Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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To Go Where No Buddy Has Gone Before

If the question is – “Why a book of poetry?”

The answer, (honestly), is – “Beats me.”

I do not remember writing the first poem. It was just there. Another followed, then another. Over a short period of time – no moSusan holding Minorre than 10 days – someone who’s never had much of an inclination toward or appreciation of the written poem fell down the rabbit hole and all the way in. Quickly I found myself entirely devoted to poetry. It began to fall out, every morning after sitting meditation and with coffee in the recliner. In fact, many of the poems to be found in my first book of poetry – “Minor  Revelations” – showed up in a flash sitting in the recliner.

I have always been a Shakespeare fan, a big one. Beyond that, no friend of poetry. In fact, a couple of years ago a friend named Kate, someone with whom I’d worked years earlier in a Portland foster care program, got the idea to bring poetry into Portland area juvenile detention centers and groups homes – something she’d been involved with in Seattle – and when asked, I signed up as a volunteer. I went to a number of the poetry planning meetings and brought home the books of poetry written by the kids up in Seattle Kate gave me to read (though I never read them much). After a while, the familiar fog of guilt upon me, I respectfully resigned…..Little did I know.

Today I have a second book of poetry in the works, about a third of the planned way complete. One of the poems in that project is called “Kate, I Didn’t Know”. Kate and I had a cup of tea at the Chinese Garden downtown Sunday morning and I told her about it – my new life as a poet, the second book, the poem with her name. She laughed — with me or maybe at me, who can tell. Probably a little of both. Kate’s always been a fan and supporter of my varied adventures.

My answer, above, to the question “Why a book of poetry?” was “Beats me.” While  the “you got me”, “couldn’t tell ya”, “never woulda thought it”, all those ring true, there’s also a fabulous obsession in which I found myself immersing about a year ago with the literature of “The Beats” – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Hettie Jones, Diane di Prima, Clellon Holmes. Obviously there’s a lot of poetry there and while reading everything Kerouac I began the tiptoe through some of Ginsberg as well. “Howl” for sure. Then others. The point being that it’s possible the Beat poets were reaching out from the 50s and 60s, whispering in my ear – and in my heart – “come along with us, Buddy. It’ll be worth it. It’ll be exciting. It’ll be fun.”

So far it has, a joyride eons beyond anything I considered, never mind hoped for. I’ll talk in more detail –  in my next post – just how that ride has looked as I’ve whizzed along all the road maps and signs of my interwoven life.

Here are the last 19 lines of “Kate, I Wasn’t Ready”:

…..

Though I suspect it was a game,

Always a game.

Call it hide and seek

Where I was

Forever ‘It’

And poetry a better hider.

 

So,

Then,

When Kate took my hand,

Led me to workshops,

Filled my flimsy arms with thin volumes

of the good stuff,

Explained to me as if to a child.

All that time –

All this time –

Poetry giggled

Almost silent,

Hiding behind my favorite tree.

 

Invisible.

 

 

 

 

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Help Me Help You

Haven’t posted a blog in a while, but that will change this week.

Frenzy. That’s the goal for this week. All out creativity activity in an effort to end the endless ennui of having days and weeks

 

 

blondie-s-pizzaand months fly by — and oh do they fly in the “senior” years — with the sadness of getting what feels like very little done.

Now I have published my first two books in the last eight months — a life-long dream come true, even if neither qualifies (yet) as ‘The Great American Novel’. I have Facebook friends and Twitter followers way closer to that reality than me. Still, two books. And I have had a couple of public showings of some of my art, both at New Seasons markets  in various Portland, OR locals. I’ve done a few new paintings during that time — and I’m still waiting on the writing/painting simultaneous thing to show up.

But the fact remains that at the end of each day I’ve been blessed with, at the end of each of those weeks, I have the distinct feeling of wasted time. Way too much wasted time. This is not me being hard on myself. This is not me ignoring easy does it. This is simply the fact, Jack.

 

So yesterday, sometime during my daily morning ritual of up at 5:30, sit for 10 – 20 minutes in a rather hilarious half-assed version of “meditation”, drink two cups of coffee while reading something useful (spiritual, inspiring, rewarding) and/or looking at a book of art, then down to the basement for three “morning pages” in a wide-ruled notebook, sometime within that period yesterday I had the decision come upon me that the next week — Sunday, today, through Saturday — I was going to dramatically amp up my creative efforts and social media involvement and general gifting to the Universe with my unique gifts and express myself, and late last night I drew up a chart I could check off and follow and visually confront myself with evidence of any slacking, which in this case translates to lying to myself. And how low is that. Or, hopefully progress.

