Another Freeflow book hot off the press. This is the 23rd. There would be zero if I waited for authentication from the non-authors controlling the established industry of what’s allowed. Way back in the previous century, I decided that, in matters of creativity, no other human being has a right or power over me. I’ll either sink or swim across the Ohio if I’m going to figuratively escape the old guard of arrogant captors. The goal is to become free, not paid for. For an artist, success comes with release, not retention. Safety in signed contracts and popularity induce intellectual and creative sickness. Authors must not be promoted, pressed, or pandered—a common industry standard that locks down freedom to emancipate stagnation.
This week I published a book of musings from a year of COVID-19. March to March. Spring to spring. From new fears to first vaccination. Many of you have read at least half of its contents, which were taken straight from Friday Freeflow essays and meditations. This is a book to add to the primary source closet of a Ron Throop life. Some future might be interested.
“In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high” —Cousin Henry Thoreau.
I am in between vaccination doses, which is a good time to reflect on a year lived in a vacuum.
I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the artist’s place in society. Specifically, how should art exist in the known scientific future? Not the speculating about style and celebrity so much as the revolution of substance. I came up with a plan for my art to do its part to slow the inevitable effects of the sixth extinction. In a few words, not as many pretty flowers for self indulgence. The last time our atmosphere held this much carbon, there were parrots breeding at the North Pole. That should be revelatory to any artist with children or grandchildren asking to be tucked in. I also believe I must remain unemployed (and unemployable) at every opportunity. One should not take up the torch while trying to snuff it out the whole time.
Art can bring the message of good news and dire portents, and all the stuff in between. Some people are gifted the ability to communicate using art if they choose to, and some are bereft the gift, always struggling to express themselves (yours truly). Either way, whatever level painter, dancer, sculptor, horn player, photographer, writer—art is the message one strives to bring to humanity. Therefore, a person who paints a flower that appears “more flower” than a flower, and that’s the message, likely accomplished nothing toward bringing our species closer to homeostasis, of which we are way off the mark at present. He or she just created more visual noise and self aggrandizement. A free flower, copied by another human being in chains. Sure it might bring temporary peace or pride to the painter, maybe help him along to the land of his dreams. And yet the flower could care less if it gets painted. It was perfect the way it was, outside in a field or a garden, rather than dead on a wall in a gallery. Maybe the flower would prefer that the talented human being use her powers to educate and inspire other humans to be better stewards of the planet, on which the flower and a trillion other species strive to survive and propagate. If the beautifully rendered flower was in a painting, growing out the eye socket of a recently deceased fiery demagogue, perhaps it might make the viewer question his or her own tendency to self righteousness and penchant for small powers. Which could bring some tiny measure of guts and hope back to humanity, at least more than what’s got from copying a flower’s flowerness to hear other’s admire with claps and oohs and ahhs.
The flower growing out of an eye socket is where I reside a third of the time with my art expression. Though my next flower might look like a bird tried to draw it, I stuck it out the butt of a Pope being shot from a coffin cannon into a mushroom cloud. Or, if I could not successfully bring that image across, say the painting looks more like a bowl of soggy raisin bran, I can give it the title: “Your Nuclear-armed Pope Should Have Worn Jeans When I Shot Him Out of This Cannon”. Either way, a message got out, and I felt good about it because it left me relieved, like a burp or an exorcised demon. Now you have to deal with it. You have to feel.
Many people think art is making pretty pictures. Or ugly ones if the artist fits the bill. That might have been true in a time when Popes wanted Jesus to resemble a Jesus so peasants could gaze upon painted look-alike Jesus to say, “Wow, we got one helluva Pope, don’t we?” I know it worked lucratively well for millionaires and billionaires of the modern era when inspired (if not visionary) image makers got played like poker chips. Bad renderer Jackson Pollock received $1500 for his scribble drip painting No. 5, 1948. Life loser, David Geffen sold it to other life loser, David Martinez for 140 million bucks in 2006. I bet in hindsight Pollock would have retitled his piece, “If You Resell This Geffan I’ll Curse Your Mother and Sink Your Yacht at Sea”.
I try to express the following truism to my wife, friends, and viewers of my art. Artists are human beings trying to tell you something. They can do it with a life, a comedic moment in time, or intermittently create some lasting reminder (art). Sure, artists can be art makers, but it’s no requirement. My lover or friend has moved me deeper than any image or written word ever could. And in nature, communication and expression are incessant. We’re shown art stuff constantly—rabbits and bees, cats and trees, shadows and leaves. And all day long the sun blazes nonstop, and proves it at night against the moon. People are artists when they strive to tell you something new. Unfortunately, the reality is that now “new” also means keeping life on earth minimally stable into the next century.
