Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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From This Morning’s Morning Pages

 

April Flowers pic

It’s great when I can look around and see lots of evidences of my creations, on days when I feel (relatively) creation-less. At least so far, though it’s only 7:30 in the morning and the sun has barely provided enough light to watch like yesterday and tomorrow the falling rain. This evidence of something inside me bursting to come out, even as if in a drizzle, when we talk about legacies — for the kids, for the grand-kids, for the planet, for the wife or the daddy.

So it’s good, here a book of poetry lost in a pile of greater poets, there on the wall set off by a golden brown solid wood frame a so much abstract notion of what April looks like — to me, on that day. Isn’t April the most poetic month, and haven’t I made my best effort to this date to honor her — oh sacred April — with my colors and my words?

I snap pictures on my walk
Where science holds hands with nature
In recollection, digital, colorized
My eyes look up and out
Osprey lording over green river and
Blue pond cattails lean left in morning breeze,
Hold sparrows on their fluffy perch
I drop to my knees
(In my heart)
In thanks — once again — for this. All this.

 

Yes, evidences that there is more inside me than nothing — always good to know — more, even, than lots. Whitmanesque. I am large. Little me with my little life has much to offer. Which, of course, leads to and begs the question — Whose doesn’t?

If I can get sober anyone can get sober, I’ve heard that said from time to time over the years of abstinence and re-generation. And that may or may not have anything to do with creativity — I think I doubt it — just another thing to possibly think about.

Here it is a Monday ( and I bet there are more Monday songs than Friday songs) and so far today I feel, so far, a little vacant and possibly direction-less, other than the imperative to lower the cholesterol and get down on the floor and stretch these old bones, among anything else in need of stretch, and already today — and it’s only 7:47 — I’ve read Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath and William Carlos Williams and Mary Oliver and I can honestly report it hasn’t been to compare, but rather to seek brave new worlds. These early morning worlds always waiting. And like Ringo Starr sang, “All I’ve got to do is act naturally.”

So good thing there ain’t no white chalk outline around me yet. Amen to that.

Someone has written a poem.
When I read it
Will I twirl?
Will I then write my own?
Will I catch the sun from the corner
Of one eye, the moon
From the other?
Will my past line up behind me?
In devotion to
The one me now?

 

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One For The Road — Part One

Back inBlack label my hometown there was this guy – an old black man – who seemingly materialized up from behind the railroad tracks. He wasn’t there, and then he was. I came to know him as a guy who would buy beer and sometimes Tango or Southern Comfort for me. He wasn’t there every time I was looking to drink, but more often he was. And for a price, usually fifty cents, he would go into the package store just over from the A & P and come out a minute later with a six pack of Black Label bottles in a bag for me, and something for himself. I never knew that man’s name.

Let me say here I have a hard time with stories that jump around. It’s the present, next it’s the past, here one character speaks, now someone else is speaking. I have a hard time following. Maybe it’s the injury and my brain being scrambled, maybe it’s all the Black Label and now there is less of a brain, scrambled or not. Maybe my mind, from day one, was only designed to function on the keep it simple level. Whatever the case, this story is being told pretty much in a straight line, from where it began in Wellingham, Massachusetts, hard by the body of water known as Buzzards Bay, to where I sit now, back at my usual corner table in the Last Chance Saloon, two blocks off the beach in Santa Monica, California. My name is Kelly Silva. I am the star of the show, so to speak. There is another major player, a girl named Shalene Dunn. I guess it’s about her nearly as much as me. I’m just the one telling it.

I drank my way through my junior year in high school. I had been elected the class vice-president, the tainted result of an unwanted nomination and rigged election. The only vice-presidential action I ever took was to one time lead the Pledge of Allegiance at a class assembly, on a day Jennie Rivers, the president, was home with the flu. The truth is that throughout that school year I alienated a lot of people with my drinking and my antics, and by June I could not have been elected class clown. Nobody thought I was funny. Nobody, that is, except Roland Demeter III, Rolo, my best and likely only friend. He still thought I was funny.

