Potpourri–Finding Meaning in Art, Perceptual Isolation, Racism and More

Transverse Line, a painting Wassily Kandinsky in 1923
Transverse Lines, by Wassily Kandinsky from 1923  image courtesy of https://www.wassily-kandinsky.org/images/gallery/Transverse-Lines.jpg

Yes, it’s a geometric abstract painting from nearly a 100 years ago. Why is it here? It’s a writing prompt from our Zoom “Tea and Scones Brunch” from a week or so ago. Oddly, but perhaps not surprisingly, no one actually has either the tea or the scones–so far as I know. We will start with my verse response and proceed on to the prose. A mashup of thoughts on the painting, perception with or without the aid of stimulants, etc., word association and excerpts from the memoir, Waiting for Westmoreland.

Verse Inspired by Transverse Lines

Analytical-lyrical or mood-sensational

Right brain struggles with left in Kandinsky land

Cyclops at the edge of time

Peers through a Venn diagram

A warped declination of mind

Where now—when, about?

Out of mind—Dylan, not Fagen

The stars have turned cherry red

Out of the blue, a palette offers more

Swirling shades arc across a porthole

Wormhole worlds gaze back, far away

Claw marks scratch a busy blend

He is unmoved—perhaps Ganja needed

Yet, the work does correlate with the diverticulitis

Perceptual reality–then and now

Once upon a time he focused on a flute, an alto sax—rhythm, lead or bass guitar. An augmented mind slowed to a moment. Perception advanced one note, one instrument at a time–transcendent. No more–he gave up marijuana 40 years ago.

Now it’s caffeine calibration—achieve the fine-tuned blend of alertness without feeling flutters. Alcohol allocation—maintain motor control and not too tipsy—yes, relaxation, words flow fast and freely as in first-year-law classes. Mary Jane—now legal but too strong. No amount tolerable—THC is too high, he is not buzzed, he borders on seizure. Nearly as stoned as the opiated hash he smoked several times in the 70s—without ill effects.

“Be here now,” Richard Alpert, AKA Ram Dass, said. So, that’s today’s target. Not always easily found. He strives through faith and doctor’s advice on what more medications he can stop. Coming back from a New Year’s Eve Buddhist event 30 years, his exhilarated mind felt like nothing more than the high of good weed—without any. Now, without recreational drugs, listening to Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior, the Pooh character Christopher Robin pops in his mind each time a certain bar repeats. From whence comes the association, he wonders.

Without aid, words and music heard prompts memories—times, people and places. Time travel is possible—he goes there whenever he wants, via those recollections. Current events—America’s racism, old and new. 


Recollections From Waiting for Westmoreland–a bridge to current times

At home, in Minneapolis:

I was eight or nine years old when my mother read me a newspaper report about a gruesome murder. The killers had dragged the cook out of the Bandbox, a burger joint in Camden, a tiny business district in north Minneapolis about a mile from our house. 

“They banged his head on the curb until he was dead—because he was Chinese,” she cried, tears welling up in her eyes. “It’s just like the Ku Klux Klan, dragging black people from their homes—whipping, beating or killing them because of their skin color.”

I said nothing, unsure how to reply either to her sorrow or to her disgust, but the image of people being dragged out and beaten remained seared in my mind.

In Vietnam:

 Upon our arrival, much to my surprise, I immediately spotted Sam Jackson, my former radio school classmate and fellow Ft. Meade parade participant. I knew that he too was heading to Vietnam when he left Ft. Meade, but I hadn’t expected to see him again here. Jackson’s orders had come two days before mine and he had arrived in the unit two days ahead of me.

“Jackson here says you were one of the best students in radio mechanic school.”

“Well, I did OK,” I said, unprepared to provide a more sensible answer. As it turned out, no answer would likely have sufficed to avoid the fallout from this.

“No Sarge, he was really tops,” Jackson helpfully added, in a respectful tone very different from the one I was accustomed to hearing from him when addressing white NCOs. Whether sincere or calculated as a setup, I soon learned it would be difficult to live up to Jackson’s buildup. 

Since I had seen him at Ft. Meade, barely a month before, Jackson had shed the guise of Huey Newton. Now he played the role of Rochester, Jack Benny’s man. Instead of the “Yass, boss,” that Rochester always said to Benny, it was “Yass, sergeant” from Jackson. It was accompanied with a happy hop-to-it attitude, instead of the sneer common to earlier times. What the hell had happened to Jackson? Later on, I would see the wisdom of his change in behavior. This was a cloak of compliance, shielding him from harm in a place where opportunities abounded to deal with “uppity n*****rs.” Clearly, some other brothers had quickly clued him in. Why risk a “friendly fire” accident for the sake of ego or pride while here in Nam? The score against whitey could always be settled later on “back in the world.”

Back to Transverse Lines

Can he find his way from auditory to visual association—visual prompts from previously unseen art. Perhaps. He might try working on that—Dali’s Persistence of Memory, that brings forth much more than Kandinsky. He’d like a print of that surreal work.

Footnote: just days past the writing brunch, he found himself isolating the multiplicity of instruments layered into the pioneering fusion of Miles Davis in Spanish Key, from the 1970 Bitches Brew studio album–the left drum set versus the right, this horn or that. Yes, it can be done–without the drugs, even while mentally fatigued.


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