We are experiencing the sixth extinction. A multitude of human tweaks in systems that kept steady for millions of years have made the atmosphere go haywire. Destabilization equals doom. And all scientific markers have laid out the course leading to mass suffering. Artists (poets) get this. And some art makers too. Now the question is, with these new parameters set, who gets to be an artist? What must I do with that flower? How shall I paint it? Chiaroscuro, or out the nostrils of a disemboweled billionaire?
The artist in me says the latter, while so many art makers (including myself most days) prefer to remain human all too human, nurturing self-indulgent careers at the end of the world.
Recently a friend told me of a full time secretary job available in his office. Now how was I going to save the whales doing that? Anyway, full disclosure. I have never filed a single document in my life. I once wrote out a check, but it bounced. I unplug my land line phone and forget about it for days. I type 35 words per minute and half are misspelled. I take dictation on paper napkins and blow my nose into them. I have no office experience. Zero. Zilch.
So why me? Why would my friend think I desire another job on top of the ones I already have? Am I not appropriately occupied? Is there a better way to expend my energy? Does he assume I am haunted by shame and feel emasculated because my wife is the breadwinner? He is gainfully employed. That is, he receives money in exchange for the hours he labors. What if the tables were turned, and I asked him if he was interested in a job he is not qualified for, nor has ever expressed an interest in? Say brain surgeon, or truck driver?
Here resides a great American truth, and a major supplier to the Sixth Extinction. According to societies’ owners, we are as valuable as our money says so. One need only an income to gain and maintain respect. This is the result of an industrial revolution that sane minds wish never happened. Smartphones are nice, but air is better, don’t you think? Somehow, after all we have learned about climate change and nuclear endings, we still perpetuate the lie that money acquisition will pay our debt to society. Get in line. Get to work. On any labor, as long as it pays. And remain in debt until we are dead. Keep giving our selves to “the betters” (often at inescapable interest) so they can buy yachts and invest in more shampoo factories to make more make more until the final detonation. Money is god for everyone. And the more one has, the better he is positioned to be unmolested and free to spend it however he wishes—like a slob (David Geffen) or a saint (know any?).
The job mention was more harsh coming from my friend because I consider him to be highly intelligent, and well versed in the realities of ocean acidification. Unfortunately, he has not yet escaped the confines of class and caste to realize the “artist” within. Which is frighteningly ironic because “on his own time”, that is, the time that was given to him by being born (and not the “work” time given for money), he is an accomplished art maker.
With any job offer comes the opportunity to perpetuate the lies told by the expensive class and caste. “Work for money, good.” “No income, bad. Major failure stigma in retirement community trailer park.” True, we need money to carry on in the society we have formulated. We need it for food, shelter, heat, and clothing. And I promise all and sundry, I got it covered. If I can’t make it as an artist, at least I know I have made “it” as an artist. My wife’s got the money thing under control. If she leaves me, there’s always alimony (proof below). If I outlive her, well, I can sponge off relatives and scam some government welfare. Sometimes shame comes to the art maker who can’t draw a flower to look like a flower. However, a successful artist will welcome the money-making failure day after day. It means he or she is striking the right chord offly, a discordant newness, that nobody wants to hear.
But must hear, day after day after day, until the universe is righted.
What do you think of them flowers?
How I Spent My COVID Vacation (by Ronnie Throop, the unpaid artist)
During the first (and hopefully last) year of the pandemic, my wife was able to make all the money we needed (and much more) from an 8 x 11' dressing room in our house. We agreed that I should continue to play being an artist of living. I know it sounds selfish, spending all that time not making a cent to add to a small fortune, but we both felt my skills would be better served to one another rather than exhausted via perpetuating an excessive money-making psychosis. I already had two arms and two legs, so a second car was out of the question. Where were we going anyway with a killer virus on the prowl?
From March 2020 to the present (March 2021), I maintained control of the majority of daily house chores and responsibilities as cook, cleaner, launderer, landscaper, snow removalist, vegetable gardener, cat feeder, litter scooper, grocery shopper, chauffeur, cheerleader to angst-ridden teen, coffee brewer and outside news aggregator service, especially those headlines that pertained to the coronavirus and its nastiness.