That summer, between my junior and senior years, I worked for AT&T, thanks to a connection my Dad had. My job was to collect LIDS – left in disconnected telephones – from summer homes in Falmouth and Bourne on Cape Cod. I would get a company van early in the morning at the Wellingham garage and drive over the Bourne Bridge and out to East Falmouth, stopping at cottages and small homes that served as summer rentals for people from up around Boston and the western parts of Massachusetts. I was provided with a long list of addresses every morning and would start at the ones furthest away and work my way back toward the canal, and home. Most summer rentals back then were for two weeks and people would often have a phone installed so they could stay in touch with family and friends back home, or with a dad still working in the city and only coming down, along with about 300,000 other people, to the Cape on a Friday night. When the two weeks were over, and they went fast in the summer, the renters would head home to Roslindale and Marlborough and West Springfield, and the phone – generally on a wall – would be left behind. The phone would have been turned off when the renters left, hence “left in disconnected”. AT&T wanted their phones back and that was my job, take away travel and lunch, about six hours a day, five days a week. I managed to actually find a new renter or a landlord or rarely an open door on a somewhat whimsical basis, so if I had been given a list with 25 addresses on it that morning a successful day’s work would find me turning in 16 or 17 phones to the garage just before 5 p.m. I did that job for two summers and went to some addresses probably five or six times during that time. I go to know Falmouth and Bourne on the Cape side of the canal a little better, made a little money and saved less, and generally managed to stay out of trouble summer days.

Summer nights were different. Wellingham was made up of small beach communities as well as a number of cranberry bogs and a cover of woods over a fair part of the town. So it wasn’t hard to find a party going on somewhere, pretty much every night. I’d pick up Rolo or he’d pick me up, we’d find a buyer, often the mystery man from beyond the railroad tracks, and drink a six pack or two and in the course of the try to convince some girl, maybe some girl from somewhere else now on a two-week respite in Wellingham, about what good company we would make. I would say our success rate successfully arguing our case with young women was a little less than my rate of success coming back with LIDS at work. All in all, not bad.

It was on one of these find a buyer, head to the beach, convince a girl nights that “the injury” came into my life, and changed everything. I had just come back to the main party from a steamy make-out session with a girl named Roberta when Rolo said he’d run out of beer. He was going to go get some and I needed to keep him company. Bad timing Rolo. But friends are friends, and I had exactly one, so I promised Roberta we would be right back and hopped in his VW bug. About 15 minutes later we were getting out of the car in the A & P parking lot when some guys driving by in a dark green ’57 Chevy yelled out for us to go fuck ourselves. Rolo had the good sense to let that slide and began scouring the lot for a potential buyer. I, on the other hand, felt the need to reply to the Chevy crew, and threw them the finger.

 

To Be Continued

 

 


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Coin Flip – Writing 101

Those brown, shiny coin-like things that I use to hold down my greeting cards – after chasing wind-blown cards darting and dipping across the street one too many times – I get asked about them a lot. This is what I tell people. “They are sobriety medallions. The number on the coin indicates a number of years of sobriety. You get them on those anniversaries. I was going to use small stones to hold the cards down, but I thought these were more interesting.”

Sunday mid morning, behind the Red Fox vintage store, in a space rented for $10 across the street from the farmer’s market. My 4 x 2 table is set up, covered with a beautiful purple cloth borrowed from my wife. The cloth mostly covered by the 15 original art greeting cards I sell, or hope to sell, reproductions of my original paintings. Not blowing off the table in the on-again off-again breeze that finds its way behind the building, anchored by the large gold coins.

