Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Tempest

I heard a story recently, one which you may have already heard yourself. It goes like this: a farmer one day strolled out onto his land to survey the day's chores when he suddenly heard his donkey bellowing out in pain. He looked and looked but couldn't find his faithful companion anywhere. As he circled his acres, the cries started to get louder and the farmer could hear rustling. It was an odd sort of rustling too. Not like hooves against dirt and leaves, but hooves scratching against a wall. That's when it dawned on him. He rushed over to his well and sure enough, his poor donkey was stuck inside. He tried his best to let his donkey know he would be right back to help, and then tore back to the barn to retrieve some rope.

After many hours and attempts to loft the beast from the cylindrical trap, the farmer's heart sank. His sad donkey was getting more and more exhausted, and he just wasn't able to muster the strength to get him out of the well. It seemed as if all hope was lost. In defeat, the farmer decided the best thing to do would be to put the donkey out of his misery. The well was already dry and unnecessarily uncovered, so he figured, in haste, the wisest decision would be to fill it with dirt burying his faithful donkey inside. Each scoop broke his heart a bit more, but the tired, frustrated farmer just didn't know what else to do.

Oddly enough--as you can imagine--his plan backfired but in a good way. As the dirt cascaded downward toward the donkey, he mustered what little energy he had left to shake it off his face and shoulders. The farmer, none the wiser, kept shoveling dirt into the well, and with each pour, the donkey shook it off. As more and more dirt piled up underneath the donkey, he was able to slowly work his way up to the edge. After a dozen or so shovels later, the donkey was finally able to hoist himself out. Neither the farmer nor the donkey knew this day would end up the way that it did. The poor creature was likely just minding his own business when the world disappeared above him. Likewise, the farmer probably anticipated a normal day of duties around the farm only to find himself faced with a failed rescue and the tough decision to do away with one of his pets.

The Tempest, by Giorgione (c. 1477-1510), is an oil-on-canvas, Renaissance painting that has baffled art experts for centuries. It depicts the lush and beautiful setting of the region in and around Venice, Italy, specifically and potentially Padua based on the barely visible symbol of the city on the building slightly obscured by the bush adjacent to the right side of the bridge. According to experts, the male on the left was identified as a Venetian soldier and shepherd, but historians later argued that he was likely just a shepherd given his tradition and contemporary Venetian garb. The woman on the right has been determined to be a gypsy. Regardless of historical facts, this painting, in its time, was a leap forward in how other artists created works. Prior to its creation, religious depictions and half-prints were the popular styles of the day, so when Giorgione revealed this piece, it left many scratching their heads.

Over the years, several individuals have argued back and forth as to its meaning. Some have said there is no explanation for it, while others have suggested it may be a depiction of Adam and Eve after being removed from Eden. All you and I can do is just look at it, marvel at the structure, paint strokes, dark shadows, and detailed beauty. Which is what I did until I stopped letting me eyes do the decision making, and I let my heart speak. What I saw was life. I saw robust life on display both in the two humans--the male and female clearly being well-fed, healthy, and in particular, the female nursing new life--as well as the lush foliage and trees surrounding them. The city also exudes life with it's classic Italian structure, ornate decorations, and obvious lack of poverty. Finally, the distant sky reveals vivid life with the churning storm and crack of lightning shooting down from the clouds. Then, it hit me. Giorgione may not have had this intention when he created it, but I felt it was a metaphor for how life is precious and can quickly come crashing down upon us all in the blink of an eye.

The first clue for me was in the title. The Tempest implies--at least to me--that the storm that's brewing in the background is going to be pretty strong and dangerous. Also, the two people in the foreground are clearly in an area where flash flooding could easily overwhelm them both. They are casually living out life, but know not of the impending doom that may be heading their way momentarily. Given these thoughts, I then began to ponder about how life is fragile and about how trouble comes for most of us when we least expect it. It gave me a sense of appreciating the life I have because I could lose it all tomorrow.

