Shuttered Spaces

Painting by Philip Froman

The painting above has no title. My father completed this when he was in his eighties, after taking up a brush for the first time in his seventies. He was a genial man, my father, with torrents of unrealized dreams dammed up inside him. If you look closely, and listen, you can almost hear those dreams crash against the cliffs. Although I should have, I never thought to catalog his work. What I do know is that two of his paintings stood out among the dozens he produced: the one above, and an idyllic lake scene, a complete antithesis to it. Both represent the man he was.

***

For months I’ve found myself in an odd place—trying to sustain the appearance of writing, while not having any interest in writing. Other than the words on this blog, and the occasional letters to family and friends, I’ve produced nothing.

I can’t blame the virus, as tempting as it is. The ideas, and desire to shape them, started drying up long before COVID-19. It just took months of solitude to accept, and make peace with it.

***

Recently, a composer friend, who never heard any of my music, suggested I should start composing again—tentatively, gently, as though he understood he was directing me to a room I’d shuttered and forgotten. I stopped composing after graduate school, for many of the same reasons I don’t write now.

It was an unlikely suggestion, from an unlikely source.

But sometimes, the unlikeliest suggestions, from the unlikeliest sources, resonate in the deepest recesses, in the most organic ways.

Once, I followed a similar unlikely suggestion, from an unlikely source, because it felt right, and it led to love.

This feels the same.

***

I have no idea what will spring from my shuttered space. But, if the only music that comes from it is as indicative of who I am, as my father’s paintings were of who he was, then I’ll be happy.

***

I imagine this blog will undergo some changes before 2021. Information about books will remain, as will all the old posts. But, the focus will shift, as I reintroduce myself to my roots, and, to you.

***

In the meanwhile, I wish you safety, good health, abundant strength, joy, and love in the coming holiday season…

…and, of course, the New Year. I’ll see you then.

©2020 All Rights Reserved

Are we?

Photo by Stephen L. Syverud

Whenever I hear someone assert, “We are better than this,” I wonder.

As much as I want to believe that people are basically good at heart, I’ve seen too many act out of self-interest, rather than a common good, succumb to the reassurance of herd mentality, rather than strike out against it, follow unethical orders, rather than defy them. There are always exceptions, but often, not enough. It feels as though people will defend their behavior, no matter how inconsiderate, corrupt, or simply petty, if they feel it’s in their best interests to do so.

It’s easy to blame one person for causing the assorted manifestations of ugliness that emerge from self interest, but to do so ignores what has been both our greatest strength and fatal flaw since humans walked upright, perhaps even before: the instinct for self-preservation. This instinct can drive people to excel, create masterpieces, eradicate diseases; but it can also drive them to oppress, amass power at others’ expense, take pleasure in, or blame people for their pain and misfortune. The ugly side of self-preservation, indeed, survival, existed long before the current administration, and will continue long after it is gone….

***

So, are we better than our primitive survival instincts?

The current expressions of ugliness on both sides of the ideological spectrum would lead me to believe we’re not.

And yet, there are the thousands of people who put themselves in harms way every day to provide necessary services to those at risk, or work under the most physically grueling and emotionally wrenching conditions to care for those who are ill, or dying….

And there are the simplest expressions of selflessness that say, “I care….”

***

When my mother-in-law died, the distribution of many of her treasures fell to my sister-in-law and me. One by one, we went through them, with my sister-in-law choosing which pieces she wanted, and the two of us offering the rest to our children. Because I wanted the process to be as amicable and stress-free as possible, I refrained from asking for anything. After almost an hour had passed, and we’d gone through a substantial number of possessions, I held up a plate that was one of my mother-in-law’s favorites, and asked my sister-in-law if she wanted it. She took the plate in her hands and eyed it lovingly, remembering, I’m certain, as I did, all the homemade cookies and sweets that were served on it, then looked at me, a bit wistfully, and said, “Don’t you want anything?”

I said, “She was your mother, their grandmother. Her things should go to you and them.”

She sighed, and set the plate in front of me. “You take it. I want you to have it.”

***

So, are we better?

On most days, I’m doubtful. And then I think of all those selfless souls who shop for, and tend to, and care for us, with not nearly enough recognition and appreciation for their heroism, or enough patience to do what’s needed to make their jobs, their lives easier. And I think of that day so many years ago, in view of another loss, and the gift that was given so generously, with so much love, and I think, maybe, maybe, we can be….

***

Rest in peace, sweet sister. Rest in peace.

Photo by B. Froman

©2020 All Rights Reserved

Blood Money

By now you’re aware of the revelations made in Bob Woodward’s new book, Rage, based on 18 interviews with Donald Trump, and have probably heard the most damning excerpts from those interviews regarding COVID-19.

That Trump knew how deadly the virus was, and chose to lie about it, claim the virus would magically “disappear,” and that young people were “immune” to it, or that it was the Democrat’s new “hoax,” even as disease spread was filling hospitals to capacity and claiming lives, shouldn’t be a surprise. Anyone who can proudly boast about being able “…kill someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it,” or molest women with impunity, or call Nazis “…very fine people,” or cage children, among other acts too corrupt, depraved, and numerous to cite here, is showing an ethical emptiness that is bottomless. A person like that is capable of anything.

Trump had an obligation to warn the public about COVID-19, and be as clear as he could about those measures the public needed to take to contain it, as soon as he knew. He further had an obligation to test everyone, particularly when he learned that it was possible for asymptomatic carriers to spread the disease. And, he had an obligation to do whatever was necessary to protect healthcare and essential workers, and first responders with the equipment they needed. But he didn’t…

…and here we are, coming up on 200,000 dead, and over 6,000,000 people infected.

Is he to blame for these numbers? Yes. As the tapes demonstrate, he knew in early February, but lied to the public, and then continued to lie as he learned more.

There’s no circle of Hell low enough for him, for the deaths and misery he’s caused.

But then there’s Bob Woodward, who is still an Associate Editor at the Washington Post, and his decision to withhold vital information that could have saved lives.

It takes a colossal ego and staggering degree of greed to choose the allure of book sales over the public’s health and well-being, not just on the part of its author, but the queue of people who had their hands on this material prior to publication, and who never thought to say, “Shouldn’t the public know?”

And it takes a Trumpian moral bankruptcy to shirk one’s responsibility as a journalist, and withhold life-saving information from the public, simply because it furthers his ambitions.

I’m old enough to remember Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting that exposed Nixon’s crimes. And perhaps Woodward was also remembering it—the rush of glory and fame that came with ending a Presidential career, and was desperate to relive it by ending another. But there is a crucial distinction between that time and now. COVID-19 is not the Watergate break-in. People are dying, or facing a lifetime of debilitating medical conditions. With Trump intent on deceiving the public about the truth, Woodward, as a journalist, had a duty to report it.

What an irony that Woodward’s employer bears the subtitle, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

Democracy is not all that dies in darkness. Donald Trump may have flicked off the switch illuminating COVID-19 for the American public, but Bob Woodward stood there, and watched him flick it, and did nothing.

©2020 All Rights Reserved