Sunday, April 24, 2011


Wilma's life had its fair share of set backs, to say the least.  Born June 23, 1940 in Clarksville, Tennessee, she faced near-insurmountable odds.  Aside from being black, one of twenty-two children, and extremely poor, she endured countless illnesses and thanks to a combination of segregation and poverty, her mother was tapped to be her caretaker for the majority of her youth.  By the time she was merely 12 years old, Wilma had survived the measles, mumps, scarlet fever, chicken pox, and double pneumonia all the while fighting through her infantile paralysis due to polio.  It goes without saying, there was little hope of her survival let alone her ability to lead a normal, healthy life.

It was in 1952 that Wilma began to see a new life form.  It was her fourth year on the junior high/high school basketball team and after riding the pine and never setting foot on the court in an actual game for three years, she was finally given the starting guard position.  Coincidentally, at the game was a scout named Ed Temple from Tennessee State University and he was immediately impressed with Wilma's physical prowess.  Having spent the entirety of her youth going through illness and physical therapy, for Wilma, being athletic and pushing hard for success seemed to be natural choices as she gained strength and flexibility.

Ghost by Ronald Mueck (1958- ) is an incredibly lifelike sculpture of a swimsuit clad, adolescent female that stands 7 feet tall.  Known for being a hyperrealist sculptor, Mueck's work is world renowned for its size, detail, and moving sense of realism.  Ghost was created in 1998 and is currently on display at the Tate Modern in London, England.  None of Mueck's pieces are cast from his subjects but rather sculpted by hand using his friends and family for models.  Not so remarkably, it is a frequent sight to see a patron of any museum exhibiting Mueck's work to do a double-take first thinking his pieces are actual people.

The subject of Ghost is seemingly someone we have all known or met during our early years of life who gave off little significance for remembrance.  Clearly, the preteen female has yet to fully begin puberty and appears to not wear a swimsuit but have it wear her. Her leaning posture seems to indicate that she's been cast aside either by ridicule or shame and now forcibly slumps against the wall with her head turned downwards and to one side.  Slouching, unattractive, undeveloped, awkward, and lanky, she appears to be taking a moment to move aside for others while grasping the enveloping emotions of feeling dejected and inadequate.

What is incredible for me to experience when I see this piece is that I'm not hung up on the detail despite it being extraordinary.  No, what I find is I'm emotionally moved on a deep level by the vulnerable qualities of such an individual coupled with a racing mind to recall an acquaintance from my elementary school days to immediately relate this piece with real world experience.  I'm saddened to see what could be a doctor or writer or someone else of great influence later on in life going through insecurities that have now taken over control of her own body.  With her hands tucked behind her legs, only her slumping shoulders and turned head indicate her intense emotional suffering; otherwise I would think she'd be trying to cover up with her arms folded somewhere in front of her.  Essentially, she has become overwhelmed by a culmination of thoughts and realities that have exhausted her mind, body, and soul.

But where there is darkness, light shines brightest.

Wilma's life as a child and preteen seem to be encapsulated in Mueck's piece.  At some point during her youth, Wilma must have experienced numerous moments of emotional strife much like our figure, yet inspired by her mother's relentless care and idolization of Jesse Owens, she was able to overcome it all.  She eventually went on to achieve several women's high school basketball records and attained an athletic full-ride scholarship to TSU in track and field.  On September 7, 1960, in Rome, Italy, Wilma became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics and was dubbed "the fastest woman in history".

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Torment of Saint Anthony

Daily burdens, obstacles, and challenges are things we all face as we traverse through life.  It begins when our alarms go off--that moment where we roll over to turn it off and say to ourselves, "I really don't feel like getting up just yet."  From that moment on and throughout the entire day, we all face moments where are patience, resilience, and emotional and mental agility are tested.  We deal with getting ready for the day, a last minute phone call, traffic on the way to work, finding a parking space, reading through email, pecking away at the tasks at hand, and everything else.  These are all weights that can drag us down yet we each have a choice for how we will react.

Despite how easy it may seem to lose our cool in the face of one of these daily challenges, humans defy the stereotype and in general tend to keep their focus on reaching the finishing line.  This, however, can become cluttered depending upon the amount of challenges faced and sheer volume of burdens we carry.  It seems like the more responsibility we have, the more we're tempted to lose hope, become angry, and give up on making it to the end.  It takes an incredible amount of determination and emotional fortitude to get through some days and where each of us has a distinct advantage is in the lives of others who have long survived or passed on from much worse fates.

The Torment of Saint Anthony by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) is one of his first known paintings and shows Saint Anthony being accosted by demons in midair as he travels through a desert.  Known for his grandiose preaching and speaking voice, Saint Anthony (born Fernando Martins de Bulhões) was one of the quickest of all religious figures to be given sainthood.  His humble beginning and struggle to become a member of the Franciscan Order was immediately quenched when he was called upon to speak to a group of visiting Dominican Friars in the early 13th Century.  From that point on, Saint Anthony quickly become one of the most beloved and admired preachers of his time.  One year after passing away from dropsy at the age of 36, Pope Gregory IX canonized the influential man from Portugal.