“Your cards are so beautiful.”
“Why, thank you. How’s it going?”
“Pretty good. Have you sold many?”
“No, not yet.”
“Hmmm, I don’t see why not. I think I am going to buy some. I didn’t bring any money with me but I can go home and get some. How long are you here?”
“I will be here until two o’clock.”
“I love this one. Where is this supposed to be?”
“That is from a trip I took to visit my son in Alaska last summer. This is from a photo I took when we climbed Mount Healy, in Denali National Park.”
“I love it. These coins are really cool too.”
“I was going to use small stones to hold the cards down, which I learned the hard way chasing them down the street a few times, but I thought about these and decided it would look better. Do you know what they are?”
“Yeah, I think so, these are your AA coins right? You have talked with me about being in AA before. I think I have seen some of these in the past, a friend in Virginia had some of these.”
“I kind of thought that in addition to holding the cards on the table it might spark a conversation with potential buyers, maybe another reason to stop and look. In fact I had a woman tell me yesterday, out of the clear blue, that her mother was sober 29 or 30 years.”
“Wow, that is so cool…….I have been thinking about going to a meeting.”
“Really?”
“I think about it. It seems like I am drinking more and more lately, and it is kind of the opposite of how I am trying to live my life, doing things that feel really important to me, meditating and organic growing, community stuff.”
“Well, I can tell you where some meetings are in you want to know. There are different kinds of meetings and some might work better for people checking it out. I would take you to a meeting if you want.”
“Really?”
“Heck ya. I would be happy too.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it. Well, I’m outta here now but I will be back before two for some cards.”
“Okay, thanks. See ya.”


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Ask For Help

 

There are ehelpsignight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “Ask For Help”.

Way, way back in the day, just before the mid eighties when I began hanging around with people who had given up alcohol and drugs, someone offered me this suggestion: ask for help. I could have been moaning about one of 70 things then, but whatever the subject, the response was, “ask for help”.

You might be thinking, how is this idea of asking for help going to take up more than 25 words, nevermind an entire blog. You need help, you ask for help. Duh. What’s the problem? May we please move on to something more worthy of a lengthy discussion than this? Say, picking the names for hurricanes? Well, choosing “Iris” and Klaus” and “Lenny” would in fact be an interesting topic. But for now, this story is about the process of asking for help. Beyond the opening of one’s mouth and saying “May I please have some help here?”

Back in the mid eighties we used to joke that the telephone weighed 10,000 pounds. It was that hard to pick up. Especially when it was going to be used for – yes, that’s right – asking for help. Think of the last time you were struggling with something, anything, and the thought flashed through your mind to call someone for advice, for suggestions, for help – even just to hear you out. Did you do it? Do you do it every time? Some of the time? Every once in a while? Now try to imagine that you are a self-centered, got it all figured out, don’t need anyone’s advice thank you very much, dramatically inferiority-complexed alcoholic loner. You are struggling, you are angry, you are isolated, you are frustrated and maybe frightened, and you are tilting toward a drink, and someone says to you – for the 25th time this month – “ask for help. Call someone up. A problem shared is a problem halved. Just do it.”

Of course if you never were that frustrated, self-centered, feeling lower than whale crap alcoholic it is not likely you can imagine yourself as one. In fact, you can’t. That’s one reason alcoholics hang around with other alcoholics. There is a frame of reference there. (Though, in fact, alcoholics tend to suffer from a sense of terminal uniqueness, and so the feeling that you get where I am coming from happens only after a while.) The point being that if you come to the party with baggage, and that baggage includes a feeling of less than (at best) or self-loathing, it is not easy to ask for help. It just isn’t.

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My Time

 

There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “My Time”.

As thermione 1his tale begins I have borrowed Hermione’s wand – wasn’t it always the most powerful? – and have used it on my ancient stories. Be gone, ancient stories. Fly away, ancient stories. Flipendo.

Yes, they are gone. Now I can tell it.

