Friday, January 20, 2017

 Paintings and Prose by Artist Jeff Blum

"Anger Management"

This was my first true abstract painting.  I had just gotten very upsetting news.  My wife Ellen and I talked about it, but I was still steaming.  As it happened, I had my easel up and paint out. 

Meanwhile, I had recently been to the National Gallery of Art.  On the way to see paintings by Wayne Thiebaud, we passed through a room that featured mainly Jackson Pollock's work. 

So I just started painting, laying the pinkish-purple, whatever paint there was there, on the canvas – without a plan. I alternated between the blandness of the background and the boldness of the stripes (which some see as prison bars, though I don’t.)  Hard, angular strokes contrasted with rounded shapes and lines.

Since my anger had to do with action I didn’t understand by a loved one, I put in a question mark, then more, in odd directions.  Since I’m Jewish, I started inserting Hebrew letters that, together, follow a discussion with myself. 

Stepping back, I saw that, as I often do, I’d used a palette without adequate contrast.  So I started layering in the brighter colors.

I finished the painting in one session, about an hour and a half. At that point, I followed the advice I recalled from my teachers: “Know when to stop.”

"Cobb’s Barn, South Truro, inspired by Edward Hopper, 1931"

I started painting the summer after I retired from a 37-year career.  Nothing had been farther from my interests or expectations than painting.  My mother, then 92, didn’t really believe in “being taken care of" by her children, but I wanted to spend more time with her.  So I asked her to teach me how to paint, a hobby of hers as a young woman. She took up painting again more than 50 years later, in her 80’s. 

That summer of 2013, we started painting together while on vacation in Truro, on Cape Cod.  Our house there is not far from Edward Hopper’s, the place where he painted some beautiful land-and-seascapes.  

So he’s been an inspiration.

After being too intimidated to try watercolor – it seemed so unforgiving as a medium – I took a class. That led to multiple watercolors – the teacher suggested that you keep four or five going simultaneously, so you can work on one while another dries. 

I found a book of Hopper's work and decided to practice my new watercolor interest by working from it.  The first choice was a painting of a barn that is less than a mile from our house, if it still stands.  

Amazingly, it’s one that hangs in the Oval Office of former President Obama!  

I also took a class on “abstract representation,” from teacher Megan Hinton, a painter I admire greatly. She pushed us not to be so damn stuck on trying to reproduce what we saw; instead she encouraged us to try to  capture the spirit of a scene, to experiment with it. 

So there I was, trying to work from Hopper’s barn but not be bound by it.  I love his pale sky – at sunrise? -- in the original, contrasted with the dark barn.  But I also like the energy of my sky, even though it’s not really a color the sky gets to be (this is partly a result of not being patient enough at mixing colors and skillful enough to capture the way a sky fades from one color to the other; I'm working on that).  It too, I think, contrasts with the dark barn well.

In the gently rising and falling hill, grass, etc. I wonder about the very modest changes within the brown grass of the hillside and the blocky, bright-and-dark greens of the meadow or lawn. 

The curving red of the dirt in front of the barn seems unnatural to me.  But maybe it’s a reasonable way to capture the abstract quality of that part of the painting. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why Michelle Obama Has to Run for President!

This morning started out, news-wise, as just one more downer, thanks of course to The Dump. All this business of his freaking dossier. A swamp, promising to get only swampier.

But then, over oatmeal, the world opened up.

Now I'm on my second cup of coffee and just for a few minutes, I am feeling there might be hope after all.

Take a look at the story in the Huff Post.

And then please text and email and call all your friends and ask them to get on board.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

How I Found an Oasis Within the Chaos!

Hello. I am writing to you from East Boxland, MA where I have just moved with my dear husband. We came here voluntarily which at this point is a little insane and hard to believe.

Here is a view of my study:

See what I mean?

I knew this moving thing (it's not Boxland -- but rather a small town a few miles west of Great Barrington) would be challenging. Some of my very good friends told me moving would be hell on earth. But still I wasn't prepared for this. I wasn't prepared to hear what my sister said the other day either: that this disorganization could go on for weeks.

