a museum staffer, and she warmly understands me as a supporter of the arts, of museums in general, and of our NW museum in particular.

In that conversation we compared MONA to internationally recognized places such as the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, and the de Menil Museum in Houston, those being two of my favorites.

I want MONA to be that good, which is a very demanding standard. Should we settle for less? No, we should not settle for less. Making allowances for the size and scope of our regional effort, we should be as good as the best.

Having cleared that up, I viewed the Fishtown art show again today. It made inexpressibly sad, and this is entirely a projection of my own miserable state of mind. I saw failure and lost chances where others see a soft beauty..... I viewed Ralph Aeschlimann's paintings but I wanted -- needed -- to see see his beautiful, hand-built flying kites. I remembered long ago seeing my two small children chase Ralph and his kites across a field of grass. We were prescient kite runners then, and it all seems lost now.

Gull? Where is Gull, the Turkish woman? Why is she not included in the Fishtown Art Show? She was extravagant beyond measure. She was the original terrorist from the Middle East. Even barefooted, she wore spiked heels. And she lived on the river, someone's wife, not a poet or artist, but making meals, tending the fire, minding the children. And she left no trace of art? Are you kidding? She was an awesome anti-Zen Buddhist, a non-Sufi miracle of contempt for boring people.

Gull was never boring. She was alive and that scared the hell out of people.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Everybody Liked the Fishtown Art Show Except Me

Everybody liked the Fishtown Art Show at the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner. We had the Opening Day this Saturday and the museum was packed with happy people, looking at walls dense with art and minutiae from days gone by, of poetry and late-night sake parties, stories of Fishtown back in the day ....

Everybody liked the show except me. I'm sorry to be the designated heavy in this picture, but I was not swept away. I thought the show was nostalgic and sentimental. A little too sweet, like a cherry pie made with too much sugar -- it needs a little tartness.

I felt very emotional viewing these old familiar pieces -- like Bo Miller's Chevy Mandala. But I didn't trust the emotion.

It was like a high school reunion or "Old-Fashioned Hippie Days" at a theme park.

Charliev Krafft had a great time. He was one of the featured artists, and I liked seeing his earlier paintings, back when he was making beautiful paintings. His current art is quite a bit different. You can see it at the Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison. You can see the connection between the past and the present in Charlie's art.

But the connection was missing in the show over all. It was musty-dusty, moldy-oldy stuff dug out of attics and crumbling shoe boxes. Memories.

I don't have much use for memories unless they connect to where we are going today.

Where are we going? I don't know and I got no sense of direction from the Fishtown show -- just an old path down a road that used to be.

I love the past and the history of our lives -- when it serves, when it's real, and when it gives strength.

But I didn't get that from the current show. There was something missing. The show was all about the beginning of Fishtown and not one piece about the end of Fishtown.

So let me have an opinion -- the end of it matters, the end matters as much as the beginning. The end was about drama and conflict and an almost violent destruction of the cabins so sweetly depicted in the show.

The beginning was stillness and quiet, the end was a theatrical crescendo.

Some young artists came out to Fishtown in the late Sixties to escape the turmoil sweeping the land -- the demonstrations and riots and raging war in Viet Nam.

They left the city to connect with a larger presence. They cultivated quiet and nurtured simplicity.

But the conflict which they escaped came back with a vengeance in 1988. The conflict was real and genuine, over the logging of the woods behind Fishtown, and a radical challenge to property rights that the Fishtown residents launched, in order to stop the logging.

It's a long story, but the protest and resistance was as much a work of art and a work of beauty as any ink-stained sumi poem composed by candlelight.

It's too bad they left that part out of the show -- that essential bit of truth, and that's why I didn't like it.

That Photo of Richard Gilkey. See a video version of this Fishtown art show rant at my Facebook page, LaConner Views.

I wanted to see the photo of Richard Gilkey, a great artist, a native son, an ex-Marine, being led away in handcuffs by the Skagit County sheriff's deputies in January, 1988. He was arrested, among many people arrested, because he stood on the ground, on the property of the Chamberlain Family, and blocked the logging trucks.

Gilkey and the others made a radical challenge to the dominance of the old farm families. This rebellion of artists-without-property had to be crushed. And it was crushed.

So the story of Fishtown ends in a tragedy, and the old farm families won.

But did they really win? The farmers themselves are threatened today and asking for help to preserve their way of life. Isn't it time they realized that the Fishtown artists were their true friends?

But no, the conflict remains unresolved. I was involved in the Fishtown Woods Massacre of 1988 and I am still persona non grata on that hallowed ground.

