America Goes Low: Art, Culture, and Political Healing

I’ve got some news about workshops and shows to post, but first, a little commentary on the current political regression:

I don’t make a lot of political commentary on this page, as it’s a bit counter- productive to what I’m trying to do here. My art isn’t demonstratively political, I can at least provide a haven from my political opinions for the people who come here to enjoy it. But art, culture and politics cannot be completely separated, as my early post on the importance of access to health care to the arts makes clear.

So in trying to come to terms with what most mainstream commentators recognize as a president-elect with fascist tendencies, I’ve had to ask myself how the art can help us reverse this disturbing trend.

Waves of anger and nausea, stress and distraction are to be expected, but I do not intend to add my anger to the bonfire of rage, ignorance and intolerance that the dumbfucks have lit. Resistance is a good thing: well organized and thought out, especially in the areas of health care and Medicare, environmental issues and immigration, which will be under siege in these reactionary times. There are many ways to protest and resist, and I will continue to use them. But in the meantime, art, books and friends will be my refuge. I’ll try to stay off social media for a while, do some more writing and sketching, and let the darkness do what it does, which is to prepare for the light.

First of all it’s polarizing to post too much about it. While anger is a natural human reaction to the travesty of intolerance we witnessed on Election Day, and a time-tested motivator to the type of activism that will be needed to rescue the country from incipient fascism, I don’t wish to add mine to the raging bonfire of entitled grievance that has been started out in the ideological hinterlands. My hot air, however righteous, can only fuel that inferno of ignorance. The proto-fascist backlash has a momentum of its own in this country, and must be met with real contemplation, not reflexive confrontation, lest it feed on itself.

Second, though I haven’t articulated this very well over the years; as I’m sometimes guilty of indulging my own anger- I feel real empathy for those who’ve chosen this path of fear, anger and scape-goating of minorities, though of course without endorsing their rather self- destructive solution. Some of the grievances are real, though whom they have chosen to blame are ghosts and strawmen, planted in the path of their blind rage by the authoritarians and oligarchs who have successfully manipulated them.

Third, anger is destructive to my own personal growth and creative energy. It creates actual physical stress, for one thing, to which many we saw on social media on the night of the election can attest. If we could have done a word search on Facebook and Twitter, I’m sure the word “nausea” would rank very high. It’s distracting and self reflexive, not good companions to personal  reflection and contemplation, which aid in thoughtful creativity.

And of course it doesn’t work. We’ve seen an entire reactionary political backlash fueled by anger, and what they got for all their self-consuming rage was… that. It’s unlikely to make them feel better about their lives, or about their country. After abuse and bullying comes self loathing. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a massive, red-state-wide temper tantrum, and it can’t be solved with more anger. However, we can’t put Michigan and Wisconsin in “time-out”.  We are, much as we hate to admit, not parents, we’re peers. As abhorrent as these people’s views are, they must be addressed as equals.

So it’s time to breathe, count to ten and listen to the grievance, without endorsing the ignorance. Somewhere between the lines of  the ugliness, the anti-gay screeds, the religious intolerance, and the deep seated hatred of women, there are real  issues that could be addressed without buying into the hate, to defuse the bitter anger these people have given into:

Educational opportunities must be increased. The rather pathetic cry to “bring our jobs back” (newsflash, demagogue voters: they’re not coming back, no matter which orange tin-pot you install in the oval office) would be greatly reduced by simply getting more people in rural areas and depressed suburbs into higher ed, even community colleges or computer schools.  Equally at risk with the redneck crowd are the immigrants whose votes are depended on for the Democrats’ coalition, so it’s a win-win.

Infrastructure needs to be repaired. This degradation is the GOP’s own fault of course, but it will provide jobs for the aggrieved and strengthen the country for the future. Again, emphasis must be placed on rural areas, who often  have overcome their distrust of schools, art centers and public transit when real, decent jobs are provided.

Arts, culture, religion are potential allies, not necessarily enemies. Bush’s plan to fund faith-based charities could be revived and converted  to enlist more moderate religious orgs to counteract the poisonous mega-churches where right wing intolerance incubates.  Yes, we’ll wind up funding kitsch like ten commandments sculptures and youth centers with abstinence programs,  but the trade-off could be meth education and occupational training, with opportunities in senior care and home health care in areas where they are desperately needed.