 

 

So you’ll “see” more of me this week, here and there, and I’ll likewise be invisible and missing in (your) action for long stretches while writing, drawing, painting, brainstorming, etc, etc, etc.

But I will be back right here tomorrow with some specifics about just what exactly is in the works.

A bientot.


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Bread Crumbs

The guy behind the counter was playing jazz when I took my coffee to a chair in the Just Bob Coffee Shop on Alberta in Northe20160916_142455_hdrast Portland last Friday. It was just after two in the afternoon, and while there was the occasional customer lining up at the take-out counter, most of the seats in the shop were empty. Mostly I didn’t hear the jazz music playing, and when it would intrude into my consciousness every once in a while, I’d ignore it. Jazz is not my thing. It’s funny, my non-appreciation of that purely American music form, because it was a favorite of The Beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, one of the writers I most revere, and try to borrow from as a writer. He wrote like jazz, these long, often connectedly discombobulated riff of words, sometimes making up new words to suit the flavor of the riff. Like jazz.keruoac

Which isn’t really the point, other than saying I love Kerouac and don’t like jazz.

There was a woman sitting in one of the three stuffed chairs in the shop — I was in another, facing her — and she was reading a paperback book, a softcover to be exact, and squinting my eyes I could see the title of the book was “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria?” She herself was a black woman, young, maybe mid 30s, and was taking notes in a bound notebook like the one I carried in. Mine was for recording any ideas I could brainstorm for the 11th and final story in my collection of Astoria, Oregon tales. (None happened to arrive while I was there.) So, I shifted tasks, and asked The Universe for ideas for future Blog posts — like this one — and the thought came to me to play detective — Buddy Cushman, Coffee Shop Sleuth — and follow the woman’s book wherever it would lead me.

When I got home, it took quite a while from NE way down to SE where I live, with Friday afternoon city traffic, but it was sunny and hot and I was playing, very loudly, one Tower of Power song after another, so the trip was not only tolerable but, in fact, a wicked blast, rolling, singing, howling, party on wheels (think The 52s “Love Shack” www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs ) Anyway, at the computer dr-tatumI googled the book from Just Bob’s and learned it is a highly valued thought piece on race and race identity and relations in the Country, collective experiences and perspectives written by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the President of Spelman College in Georgia. Here is a ten and a half minute review, very thorough and interesting, of the book and its author. It’s worth a look and listen:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_l5bO9KZrY&list=PLlFqqfHxQmjOGUX3oN6On3kJW253lUGRx     I now have the book on order from The Multnomah County Library system.

What can be more important than how we live with, and value, each other?

The woman with the book left before me, and I sat there looking at the sun stream through the multiple front windows of the shop. At some point the barista behind the counter changed the music and I instantly recognized the opening descending bass and violins of The Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee”. Hard to imagine anyone doesn’t know the song, and certainly anyone who grew up in the 60s. I mean, the empty sidewalks on my block are not the same.

I was struck, wleft-bankehen “Pretty Ballerina” came on a couple of songs later, about the so-often-highlighted black and whiteness of the world — of the day. The woman and her book, it’s black title, and now a thoroughly ‘white’ sounding pop group from 1965 New York City. After another song I walked up to the counter and asked the guy what exactly he was playing. Turns out it was a “best of” collection by The Left Banke called ‘There’s Gonna Be a Storm: the Complete Recordings 1966 – 1969’. A
couple of songs , white poppy little things, stood out to me — I’d never heard them, shame on me, especially working in a record store most of those years and holding The Banke’s debut album in my hands many times. So here they are, for your listening enjoyment, and maybe they are long-time favorites. “She May Call You Up Tonight”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZSlF2AkrS4   and “Let Go Of You Girl”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=POdiO1xOg-E

Way cool. And maybe all this matters not a wit to anyone but me, Buddy Cushman – Coffee Shop Sleuth. Oh well. And by the way, as Oakland’s Tower of Power — a strong example of what glory we can get when you combine black and white — since they helped me along my way home, I’ll end with one from them. Thanks for showing up.

“So Very Hard To Go”:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9BRqGpppJw

tower-of-power-19731


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Yesterday Once More

 

One of my joys in life is listening to “Oldies” on the radio – preferably the car radio. I’m a siIMG_1258mple guy. Much to my delight, a new “Oldies” station showed up in Portland about a year ago, with an amazing playlist: songs that carry the banner of Oldies; songs tKaren 4hat would be considered “B” sides; and songs that are clearly album cuts, many unfamiliar to my highly trained Oldie ears.