When I say I was the cook, I mean that, in a year I cooked every single lunch and dinner meal but 43—Thirty bowls of cereal, seven pizzas, five Chinese take out and one birthday dinner. (687) I also cooked all breakfasts that involved more than 1 person (about 125). And I didn’t prepare and cook any meal like emptying a packet of processed question marks into a bowl and then zapped in the microwave. On average, I spent about 2-3 hours a day cooking scratch meals.
Cheerleader to angsty teen means that, for better or worse, I was (as all parents were this year) a rock for my daughter to lean her troubles against, and available all day and all night in every dimension, and also some of the unknown ones.
Salary equivalents for the many mini-jobs of a homemaker have been estimated by economists. The sexist ones. After a cursory search on the Internet, it seems that homemaking careers are reserved for mothers mainly—that giving birth to a child somehow destined a woman to be the care provider for the rest of the family and their underwear, forever. The double standard puts the lazier spouse (usually the man) upon a pedestal of privilege even if he doesn’t have a golden penis. We all know that its carry over from a grossly patriarchal societal structure. It’s an inherited mess we’re in the midst of cleaning up. And I’m just a foot soldier, armed with broom and dustpan.
All in all, I estimate that I worked 20 - 25 hours per week keeping a sane, healthy, and sometimes very happy household. If I was getting paid professionally for these services, approximately $50,000 would have been added to our small fortune. Good for Mcmansions, second cars and more landfills. Bad for all of life.
I prefer the sustainable volunteer work for people I love.
But alas, I am an artist, and often compelled to express myself unabashedly. So, during my work day, I also made art.
Last March began the great settling in time for earth’s human populations. At predawn on the ides I left to pick up our youngest daughter at college. I spied just one other car the entire way there. A four hour drive! It was a strange first couple weeks of lockdown. Coronavirus was everywhere. Mass graves were being backhoed in New York City. I cooked my mail thinking the virus was going to leap off the phone bill into my mouth, until the day I melted a new credit card. I kept my usual schedule of painting and writing from sunrise until 2:30 p.m., with a one hour break for lunch. Then I would take up house chores and dinner preparation. I made approximately 191 paintings during this time, the majority of them on paper. I painted small, with limited supplies, in order to save money, for who knew what was going to come next.
• Please go here to see an exhibition of this year in painting.
• I had a Facebook Live solo exhibition entitled Empty Nest Neurotic. 60 people came to my house virtually.
• I began to edit and update my published books, and over the year was able to complete about half the archive.
• I typeset and published another book of collected essays, A False Consensus Christmas and gifted it as a digital book to the loyal subscribers of this newsletter.
• I participated in four virtual exhibitions:
• My painting The More Things Change was printed in Stone Canoe, an annual publication for artists and authors living in New York State.
• I was a write-in candidate for New York State Senate District 48.
• I secretly joined the cub scouts and began a project to earn the badges that I dishonestly received when I was a boy.
• I learned how to snorkel.
• I broke up with two lowlife boyfriends, Mark Zuckerburg and Jack Dorsey. The abuse just stopped, snap! What a relief! They were gross and constantly bombing my feed with dicpics.
• I read several new books including a reread of The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono. A fitting novel for the pandemic, set during a cholera epidemic in France in the 1830s.
I discovered David Graeber and read his book Bullshit Jobs. I watched his lectures on the Internet while riding an exercise bike.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander also stands out as a memorable read.
• Speaking of institutional racism and police brutality, I was deeply moved by this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Although I did not march for fear the virus was going to fill my lungs up with water, I painted a sign and set it out on Bigot Street for 9 minutes each day for 9 days.
• I practiced many times with the rapidly improving garage band, Rose and the Amateurs. Nights with Rose at home, and about 25 times with the other Amateur, Mike, either online or physical distancing in clement weather. Except one dark and stormy night when the snow was blowing into the garage and hypothermia creeping into our extremities.
• I dared myself to write and record enough songs to make an album in one week. Studio 54 by Amateur was a huge private success.
I enjoyed it so much I tried it again several weeks later. I Miss Parties was the result.
I think I made a lot of stuff to supplement the wife’s income. It might turn into money some living day in the future, or as legacy to my children and grandchildren. Part time work as homemaker definitely had a positive impact on family life and helped make a pandemic not all that it’s cracked up to be.
I daydreamed more than usual and honed a philosophy that I hope shall take me hiking with a staff into that good night on November 27, 2054. Artists need time alone, practically all the time. We’re used to it. Coronavirus was an unwanted catalyst of change for millions, perhaps billions of people. It isn’t going anywhere. To get back on the same unsustainable pathways leading to worst case scenarios, as individuals and nations, will mean to slam shut the last window of opportunity open to us.