When I heard the story of the farmer, I immediately thought of this piece. While the tall tale is likely not true at all, it did provide an example of two creatures who felt like the end was near. Two creatures who had lives to live, suddenly found themselves faced with peril they never expected. And just when both thought it was all over, that doom would overtake them both, they each survived their troubling ordeals and lived on to see another day. How quickly many of us can throw in the towel when it seems life is at its worst. But if we all stop to think about past experiences where we were sure doom would be our fate, how refreshing it is to realize now that we're still here and capable of recalling the terrifying circumstances which have long passed. It's not always over when we think it's over. I'd like to think Giorgione was expressing the same thing when he painted this masterpiece.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Laocoön and His Sons

My friend Joe is one of those guys who has a heart of gold while being driven by a deep desire to help others. Sometimes, Joe's eagerness can get the best of him, but throughout every situation and circumstance, he keeps a smile on his face and laughs off any opposition. Why? Because he's driven by a passion that few others have: bettering the lives of others over his own. His selflessness is refreshing, and the more time I spend hanging out with Joe, the more I admire his zeal and energy. It's hard not to like a guy like Joe.

A couple of weeks ago, Joe had swung by my place to help me carry a couple of old couches I was going to throw out to the curb. I have been struggling with some nerve damage in my back so I needed a helping hand, and he was quick to offer it. Upon arriving at my home, though, Joe realized that my old couches weren't that bad, and that his dad needed an upgrade from what he current had. So, one quick phone call later, we were loading the couch and love seat into his truck. When we started loading, I noticed he had a lot of other stuff including some really large rubber mats that weighed a lot and were sticking out a bit over his tailgate. They were so bulky, in fact, that his off-road truck tires were nearly skimming the inside of the wheel wells. I asked him what they were for, and being a physical trainer, he said they were for his growing gym, of course.

I prefaced this story with a quick bit about Joe's personality because I wanted to set the stage for this: Joe finds good in nearly everything he encounters. Whether it's a person down on their luck or some grungy old rubber mats, Joe's heart and mind immediately aim for the positive. What looked like junk to me, Joe saw as a potential benefit for his growing list of clients. No longer would his clients have to exercise in his gym on a concrete floor. No, Joe saw some dirty old mats and decided with a little TLC, his gym would soon be a more comfortable and safe place to exercise.

Once we finished loading up the couches for Joe's dad, he strapped everything down and was on his way. A little later in the day, I receive a couple of text messages from him. First, he exclaimed that the couches were delivered and implied that his dad was very happy. Next, though, Joe said that the several hundred pounds of rubber mats were strewn all over the freeway. He lost them going over a bump in one fell swoop. What surprised me, though, was how humorous he was about the whole ordeal, and better yet, how excited he was for his dad's latest furniture upgrade. Joe's the man! Needless to say, he returned to the scene on the freeway and loaded the mats back up into his truck. Poor guy . . . they really were horrendously heavy.

Flash forward to today: Joe came by my place again to pick up my old chair and ottoman to take back to his new home. Despite it being a matching piece to the couch and love seat, he loved it too much and thought it was so comfortable, he wanted it for his place. (Hey, we all deserve a good nap once in a while.) So, he and I chatted a bit, loaded up the chair and ottoman, and he was on his way yet again. We even joked about the déjà vu of it all. And wouldn't you know it, not 15 minutes later, I got a call from Joe. At about 60 miles-an-hour on the highway, the chair flipped out of the back of his truck, flew up about 10 feet into the air flipping end-over-end, bounced off the freeway tarmac, flipped some more, bounced and flipped and bounced and flipped until it came to a stop on the shoulder. Cars broke hard to avoid a collision and poor old Joe, he was beyond embarrassed. When I called him back and spoke to him on the phone, though, he was his normal, high-spirited self! The incident didn't sway him much and we both laughed at the frequency at which things seem to fly out of the back of his 4x4. Good guy Joe, though, no matter how disappointed he was at losing the chair, he was still buzzing with energy and happiness. And that's why I like him so much.

Laocoön and His Sons, attributed to Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus (dates unknown), is a roughly 2000 year old Hellenistic baroque marble sculpture of Laocoön, a Trojan priest, and his two sons, Antiphantes and Thymbraeus, being attacked by sea serpents. It was excavated in Rome in 1506. According to folklore and history, there is some disagreement as to why this piece was created. Some believe it depicts Laocoön, who was a priest of Poseidon, and his two boys being punished for attempting to expose the truth behind the Trojan Horse (according to Virgil's Aeneid). Others believe Laocoön was a priest of Apollo and this was his punishment for not remaining celibate (according to Sophocles). Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), an Italian author and playwright, is quote as saying, "The two serpents, in attacking the three figures, produce the most striking semblances of fear, suffering and death. The youth embraced in the coils is fearful; the old man struck by the fangs is in torment; the child who has received the poison, dies."

