Fun with monograms: the Chi-Rho

monograms based on the chi-rhoA little hubris in the night: dabbling in a redesign of the CHi-Rho to make my own “I Rule” monogram. 

So there I was, watching another Waldemar Januszczak Art/History documentary; this one exploring the emerging art around early Christianity. Before there was a single image of Christ, there were symbols. The fish, of course, we know from ancient Rome, when it was illegal to be part of Jesus’ disruptive little one-god cult. Then, after Constantine came the Chi-Rho, a monogram formed from the first two letters of the Greek word for Christos.

It was often supplemented with the Greek letterforms, alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, to signify the beginning and the end of all things. The combination of these four letterforms created the word ARCO which, in the Roman language, translated to “I Rule.” This is powerful logo making; and powerful propaganda on Constantine’s part, who adopted the new religion, and transformed the Roman Empire forever.
early christian hand signs seen in art
Drawing hands is fun.

Anyway, check out the series. As with all WJ’s films, it’s terrifically illuminating (pun intended)— a fascinating exploration of the branding and marketing of an entire religion, using all that had come before, and remaking it to serve new times, new purposes.

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Having to wear shoes all day in summer feels like foot binding

gull on the wing at Brighton BeachMy feet are shredded; torn up and abused by the shoes of summer. It’s not that the shoes are uncomfortable per se, but most (cute) summer shoes are too flat to wear often, and the others I counterbalance with: too constraining.

Opposites, each feels a relief after the other, yet compounding irritations alternately. It being a hot summer, sweat and humidity conspire— abrasions result, and blisters. Picture a ballerina’s bruised little hooves; that’s how mine feel.

The truth is, I’m not accustomed to wearing shoes for so many hours at a time. All the years working from home, I rarely wore shoes. Only to leave the house.

And despite my need for walks —2-3 hour stretches a few times a week to go thinking, when I was my own boss— my erstwhile feet were still more lithe and nimble; never sore or stiff. So I put it down to too much time constrained, even (perhaps especially), when idle.

Having shoes on all day puts me in mind of foot binding. What an effective approach to make people* stay where they were put— first the pain, then the twisted-up appendages, unable to do what they were made for.

I took trains with the shortest walks home tonight, which I never do, and pain was why. What utterly avoidable nonsense.

 

*women

Summer hid a whetstone in the slender paths between cornstalks

Seneca, the paint quarterhorse
My brother and Seneca in the ring while I was up at the Farm in July.


Summer
! It’s been too hot. It’s rained a lot. It’s been busy with work, and (half Fridays notwithstanding) I’ve still not gone on a date with the Atlantic Ocean. Haven’t cycled as much as I’d like.

But it’s been good, after its own fashion; taking its own shape. Clarity and focus with my work has (mostly) made up for my extreme lack of drawing and writing. Solid, meaningful visits to and from family and friends have shored up scattered edges.

What it all has in common: that fleeting quality that I will ever associate with Summer. Happily, the meaning lasts, even if the sunshine doesn’t.

And life without meaning is little more than a series of actions or motions.

drawing of a wall needing art, w measurements
My mathy diagram of K’s wall, before we hung all the art!

Just over a week ago there was an unprecedented electrical storm —very local to my apartment. To the extent that my building was hit and I lost a few small appliances; modem, router, speaker, and the aquarium pump. What a nuisance. Amazon: order replacements. Brazenly, decadently easy to deal with such a blow in these times. Nearly everything was back to rights by the weekend.

The electrical storm seems to’ve been a metaphor for things at large. I wasn’t even upset at having to drop over $200 at the damage that ensued; indeed, it felt like a doorway. An entrance stone had opened, to quote Murakami. I took it as a sign. Old things, old equipment, can be let go of easily with the help of a catalyst. Particularly when it suits the story.

Just last year, my printer died, apropos of nothing. I was irritated, irate at first, but at length it dawned on me that the thing was 11 years old. Then I felt grateful it had endured so long. (Few have such a resumé these days.) I practically well-wished it as I left it on the doorstep of the electronics recycling center a month later. A solemn good-bye, with a wink: So long and thanks for all the fish!