Many rural areas truly are depressed and deserve our attention. This is also true of immigrant suburbs too. The almighty free market has fattened the cities at the expense of outlying areas, and to that extent, the rage is justified. The orange buffoon who rode this wave of ignorance will have little interest in these things, of course, except as a sop to his massive ego. Yes, we could wind up with a brand new hospital or two named after a certifiable member of the rape caucus. But the Republican Congress might be amenable to sliding some relief for their incredibly Gerrymandered districts into the coming care package for billionaires their corrupt colleagues are sure to demand. The demagogues used to sneer at this as “throwing money at the problem”, but the poor whites who actually do the voting are in fact the biggest consumers of welfare, and won’t complain about money flowing to their small towns, as long you don’t call it that. Similarly, The deficit issue was co-opted by Dems from Clinton on, and is a dead issue with the GOP.  Rural economic relief was how FDR sold the New Deal to Congress, thus marginalizing the radical ultra conservatives for two decades. What matter if we drive up the debt to defuse the vindictive rage of the white power crowd. It must be insisted to include black and immigrant areas, too, and when possible to include the more traditional arts as a tourism attractor to depressed areas.

It could lead to a lessening of fear and rage in the boonies. This is the real driver of the dysfunctional  GOP, the demagogues who intentionally fan the flames of hatred only look to profit from it. Jobs and tourism might pave the way for a stronger economy and a more temperate political dialogue.  This could eventually lessen the impact of social change on psychologically threatened white males and loosen the grip of rape culture, bigotry and gun fetishes on the fragile ego of the uneducated white male.  A few more social moderates in the GOP caucus might result, balancing out the political opportunists who prey on these red state insecurities.

Yes, it’s incremental, a real dirty word with the far left dreamers. Yes, the representatives who might sign on to solidify their districts will hypocritically continue to provide lip service during campaigns on “wasteful government programs” for the benefit of the gullible, but they will not vote against it as they are in the White House now and will need to bring something home and is it not better to see them profit politically in this way, than to accept Koch brothers’ money to foment  anti-immigrant hatred?

And it can’t hurt to try. Our own propensity for outrage at every cultural failing, every pipeline, and every moralizing dickhead, hasn’t really solved much, as we found out November 8. We should save our energies for the truly important battles: women’s choice, environmental treaties,  immigration reform  and reducing militarism, which are feeding this incipient domestic terrorism and hardened hatred. We must cop to our own sometimes extremism and admit that we are equal partners in the race to vilify honest political compromise, incremental social change, and the large amount of hard working politicians who still want to do things together but are stranded between the loudmouthed blowhards on both sides. It doesn’t mean compromising our values, it means rewarding honest intentions, whether we agree with them or not.

As a culture, we’ve grown fat slow and angry, swinging for the fences of political absolutism, rather than playing the small ball and manufacturing compromises. It opens the field for manipulators to play a cheater’s game with the lesser angels of our social media and leads to real corruption, as we are about to see, not the kind the conspiracy theorists on both sides screech about.

Neither side is reacting well to seismic social changes, whether the side that desires their undeniable benefits, or the side that fears the insecurities it inevitably brings.  It leads to a failed state. While honorable resistance to the very real threat to democracy that demagoguery brings is needed, so is a recognition  of, and concern for the very real needs of these victims of a rapacious political culture. We can work together without sacrificing our principles.

Healthy Future

I’m mailing a small check to Kaiser today. It’s a two-block walk to the mailbox; weather, H75/L43, P/C, no chance of showers. A slight bit of exercise, but essentially, it’s a very bland-seeming denouement to a tale that started, for me, about 5 years ago.

I’m updating it now, in the interest of writing a resolution to the tale and preparing for the next steps.

The health care reform drama kicked into high gear in my life when I left my prototypically “soul-crushing” day job in one of those conservative mega corporations for a gig as an artist. For seed money, I had a small pension, which held no hope of covering both my basic expenses and the rather exorbitant COBRA premiums I was being offered. Medical insurance instantly became a major obstacle to success and security.