Regardless of which tale you may believe, the piece has long since been seen as a symbol of human agony. This is mainly because of the expressions on the faces of the three men. Fear, anguish, and desperation are all present as the three wrestle and contort their bodies into unnatural positions in order to stay alive. Much the same, every single human being alive today wrestles with agony in some fashion, be it mental or physical. As the centuries have rolled on, this action-packed piece has been iconic in exemplifying human tragedy.

The reason I brought up Joe at the start of this entry was because despite the odds, despite the frustration, despite his pickup's penchant for spitting items onto the highway, he doesn't let life get him down. No matter the agony, fear, anguish, or desperation, Joe keeps his head up high and his eyes on what's more important. Sure, we all have our moments where we wrestle with horrible circumstances or situations, and of course, it goes without saying that they are inevitable, but my friend Joe helps me to remember that it's just stuff; stuff in the here-and-now that will soon pass. Joe helps me to remember that hurdles come and go, but if I'm focused on what's more important like the well-being of others, I can get through it okay. It might be painful for a time, but I serve no one else other than myself if I stay mired in my pain, frustration, anger, or any other negative feeling. Joe reminds me that nothing in this world goes with me when I die, and so with that as the foundation, I too can overcome challenges with a smile on my face. No, it won't be easy--despite Joe making it seem very easy--but I have to say, at least I have someone helping me to be a better person. Even if he doesn't realize it.

Or maybe he does.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Our Banner in the Sky

The events of these past few weeks have been festering in my mind. Hurricanes, major forest fires, massive earthquakes . . . our planet seems to be groaning in the midst of moral and political turmoil, and the only thing I can think of is human life. Color means nothing, religious beliefs mean nothing, location is irrelevant; what matters most are lives. I don't pen this blog as a means by which to be preachy, or to wave an imaginary and morally superior finger at you. I am writing this because when tragedy strikes, it's good to regain perspective and to remember the important things in our world, which have been clouded in recent months by too many other things far less important than being able to live and breathe. While acts of nature can be horrific and devastating, they are also opportunities to do what we humans do best: pull together.

A week ago, a friend of mine brought up something important that I hadn't thought of deeply enough. He said that it seems like, in this digital age with news streaming at us at light speed and at our fingertips all day long, we, as a society, have become numb to tragedy. It's as if we have access to an "emotion epidural", he called it, which many have injected into themselves in order to avoid having to comprehend the level of pain and devastation that has occurred. Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and the latest tally says at least 70 people have died from of it. I'll risk ridicule to step up and state I'm sure most in many other parts of the United States and the world just kind of thought of this as, well, eh, that's pretty awful, and then moved on. But then my friend asked, what if those 70 people died on your block? What if, among the 70 was--heaven forbid--a friend or family member? Suddenly, that 70 takes on a whole other meaning and would likely scar you for life.

The 70 lives lost during Hurricane Harvey were each connect to many, many others. I dare even try to quantify the numbers, but I'm pretty sure we're in the thousands of other lives who are left heart broken, questioning life and meaning, and will never be the same. That might not be you or me, but it's still fact. And the numbers of deaths don't stop there. Irma has hit the Caribbean and is moving through Florida right this minute, there was an 8.1 magnitude earthquake just off the Mexican southwest coast, there are dozens of massive wild fires going on in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana; all of these current tragedies are leaving bodies in their wakes. The sad part is, for those lost, there is nothing else we can do. They're gone. But those who have had their lives upended and are fortunate enough to be alive, can certainly use help beyond a few social media posts saying your thoughts and prayers are with them. Ultimately and in humanity, there is still hope.

Our Banner in the Sky, by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), is an oil-on-paper painting symbolically showing the Union flag in the sky seemingly attached to a destroyed tree as the flagpole. Church painted this in 1861 and in response to the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter which started the Civil War.

Church was a patriot and someone who expressed his hope in painting. (Some of his other works are quite marvelous to behold so I recommend checking them out when you can.) Fort Sumter was constructed after the Revolutionary War to help protect the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina. The men who guarded it had no idea the Confederate Army would attack them, nor did they know they'd be caught up in the beginnings of a very bloody war that still resonates today.