I digress.

drawing of electrical wires
A drawing of the occasional above-ground wires of New York City

This summer has been the most disruptive I’ve had in a long time, and probably—definitely— overdue. I’m good with it, have found a way to be settled with it, despite not having had my sand and salt respites at the edge of the world; despite not having spent (yet*) enough time with friends in our erstwhile carefree summer ways. It’s a new chapter, demanding of change.

At Springtide I sensed it, (sortof) accepted it— was fine to wait for Summer. But it’s different now, and it’s on account of so many factors I cannot list or name them all.

I’m still absorbing, but for the first time in a long time I’m not afraid of Autumn. I’ve even taken to listening to the Shipping Forecast as a soothing interlude, a doorway to focus, or just to sleep— a horoscope of rain and barometrics, always rising more slowly.

Photo of the pagoda in Patterson Park, Baltimore
The pagoda at Patterson Park in Baltimore, when I visited K

*ever the optimist!

Life is what happens while a series of dreams or ideas play out; and then you decide what you’re willing to own.

pic of me, ten years ago, in snow

This photo is from awhile ago, but it’s still one of the truest portraits ever taken of me (thx Tarikh). It’s who I am, want to be, ever will be. (I miss that coat, I’ll always be a bit of an 80’s punk rock kid, for better for or worse)

.   .   .

Aside, here’s what remained or came out of a brief, untethered dream after falling asleep on the couch and waking at 2 am—

Something equivalent to the lie in my eye
Every time I pass with a smile and a shrug—
But in my soul I’m screaming_
You don’t know me,
And I don’t owe you

Anything.

Enduring the caprices of the gods

photo of blurred trees in winterNone of us is a stranger to the need for endurance. It’s a universal theme; always returned to in stories.

We endure. And in the strength we needful gain in our small hero’s journeys, we encounter the requirement of meaning. Neither the smallest nor greatest of trials is endurable without that ineffable, elusive thing we all seek: for life to be meaningful.

photo of a tangle of winter trees

It’s the only way to make sense out of the chaos that resides in the spaces we all (humans, gods*, nature) share. Time gives it and robs us of it. All is ever. Change is the greatest weapon of the gods; we convince ourselves the we are in control, but it’s they who pull the strings.

The gods love(d) us for our plodding predictability; made games for their amusement of disrupting and manipulating us. Some of the meaning we seek can be found in the ways we regard, respond to –and endure– these disruptions.

.   .   .

*I use this word in the sense of the gods as we’ve always invented them; stories of the forces which we do not understand made fathomable, endurable.

Also: read The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony.** It’s an incredible, applicable unpacking of Greek mythology, full stop.

**The Times review is good. But beware! “This desire to remain at a respectful distance from the ancient world keeps Mr. Calasso’s book, for all its real learning, from being a work of scholarship.” That’s a sentence that, in my opinion [IMO], is bullshit— or rather, a mere opinion (despite the author’s ‘real learning’).

The dream of many waltzes

I had one of those odd coincidences earlier this week. At my new job, we are sometimes availed of complimentary tickets to events— for example this week it was attendance to a  two o’clock performance of Ravel’s Bolero (and two other pieces, but that was the star) by the NY Philharmonic on Jan 20th.

It just so happened that a few days earlier I’d been listening to Rufus Wainwright, in whose song Oh, What A World he introduces and plays off the primary riff of the very same piece (to wonderful effect). After listening to it, I felt compelled to track down the original and listen to it in full.

This precipitated a persistent dream last Saturday morning in which I was building a playlist consisting only of waltzes (for which I’ve a weakness, and to which category both Rufus’ and Ravel’s songs belong). So upon waking I slavishly began building said list*.

It was weird and exciting to be invited to hear it played by the philharmonic just days after. And I assure you I would be going, except I’d just secured tickets to see Farinelli & the King the same day at eight o’clock— and as keen as I may be, that would just be far too long a day to spend on Work Island on a weekend. : : sigh : :

Anyway. I love when shit aligns or collides out of the blue like that.

.  .  .