I write about this issue and how it applies to small-time artists and America as a whole, in a very early post on this Squishtoid Blog, here. No, I never did write that manifesto. But when one has health, and common sense in government, who needs monkeys?

As I mail my first premium check, I’m “signed up” for Obamacare, though not yet, as its bitter, still spitting enemies like to somewhat desperately point out, “enrolled”. However, as The New Yorker cover artist Barry Blitt points out in gleeful, puckish pen strokes, the Affordable Care Act battle is now over, though the Tea Bag haven’t realized it yet.

As for me, the victory comes a bit late. I am now actively looking for another day job. There’ve been ups and downs in my struggle to make free-lancing work, but the financial part, born in Bush’s recession and maturing in a down-sized America, has sloped steadily down.

Let’s compare the aspirations with the reality:

I did start this blog and later a website (though I’ve not had time to grow them), established a social media presence, attracted a steady following for workshops, was in a lot of shows, grew my artwork in both vision and inventory, and most important, had fun and felt healthier.

On the downside, I did not sell enough major work (Denver does buy art, but prefers it small, mostly) to grow the business or create financial stability, and racked up a fair-sized amount of debt.

My upside remains positive, but my downside is beginning to send me warning notices. Hmmm, need cash flow.

This is where ACA comes in and why it is, by all accounts, useful, necessary, and working.

Obamacare was easy to get and far cheaper than I expected. There were glitches, yes (The biggest: a strangely designed search engine that did not, at first give me all the choices at my disposal). But computer glitches are very fixable, and were never going to determine the success or failure of America’s first-ever attempt at a comprehensive health care program. In fact the major obstacle now preventing coverage is not software, but Tea Bagger political spite: millions are going without health care in GOP-controlled Red States, locked out of medicare expansion simply because the Tea Bag wants them to blame Obama ( who SHOULD they blame? The Supreme Court).

But, as I predicted in my previous post, health care reform has made my situation, and that of millions of other independent, enterprising Americans a whole lot better.

It’s flipped the part-time job situation on its head.

I don’t really need a “career”,  as the Walmart shills like to call their shit jobs. I just need some steady cash flow to get out of debt and finance  my real business which is creating art. I can now look for a job that offers more flexibility (read: studio time). Even if I do wind up back inside the corporate machine (believe me, I’m trying to avoid that!) I don’t need to grovel through ignominious “huddles”; or worry that if I can’t make my drudge schedule fit my show schedule, I risk my health coverage. I simply make some credit card payments, then walk out and leave the work to those whom the jobs were originally designed for: 16 year old kids. No, I won’t feel a bit guilty. If big corporate want a more loyal work force, they can start offering better jobs.

Thanks, Obama!

The effect is starting to be noticed in articles, commentary and statistically. The GOP propaganda machine calls this “destroying jobs” but as usual, their definition of “job” is looser than the lips in the Rape Caucus’ Caucus room.  And for most of us, anything that shifts the balance of power in the economy even slightly away from the entrenched, paneled boardrooms and toward the ever-creative, ever-industrious Main Street is a huge victory for American independence and possibility.

State of the Squish

Room of Remembrance, Monotype, 15×22″


I’m going to wrap up a few odds and ends as I gear up for Spring. I’ve spent most of January spamming people. Or hopefully, bac’ning them. Bacn being the kind of spam that you voluntarily sign up for because you have a genuine interest in the subject matter.


As outlined in my last post, I’ve been trying to upgrade my presence on the web, and also took on social media duties for a couple of groups I’m a member of. I have a ton of workshops and shows coming up this year, and social media can really help one get the word out. Here are a couple of examples:


As you may know, I’ve joined Zip 37 Gallery in Denver, and will have work hanging there at all times, in their wonderful back room gallery. Each member has a little space for mostly small work, and many people already use it for one-stop art shopping. I’m handling their Twitter account, too, as well as my own.


I’ll be starting my next workshop in early March, and it is registering now. It’s designed to be a good introduction to Monotypes, but I also have return students who like to continue their explorations, and I try to accommodate both. It is a great way to start off a Tuesday morning; bring your coffee!


I’ve also posted a few images from 2010 ( including the one above) on my Facebook page as a review of sorts, with my commentary. Check it out, and if you’d like regular updates on shows and workshops, as well as new work, click “Like”.