I love this piece because of what it symbolizes. Even in the midst of a terrible civil war, Church was able to show hope through his work. It's one thing to be at war with another nation, but the complexities of and emotional roller-coaster that must take place in the hearts and minds of those caught up in a civil war must be much, much worse. Church, however, saw through it all and clung to his belief that hope would prevail.

By no means am I trying to demean what's happening in our world today. My heart breaks for those who have lost loved ones, had their lives destroyed, and are suffering right now to pick up the pieces. The level of hopelessness must be overwhelming and it's resonating inside me. But I also know that good is coming. Good is happening right now! Hope is very much alive as millions of dollars are being donated, others are risking their lives to help save people and animals in need, and truckloads of donated goods and supplies are making their way to the victims right this second. Why? Because others who have the means are seeing past the tragedy and doing what they can to help their fellow human beings in need. It makes for an interesting two-fold expression of hope: that there is hope to begin with, and that the acts of caring, selfless people are hope in action.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Escaping Criticism

It's nice to be able to be who you are. To think freely. To feel freely. To form ideas and pursue goals how and when you choose. It's nice to not be fenced in; to be able to roam about life and this world as you so choose. And while this all may sound nice and fluffy but unrealistic, on some level it's both. All of us are born out of the union of a sperm and an egg. All of us are developed inside a womb. What happens after is completely out of our control. Some find themselves in a whole family. Others is a "progressive" family. Still others in a broken family or in no family at all. As childhood sets in, rules, discipline, guidance, or the lack there of along with circumstance and environment begin to shape who we become.

If you're one of the fortunate to live in a region where you have true freedom, and you were able to navigate your way out of childhood in one piece, you're now hopefully being exactly who you are. You're now going after exactly what you want in life. You're hopefully being you, and not what others might want you to be or going after the things they've forced upon you. Your steely-eyed determination leads you down paths in life you've either found or forged on your own. Your morally grounded heart is your compass, and your true passions in life are your fuel. Yes, you had some uncontrollable things happen when you were growing up that might have scarred or influenced you in some way, but those things aren't stopping your curiosity from being sated and your dreams becoming fulfilled.

Or are they? Too often, culture, society, what's "in", and many other influential messages and customs shape us. In a way, they put a frame around our lives. They limit our desires, dictate our reactions, and manipulate our emotions. Deception is all around us taking on many different forms. And what's worse, in recent years, that deception has become a force of its own. In past times, deception was an unspoken thing that sat off to the side in life like a forced boundary. People knew it was there sometimes referring to it as "the norm". Deep down, they were uneasy about how that norm limited them in some way, but since everyone else went along with it, they did too. Now, however, if you don't tow the same line as what others feel is "the norm", you get ridiculed, shamed, and even broken. You can no longer be different in the eyes of those who are different without paying some price. That's not freedom.

Escaping Criticism, by Pere Borrell del Caso (1835-1910), is an oil-on-canvas painting that was completed in 1874 in true trompe-l’oeil fashion. Trompe-l’oeil (literally meaning "deceive the eye") is an art technique that has been around for centuries where an artist attempts to create an optical illusion. In this case, a young boy in disheveled clothing braces to escape the very painting in which he was created. As he braces his foot and clutches the frame, his eyes are peeled wide and he gasps as he sees the "outside" world for the first time. Some historians believe that given del Caso's distaste for following what other experts in his field wanted to see in that day, this piece was his attempt to show them that their perspectives were robbing the world of its vitality.

The irony of Escaping Criticism is that the painting itself is deception. The story being told is that this painted boy no longer wants to remain inside the frame and is attempting to get out. The world, meanwhile, is being told by this painting to stop limiting and robbing others of their vitality. Round and round we may go, but it's still fascinating and does exactly what art is supposed to do: evoke a response. Thus, my initial pontification.

