Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

Consider this:

Suppose there were 5 people, all the same age and in the same state of health, who were diagnosed with the same terminal illness that had progressed to the same degree. All were expected to die.

Person 1 has a church full of devout Christians praying for them.

Person 2 has a their Synagogue praying the Mi Sheberach healing prayer for them every day.

Person 3 has everyone in their Mosque praying for them.

Person 4 has every Shinto priest in Japan praying that the ancestors heal them.

Person 5 has there most devoted atheist friends visiting and comforting them each day and hoping for healing.

Would there be a difference in the outcome of the illness for each of these 5 people?

I know what I think and it may not be what you expect. But, I’m not going to tell you until you tell me what you think. If you are willing to play then comment on this post and answer this;

1. Would there be a difference in the outcome of the illness for each person?

2. Why?

3. If you answered question 2 by saying that God, Spirit, the universe, the ancestors, whatever, intervenes in what happens then do the people with the illness deserve what happens to them and why would that “higher power” choose to help some but not others?

I’ll tell you what I think in another post. Right now I want to give you a voice.

Some people hate my diatribes against political candidates, religious zealots, anti-rationalists, creationists, science-haters, war-mongers, racists, misogynists, antisemites, homophobes, and my whole cast of characters. Some people love them.

People of different backgrounds also have widely different responses to my posts on loving each other, respect for every individual life, the ethics of war, respect for religious diversity, struggling with rationalism, respect for atheists, and love of our lonely little blue rock in space.

To be honest, I don’t really care and here is why.

I began this blog as a way to keep myself writing. It was for me. I blog as if I were writing in a diary. The only difference between this and a private journal is that I think about whether what I write here is something I’m willing to let others read. It’s a diary but it’s not private.

My one unshakable belief comes from Aristotle and is simply this: “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I believe that we humans are distinguished from other mammals simply by our power to reason. I don’t know if that is really true because I have a 50 year bias toward cetaceans given to me by my mentors Greg Bateson and John Lilly. But, from what I can know without talking to orcas it seems we are unique in our capacity for reason. Most of us under-utilize that blessing and some of us use it for monstrous purposes. But, for me personally, thinking, pondering, debating, considering, arguing, and examining are the reasonable paths to being fully human.

My blog, therefore, does not try to convince you of anything. It does not try to insist that I’m right. In fact, I admit that I’m often not. All this blog does is to give you an unobstructed view into my personal self-examination. I have a substantial private life. But the part of my wrestling with God, biology, philosophy, and existing which I choose to expose is, herein, an open book.

So, I’m going to continue to piss you off sometimes. I’m going to let you watch my struggle if you so choose. You can’t get me to stop doing that even if you negatively react to my posts. All you have to do is stop reading them if you don’t like them. Personally, I hope that you continue to read this writing for many years to come. All I hope is that I challenge you to think; and that by exposing my self-examination I somehow help you, yourselves, to grow.

I’m grateful to all of you whether you like me and my writing or not. You challenge me to think and I hope the challenge is mutual.

In deep gratitude and love for you all: Happy Thanksgiving.




In a world daily ripped apart by violence, hatred, and pain; a world where religious zealotry and irrational dogma routinely takes precedence over love and respect; a world where individual achievement is routinely sacrificed on the altar of conformity; Newberry and his art shine like a spotlight on the all too often ignored values of individual human existence and the power of striving for personal greatness.

Every day, I live in the presence of an array of pastels, prints, and paintings that help me remember how beautiful and noble it is to strive to be one’s best. These are “Our Newberrys”. These are our inspiration.

I remember how touched Patt and I were when, as a show of compassion and concern following Patt’s breast cancer surgeries, Michael called to tell Patt he was naming one of his female nudes in her honor. That was not about money or publicity or the “trader principle” of his Objectivist ethics.  That was simply an expression of love from one individual human soul to another. We remember that to this very day.