I say this as back story. The other day, late last week, the song “Goodbye to Love” by The Carpenters flowed out through my wife’s car speakers while driving home from Trader Joe’s. It got me thinking about The Carpenters, Karen and Richard, and the basket-full of hit, Top 40, mainstream, gushy, pop songs they gave radio and turntable listeners back in the late 60s and right through the late 70s, a few years before Karen’s death.

I never would have described myself as a Carpenter’s fan, back then, waaaay too straight. But, there was something about some of their songs, and Karen’s voice. Something special about her voice. And something, all along, about her as well. A yearning after something else. Maybe that’s not the best way to say it, but that’s the way it felt.

I wasn’t enKaren 3ough of a fan, even secretly, to follow them, so I did not learn about Karen’s eating disorder until after her death in 1983 — the year I got sober at age 34 — when she was just 32. Reports and subsequent features make clear that most people had never heard of anorexia at that time, which, it turns out is what caused her death, by heart failure. I learned about anorexia first hand in 1985, when I went to work at a residential treatment center in Watertown, Massachusetts, and was assigned as a counsel-ee a 13 year-old girl with a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. I bought a book back then, still have it, titled “The Golden Cage”, a book considered one of the seminal studies on the subject. Anorexia is described in the book as “the relenKaren 6tless pursuit of excessive thinness.”

This isn’t a post about anorexia.You can Google it if you want to know more. It’s about the Carpenters and some of their songs, and Karen’s voice. I discovered a wonderful BBC documentary about The Carpenters on Youtube a while back. It’s a five-part series, with Dionne Warwick and Herb Alpert, Richard Carpenter, Petula Clark and Tony Peluso, many more. You can see it here, and it’s worth the investment of some 60 minutes:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOCk-D2fOpg

And the songs. Hard to not include this one from 1970 : www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFx-5PGLgb4    Or this one from the same year: www.youtube.com/watch?v=__VQX2Xn7tI      Or this one, released 1973:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTaWayUE5XA  Then there was this release from ’72, with a ripping, soaring fuzz guitar solo courtesy the aforementioned Tony Peluso:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdG-ITxL8ok

Turns out The Carpenters sold more records than Elvis. Turns out The Carpenters had more conseKaren 5cutive number one hits than The Beatles. Who knew. Doesn’t make them better or as good as, it’s just interesting.

My favorite Christmas song has always been “Let There Be Peace On Earth and Let It Begin With Me”. This song, released in 1970, holds the number 2 spot. Always will:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR1ujXx2p-I

In “Goodbye To Love”, the one up there above with the bitchin’ guitar, there’s a line, “All I know of love is how to live without it.” Here’s a Wikipedia blurb on the creation of the song.  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_to_Love    Even though Karen was not involved in the writing, words and music, the line fits. That yearning thing right there. For me, at least.

Last week my Blog Post discussed Patti Smith. Next week I’m thinking about a little ditty on the musical merits of Black Flag, The Butthole Surfers, The Dead Kennedys, and X. This week, hearing a song on the car radio, I felt like writing about The Carpenters, and Karen. Too sweet?

Sue me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Fear and Hoping From the Basement – Storytelling

This is my today story. My Sunday story. But, first a brief note on everyday.

I get up at 5:30 a.m., my wife turning off the alarm and, she tells me, touching the warm spot where I have been in the bed. I drag on some clothes, go to the bathroom and splash water on my face, then head downstairs. There is a straight-back, dining-room chair I have placed in the middle of the living room the night before, and for the next 13 to 25 minutes I sit in the chair, the goal being to meditate, and think about a whole bunch of whatever it is that shows up today. When I’m done I go turn on the coffee, while waiting I usually go outside and look at the sunrise or lingering darkness in the winter, then I take the first of my two cups of coffee to the pinkish, mauve-colored recliner I bought for $40 (delivery included) on Craigslist when I first moved to Portland seven and a half years ago. Reclining there, I read something I consider to fall beneath the broad umbrella of ‘spiritual’.blog pic

Now today. Sunday. I read from three books that I checked out at the library yesterday – actually I checked out five, but two cups of coffee only go so far. This morning I read the ‘Introductions‘ to these three: “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron; “Bagombo Snuff Box” by Kurt Vonnegut; and “Thunder and Lightning” by Natalie Goldberg. Last night I’d brought upstairs “Maps and Legends” by Michael Chabon to the other recliner in tkurt-vonneguthe house, the blue one that belonged to my mother Irene and was gifted to me when she died 11 years ago, and which I have dragged across the length of these United States three times since then. I began reading the first story (there is no Introduction) of the Chabon book about 10:45, but between the smothering heat on the second floor and the length of a long day the words began dancing before my eyes, and I quickly gave it up and went in to sleep , no covers, beside my already sleeping wife.