Back when we were all zygotes, our conditions for existence were exactly the same. Every single human being alive today came from the exact same beginnings as everyone else. We only ended up changing and becoming different as a result of where we existed outside the womb. If you undo all the layers of life and get to the root of life itself, you'll see we all share something very much in common. So why all the fuss now in bending ears in directions those ears may not want to go? Is it pride? Selfishness? Greed? I suppose that depends on the person. Either way, this painting is a wonderful example of living freely, breaking away from "the norm", and being who you really, truly are. You. Beautiful, unique, one-of-a-kind you. Just like everybody else.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sacrifice

A few years ago, I went down with the flu which eventually turned into pneumonia. I had a 103 degree fever, and for a couple of days, I barely ate, drank, or slept. It was bad. In fact, the body aches were so severe, I couldn't sleep laying down and had to sleep in an upright fetal-position on my couch. That, of course, didn't bode well with me being at that angle and in so much pain so I don't remember getting much rest during that time. By the third day, I knew I was in pretty bad shape and needed to get medical help. In my delirious state, though, I couldn't think of anyone to contact who wasn't either too far away, or would be burdened by my request for help. I know, I know, in a situation like that, it shouldn't matter, but that's just how my brain works.

So, mentally fried by the lack of water, food, and sleep, my only thought was to ask nicely on Facebook. Why not? Lots of people were using it then, and I figured someone who might see my post and volunteer to come get me would, therefore, be doing so willingly. I posted, and within minutes, a co-worker of mine said he was on his way and to text him my address. 20 minutes later, he arrived, picked me up, and drove me to urgent care. Since he needed to get back to work, he said to text him when I was done there, and he'd come get me and take me home. I checked in and sat down in the waiting room area across from the pharmacy. And then I passed out.

Hearing my name being called woke me up, and with some help, they laid me on a table inside. I passed out again. The next thing I remember was a doctor waking me up. He calmly looked me in the eye and told me that I was not doing well, and that since they were unsure of what was going on, I needed to go to the ER where they'd be able to run more tests. He then told me an ambulance was already on the way. I can remember looking out the back window seeing bridges go by and thinking, oh, I know that street. During the trip, I even managed to somehow contact my family to let them know I where I was headed. Later that evening, I was still in the ER with my brother by my side. From what I can remember, I had around 8 bags of saline solution pumped into me as well as 4 different liquid antibiotics. The doctors were still unsure of what was going on, and from what I could tell, they were extremely worried. Sometime in the middle of the night, they placed me in ICU under quarantine. There I stayed for three days and anyone who came to visit had to gear up head-to-toe in full protective wear.

When it was all said and done, and as I was preparing to go home, a specialist came in and sat down with me. He had a sizable stack of paper with him, and told me what all my tests and treatment had discovered: I had sepsis, and had I not gone to urgent care when I did, I might have had 2 or 3 hours left before I would have died. What he didn't tell me was how severe sepsis can be. After arriving back home, I looked it up and was shocked to find out that I had stage-3 sepsis which has a 50% mortality rate. The urgent care staff, the nurses, the many doctors, and especially my co-worker, Chadd, had all saved my life.

The Sacrifice, by Linda Saskia Menczel (1972-), is a contemporary bronze-on-bronze sculpture of Jesus depicting Him holding two walls apart while His body slowly melts into liquid. Strikingly, the look on Jesus' face is that of fatigue yet determination and purpose. Setting aside Menczel's intent, however, the symbolism is remarkable and beautiful. Here we see a man holding the world at bay creating a safe area while having his very essence drip away. It's okay, though, because his face says this is by choice, this is needed, and this is what must be done. It's called The Sacrifice for a reason, and while Menczel was likely referring to Christ's death on the cross and the religious ramifications of it, the work still exudes a vivid image of what sacrificing for others can mean for the person noble enough to do something.

There are risks in everything. Chadd risked being reprimanded, or worse, fired for leaving his desk to come pick me up. The urgent care and hospital staffs risked getting infected themselves by physically interacting with me while trying to keep me alive. Everyone's essence, in some fashion, dripped away but they all stepped up to help me willingly. Not one of them asked for recognition. They just did what they did and moved on. Actions that defined the very meaning of sacrifice; attitude and purpose that defined the very meaning of nobility. Did any of them receive a great reward? Doubtful, but each one of them now has a memory of doing something life-giving for someone else that will last them a lifetime. And each one has my eternal gratitude.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Starry Night

"These last three months do seem so strange to me. Sometimes moods of indescribable mental anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and the fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant." —Vincent van Gogh - an excerpt from a letter he penned to his brother, Theo, on March 29, 1889.