I immediately feel the chaos of Saint Anthony's torment poignantly illustrated by Michelangelo.  In fact, I can even sense the fear of being so relentlessly agonized.  Using vivid interpretation and amazing detail, Michelangelo depicts what appears to be nine demons of varying type clawing and pulling at Saint Anthony as they carry him through the air.  It was implied that Saint Anthony's holiness meant he traveled from one place to another on the wings of angels but in this moment, he is shown fighting for his life as evil makes every attempt to assuage him from his focus and determination.

Looking at each demon, I can easily sense the dark forces each represents.  Not all are winged and neither of the beings looks the same as the other, but they all share a common purpose which is clearly illustrated.  And yet, the face of Saint Anthony is without pain or frustration.  In fact, he seems to show a steely resolve, deep compassion, and a sense of hope he will reach his destination and be able to succeed in his goals.  This can be seen in other places besides his face, as well.  For instance, one demon clutches Saint Anthony's right wrist and the stick he's holding yet he merely hangs on to it with three fingers.  Meanwhile, another demon pulls on his robe with all its might as yet another attempts to remove his aureole.  Saint Anthony, though appearing a bit weighted down, keeps his gaze off to the horizon and not upon the tainted distractions surrounding him.

Michelangelo was indeed one of the world's most beloved artists and what may shock you about this painting is the fact he finished it when he was merely 12 or 13 years old.  His works are incredibly well known but it seems this particular piece was a shining example of what his talents would mean to billions of people.  And the symbolism doesn't have to directly relate to those who are religious or of the cloth.  Each one of us can empathize with having moments in life where we feel utterly battered and bruised but we all most assuredly can think of someone else who faced much more desperate odds.  What can't be emotionally ignored or forsaken, however, is our predestination to be tormented in some way.  Knowing ahead of time, though, is certainly the beginning to ensuring you are prepared and have the strength to remain hopeful.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper

"It sure beats diggin' ditches," some would say when attempting to push beyond the frustrations and monotony of their everyday work lives.  Random occupations can certainly have an incredible amount of repetition and here in the 21st Century, many are repeatedly using the latest in technology to get through the day.  In retrospect, some may call this industrialism in the grand scheme but I would beg to differ.

It wasn't long ago that truly industrious people littered the streets and buildings of any metropolitan attempting to weave through life with enough money to put food on the table, pay the rent, and maybe go out for a drink or to catch a show once in a very long while.  These folks who helped forged the backbone of this country are often taken for granted for without their toil and efforts, we wouldn't be progressing into the technological age we're in now.

For me, there is something moving about the origins of our large cities and how they came to be.  At one time, entire floors of skyscrapers were formed by the hands of rugged men who would skitter about dangerously on girders, walls, and ledges without the safety of a harness or the convenience of a crane.  Each one would have their responsibility to see to it each brick, each beam, each wall, and each door were put together carefully using rather archaic equipment.  And still today, you can see and enter these creations in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and many other large asphalt jungles.  The age of the megalopolis had begun and there is a very high probability that if you're reading this, you weren't a part of that growth but may know someone who has long passed on that was.

Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper by Charles C. Ebbets (1905-1978) was taken September 29, 1932 on the intended 69th floor of the RCA Building (now the GE Building) at Rockefeller Center 840 feet above New York City.  A feat just to be able to capture a moment like this--especially without getting vertigo and plummeting to his death--Ebbets was able to nab a shot of eleven men taking a moment out of their extremely difficult and busy day to grab a bite to eat and smoke a cigarette.  Below and stretched out nearly as far as the eye can see is a bustling land riddled with offices, apartments, Central Park in the middle, and the rest of Manhattan sandwiched between the Hudson and East Rivers.

Immediately, I feel small.  I feel as if I am minuscule and my place in this world is rather insignificant.  I'm struck with feelings of being unimportant, minor, and someone who could get lost in the crowd in a heartbeat. But then I take in the height at which these men are lounging.  Quickly, my feelings turn around and begin to sense fear and an absolute appreciation for what they risked in order to further advance our great nation and bring prosperity in a time where few could dream of it.  They may seem to be insignificant compared to the hundreds of thousands of people below them none the wiser to their existence in that moment, but they truly embodied what it took to be a doer and a hard worker.

What few know or may even see is the mix of nationalities being represented in this collection of riveters, carpenters, and masons.  There are two Irishmen, a Native American, and one from Newfoundland sitting side-by-side with Americans all working together, chatting, and ignoring the foibles of their fellow man despite what the press and society may have been and continue to squabble over.  They each had a common purpose and that was to do a job.  What they wore, how they looked, where they ate, and who they had to work with clearly meant nothing when compared to the implied monstrosity of a task they perched upon.  They were hardened men determined to get the job done ... of course, once they had the chance to nourish their over-worked bodies.