Charlie Krafft went out there last week -- tried to go out there but he was shown the door. Get lost!

Maggie Wilder still has access. She lives in Steve Herold's old place. Steve stayed out of the conflict in 1988, perhaps wisely, and his cabin was spared the vengeance of destruction.

We just need to add that one photo of Richard Gilkey to the Fishtown Art Show. To make it real. To make it whole. Otherwise it doesn't matter. Otherwise, it's just an old story about some old men and what they did when they're hearts were young and gay.

Campground Meditation. I have been tent camping these past few days at the campground in Washington Park in Anacortes.

This morning I went for a walk and left my package of Fig Newtons on the picnic table.

Dumb and dumber. You know what happened. "Caw, caw, caw," the crows were laughing in the trees when I came back from my walk. They ate every one of my cookies.

Rascals! This is serious. They're not getting any more of my snacks. The food is in a box with a lid and a frying on top of the lid.

Just try, Mr. Crow, just try. Caw-caw yourself. Find some other fool.

Subscriptions and Signed Copies of the Book. It used to be that you sent in $25 and did not get much more than my appreciation, but now you get a signed copy of the Frog Hospital book.

This book is a treasure that will still be worth reading ten years from now.

Send a check for $25 to Fred Owens, Box 1292, LaConner, WA 98257. Or go to the Frog Hospital blog and pay with PayPal.

Thank you,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Fourth of July Manifesto

What is this thing about Harvard? Elena Kagan was the Dean of the Harvard Law School -- that makes her no smarter than a dozen people I know who read this newsletter.

There's is nothing special about Harvard. It's a fraud, an institution encrusted with prestige and the aura of power. They really know how to work the hype, but it's not an especially good school.

President Obama seems to fall for this kind of thing, as if they were the anointed ones -- those attending Harvard Law School and Yale Law School.

Isn't there a law school in Wisconsin? There are probably one or two really good law schools in the Badger State, whose graduates have become distinguished attorneys and judges, whose politics align well enough with our Democratic President -- why not pick one of them, instead of Elena Kagan with the Harvard mystique, who will probably serve on the high bench with decent distinction, meanwhile fueling the anti-elitist fury of the Tea Party.

It would be better if the nominee came from Wisconsin. Cheeseheads vote, you know.

I was in Cambridge for a few years in the 1990s -- they're a real bunch of snobs at Harvard. Thinking about this wakes up an old anger in me. They can teach, but they can't learn. They can talk, but they can't listen. They can give directions, but they can't join the team.

President Obama isn't that smart either -- he should listen to me more often, and less often to those tired saints on the Charles River.

Tea Party Demographics. I'm an old white man making far less money than I thought I would. The Tea Party people are recruiting me big time. I mean, I fit the demographic and I'm angry enough. I understand what's making them work. I have coffee with them several times a week.

We tell jokes. I said yesterday, talking to a scurrilous, foul-mouthed Cajun, "Is that what they mean by the right to bear arms? Like if you can pick it up, then it's legal."

He said, "That's right. If you can bear it, you can own it."

I said, "You can't pick up a tank, so you can't own one."

"Yeah," he said. "That's right."

"But machine guns are all right," I said.

"Sure," he said.

"What about one of those blow guns that they use in the Amazon that blow poisonous darts? What if you owned one of those blow guns and had some darts dipped in Anthrax powder, would that be legal?"

That puzzled the old Cajun, but we were interrupted by the cook bringing out some strawberry shortcake for us to taste.

I like the Tea party people. They're not stupid, except for Joe, who brags about how he never reads books. Actually Joe isn't stupid, he lives pretty well, and he knows how to do a lot of things that I can't do.

But the old Cajun is surprisingly well-read and well-informed. He's pretty sharp, and sharp-tongued too.

Those Tea Party People -- they're honest, God-fearing, hard-working people, but I'm not, I'm a Democrat.

Hard work? Are you kidding? Not for me. I wake up in the morning and use the brain God gave me and the education my parents paid for, and I start to think, "How can I make the most money with the least amount of effort?"

Taxes? Don't tax me, tax the rich. When I get rich, I'll pay a lot of taxes and complain about it while I'm riding on my yacht. Some day I'm going to be so rich that I'll hire a lawyer just to shine my shoes.

But in the meantime I think we ought to extend unemployment benefits until the true rate of unemployment gets down to under five percent. And I strongly support increased deficit spending by the federal government -- Prime the Pump, just like FDR did in the 1930s. It worked then, and it will work now.

