A Concern of a 71-Year Old.
Here I am attempting to understand life fully and/or rather my place in it. I know, after 71-years, one would think that I would have resolved it by now. Having returned from Myanmar at the beginning of the year, I have written many articles about that transformative experience. Combine that with the issue of Scottish independence and more recently, Ukraine's dealing with Czar Putin, I am seeing the light quite brightly now. I would be delighted if Myanmar, Scotland, and Ukraine are set free after centuries of rule from the outside. Then there is dealing with the tea party, birthers, and the radical right in America. Those issues are quite bright also.
What I cannot figure out about myself is why I cannot just sit back, relax, and retire. I am more driven with social and political issues than I was back in the 60s with the civil rights movement. Back then, it seemed like the world was simpler, less complicated, and not as diverse when it came to critical issues.
Look at my webpage. You can divide most of the hundreds of articles into three groupings: independence movements around the world, dealing with the radical right, and my grandchildren. Since the beginning of this year, I have doubled the number of articles written last year during the same period. Dr. Marchand said I have seen the light while in Myanmar. I may have seen the light, but I need to know more about the consequences.
Steve Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford in 2006. He talked about connecting the dots. His point was that you do not see the connection between the dots in life until you look back upon them. Then you see the picture more clearly. However, I need some more dots.
I can connect some of the existing dots and understand the larger picture. Half a dozen years ago during winter break, I spent a month in Africa. One reason for being there was to do research on Steve Biko who fought against apartheid. Biko knew how the South African government dealt with blacks. Unless blacks were quiet and not demanding freedom and equality, they were often were killed in the streets and prisons of their country. See the film, Cry Freedom.
Biko wrote about a harbinger of things to come for him, "It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die." He was putting the dots together, and he could see the future as he looked around at his world. His legacy was a free South Africa. However, Biko was killed in 1977 by being beaten to death by the South African security police.
It was nearly two decades later before blacks got their country back. However, go to South Africa and ask about Steve Biko's legacy. Biko made a wise choice in his life, "It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die."
A century prior to Steve Biko, the Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh had to deal with connecting the dots also. He had medical and psychological issues that interfaced with his desire to paint. I started teaching art history while I was a senior in college and have taught art history for nearly two decades at three different universities.
Vincent van Gogh was at the asylum at St. Remy 1889 when he painted Starry Night.
While Starry Night is in my opinion his greatest painting, van Gogh did not have a great deal of success in selling his paintings. In fact, he only sold one during his life, which was called Red Vineyard at Arles.
What drove van Gogh to paint when only one person ever brought his paintings?
Don McLean wrote and sang Starry Night, which was about van Gogh's struggle in life. This stanza is McLean's observation:
Van Gogh painted nearly a thousand paintings from 1881-1890 that were never sold and hence no frames around them. He labored and accomplished nothing due to no one buying anything in which he devoted his life. He saw the world, transcribed it, and started to fill "on a snowy linen land" of the canvas with his brilliant colors. Van Gogh lived for only 37 years.
Van Gogh wrote to Theo, his brother in 1882,
Imagine what swirled around in his mind during all those hours of painting while not having anything to show for his talented endeavors. A lifetime of creative work yielded whatever pittance he got for the one that he sold. In his entire lifetime as an artist, he painted about one painting per month. What was his legacy?
This brings me to my writing. I am like van Gogh. He painted, and I write. However, I am not concerned about selling my writings to a paper or publishing company. I have written for a paper in Dixon, IL for over a dozen years. Tom Shaw, a friend of mine, ran the paper for years. I sold my column to Tom's paper, which parallels van Gogh's selling his first painting to a friend. Tom Shaw was politically conservative but wanted his readers to read what a liberal thought. Thanks again, Tom.
While I would like to write an op-ed column for a newspaper or a book, that is not my driving force in life. What drives me is that I want to change the world. Talk about hubris.
For example, being Scottish, I spent a year doing post-graduate work at the University of Edinburgh 45-year ago. I returned to Scotland last spring nearly a half century after being there the first time. I wanted to research the Scottish independence movement. While I love Scotland, many Scots are not as driven about their own independence movement as I am.
During the past winter break from teaching, I went to Myanmar, which is emerging slowly as a nation addressing human rights issues. I returned from Myanmar a different person. I have written many article about seeing the light while in that country.
Ukraine is in the news very day, and every day seems bleaker than the day before. Czar Putin is attempting to reassemble the old Soviet Union. How many of the old Soviet states want to return to the days of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev? Putin is driven like his predecessors. My entire life, with the exception of the interregnum period of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, has been spent worrying about the trigger-happy Soviet leaders. Therefore, I have written about it, traveled to some countries in the old Soviet bloc, and taught about it in college history classes.
Now, at 71, I look back upon the issues for which I had worked during the past half century, and I look forward to the needed changes politically and socially. Nevertheless, I share van Gogh's question, is all my work worth the effort? I paint the need for change by writing articles and interviewing people. However, what is my legacy? In about 4-mouths, Scotland is going to vote on the issue of independence. Can I really influence them from Crown Point, IN? Myanmar is edging its way to a fairer and more open society, but they have miles to go to reach that destination. Ukraine is facing a Russian invasion by a wannabe czar named Putin. Will all these articles and efforts affect change?
Biko has helped me connect the dots. I stood in front of van Gogh's painting, Starry Night in awe and amazement. So also has everyone else who has seen it.
That single painting has inspired every person that has ever seen it...from the artists of the world and those without any talent. Van Gogh lifted the hearts and minds of millions of people from just that one painting. Moreover, nearly a thousand others inspired people throughout the world.
Van Gogh in a letter to Theo wrote, "But I'm sure I am right to think that it will come in a later generation, and it is up to us to do all we can to encourage it, without question or complaint." (Van Gogh Gallery) Van Gogh's sentence parallels Biko's comment about his legacy.
Now, the dots came together with Biko, van Gogh, and me. To paraphrase Biko, I would rather die painting a picture in writing that will live than to waste my time doing nothing of meaning that will be forgotten.
I have written about teaching art history to Jack and now his brother, Owen. Jack recognizes several dozen paintings by Turner, Monet, Chagall, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and van Gogh. Jack, who is going on 4-years old, can differentiate between the two Starry Nights painting. Owen, who is soon to be 2-years old, loves van Gogh's Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing.
Wouldn't Biko and van Gogh enjoy returning to see what their efforts in this world have created? Therefore, I will continue to write and travel...and write even more.
Visit the Burma Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Scottish Independence page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Ukraine page to read more about this topic.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.