I also need to briefly update the post on the Tea Baggers’ ironic ignorance of history in the light of recent events. I don’t intend this to be a solely political blog, but the querulous effort to repeal Health Care reform, definitely affects those of us in the creative and small business economy, and so is relevant to what I am trying to do.


The GOP right’s insincere promise to abandon their characteristic vitriol after the Tucson shootings went quickly up in smoke as they moved to reward their health industry sponsors with a “repeal” of the Health Care Reform Law.


This legislative charade has no chance of success, but offered a nice opportunity to go back to the name calling (“Obamacare”) and outright lies they’d used to scare up the Faux News crowd originally. Even the name of their repeal bill (“Jobs-Killing-Health-Care”) is a proven lie.


The numbers cited (650,000) link it to a non-partisan CBO report which actually notes the potentially POSITIVE effect of people leaving their jobs when they are no longer tied to corporate-offered Health Care. For example, to start businesses; or enter the creative economy. To innovate; to follow the American Dream. There is, to be fair, also a slight effect on the McJobs portion of the economy, which look good in Government reports, but do nothing to narrow the quickly widening wealth gap.


Having paraded that dog through the House of Representatives, the right then ponied up for their ultra conservative base by announcing that next on the agenda would be yet another attempt to erode Americans’ right to reproductive choice. Not only is this narrow-minded and vindictive, it’s plain stupid. At a time when the American public has sent a clear message in recent polls that the bi-partisan progress late in the 111th Congress met their approval, the GOP insists on revisiting past defeats in the Culture Wars. It’s as if the Buffalo Bills demanded a replay of all their Superbowls.


This is a party that has completely “lost the plot”. As we are reminded on Martin Luther King Day (the conservative’s least favorite holiday), you cannot redeem the promise of American freedom without progress, and change. The Tea Baggers actually do have ways they can contribute to progress, such as in deficit reduction, which they have completely ignored when there are no elections in sight. The last President to balance the budget? a Democrat. His successor, the Deciderator, went “nuculer”, and set a record for deficits. And their only substantive response to the Tucson tragedy has been shrill screeching about proposed common sense limits on high capacity clips for automatic weaponry.


The State of the Union rebuttals? Just a photo op for every Palin wanna-be that wants to tap into the anger of Tea Bagger booboisie. The deficit will never be eliminated without tax reform that includes increased revenues from the very rich, period. Targeting discretionary spending on already stripped-to-the-bone programs for arts, NPR and education are a straw man for GOP 2012 ambitions, and Obama has beaten them to the punch, anyway, as past grudges are vented in the House.


The right wing GOP/Tea Baggers continue to be the party of fear, demagoguery and narrow self interest. Their biggest lie of all? Calling themselves “patriots”. Real patriots would get down to work on real problems, not be staring into space on Faux News, trying to cover talking points for the next election.

Time for Schoolin’

The Tea Baggers are abandoning national priorities they are uniquely qualified to contribute to in favor of another battle in their ongoing war on the middle class and the American healthcare system. And why? Because they flunked American History, not to mention Civics.

The holidays, for me, are the time of year for friends and talk, and reading. I like to take a little staycation of the mind and consider the year gone by and the one to come. One can’t help but think about life, art and politics, and the connections between.


A couple of things I’ve recently read come to mind. First up, in the New Yorker, is an account of the rather spotty tale of the first Tea Party, in which merchants like Sam Adams and Hancock were far more interested in inciting mobs to protect their smuggling businesses and prop up their prices than actual patriotism. It’s an article of faith with the conservatives that the Boston Tea Party was the epitome of patriotic fervor that united the colonies, but both Washington and Franklin, along with a huge segment of the colonial populace, deplored it and it was really the ham handed reaction by Parliament that brought calls for a Continental Congress, and consequent colonial unity of purpose. Ultimately, it was left to progressive thinkers among the Founding Fathers to focus the mobs on truly unified and progressive patriotism, and thanks to “England’s dreaming” good things eventually happened.

Now, after a very productive lame duck session, in which several Republicans bolted the lockstep agenda of “No” their leaders had for political purposes employed, and actually contributed to important legislation, the Tea Baggers/GOP are now insisting on a return to “No”.