I love the non-representational works, the Judaica, the sculpture, and, really, every piece in my collection. I even love my own glasswork and photographs. But, only Newberry reminds me, every day, that my individual human life has intrinsic value. For that I will always cherish his art and his friendship!

For the past few months I have written about Mark Rothko. I’ve given you a chance to watch me wrestle with Rothko and the reasons I like his work. I’d like to turn now to a painter whose work I need not wrestle with; a painter whose work I just plain love; a painter who’s entire 40 year career has been one of perfect philosophical consistency. His name is Michael Newberry and his painting “Denouement” is both my favorite painting of all time and among the few pieces of art that I can truly say has affected my life at its core. I’ve mentioned his work before but now I simply want to “cut to the chase”. Here is my favorite painting of all time:

You might be inclined to call this “realism”. In fact, Newberry himself would call it “Romantic Realism”. But this painting is orders of magnitude deeper than that. For one thing, yes it’s figurative, but that doesn’t mean it’s simply “realistic”; in fact, there is a lot about this painting that I’d say falls squarely in the domain of abstraction. Let’s pick one rather clear element and consider it more closely: The first question I always ask myself when I see this painting is “Where the hell is the light coming from?” It’s not coming from a window. It’s not coming from a lamp. In fact, it’s neither omnidirectional ambient light nor is it coming from any directional source. It’s coming from INSIDE the painting! That, my friends, is an abstraction. It’s not Rothko’s abstraction or Pollack’s abstraction. What it IS, is a gorgeously nuanced abstraction with the clear purpose of conveying the message of the painting. It is an abstraction WITH PURPOSE!

Let’s say, for the heck of it, that you agree with me. The next question is “what’s the purpose?” I’ve never asked Newberry about that so I’ll tell you what I think. In my humble opinion, the purpose of the painting’s internal light is to unequivocally convey the burst of utter joy that comes from the relationship of the 2 subjects. To me, this is a painting about love. It has a certain eroticism but that is a surface element on top of something deeper. At that deeper level, at the painting’s philosophical core, is the pure joy of love. The inner light represents perfect human joy, It’s not the joy of an external entity like “God” or “Karma” or “universal peace”. It is the joy of two HUMANS experiencing the happiness that comes from human love. I can’t speak for you and I can’t speak for Newberry. But, for me, when I see this painting I not only feel joyful but “I want what he’s got!”. It makes me want to strive to achieve that level of joy in my own life.

This is why I say that Newberry’s work has a 40 year history of philosophical consistency. Over those year, his technique has been honed, his ability to execute has sped up, and his work has matured. But, through all that, he has never once forsaken his fundamental goal of using art to inspire us to strive for joy, to look for and admire greatness, and to want to feel good about our species. THAT is why this is my favorite painting of all time.

I first encountered “Denouement” in the form of a small postcard. I was sitting in my old favorite hangout in LA, “Al’s Bar” on Traction Avenue. In comes my old friend Judith Harding, carrying a postcard. She handed it to me ans asked me what I thought. I was speechless. I had to meet the man who made this painting. Lo and behold, he lived right across the street. From that day, this was my favorite painting and Michael Newberry became a part of my life. Today, I still can’t afford a painting like this. But my collection contains at least 10 of his pastels, lithographs, minor paintings, and even a color study from another painting I’ll never be able to afford.

I have to tell you that Michael is not a big fan of all of my Rothko writings. His philosophy diverges from that of Rothko and other abstract painters to such an extent that he can’t (and I don’t expect him to) agree with my love of Rothko. With a painter like Rothko, I wrestle. Newberry doesn’t have to. As an artist, he is so philosophically consistent and so rigorous in his position that art must inspire us to greatness, that he doesn’t need to find ways to like art that he feels has other goals. I like more art than Newberry likes. Then again, I’m an amateur collector and he is a creator. I think that says it all. Irrespective of all that, my admiration for Newberry’s consistency, commitment to expressing the experience of joy, and sheer painterly beauty is unending. So, while I wrestle, Newberry creates. For that I love him and for “Denouement” more than anything else, I thank him.