Sunday, August 02, 2015

The Need for Beauty

It’s that moment, that very brief moment, when beauty overtakes us, when we pause in our hasty moving from one spot to another, completing one task after another inscribed on an endless list. We, all of us, have an instinctive need for beauty. Without it, we live our days without life.

“It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right?” (Ricky Fitts in American Beauty)

Rituals long passed down abound with beauty in costumes, movements, song, and symbolisms. Cave walls carry evidence of our ancestors’ need for artistic expression. Buried objects brought to light bear witness to the need to craft from within.

“And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes.” (Ricky Fitts)

And I find myself fighting for the time to slow and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me: a mother kissing her child, smiles between lovers, a hawk on wing making lazy circles, a singer across the sound system. Beauty is everywhere.

“That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever.” (Ricky Fitts)

We have allowed ourselves to fall into repetition without purpose, a tightening circle of trying to sate a Joseph Campbell archetypal, primordial hunger for beauty with concrete creations of the mind rather than abstraction constructions of the heart and soul. Continually looking into the screen in our hands instead of relishing the stage of the world immediately around us can lead only to spiritual starvation.

“Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember…I need to remember.” (Ricky Fitts)

We need to remember, to remember how it was, how it can be again if we quiet the shouting of our higher cortical processes. Like Wordsworth, our “heart with pleasure” will fill if we so wish.

“Sometimes there’ so much beauty in the world, I feel I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.” (Ricky Fitts)

And I would describe it slightly differently. I say that at times my heart feels it will burst from the beauty that surrounds me. And, perhaps, that’s how we began…that white-hot, instantaneous creation of this world was the explosion of beauty from another.

Mike Sledge 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Being Sad

On Being Sad

Sadness never ends, but happiness does

Brazilian love song


“You know, I think I’ve always been sad.”

Her words came across the phone line as a peaceful acceptance of a state I knew she had lived in for decades, but which she, nor I, nor others had never really affirmatively acknowledged. 

She continued. “All this time, in grade school, in high school as a dance team leader, I was always trying to be happy, and it was just make-believe. Even then I was sad.”

I wasn’t concerned for her wellbeing or worried that she was depressed. Rather, I knew she had come to an accommodation that provided her the contentment that all the years of faking it had not; she had diagnosed her condition to her satisfaction.

Her diagnosis is not very popular, for we would much rather say that we’re “in a funk,” a little down. Sometimes we even say we’re depressed, as though depression is a state that can, with time, counseling, or even medicine, be lifted. And, it seems almost hypocritical that we are quick to say, “God, he is just the happiest person I’ve ever seen,” but we are loath to accept sadness as a permanent state.

Why happiness and not sadness?

One answer is that using the label “sad” requires us to contemplate about just what it is we are feeling. To say we are sad instead of merely and transiently unhappy is the same as saying we are poor instead of under-privileged or disadvantaged. To be sure, the word “sad” touches the gut and heart instead of the mind. 

We prefer to turn away from the visage of sadness, to close our eyes as children, believing that if we can’t see the monster then it can’t see us. (While passing through a bookstore not long ago, I saw a calendar titled, 14,000 things to be happy about. One can easily predict how one titled, 365 Days of Sadness, would fare.) 

Sadness is normal; it provides us with a dark yin to the sunny yang. A close look at the Chinese symbol shows not only their interlocking nature, but also a dot of dark within the light, and a dot of light within the dark. And, while the symbol also shows an equal balance between the two primitive and innate forces, the philosophy of yin-yang makes it clear that the balance is relative, that the two are not (and should not) always be equal and that one is often followed by the other. Cleary, both are needed, as Thomas Hood, in Ode to Melancholy, noted, “There’s not a string attuned to mirth but has its chord in melancholy.”

Sadness is needed. It gives us the range of emotional motion that enables us to stretch and reach places that would otherwise be out of touch. Would you want to lose a pet, a parent, or a close friend and not feel sad?       