Please say it isn't so!

We arrived here with something like 150 boxes. Insane, I know.

I suppose this is what happens when you move from an 11-room, three-story old farmhouse to a five-room modern dwelling. We have more than enough closets but they are already filled and still there are boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes, both here in my study and in the basement.

Don't get me wrong. I am deeply grateful for this beautiful house. Sometimes my husband and I look out to the meadow and we can't believe we are really here.

And clearly people move all the time. So it gets better.

One thing that concerns me, however, is that almost two years after my sister moved into her new home, she still has a huge number of boxes in the basement that she's never opened.

This is our basement:

I hope, no, I pray that we can see it empty some day soon!

Meanwhile, my friend Kellie asked me yesterday if I was writing. I told her that I've been away from this blog for almost two weeks, because of the move. I told her I felt like I  couldn't write until I was "settled."

Ha! That could be a long long time.

Kellie reminded me how healing writing is. So in the middle of the night I started writing this post.

I am sitting at my mother's oak desk in my study.
I inherited this beautiful piece of furniture after my dear Mom died in 2015. I also inherited one of the many stained glass lamps my mom made during her lifetime.

I've carved out a sanctuary. I vow: this tiny space will remain cleared of everything except the laptop and the lamp.

So now, I can write again. Even if "my room of one's own" is a disaster, there is this  oasis within total chaos.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How Hallmark is Helping Me Cope with The Dump (Trump)

This post appears today in the Huffington Post.

True confession: I’m addicted. Not to drugs, but to movies. Hallmark movies.


It all started back in November, not long after our nation managed to screw things up royally by electing the soon-to-be worst President in U.S. history. (I know, I know the Fox-news folks say “Give him a chance.” I say give him a one-way ticket to Russia.)

For those first horrifying weeks after the election, I was in total denial. I couldn’t bring myself to read about the election in newspapers or magazines. I kept shutting off TV and radio news.

Instead, I buried my head in Hallmark movies.

How could that happen?

It was Thanksgiving week and I was having a glass of wine with my television-addicted neighbor. I sipped and suddenly I was watching a Christmas movie. A young woman from Philadelphia is sitting across from her boyfriend in a café. Speaking in a solemn tone, he announces that he has something important to tell her.

She’s pretty sure he’s seeing somebody else. Or he’s married.

No. He tells her that he is the Prince of Moldavia and that he wants to bring her home to his mountainous little country so she can meet his mother the Queen.


OK. I was hooked. I kept sipping more and more wine and then on a commercial brake, I raced across the street and finished the movie at home. Total schmaltz. Sure. But lots and lots of glittery Christmas decorations. And smiles. And people saying that the spirit of Christmas is all that matters.

I was no longer distraught over the crappy outcome of the election. I was smiling. I was happy.  I wasn’t sitting around worrying that the country was going into the dumper because of The Dump.

I was addicted.

Since then, are you sitting down, I’ve watched maybe three dozen movies? I’ve had my own little film festival going.  My favorite is "Twelve Gifts of Christmas." It's really sweet. Treat yourself. Watch it!

Meanwhile, my husband -- a progressive political organizer who was instrumental in getting Obamacare passed -- shudders every time I shoot up. He leaves the room, or if I'm watching in bed, he hides under the covers with pillows over his head. 

Still, he’s very good at pointing out to me how “formulaic” these movies are. Hallmark Christmas films – all with picture postcard sets that twinkle and glow like Hallmark cards -- feature a character, generally a woman, who has lost or never had much Christmas spirit. Many of the women are high-powered workaholics from big cities.  Or gorgeous TV news anchors.

One way or another, these women end up in picture-postcard little snowy towns, with names like Christmas Valley, where  they learn the most important lesson: Christmas is no crass commercial holiday but rather the season to rediscover love, especially family love, all over again.