I checked these particular books out yesterday – the fifth being “The Pocket Muse, Endless Inspiration” by Monica Wood – because my step-daughter Marie and I are heading off on our second annual “Writer’s Retreat” next Sunday foIMG_6634r four days, to a cottage partially owned by Marie’s Dad (meaning we get a big discount)  which sits not four hundred yards from the Pacific, to write stories (and in my case edit already written stories). The five books, which are all coming along, will serve as anchors and inspirers and rectangular muses and anything else they wish to be, and we will write in timed writing periods throughout the days and take long walks on the fabulous beach and deal with my cooking and watch DVDs we bring (with my fave “Super 8”   www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRQQCKS7go   among them).

Because writers we are, and writing is what we do. I’m an artist – as is Marie – and I have a brand new Artist Web Page ( www.buddycushmanfineart.com ), and I go on long walks and have a long career in human services and administration and even an original music CD to my name. Yet, after all the meanderings and dead ends and geographical cures and flights of fancy that make up the 67 plus years of my life through this morning, I’m a teller of stories first and foremost. A story teller. Hence the writers retreat. Hence the blog. Hence the telegraph avelibrary.

And then there’s this.  A musical story by The Stories for the song of the week:    www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJxZL9L6YWc        And here is author Michael Chabon talking about my favorite book of his, “Telegraph Ave” and the 1970s:     www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvgjhwuxKeE       And, lastly, here the wondrous Kurt Vonnegut takes a minute and a half to explain his “Eight Rules” for writing a story.  www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmVcIhnvSx8

I ‘d like to mention these books as well – Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones” and Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way” – as having profound influence on my storytelling life.

My Monday blog appearing Sunday this week, just because.

Do you have a story to tell?

 


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Who Are Your Friends?

Sitting in the recliner early this morning, with coffee and a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”, I got to thinking about the people in my life, and more specifically, the color of the pimageseople in my life. It’s a current topic for thought, what with the incredibly sad events of this last week, and further back in time. Where there has been much discussion and suggestion and confrontation regarding the idea of walking a mile in my shoes.  Regarding that just maybe you, whoever you are, haven’t got a clue what it’s like to live and shop and sell and drive and gather and sing and worship, for that matter, in my shoes.

So I got to thinking about my life, and the people in it, mostly the people currently in it, but back all along the way too. And I thought that I would try to get a little analytical about it, though me and analysis are usually like the Hatfields and McCoys. Anyway, what better place to begin my search for the reality of my people milieu than in that friendliest of friend places of all — Facebook.

As of this morning I have 408 “Friends” on my Facebook page. I italicize the word because, I’m imagining like most people on FB, some of my friends are more like friends I haven’t met yet, in my case other artists and writers, the occasional friend of a friend, people from various locations along the way, etc, etc. I came down into the basement, here, to the computer, found a blank sheet of scrap paper, and began tallying up the exact specifics of just who make up my friends today.

Of my 408 Facebook friends, 20 are black. That works out to just under 5%. If I add in friends of Hispanic heritage, and the artists I’ve befriended along the internet way from Iraq, India, Portugal, and Japan, the total of my so-called non-white friends, I find that a little less than 9% are non-Caucasian — not Honkeys, if that resonates more.

Within the current population of the United States, the number of African-Americans totals 13.2% So I’m nowhere near representative of who my neighbors in the Country are. And speaking of neighbors, if I were to take a walk out my front door the chances are that I am not going to come along and wish a good morning hello to anyone with any color other than white for a face. Or when I sit in my favorite coffee shop.  Or at the local Trader Joe’s. In fact, I’d have to drive way up to NE Portland and North Portland to have a good chance of meeting a person of another race. Specifically, black people make up 6.3% of the Portland, OR population. And most live together.

There’s more. The black population percentage in the entire state of Oregon is 2% — TWO. In my home state of Massachusetts, black people make up 8.1% of the Commonwealth’s population, and in my adopted, wannabe home state of California, the number is 6.2%. By the way, it just might be so low in my current home state of Oregon because Oregon, in its statehood inception, not once but twice passed laws barring any people of a darker color from even moving into the state.