Sadness comes with knowledge. Can you not learn about Africa without also becoming aware of genocide in Darfur? Ecclesiastes says in 1:18, “For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” 

The Bible, of course, does not have sole claim to the literary expressions of how awareness and sadness are closely entwined. Thomas Gray, in Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, wrote,

Thought would destroy their paradise.

No more; where ignorance is bliss,

Tis folly to be wise.


Sadness has the power to heal us. John Lee Hooker’s song, “The Healer,” contains the lyrics: “Blues a healer, healer, all over the world, all over the world. It healed me, it can heal you.” Long before blues evolved, William Cowper expressed the same sentiment as Hooker in his To an Afflicted Protestant Lady: “The path of sorrow, and that path alone, Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.”

Better that sadness be brought out of the dark, that we face it full on and name the beast for what it is. The woman with whom I spoke has finally acknowledged her state of genuine sadness, thus giving herself strength to live and experience the happiness that will ultimately provide her balance.

Monday, December 15, 2014

This is the Place You Want to Tell People About...and You Kind of Don't!

So said Debbie Hollis, Director of Works In Progress, during a performance at the Shreveport House Concert Series. She and I laughed, thinking about how people want to keep a good thing to themselves, such as a favorite swimming hole or fishing spot, but they also want to share with others.

To be sure, one of this area’s best-kept, secret music venues is the Shreveport House Concert Series. Founded in 2004, the Shreveport House Concert Series are hosted in the “black box” building at 1508 Fairfield Avenue. There, in a room skillfully designed for optimum light and sound effects, world-class musicians perform before a small crowd. It is, indeed, an up-close and intimate experience.

The event on December 7 opened with Alan Dyson, a multidisciplinary American artist, at the mike. After a warm and informative introduction, he welcomed the night’s performer, William Sadler. Sadler, an actor and musician, is perhaps best known for playing opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard 2.

After a gracious introduction of his backup band, Dirtfoot—“Louisiana’s premier gypsy punk country grumble boogie band”—Sadler and company wasted no time in regaling the audience with a series of ballads, blues, humorous ditties, and mournful love songs. His rhythms included swing, waltz, simple one-two beats, and looser banjo-picking-while-storytelling.

For its part, Dirtfoot turned in a remarkable performance, especially given that the band had only one sit-down with Sadler before show time. The members have the gift of being both musicians and excellent singers.

During intermission, the audience availed itself of a delicious buffet, making this writer wish he hadn’t had a big dinner beforehand…but the brownies were irresistible nevertheless!

We are fortunate to have so many people diligently working to bring music and art to this community, and the Shreveport House Concert Series is an example of such dedication.

The next performance is December 28, 2014, when the Lightin’ Bugs will light up the stage!

Mike Sledge

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Price of Honor - A Review

If you believe "Honor Killings" (an oxymoron if there ever were one) exists only in remote and socially undeveloped areas of the Middle East and African countries, a watching of this film will tell you otherwise.

Mike Sledge

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day as Bittersweet

From the movie, "The Thin Red Line"...and possibly the book but I haven't read it: "This great evil. Where does it come from? How'd it steal into the world? What seed, what root did it grow from? Who's doing this? Who's killing us? Robbing us of light and life. Mockin' us with the sight of what we might've done? Does our ruin benefit the earth? Does it help the grass to grow, the sun to shine? Is this darkness in you, too? Have you passed to this night?"

Veteran's Day is bittersweet for me. Bitter because of the horrible loss of life everywhere. Bitter because we often accept war as inevitable. Bitter because some people who had rather not fight, kill, and die seem to have no other recourse.

And yet, in my work to do my book, I spoke with servicemen and servicewomen, veterans, and families of those who died and have come away with a deep and everlasting appreciation for the dedication shown by them. Almost to a one, they would have not undone that which was done, even if having to relive the carnage, the horror, the remorse, the sadness of their experience.