In late 1888, Vincent van Gogh began to experience moments of mania and violent aggression. His friend, Paul Gauguin--another brilliant artist--was staying with Van Gogh and said that even he noticed his strange and scary behavior. The exact details of what really happened aren't known for sure, but what is clear is Van Gogh was struggling with some inner-demons that manifested themselves in gruesome fashion. Yes, I'm referring to when he cut his ear off with a razor and had it delivered to a woman at a brothel he and Gauguin liked to frequent.

After being found unconscious by police the next morning, he was taken to a local hospital in Arles where he was treated. It was then that Van Gogh was diagnosed as experiencing "acute mania with generalised delirium". From there, the downward spiral began and eventually, Van Gogh checked himself into an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the birthplace of Nostradamus. His room faced the east and it is said that he was so inspired by the view, he churned out numerous paintings and drawings of it. This is one of those paintings.

The Starry Night, by Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890), is an oil on canvas, post-impressionist painting which was completed in 1889. It depicts the French town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where he resided as a patient at a local asylum. There he had a studio on the ground floor, and a bedroom on the second floor. Of the more than twenty-one paintings Van Gogh did from the asylum, this is one of the most famous and obviously one of the most well-known pieces in history. Since the scene with the cypress tree in the foreground and hill-line in the background has been verified to be of the view from his bedroom window, and he was not allowed to use paint in his bedroom, it is believed that he first sketched this piece using charcoal or ink on paper, and then later painted it in his studio. The brightest star just to the right of the tree is actually Venus which astronomers have verified was visible at that time in that region. What's not completely accurate, however, is view of the town (which was not visible from the asylum), and the waning crescent moon which was actually waning gibbous at that time. Experts feel he used previous drawings or paintings to add in the town, and gave an artistic interpretation of the moon.

Imperfections and speculation aside, what is powerful about this piece is the dancing, swirling colors and seeming serenity the painting gives off. There's a certain tranquility about it, and at first glance, one feels at peace and in awe of this giant universe. Looking deeper at the details, though, I get a clear sense of his madness. When I inspected an extremely high-resolution version of this piece, there was something about the dark lines and angles of the buildings that spoke to me. They seemed to portray Van Gogh's mania in the way he appears to have obsessed over the detail. What's even more frightening are two of the lit windows just below and to the right of the church. Though there are a handful of windows glowing from candlelight, those two in particular appear to have ghostly figures in them looking his direction - figures similar to Skrik. I don't take them to be a fluke, either, because in great detail, you can see how much he labored to get the brush strokes and coloring just right. I also contrast this detail with the fact that the window to the church is stark black indicating that no one is there.

Any form of mental disorder is no joke so I don't share these impressions lightly. Van Gogh is easily one of my most favorite artists of all time, and though I am not a fan of all of his pieces, this particular one was one of the first I learned about when I was a kid and my passion for art began to grow. To me, it's awe-inspiring, and it's also a metaphor for human life. On the surface and at quick glance, many seem okay and to be moving along in life in rhythmic harmony. Like the waves of color swirling in the night sky, we dance and sway through each day never letting on about what's really going on in the dark recesses of our minds. But when you examine things more closely, you begin to see the brokenness and fear. In a way, I think this is what makes this painting all the more beautiful because it isn't just about oil paints on a canvas, but an example of how all of us can be at one time or another. Am I stretching a bit here? Sure, you can say that. Am I accurate in my interpretation? Who knows? But that's how The Starry Night speaks to me and that's why art exists. It stirs our minds and imaginations. It speaks to us . . . and when it speaks to me, I really want to listen.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Dalí Atomicus

My best friend, Paul, and I were reminiscing the other night about life in our hometown of Redlands, CA, and what it was like being kids in the 70s and 80s. There weren't many days back then when you wouldn't find Paul and I hanging out, playing pretend, riding our bikes, climbing around on his treehouse, and coming up with silly adventures to feed our passions for imagination and fantasy. Some days, we'd get on our bikes, ride a few miles into town, go to the mall, play at the Flipper Flapper arcade, get Hot Dog on a Stick, and then bike all the way back to his house where we'd play games on his Apple IIe, order pizza, and watch our favorite movies his family had recorded on their old Betamax machine.