As in, no immigration reform, no deficit reduction, no tax reform. These are all crucial issues that the GOP is uniquely capable of contributing to, and politically benefitting from, if they work together with mainstream legislators in the Dems and in their own party. And judging by wide ranging approval of the stimulus and other accomplishments of the 111th Congress, it would be in their interest to do so.

The leadership has instead decided that a vindictive war on the American Health System, and tarring and feathering Obama must be top priority in their ongoing crusade to enlarge the wealth and income gap at the expense of the middle class. So let’s have a return to gridlock!

The agenda of No is an agenda of merchant profiteering and states rights. Let’s see, manipulation of angry boobs by rich merchants to keep prices high, and social progress stalled. Sound familiar?

The only way for this to succeed, to paraphrase, is for true patriots to say nothing. The nation could be spared a lot of grief if the Tea Baggers and states righters would simply look past their anger and self interest to see that they are on the wrong side. Again.

Something even a child could see.

In the Times’ Opinionator blog, which is now running an excellent real time review of the Civil War’s seminal events in anticipation of the 150th anniverseary of that essential struggle, one of the current posts concerns the cleverness of Major Robert Anderson to outwit the Confederate militias, and withdraw his men to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, where the first shots of the war were fired in the name of states’ rights. That left other forts in the harbor undefended, and one was held with only a token force: an officer, an enlisted man and his daughter were left to await occupation by a large Confederate militia. The Sergeant’s daughter Katie Skillen, as the American flag was lowered to be replaced with a Confederate banner, burst into tears. The militiamen assured her that she wouldn’t be hurt, but that wasn’t what she feared. It was the raising of “that dirty thing”, the banner of states’ rights, that saddened her. As it should any thinking person.

Similarly, the Tea Baggers waving “that dirty thing”, are trusting that we don’t know our history. States’ rights, once used to justify slavery and segregation, is now being trotted out by the corporate interests to derail Healthcare Reform.

But that won’t happen. It’s going to be a long tough struggle, and free thinking Americans will need a bit of Katie Skillen’s wit, pluck and sass. But the militias of greed and self interest will in the end be defeated. Again.


Millions of Monkeys…

…are, as we speak, whompin’ away randomly at millions of surplus, “Front Page”-era Remington typewriters (two or three per simian, typewriters are cheap! free, even) in a warehouse not far from the dark, 70’s chintz of Herb’s Hideout on Larimer, where Jack Kerouac once roamed looking for meaning in Denver’s tenderloin, poetry to match the mountains. They are hard at work on the long-promised Squishtoid Manifesto. I may as well let the monkeys do it, since I have no clue. Like a lot of people, I’ve been busy trying to survive.

It has been nearly a year since I stumbled out of the machine-like florescent hum of my day job, into the harsh light of possibility. A vague plan for creative entrepreneurship was tapping away in my head. Art and self- realization awaited. But the manifesto (and the business plan) didn’t… manifest. There was quite a bit of day-to-day grind to leaving the day-to-day grind behind. And naturally, finding and affording health care is a big worry. Nowadays, many find their work choices defined not by their vision for their careers, but by the need for health care.

It’s not really my intention to inject huge amounts of political opinion into this blog, but the framing narrative here is the struggle to have an independent creative/working life, and there can be no doubt that the ongoing culture wars, as well as the health care reform controversy that stems from them, affect that directly, so it’s kind of hard to avoid. And America, in putting off resolution of this issue for 60 years, has made it harder to solve it.

 Nixon proposed a health care plan very similar to the one we’ve just passed, and Betty Ford advocated choice and the era. But that was the old GOP. The right wing, as they gutted the old GOP, also ratcheted the scope of American democracy further and further right. As resources dwindled, priorities changed. We have to make good choices. But the right wing shouters and haters have consistently downsized the definition not just of the American dream, but of American. And how did Wal Mart become the model for what employment should offer us? There is something appalling about allowing corporations (not to mention rich politicians) to decide who does, and who does not, receive health care in a free society. 