Perhaps sorting mail, filing papers, typing a report, moving furniture, mowing the lawn, or any other repetitive occupation could seem insurmountable--a task you don't want to do each day and find to be tiring and above your own worth.  Please don't forget where it all came from.  Don't forget the building that houses your mail, the file cabinet that holds your papers, the computer you use to type, the wood needed to frame your couch, and the mower you push all had to be created, assembled, and put together using machines that were created using bigger machines.  We have a perpetual society of commercialism and industrialism that breaths life into our economy and existence and when you boil it all down, none of it is nearly as dangerous or truly laborious as it was nearly 100 years ago.  If nothing else, be thankful you're able to afford the device you're now reading this on and for the people responsible for creating it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Le Discret

I have been too serious with my previous blog entries and I shall now relieve you of any potential stress and expound upon something different.

I must admit, as a child, I was wildly imaginative.  Fortunately and unfortunately, a lot of my childish creativity is now gone but I certainly remember living an adventure nearly every single day before becoming a teenager.  There were moments where I'd be alone in my room, playing with my Matchbox cars, and to get perspective on how the vehicles looked pulling up, I'd rest my head on the carpet and look at it with one eye open.  I'd pretend it was a situation where someone would see the car pull up from "downstairs" (my eye closest to the ground) of a "house" (my head) and then quickly run "upstairs" to see it from an upper "window" (my other eye).

Where the real adventure took place, though, was at my best friend's giant house in my home town.  His parents were a bit more well off than mine so they owned an old bed & breakfast cottage style, 3-story house that was built in 1902 and on the corner of a tucked-away part of town.  I absolutely loved going over there because of their large hilly front yard, a giant side yard which included a large oval driveway, the separate "coach house" 2-story garage, and believe it or not, a 3-story tree house in the back yard!  There my friend and I lived out a perpetual "mystery" which was most likely inspired by Scooby-doo and later enhanced by The Goonies.  Each day we'd play there, we'd run around and pretend like we'd found clues to a mystery.  Admittedly, my friend would create some of these items and strategically place them in precarious places around the property but I was none the wiser.

It was all about being a kid!  100% innocence and imagination and well before being spoiled by the burst of personal computers and home video game systems that came in the early-1980s.  He and I would trounce about playing out various pretend situations (CHiPs, Emergency!, The Dukes of Hazzard, even Pac-Man) sometimes with his younger brother and sister in tow, and all the while still attempting to discover the secrets of the elusive "mystery."  Oh, it was all very secretive and something we'd spend nearly all our younger years trying to solve but it was always fun, always adventurous, and always the underlying focus of all our playing.

Le Discret by Joseph Ducreux (1735-1802) is one of those paintings that doesn't necessarily call attention to the subject or circumstances but rather to the emotion being evoked.  Granted, the individual portrayed does appear to be hoping he can avoid certain peril but I think it lends to the rush one gets when faced with a situation where one feels frantic to keep something very, very secret.  Ducreux uses gentle strokes to bring out an incredible amount of character and mixed with subtle, Earthy colors, the work draws our eyes immediately to the face and hand.  Brow raised but concerned, hand wrought with urgency, and the eyes whispering to our very souls, "Shhh!", I find this painting to be an example of how my heart felt each day my friend and I would feel the pressures of unknown forces as we found something new and intriguing to further reveal the truth behind an invisible enigma.

Now, it should be mentioned that Joseph Ducreux was the man responsible for painting the infamous Marie-Antoinette for King Louis XVI of France before he was to marry her.  Having never seen the woman face-to-face, the king dispatched Ducreux to Vienna, Austria in hopes his well-known talents could capture the beauty well enough to ease his anxious soul.  Many of you have probably heard of this betrothal and I'm sure you men can relate, such a circumstance would certainly bode the same level of anxiety, especially if you were king.  Ducreux's painting of Marie-Antoinette was completed before she turned 14 which was her age when finally wed.  If you're unfamiliar with the whole story, I'd highly recommend checking Wikipedia; it is a fascinating unraveling of history, indeed!

But I digress.  Have you got a secret?  Are you holding back information from others because of a sense of urgency or out of honor?  Can you feel the same pressure our subject feels when facing awkward situations that could easily be quelled should what you know be spilled?  In any case, I'm sure we've all had those moments in life whether as a child or adult where we are given the task of keeping something secret.  In some cases, it's rather humbling.  In other cases, it can make us feel extremely powerful.  And of course, in many cases, it can be downright uncomfortable.

For me, secrets are an every day thing.  In my line of work, I am faced with meeting dozens of individuals whose actions and personal details must remain private from others.  Thanks to having a job that gains a lot of publicity, I get to know many people and it's not always their good side.  Ironically enough, who I am in my job is also a secret despite millions of people know "who" I am.  Ultimately, I tend to rely on the emotions I felt as a child when I was busy keeping our mystery a secret, searching for new clues, and hoping to strategically find the answers without giving up what we knew.  Don't ask me how it all worked, I just know it was the best time of my life and I miss it dearly.  Do me a favor, though?