We fancied ourselves as living in a perpetual adventure not unlike the kids in Stand By Me. Even when we'd travel on our bikes, we'd still play pretend, shoot imaginary guns at each other, act like we were eluding bad guys, or just jump off ramped driveway edges acting like BMX pros. And our passion for this life-within-a-life never stopped. In the late 80s and on into the 90s, we continued and we were wonderfully equipped by technology. When we weren't playing games on Nintendo or Atari, we were running around in Castle Wolfenstein, unceasingly clicking on peons in Orcs & Humans, or going back through Goldeneye to see who could complete the first level the fastest. In our late teens, we weren't as inclined to play pretend, but we were just as energetic to immerse ourselves in something that wasn't real because it tickled our stomachs, made us smile, and took us away from homework, school bullies, and other real world nonsense. We didn't have time to waste or worry because dreaming and adventuring were far more important.

That still carries on to this day. Last night, Paul got a chance to learn more about my life since he and his family moved to Washington State about 25 years ago. While we've regularly stayed in touch and played games together, he hasn't had the same involvement in my day-to-day life so he had no idea how rough it has been. Yet, despite the sobering reality, we both still want that life in a life. We might be in our mid-40s, but our sense of adventure and fun hasn't dwindled. We can look back on the things we did with great delight, and we can still picture things we want to do with the same giddiness we had as children. If I could teleport myself to his living room right now, we'd likely go right back to ordering pizza, watching movies, and playing video games until the wee hours of the morning.

Dalí Atomicus is a black and white photograph taken by Philippe Halsman (1906 - 1979) in 1948. It depicts Salvador Dalí (1904 - 1989) in, frankly, a silly situation where he's painting Leda Atomica while cats fly in, water is strewn about, and everything else is floating. According to a documentary about the making of this picture, this was the 28th take. Today, it is considered one of the most famous photographs ever taken, and rightfully so. Nothing in all of history has been this deliberately over-the-top that this humble art lover can think of. And it's even more impressive because it was done in a time where Photoshop didn't exist, but that hasn't taken anything away from the visual pleasure.

I like to think of Dalí as someone who embraced silliness, adventure, and pretend. In his day, technology wasn't where it is today so I see his passion for fantasy and creativity in his artwork. Who else thinks to paint melting clocks on a table and a broken face and a tree branch? And while he may have taken his art seriously, I don't think he took life too seriously. Therein lies the issue we face today.

Society seems to think being silly and embracing fantasy aren't necessary or proper anymore. For those who do, they tend to keep that stuff hidden away from prying eyes thanks to feeling inadequate about it on some level. Too many are worried about this and that, complain about things they cannot control, and waste energy trying to "figure it all out". Too many want to scream about stuff they don't like or agree with, and when they do, they're only stealing fun and fantasy from themselves. The time and energy being wasted on life's crap that cannot be controlled is time and energy that could have been spent nurturing passion, finding entertainment, and escaping the grip of stress and worry.

Video games are a great example of a wonderful form of entertainment here in the 21st Century. I'm not ashamed to say, I still enjoy them because in the end, they can take my mind off life and away from stress just as easily as a movie or TV show, if not more so. Why? Because instead of me being told where the story goes, I get to be in control and do whatever I want while only being limited by the game's design. When I watch a movie, I have to take what's already been created as it is. I can't stop a film mid-way and say, nope, I don't like that that character was just killed off so let's change it. From beginning to end, it is what it is whether I like it or not. In a video game, however, my story is whatever I want it to be, whenever I want it to be. But regardless of entertainment, I get to still embrace that life in a life I had as a kid.

I'm no longer a fan of playing pretend because I've matured. While I can still feel that passion deep down in my heart, I just wouldn't do it today. What hasn't left me, though, is the thrill of having my mind taken away from work, stress, bills, loneliness, and other real world situations and circumstances. Some people use drugs to achieve this. Not me. I choose to write, play games, watch entertaining shows and movies . . . and dream. I dream! I've never stopped dreaming! And I never will. This is what seems to be missing in so many these days. Dalí dreamed and he was able to magnificently present those dreams in this photograph and in his amazing works of art. Dreaming is a gift and while I'm no expert on animals, I think humans are the only species able to enjoy dreaming at will. Why anyone would forsake dreaming is beyond me, and man, they sure are missing out on life.