The old saw that Europeans work to live, while Americans live to work has never been more apropos. America, as a country, has never figured out why we work, and it has turned the notion of time well spent into a zero-sum game. We measure ourselves in material wealth rather than health and happiness, so we shouldn’t be surprised when the system demands that we devote our ever shrinking free time to securing the basics that much of the rest of the world has long ago figured out how to make, well, basic. Dreams get postponed. education suffers, kids suffer, retirement suffers. The middle class is a vanishing oasis, the electronics store our stress relief, with VISA the ticket to entry. It’s not a healthy way to live, physically or as a culture, and bingo! here come the number crunchers to tell us why we as a nation, can’t have health care. Though ironically, as a society, we devote tremendous resources to convincing ourselves why something can’t be done. We need a few dreamers. 

I figured I fit the bill. My timing wasn’t great, in the middle of a recession, but it was an old story- the corporation was eying the pension to maintain profits, in the current political climate, it was sort of use it or lose it. In taking the plunge I stepped into the middle of a debate that was no less about dreams than it was about reality.

 The far right doesn’t seem to believe in the American dream. The existing system, in which workers receive health care only at the sufferance of their employer or corporate health insurance concerns, presents workers with little flexibility in terms of striking out on their own, long a wellspring of entrepreneurial creativity that has fueled the American economy. The American dream has always encompassed everything from real estate licenses to hot dog carts, but now is expected to show a profit. If your dream- or your health- doesn’t conform to the business plan, you must not be an American. Is it work for its own sake that forms the dream, or independence? The desire to see the society and its dreams move forward is obviously great as evidenced in the current political mantra “Yes, we can”. 

Isn’t independence why people leave their jobs; why they work for peanuts in the first place? Do people work at Walmart because they are just opposed to decent wages and health care? Society benefits when people apply their talents to produce. It is not properly society’s aim to put everyone to work in a dead end job. Yet when the fundamental question of providing the basics of a productive work force- education and health care- arise, we get the the party of “No we can’t”. When government lacks imagination, and representatives go to Washington simply to be reelected, the American dream withers.

 Health care reform is a simple commonsense idea that strictly by the numbers will more efficiently channel resources while simultaneously ensuring freedom to venture out into our dreams. It nearly got talked to death. Because there are always reasons to be found not to do something. I know. I could have stayed in the safety of corporate retail hoping the Corporation felt like funding health care. But like a lot of people in middle age these days, I was far too young to be coasting into old age, and what could it possibly profit a society to keep me or anyone in such a state of inertia? According to filmy sentimentalism of the brokerage house commercials, our generation is redefining retirement, yet the mechanisms of our own society haven’t kept pace. It is a contradiction of the American Dream- in order to guarantee ourselves quality health care, we have to do the thing that the capitalist heroes like Steve Forbes have always advised us not to do: postpone, downsize, sublimate our dreams. How unhealthy! As we shrank the American dream, we made it more likely that we, as a culture, will do nothing special. And by the law of diminishing returns, we risked decline.

 The health care crisis, as most have realized by now wasn’t about efficiency, but about the Reaganite desire to shrink government arbitrarily. Like those monkeys, the right banged purposelessly away at one key “tax, tax, tax”, hoping no one would notice that there was no vision, and no faith in America. But our government is, by definition, a vision, and tax just a tool. In trying to shrink government, they sought to shrink the definition of “American”. Health care reform, far from the radical takeover the extremists have cast it as, is simply a return to the freedom to shape our own dreams. Far from a government takeover, it is a populist takeover. In an America that is still struggling to move forward from the wars, recession and huge deficits of the Bush years, can we really afford to spend far too much money on a system that limits our ability to have independent innovation? 

There are still tough choices to be made. In this case the right choice was made. I’m feeling better about my personal choices too, now the economy is showing signs of recovery, though I may still need to get a job to make them work. Our health care system is somewhat more rational and user friendly, though premiums will undoubtedly be a stretch, and fixes will be needed. But it’s far more adaptable to changing needs. The road to creative entrepreneurship will always be tough, but at least the road is a bit clearer of obstacles. I have a clearer vision of what is possible. 

Is it possible to get those monkeys going on that manifesto? I might have to give it time. But anything’s possible- after 60 years, we got Washington to believe in the American Dream.