Let's build a few more highways and dams. Let's have the government hire all the laid off construction workers and have them retro-fit every old house in America to be more energy efficient.

That is what I favor, so I guess I won't be joining the Tea Party, even though they are my kind of people.

Instead I am following a narrow path between the extremes of fundamentalism and the terrors of feminism.

I run to the Tea Party people because I am fleeing the Language Police on the left -- you know, the ones who chopped off "fisherman" and made it to be "fisher." Oh, that hurts my ears.

And then they took "Founding Fathers" and shrunk it down to "Founders." Horrible language.

I am a foe of inclusive language. I am an opponent of the gender-free vision.

But I support substantive feminist ideas, like government-subsidized day care, which could be a great help to working parents of either sex ….. just …. don’t …. correct …. my speech.

It is a narrow path, because I can't stand Fox News either. I wouldn't listen to Glenn Beck for a hundred dollars.

I attack the Right, and I irritate the Left.

It is a narrow path, but it is the way to freedom, and there I will go.

Living in Season. I get a newsletter from Waverly Fitzgerald. It's called Living in Season -- all about catching the natural rhythm of things as times passes -- days pass, weeks and months pass, the season changes, we age, the river of time flows on. But she says it much better than I can say it.

Waverly inspires me and many other writers. It isn't so much what she says, but it's the generosity of her spirit.

If you get discouraged as a writer, then you can read what Waverly wrote and she makes the effort worthwhile and you keep writing.

Being Transparent About Money. Here's what I think about money -- if I act like myself, no one wants to pay me. If I act normal, then they pay me a little bit, but it's hardly worth it.

Mainly the money dragon flies overhead and craps on my parade. I can't ever fix it.

The good thing is that I get Social Security at $551 each month, so I should always have enough money for rent. And, in my experience, if you have the rent money in hand, you can figure out the rest.

Like this week. My checking account shows $858 on hand. I pay $400 to rent a room and that includes utilities. I gave my housemate $155 on top of that for groceries, and that leaves $303.

My other bills are the car insurance at $65, and the cell phone at $50.

Oh, don’t forget health insurance -- zero, don’t have it, planning to stay healthy for one more year until I get Medicare at 65.

Do NOT mutter something about the joys of simplicity. I am neither complaining nor bragging, I am just stating what it is.

So I have the $188 left over. But wait, there's more. I have a check for $150 which I earned from Katy's Inn -- doing their gardening, and then a check for $50 which I earned as a freelance journalist.

It's really piling up now -- more than $388 on hand -- the bills are paid and I’m rich!

I could get a tuneup for my old Toyota -- long overdue. OR, I could drive down to Eugene, Oregon and visit my friends who just bought a small farm.

That would be a working vacation -- go down there and help them with the chores. It wouldn't cost me, except for the gas money to get there, and they can use the help.

I spend a lot of time in libraries, parks, and at church. I'm not religious, but I go to church because it's free, same with the library and the park.

On July 10, I expect a LARGE check of $450 for some freelance writing at the farming newspaper.

Some days I dream about owning property again, like having my own place. I would go out in the yard and pee on the bushes -- my bushes. It's a dream like out of a John Steinbeck novel. "Lennie, can we have rabbits at our place? And can we grow some carrots, and can I feed the carrots to the rabbits? I wouldn't ever forget to feed them."

How did I end up in a John Steinbeck novel? I don't know.

Previous acts of financial insanity have resulted in the squandering of money I inherited from a share in the family business -- resulting in the loss of my home and property in 2004.

That's when I bought the Toyota with the money I had left and began to roam the country.

It doesn't make any sense to me at all. I'm not asking for any understanding here. I just know that I have been ashamed of my penury, and I'm tired of feeling that way. I'm tired of the judgment I've been getting from other people. It's my money and my life.

If anybody writes back to me and says I should be grateful for what I have, their name will be removed from the mailing list -- unless they are a paid subscriber.

If anybody writes back to me with some friendly advice about how I can do better, I don't want to hear it.

This is my Fourth of July message, and my Declaration of Independence. Don't tread on me. I'm all right, Jack.

Us All One. This Fourth of July, it’s not me, it’s us. E pluribus unum meaning one from many, from diverse sources we forge a unity and harmony of sweet voices raised in songs of praise for our wonderful home and country.

Read a story about me and my book in the Wilson County News .
-- Fred Owens

cell: 360-739-0214

send mail to:

Fred Owens
Box 1292
LaConner WA 98257