*You can listen to 24/7 Waltz People  if you have Google Play. (Admittedly I overreached, and a few rags made their way on it, too. Whatevs.) Ravel didn’t make it on, though, as it’s all contemporary.

PS— Sorry I missed my Thursday post. Here it is, terrifically late. More to come over the weekend, relating to the animated short began last weekend.

Our hopes such as they are, invisible before us, untouched and still possible*

black and white photograph of sun coming through tree branches

Returned from the snow farm for the last few days of the year’s closing book. Serene here, too— quiet and white-blanketed. Few people are on the sidewalks, chilled and brittle. The emptiness of the playground today: a witness to the mercury, its height diminished despite bright sun.

And here we meet our fabricated bookends for time, believing we can hold or control it; we note it and name it to preserve the illusion. All is change, even the end of things, like the dying year to be replaced or born anew this midnight. Supplanted by new hopes, optimism in the dark corner of the year. Rebirth, Springtide: a crocus fighting her way up through a crust of snow.

Her bloom and demise are written in the maths that make her. Only we personify it, make a mirror of her. We with our imagined souls are infinitely fragile. So we make of her a beacon.

We’ll wait for her in the darkness yet to come. We’ll look for her as we burn through the woodpile, stacked under the eaves last fall. And as we watch the icicles melt, painting the days toothless, mild, and green again.

black and white photograph of a farm house in a snowy fieldblack and white photograph of a barn an silo on a snowy hillblack and white photograph of a large oak branch and a silo on a hill in the distance

*from the poem ”To the New Year” by W. S. Merwin

The water pipes upstairs froze overnight

photo of the garden and field under snowIt’s double-quilt weather and icy lashes weather as the wind stings saltwater rills from our eyes. Shoulders hunched, we retreat into our hoods like sheltering caves.

Convolutions and subtext slip away like shingles from a roof during high winds. Faced with the elemental force of cold, our needs simplify. Just as hunger renders food delicious merely by filling a need, warmth does same after a spell of shivers; muscles convulsing in their toil of keeping the blood from slowing in our veins.

The simplification is good. Makes us thankful for the ease of milder days. Which at length leads to contemplation; to philosophical meanderings and resolutions. We will never take anything for granted again!

But we tend to be creatures of reaction more than of action. So, always the ebb and flow: seasons without, seasons within.

We will be relieved when the plumbing returns. In the meantime, we recognize the relative ease of most days. We hope the pipes hold and do not burst. And we wait for things to thaw, to soften even a little, in their intensity.

The crust of snow renders the clear sun blinding

Black and white photo of winter branchesThe barn cats, huddled and hungry, have not ventured forth to beg in the dooryard today. The stalwart horses, shaggy in their winter coats and snugged in blankets, have chosen to remain in the shelter of their run-in stalls— those hard-wired grazers who prefer to spend days in search of remaining blades of green beneath the snow.

Even Wolf, of Siberian ancestry —built for the inhospitable, the brittle— ventured out in the morning, but resigned to coil himself in a windless corner of the porch rather than roam the fields as he usually does..

The frost is holding fast. The cold, recently settled in, is absolute. So too the clear blue of the cloudless sky. Not a single drip today from an earlier day’s sun-melt row of icicle teeth. Not even at noon on the south-facing eaves.

The subtle mental nausea of homesick

a scrap of writing I did when I was 21, summer after college. (a summer homesickness)

Here’s a scrap from one of my journals of youth. A page written when I was twenty-one, and newly out of college— my first summer spent in Brooklyn, as I’d always gone back to the farm in between the school years. Few of my schoolmates were in town that summer. I was broke, looking for work, renting a furnished room in a  sublet with two roommates who were rarely at home. It was a lonely summer. (It was when I first began taking long solitary wanders in this town.)

I can see that I’ve apparently always had a penchant to write in all caps (when not too hurried), and a flair for flowery or not very day-to-day wording, though over the years it has seeped into my speech. When they say write the way you speak, I wound up doing it the other way round, haha.

Anyway, as I shall be back at the farm in less then 48 hours, a little homesick nostalgia seemed a timely do-dad to pull from the archives for this Winter Solstice post.