Then I went through my high school yearbook this morning. There were 119 of us in it graduating as the class of 1967 at Wareham High School, and of those 119, 20 — that’s 17% — were children of color. Better — and that’s the right word, the expansive, illuminating word — than any place I’ve noted above. That was us, the Class of ’67, WHS, all God’s children. And I am ever grateful that’s where I grew up, or at least started getting older.

I lived in Oakland, CA for a while, and visited there a couple of months ago. Black lives make up 28% of the current population of Oakland, and all I had to do was walk out my friend Gavin’s front apartment building door to begin my immersion into a world of color, on the sidewalks, at the Whole Foods, around Lake Merritt. Everywhere. And the fact of the matter is I felt energized and stimulated and bigger, even. And grateful.

The title of this blog post, and I wasn’t really writing it about me, is “Who Are Your Friends?” So I’ll ask my white Facebook friends to, right now, take a couple of minutes and tally up your percentages. My guess is that most of you won’t even come up with my sorry percent of 5% of black friends. I’d like to be wrong, but I bet I’m not. I don’t say that as a Yay for me or a Boo for you. I say it because it’s something to think about the next time we, any of us, think we know how it is for someone else, someone who looks different from us, and that you can at least consider that, well, maybe you don’t. Because how much practice are you getting?

Driving while black? – there’s a new phrase appearing in my world. I don’t know what that’s like. Maybe some of my friends can help me understand it a little better. Maybe some of your friends can help you.

If we bother to just talk with each other some more. And listen.


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I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

the scream

Harlan Ellison, the famous writer of science, speculative, and other fiction wrote a story/book with this title back in 1967 — “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”.  You have to go farther back for Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and his 1893 painting of “The Scream”. For me, they both resonate too well today.

Two years after Ellison’s story was published Neil Young gave us these lyrics: “Blue, blue windows behind the stars. Yellow moon on the rise. Big birds flying across the sky, throwing shadows on our eyes. Leave us helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.”

I woke up this morning, staying up late last night with the network news, and felt that my duty – my job – was to write words of comfort. To comfort. Like St. Francis, not so much seek to be consoled as to console, that where there is despair, bring hope. That where there is darkness, bring light. I sat in the blue recliner that belonged to my mother and felt very strongly that my job for this day was to make my best effort for being a channel of peace.

And yet, it feels like there are shadows on my eyes, that my ability to see clearly, and by seeing understand and come up with a solution, is clouded, smudged, diminished. That I want to scream to stop it – everyone just STOP IT – but that I have no mouth. No mouth big enough and large enough and smart enough and brave enough to shout over the sickness, the division, the on-slot, landslide, the tsunami of bad and badder and still badder yet news that floods our collective view as a Nation, as a Planet. The horror of our everyday that leaps from the screen on ABC and CNN and The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News.

I feel like the person in the painting. Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless.

And yet – again – I can’t give up. I can’t give in. I can’t say “No thank you” to the moral imperative that was waiting for me upon awakening. To be a channel of peace – tsunami or not.

In my case, where I’m at in my 68th year on the crying planet, I’m left with my writing and my painting. My mouths, as it were, with which and through which to scream. For common sense, for compassion, for plain old fashioned kindness and decency, for tolerance, for to each their own and it takes all kinds and we’re all bozos on this bus, for let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

I think that is part of it, and maybe a lot of it, even possibly all of it. The let it begin with me. I knew a guy named Kevin in AA back in Chelmsford, Massachusetts back in the 1990’s. Whenever he was struggling he’d turn to one or another of a couple of older women who served as mentors and comforters to him. He’d moan his particular moan of the day and their reply would always be the same. “It will get better.” No matter his degree of discomfort and psychic pain. “It will get better.” One day, his story went, he’d had enough and confronted them both about just what this “It” was. He was told, the “It” is “You”. You will get better. You will get better, and then it will get better.

I believe that. And I believe that with the right leadership, with true leadership, and with the insistence by leaders that we come together to talk and to listen and just maybe learn something about it takes all kinds and to each their own and, yeah, all of us being bozos on the bus,  maybe then I could get better and You could get better and even We could get better. And then just maybe It would get better.

It’s possible. Harlan Ellison wrote another book, “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World”. Neil Young wrote “A Heart of Gold.” And if you look carefully at that Munch painting you’ll see a couple of figures in the background. Who knows, maybe they’re angels, honest to God angels, just waiting for that scream to yell itself out, ready to step in and bring comfort and hope and light. It’s possible.

I’ve got some ideas, some very specific ideas, about how we could begin to fix the mess we’ve become. I’ll write about them another time, soon. I guess me writing this this morning is opening my mouth and making even just a tiny noise. It’s the best I’ve got today.