Did we wake up after a year of COVID? Or just smack the snooze button and turn our backs on what’s coming?
From A Spring Without Mulch:
If you’re residing at the Northern 43rd parallel, or above, and the sun is shining, step outside onto some ground cover, grass if you have it, and stick your nose down close.
Inhale and exhale the spring. Hear the silence. Feel the flight of birds. Taste the sky. My advice to you now, with a virus army on the loose, is an Anne Frank journal to write down your thoughts about life and non-existentialism. Anne Frank and Sartre are gone and so is freewill if you desire to live naturally, as squirrels and conifers do. There is a choice, but it is offered by Gaia, not man. Existentialists think man is something to be, as zealots of religion assume god is greater than star goo, and kept a journal about men, rather than squirrels, conifers, or itself. Man is interesting, but COVID is king right now, to be usurped in a decade by ocean acidification, off-the-charts heat indexes in Delhi, and the new kangaroo plague of the desert island Australia.
Fundamental philosophical change occurs as I write. Humankind waking up helpless to natural life outside of what comfort it can bring through stories of vaccine research and Netflix binge-watching. The choice is clear on a clear day. We can love life like the hope of Anne Frank and be modest, innocent youth to our desires (and the needs to all species), or we can walk about town like a proper existentialist, stomping over the scentless grass on our way to the man parade.
COVID and Hitler can care less. Both will waste you when they come knocking.
And if it isn’t the microbe or the misanthrope, it will be Gaia, impatiently tapping the shoulder of the generalissimo because fear of man told him to unleash nuclear Armageddon. But it was just Gaia egging him on. You would too if you were nature watching humankind elevate killers like Elon Musk and Donald Trump, while discounting the future of its own Anne Frank progeny.
Piss on Sartre. He left you mental slavery in a man’s world. Love ardently on Anne Frank. She left lessons on freedom to help you cope during a pandemic.
Side advice: Take from the shelf philosophical books not embossed with the Anne Frank seal of approval and toss them in the campfire at your next social distancing party. How many spring times have you wasted without reading the words “happy”, “content”, “joyful” in your self-help novels and “all about human beings” magazines?
I must admit I have only an elementary school kid’s knowledge of the story of Anne Frank. She was cornered in an attic with her dear family for two years and journaled her experience amid terror of being discovered by the human hunters. She did this with a youthful energy and positivity during a brutal occupation to shame future generations sitting on our couches in pajama woe complaining about Dorito® supply chains and a reality TV President.
Last night I walked along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, as I do each day while Gaia calls out portents from its atmospheric sky pulpit. I was thinking on Anne Frank and her final years juxtaposed by the petty fears we have today. Pandemics happened in her time. Penicillin was a brand new miracle, but it wouldn't stop another Spanish Flu. Her family was trapped in an attic while many of your American ancestors complained about rationing butter. The humans didn’t learn a thing from the First World War, so Gaia gave them a world flu to think about.
No change. Progress!
Anne Frank and Sartre’s contemporaries took civilian murder a step further during World War II, and if that weren’t enough, devised a Manhattan Project to wound Gaia for all the love she gave letting the humans live on her back skin.
Even that wouldn’t do.
The story of Anne Frank has been told to the children, and the adults feed the children television cartoons about hot dogs being the penises of professional basketball team players. They pimp World War II video games about killing being okay as long as Tommy is the good guy, but not always, wink-wink. Presidents grab Anne Franks by their pussies and Presidential candidates finger rape Anne Franks starting out on their career paths. Our would-be Sartres wont for university subsidies in order to have an original, life-enriching thought. This morning intellectuals worldwide are posting pictures of their cats on Facebook.
And Anne Frank?
The only savior Gaia says we need. The embodiment of humility in crisis. Turn off your damn media! Us humans don’t know how to habituate ourselves to nature. We have no control over the path of life beyond a temporary blockade. And there we taketh away, always, and as much as we can. Our only affiliation to Gaia, barring the arrogant, ignorant power we possess, could be humility. Obtain a journal and write down spring joy like a fifteen year old girl dreaming in the prime of her own adult life beginning. Sartre the philosopher never knew that kind of happiness, that longing. And you’ll never know it again if you give it up to the arrogant power of your pretend leaders. Set yourself free from the self-imposed isolation of cynicism. It makes you the killer of Anne Frank, not the other guy or gal. There is only one evil that has ever been.
And it is human-made.
Divest from it!
Finally, the companion song to this week’s Friday Freeflow and the title of my new book:
Next week it’s tax time. Let’s settle our debts!