Best to do that baking fruitcake and shortbread and gingerbread cookies, all the while it’s snowing and a fire blazes in a huge fireplace.

And yes, I get the irony that Hallmark is largely portraying the America that voted for The Dump. These films offer up a Norman Rockwell kind of small town life. In this life, there are only the occasional black or Asian. There are no gays, lesbians or transgender characters.

These are not films that portray the America I know. And they don’t reflect the underbelly of hatred and fear that fueled Dump's racist and misogynist campaign.

Still, I persist. Because every movie I shoot up gives me a warm glow in my chest (it helps to drink wine.) I feel myself filling up with a warm Christmas spirit. A family is reunited after some calamity, or a couple falls in love and gets married (usually on Christmas day!) and your (well, I should say MY) eyes start to water a bit.

So are you curious what happens with the Philadelphia girl and the Prince? Naturally, they travel to  pristine, mountainous Moldavia, where the Queen is outraged that the Prince is slumming it. She invites a gorgeous young red-headed duchess to the castle to try to distract Prince Charming. The girl from Philly gets disgusted and she packs up and heads home.

But of course, fueled by love, the Prince chases after her and in the end, the Prince and the Philly girl – now The Princess – drift passionately into their glowing future together.

Writing this post has helped give me some perspective. Last night, I turned off two of the movies and read a novel. It felt like I was home.

And as Christmas will soon be history, I’m figuring my addiction will be cured.

Except then I remember an ad from the Hallmark channel: just after New Year’s they’re featuring a film called “Hidden Figures,” which stars -- amazingly enough -- an all black cast!

That one I’m sure not to miss!

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Hokusai Says"

By Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing, you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child, every one of us is ancient, every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive -- shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.

Wood is alive.

Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw, or write books.

It doesn't matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn't matter if you sit at home and stare at the ants on your veranda or the shadows of

the trees and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength is life living through you.

Peace is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.

Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.  

For a wonderful illustrated reading, go to You Tube.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Even Thomas the Train Engine Stereotypes Women!

My grandson is now off the charts crazy about his new “Thomas the Tank Engine Busy Book.”

That’s too bad because as my son-in-law quickly discovered, the book sends all the WRONG messages about little girl trains.

It seems astonishing that a book like this would be published. I mean it’s almost 2017. But then again it’s not so surprising if you consider that a misogynist was elected to the White House.

After talking to my daughter the other day, I feel it’s important to urge other parents: DO NOT BUY THIS BACKWARD LITTLE CHILDREN”S BOOK because it reinforces some of the negative messages about women that we are trying so hard to dispel.

Thomas the Tank Engine, for those who don’t know, is a very popular character. A bright blue engine with a big smile, Thomas appears in dozens of books and is licensed for an array of other kiddy toys and other products. I remember my son, now 27, had a cute little blue pail that featured the popular little train.

Thomas has has an array of other trains as friends.

In this busy book, there’s Percy and James and Gordon. These brave little trains are “eager to be Really Useful Trains.” And so they are, picking up and delivering important cargo.

A fifth train, “Sleek and shiny Spencer, delivers passangers of the royal kind.” He has “pride for a job well done.”

Ah, but then the female trains are introduced. 

“Wise and older Edward always has good advice for Emily, who really is a very nice engine but who can be a bit bossy.”

Bossy, huh? How so? Because Emily has her own thoughts and opinions about how to be a train? Geesh.

A couple of pages later Rosie appears.

“Cheeky Thomas and lively Rosie make a good pair. Although Rosie’s enthusiasm for everything Thomas does can sometimes annoy him, Thomas has come to realize that they are Really Useful Engines.” Poor Thomas, having to put up with that annoying little Rosie. Lucky Thomas, that none of his male friends annoy him!

Finally, there is Mavis: “Thomas knows he can rely on this strong-willed yet friendly diesel...” Come on now. If we said Thomas was strong-willed, would that be perceived as a negative quality? Why can’t women be strong-willed too? And “yet friendly.” Does that quality offset her knowing her mind and sticking to her goals?