Something woke me up the other night around 1:30, I don’t know what, and before I knew it I was wide awake. You know how it is, when your mind flips a switch and suddenly a bright, vibrating stream of thoughts begin parading through your head. And sleep has to go wait over in the corner. That’s how it was for me that night. Thinking this and that, rolling over, telling myself I was about to fall back asleep, then 15 minutes later rolling back over, alert and aware that there would be a sleepy tomorrow. I was thinking about my wife – just over there, blissfully in her delta place – and how she had returned a few hours earlier from a work conference in Tennessee. I was thinking about my art, and not having painted the last few days. I was thinking about my re-done Etsy Store and all my efforts to get it going, part of the reason for not painting. I was also thinking about other artists. Two artists with whom I am connected, both on my Facebook Art page www.facebook.com/67blondies , and one here personally in Portland, had posted recently sales of their work. Jennifer Beaudet had been posting progress on a new vase of flowers painting, and shortly after she put it up for sale, it was sold. You can see her work here: www.facebook.com/JBeaudetStudios . It is wonderful, she is a fabulous artist. Her work is bright, fun, colorful, engaging. And my artist friend in Portland, Sean Kalley, www.facebook.com/koldshoulderart had three of his amazingly creative paintings now up on the walls of a Portland business. He uses pastel oils, with his fingers, and the results are stunning. I was thinking that I was happy for both of them. I was also thinking that I was just a little jealous, and I had the thought that I have sold very few paintings in my four-ish years as an artist because…here it comes….I’m just not that good, my art is just not very good.

This is before I borrowed Hermione’s wand. These are my ancient stories, whispering to me. Not good enough. Not as good as. Who am I kidding? Maybe I don’t really believe it myself. Ancient stories. Somewhere, very long ago, these thoughts and/or thoughts like them found their way into my conscious and sub-conscious minds and took up residence. Therapy a couple of times, years of really hard work to live sober with honor and integrity, endless conversations with mentors and friends, had indeed turned a spotlight on these little buggers, and they have been pushed out…Mostly…But here they were, at 2:30 in the morning, stopping by again to say hello. YOUR WORK JUST ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH BUDDY.

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It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Actually, it was 31. I just thought I would begin with a little Beatles magic.

On a Friday night, 31 years ago, April 15, 1983, I drank two 16 ounce cans of Ballantine Ale in the kitchen of my younger sister’s apartment just before midnight. The next day, a windy, cool Massachusetts Saturday in April, I ran 28 times around the track at Stoneham High School, there all by myself, and after the 14th time around a heard someone say, “I’m an alcoholic”.  That someone was me, the only person there.

Almost exactly 24 hours earlier I had been sitting in a staff training at the Drug and Alcohol Resource Program in Stoneham, newly funded by the state and ready to begin serving kids and families with outreach, education, and counseling services. I had been hired to provide outreach to area high schools — I had been hired a couple of months earlier because of my years of experience working with adolescents, certainly not due to any understanding of addiction – and was sitting in on a training by a guy telling us how to effectively work with junior high school aged kids.  But that is not how the training went for me. As I sat there listening it felt like every word being said was directed solely to me, every word about only me, it felt like I was the only one in the room. While there were no blinding flashes of light, no visions  out of the corner of my eyes of angels hovering up near the ceiling, I guess I can say that it was an “aha” moment for me. A pretty big one.

The rest of that afternoon and night is a blur, I have no recollection of where I was or what I was doing. But I was in my sister’s kitchen drinking the two 16 ounce Ballantines at 11:30. The next day it was my turn to cover the office, but after a couple of hours I locked up and went up to the track and my seven-mile run and my three and a half mile proclamation to myself – “I’m an alcoholic”.  That Saturday night I poured the other two Ballantine Ales still in the refrigerator down the drain of my sister’s sink. I was 34 years old, my life’s collections were two trash bags of things in my buddy’s cellar in Medford, I had an old used car, no money in the bank, very few people I was still hanging out with, and I was about to take my first steps down an entirely new path. Two days later, on a Monday night after work, I was on another seven-mile run, this around the Mystic Lake, with my friend Bob, in whose cellar were my life collections. At the end of the run I asked him if he knew how to get to a church in Somerville, because there was one of those meetings there Wednesday night.

Bob loved me as a friend and with a smile on his face he told me how to get there. I went on Wednesday night, and now 31 years have come and gone. I haven’t had to take a drink, or pour one down the sink, in all that time. Not one.

Getting back to The Beatles, I did have a lonely heart then. But not anymore.