Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Makes You Stupid

Every painter, stop, let’s change that every artist is looking for the one killer idea, that one thing which comes out of the blue and makes for a prize winning image, or better still an image which will sell.

And because we are always looking it is pretty certain we’ll miss it when it happens. What? How can you miss something you are looking for so hard?

The truth of the story is when you start focusing on one thing, you get tunnel vision.

Back in the wild and wooly days when I was a badge, I used to warn the rookies, “Being shot at makes you stupid.” They never listened, but then it’s one of those things you have to experience before you understand. Oh, the other thing is, you have to survive.

I learned one night working the First Watch. Civilians call this shift the Graveyard Shift and it probably would be if criminals were descent, hard working people who went to bed at night and said their prayers and tucked themselves in in their Doctor Dentons with teddy under their arms, but surprisingly they don’t. Seems they think that everyone else will be doing that so it makes a good time for them to go to work.

It is a well known fact that there are eight hours between four AM and five AM. Okay so maybe it just feels that way. And that is when the bad guys come out to play.

One dark and stormy night I was doing the dawn patrol and saw coming over the hill in front of me two cars, moving fast and beside the one in back were the prettiest little yellow flashes. I watched and watched as they got closer and closer and I could not figure out what those flashes were. They were too high up to be an exhaust or some part dragging on the ground, what the heck were they?

The cars turned and came straight down the road at me and I still watched and watched as the little yellow flashes got brighter and brighter.

I watched until a big fat, slow moving forty-five slug tore a chunk of brick out of the wall by my head and then you can believe I jumped into action. I hit the deck and rolled up against a parked car and tried to be very, very small.

Nope, it wasn’t a bit heroic and looking back some forty years later and having the advantage surviving it, I can tell you I should have figured out those flashes were muzzle blast and ducked my head a good half hour earlier.

But you see I was so focused on figuring out what they were I never gave a thought to the easy answer.

Now stop and think for a second. Are you staring at things like I did at those little yellow flashes?

I don’t advise it. You see a little yellow flash and you duck. You remember the fifties bomb drills, “duck and cover” as though that would do any good when the whole area was being vaporized by an atomic bomb.

No when you see little yellow flashes, think! And don’t reserve this thinking stuff for gunshots alone, you can do it when you aren’t being shot at in fact I recommend it cause as I said a while ago, being shot at makes you stupid.

So are you looking around at all of the stuff we have in Coos Bay and North Bend and Charleston? No I think it would be a bad idea to go out into the middle of the draw bridge at Charleston and try to capture the winds which have been sweeping through our neighborhood.

Yes, the news people do do it and they get paid to do it and it is still stupid. You remember the second part of my little tale, the part about surviving it? That’s a really important thing to remember. You have to survive to benefit from a life lesson.

So look, think but do not try to out do the news people or we’ll see you on the Eleven O’Clock briefly as you blow by on your way to Seattle.

Look all of the time, not just when we get a weather emergency. Sure the power of Nature is magnificent, but it is powerful, try for something more like magical.

Here, I’ll help out. There are two things which we have in abundance around here and which are very likely to be gone in just a few short years, the boats of our fishing industry and the majestic buildings of our past glories.

See, I’m new here, I’ve only been in Coos Bay for six years and the idea of the whole, big wonderful Pacific Ocean being just a coupla blocks from my front door is fantastic. I lived in Texas where a boat is something you take out on the lake to go skiing in if you have more money than brains and a girlfriend twenty years younger who likes to wear barely there bikinis. The ocean is a scary place where there are things which take one look at you and say, “buffet.”

I haven’t heard all I want about what Coos Bay was like half a century ago. But I can make a guess. I can tell there was money here and folks were living large and fast and doing things other small towns could only dream about. How can I tell that? I’ve seen the Egyptian Theater and Old City Hall.

And there are buildings still in use which have stories to tell, like the buildings downtown where they would have been close to the waterfront and the highway. What were they like fifty or sixty years ago?

I can only guess, but I can also make it my job to record what is left to us. Old City Hall is still majestic even in decline and the Hall Building, The Carnegie Library and that deliciously ornate bank building (?) which sits at Central and Second, what was that like in the heyday when this was a lumber empire and port city.

I’ve heard that Empire was a town to be careful in, rough and wild and gone now. No one managed to catch it before it became just a part of the Coos Bay area. That’s a shame. It’s a shame for people like me who weren’t here and for the kids who will grow up not knowing how this place used to jump.

Don’t let tunnel vision keep you from finding the places and things which need to be remembered. Get out there, with a camera and take pictures so you can go back to your studio and paint in warmth and comfort, there’s no need to suffer that much for your art.

Don’t let being shot at make you stupid, use your head and your eyes and let’s keep the Bay Area and all of its wonder alive for generations to come.

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