Who wrote these lines? The book is published by Phildal, a company based in Quebec.

My daughter’s solution, for now, is to read only those parts of the book that are not objectionable.

But as soon as my grandson loses interest, this book will disappear for good, as well it should.

This piece appeared first in the Huffington Post.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This is Chapter One

So I am preparing to figure out how to publish Sister Mysteries. My husband says, do it as an ebook. My friend and fellow writer Sharon Flitterman-King says, go to Troy Books, as her new book, Articulate Terrain is coming out of that publishing company shortly.

While I muse over the possibilities, I thought I would try to hook your interest in the novel. Once again, I am putting it on a blog. Stupid, most people say. A waste of time, others insist. People don't read long long long long blog posts.

OK, call me stupid. Call me stubborn.

All I'm asking is that you give it a try.

And if you would, let me know how far you read before you go to another site.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Keys to Happiness

I have come here to raise my eyes.
I have come here to keep them riveted on heavenly light.
When I feel my eyes, that window, when I feel
my eyes my heart my soul closing, I take 
a small breath and say a simple prayer
Help me keep my spirits, my breath, steady,
help me keep my heart open to hope and possibility and the beauty
all around me

No matter that icicles drip
lower than the windows. No matter 
that the snow is deeper on this November day
than it is in much of January.
This is plain white, the snow the snow
the soft the soft soft soft fluff of cotton.
All is right with the world when we are
wrapped in cotton warmed by
others. Loved this way, our inner eyes 
open to the moonlit trees at night
We see pink and lemon sunrise and
turquoise oceans and cozy fires and warm foamy
baths and tender new grass and chocolate puppies 
and purple tulips and two people kissing under a starry sky.

It is a miracle that we are able to 
see what we cannot see.
It is a blessing that these tapping keys are keys
to the world of words that
can make you feel sunlight
even though it’s millions of miles away. 

Monday, November 28, 2016


Note: another version of this article appears today on the Huffington Post 

VOLUNTEERS IN MEDICINE is a wonderful organization located in Western Massachusetts made up of doctors, dentists, therapists and other health providers who work for free. VIM serves much-needed medical care to people without health insurance. Tomorrow, they need your help!

“We are joining a national day of generosity called ‘Giving Tuesday,’” 
says spokeperson Jeff Bliss. “It’s a day when new donors can have a big impact on Volunteers in Medicine.” 

The group is looking for donors and volunteers so open up your checkbooks and if you're in the Berkshires, consider becoming a volunteer. I have volunteered for VIM in the past and it’s a fabulous operation. It makes your heart feel terrific just being there!

VIM is also asking that you pass the word through your friends, colleagues, and loved ones.

 “We’ll raise money to support all the volunteer doctors, dentists, and other healthcare workers who provide service in our medical and dental clinics,” says Bliss.

How can you be part of it? Here are a few simple ideas:

               Send a quick note to anyone you are willing to reach out to via email or social media. Ask them to go to VIM’s website and make a gift of any size to support the important free healthcare being provided. There are so many hard- working people who still cannot afford health insurance or who have recently have lost their insurance. 

               Encourage those you know to consider volunteering some time to help keep this clinic supported. Not only healthcare professionals, but receptionists, fundraisers, and other types of support are always welcome.

As all of us are sick to death with negative news (especially coming out of Donald Trump) here is a way to put yourself and your money to work. Donate on behalf of one of your loved ones or friends. Pass the word on via Facebook, email or whatever other social media you prefer!

It never ends,trump's lying!

i know i should try to be calm when writing but this morning's news from trump is overwhelming and sick. it makes it hard to breathe. how can we compete with his endless lies? the saddest thing is how many people on twitter will now believe what he is saying about winning the popular vote. it feels more and more like he is some kind of dictator and his words are just propaganda. there is no more to say except to repeat it over and over again and again and again how he lies how he lies how he lies