Paintings · Poems


Enough of self-reliance. Today I begin  a short section on memory. It’s short because memory mystifies me. Plainly it has a physical component, like everything else about us. We can get knocked on the head and “lose” our memory. But we can also be unable to remember things when there is nothing wrong with us physically. And sometimes we remember vividly putting the car keys where, in fact, we did not put them. 

Memory, a painting by Herbert Knapp


We think our memories, once put away,
will stay the same, 
so when we take them out to be exchanged 
and find that they have not,
we feel betrayed—

It is as if our stash of cash
had turned to trash.
We want to smash
and weep.

But memories are never ours to keep
They vanish like the stars at dawn
but even when forgotten are not gone.
They’ve shaped the kind of future that we seek.

I feel the same way Fanny Price does in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Fanny says: “The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—at others, so bewildered and so weak—and at other again, so tyrannic, so beyond control!—we are to be sure a miracle in every way but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out.”



This poem mocks both the scientists who think their intelligence entitles them to do as they please, and the barbarians who think their guns entitle them to do the same. Neither of them recognize their limitations, but as Dirty Harry Callahan (in Magnum Force, 1973) observed, “A man has got to know his limitations.”


Dear Diary: Today it all begins—
the Age of Self-Reliance!
No more taboos! Mankind is free 
(“Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free”)—
to do whatever in the name of Science!

Friends of mine are planning to create
babies a la mode
by altering their genetic code.

Others say when they’ve combined
enough computers they will have a mind
far better than our natural kind.

Still others plan to move to Mars—
and live forever, harvesting
replacement parts from infants grown in jars.

Me? I’m going to make myself into
a superhero with a mask and cape
who instantly can change his . . Whoa, what’s this?

Good grief! Some men with guns have come in here. 
They’re saying we will do
what they decide we should. It’s clear
that reasoning with them won’t do much good.
I can’t believe how dumb they are.

Above is Paul Manship’s sculpture Prometheus Unbound. He is delivering fire to humanity as he presides over the skaters at Rockefeller Center. The subtitle of Mary Shelly’s book about the mad scientist, Frankenstein, is The Modern Prometheus. 



Birds, bees, termites, ants, and molds
taken singly are brainless things,
but when they come together with their kind,
they act as if directed by a mind.
We, however, lose our minds in crowds,
grow drunkenly ambitious, start to build
stairways to the stars, or try to kill
our neighbors, pillage stores, set fire to cars.
Solitude is no solution though.
A mountain man’s a crowd of one,
who follows his uncontradicted will, 
as mindless as an ant without a hill.
Our minds are fragile, easily destroyed
by noise or silence, griefs or celebrations.
For minds to flourish, they must be employed
regularly in rambling conversations.

Below iis a conversation between men called “The Long Story” by William Sidney Mount.

And here is a painting of a conversation between two women called “Conversation” by the twentieth century painter Milton Avery.

Thomas Traherne: “The world is best enjoyed and most immediately while we converse blessed and wisely with men.”

Jonathan Edwards: “The being of society, as such, is conversation.”

Michael Oakeshott:Learning to be human is learning to participate in the conversation of mankind.” 




If you’re so free, why do you always choose
the chocolate and refuse the broccoli?
Oh, sure, but you’re not free if you can be
provoked into refuting me. 

You’re free to do whatever you think best
but not to eat in restaurants undressed,
or free to score by running third to first,
or free to think what you think best is worst.

Below is a close up of part of a painting by Wayne Thiebaud called “Three Donuts.” He isn’t unknown or unappreciated, but I think he should be better known and more highly valued. The “serious” art crowd (dressed in black) gets uneasy around painting like Thiebaud’s. His pastries and ice cream sundaes are not camp funny or sarcastic funny, just enjoyably funny. How can they take pictures like that seriously when Gretchen tells us the world is going to end tomorrow? ( I couldn’t find a painting of broccoli.)

And just to help you start you week off right, here are some of Thiebaud’s ice-cream cones.

“I like the worthy folk who will talk to you of the exercise of free will, ‘at any rate for practical purposes.’ Free is it? For practical purposes! Bosh!”—Joseph Conrad

NOTE: Aids to Reflection is on sale at Amazon in both Kindle (2.99) and Print (3.99) format. Only a few of the illustrations in this blog version are included in the Kindle and Print formats.


Looking Backward

Why Making A Decision Is Like Taking a Photograph
A choice is like a photograph.
When it’s developed we can see
what we were like when it was taken,
and be indifferent, pleased, or, sometimes, shaken.

This photo from pinterest illustrates the way we dressed in 1948, the year I graduated from high school. Skirts got even longer when I was in college. Note the saddle shoes and bobbysox. Also the boy’s turned up cuffs. Actually, most boys turned them up a little farther to show they had on white socks. Some of the decisions I made at that time seem as strange today as the costumes.

NOTE: Aids to Reflection is on sale at Amazon in both Kindle (2.99) and Print (3.99) format. Only a few of the illustrations in this blog version are included in the Kindle and Print formats.


Out of the Blue


A poem about needing each other

“I don’t know what to do,” he cries,
demands an answer from the skies,
hears nothing and declares, “There’s no one there!”
But if we got instructions from the air,
we’d do what we were told. We’d have no choice.
We’d be machines, free only to rejoice.
We’re free to choose because we can’t be sure
what we should do and must depend upon
each other to amend or to ignore
our choices, like those players whose
floor sense keeps them all aware of where
each other is, are constantly in motion,
setting up, and coming to
each other’s rescue—yes, out of the blue! 

* * * * *

I wanted a picture of a basketball player to illustrate this poem—one that would show a teammate coming to the rescue of a player trying to guard a good dribbler. That would fit the poem, but I couldn’t find what I wanted. Then I came across this painting, Charge of the Buffalo Soldiers by Frank C. McCarthy and decided that the sight of them charging “out of the blue” went with the poem better than a basketball game.

NOTE: Aids to Reflection is on sale at Amazon in both Kindle (2.99) and Print (3.99) format. Only a few of the illustrations in this blog version are included in the Kindle and Print formats.


Self Reliance


Imagine you are suddenly self reliant
without a husband, child, or wife,
a telephone, a cat, a client. 
What happens to the story of your life?
And what becomes of you without a story?
Interview yourself. Your story’s you!
The self-reliant live on inventory.
When it’s used up then they are, too.

Robinson Crusoe is the most famous example of self-reliance in Western literature. But he wasn’t completely self-reliant. He survived on inventory—tools from the wreckage of his ship and ideas he remembered from his life in civilization. Fortunately, he was rescued before he went bonkers, which he would have done if he lived alone long enough. When a man lives in self-reliant isolation, he loses track of his language and his story. And without his story, there is nothing to him—nothing coherent. Below is a painting by Paul Klee that to me represents what happens to a man who loses his story. He comes apart. 

The painting is called “Contemplation.” Below is Klee’s self-portrait.

NOTE: Aids to Reflection is on sale at Amazon in both Kindle (2.99) and Print (3.99) format. Only a few of the illustrations in this blog version are included in the Kindle and Print formats.