If you see a military person, stop and take a moment to honor them. Tell them "Thank you." If you know of someone who was in service in times past, look them in the eyes and say, "I appreciate your service." Even if you do not support any particular struggle or conflict, I would ask that you consider supporting the people who were engaged in such an unpleasant and unfortunate endeavor.

Mike Sledge

Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

"I'm Out of Clothes," She Said

            "I'm out of clothes," she said one day ("she" being my girlfriend).  She was standing at the doorway to her walk-in closet, one hand on the door and the other on her hip.
            "What did you say?" I asked, coming in from the living room.
            "I don't have anything to wear.  You've already seen everything I have."  She turned and looked at me with that frown on her face.  (We guys know exactly what I mean when I say, "that frown.") 
            After reading Men are from Mars and Women are from Outer Space, I have learned not to use logic in a situation like this.  (What do you mean you're out of clothes?  A whole family in the third world has less space to live in than you do in your closet.)  Instead, I said, "I see."
            "No you don't!  You don't understand at all," she said, closing the door none too gently. 
            At this point, I did what all smart men do...I shut up and sat down on the bed.
            She went into her bathroom, opened and closed a couple of drawers and came out, saying "Why do you say, 'I see' when you really don't?  Why don't you just tell the truth...that you think I've got plenty of clothes?"
            "Well, when I said 'I see' I was really trying not to discount your feelings.  But, yeah, now that you mention it, you're right.  You do have plenty of clothes.  I mean I think you've got a lot of my opinion, anyway."
            "Oh sure.  You've seen all my work clothes, church clothes, and jeans.  I've mixed and matched and you've seen all those combinations."
            I busied myself studying the pattern on her bedspread, wondering if there was something I needed to be doing, like getting a root canal or emptying the cat litter box. 
            She strode over to her closet, opened it again, and began sliding hangers back and forth.  I tried to sneak out of the room.
            "What about this?" she said, sticking her arm out of the closet, holding a cute pair of grey tights, turtle neck, and black knit vest.
            "Looks great," I said, turning back quickly.
            "No, I mean have you seen me wear this before?"
            I was stuck.  If she had worn it before and I didn't remember I was in trouble.  And if I said I had seen it, then we were right back at the beginning.
            "I think it looks great on you," I said again.  "You've got the kind of figure that looks sexy in those tights and the top really accents your neck."
            She stuck her head out from the closet and gave me an extremely contemptuous look.  I came back and sat down on the bed again, chastened like a whipped puppy.  At this point, I was thoroughly exasperated.  I was thinking to myself that it really didn't matter how many clothes she had, women were always the same when it came to this...they never have enough clothes.  But why involve me with their personal demons to battle?  I mean, if I'm having trouble with my forehand or if Dallas loses twice in one season to the Redskins I don't whine and moan about it to them.
            Then, while all of this was going through my mind, I realized that it was quiet in the closet...too quiet.  What had she done...hung herself over what to wear to dinner?  I got up from the bed and slowly tip-toed to the closet and peeked in.  I saw her with a finger to her lips, in deep thought.  Without saying a word, she turned, looked me up and down, and said, "Well, with what you've got on I think I'll wear this, and she pulled out a pair of burgundy corduroy slacks and a sweater with a small print that coordinated with the slacks.  
            I nodded approvingly and peeked at my watch, thinking that I had gotten off relatively lucky...her mood had come and gone like a summer thundershower. 
            "Good," she said, smiling.  "Now, how do you think I should wear my hair?"


Friday, May 24, 2013

Mr. Fix-It Gone Wild

(A little lengthy, but worth it!)

Here's the deal...I'm the kind of self-reliant guy...why pay a repairman $75 bucks for a home repair when I can screw it up and pay him twice that?  But, sometimes, things go right for how I got myself embedded with the Army in Baghdad all on my own without any help from CNN or any other major news network.  (Of course, there was that little incident where the Air Force security crew threatened to strip-search me, but that's another story!)

So, this morning, I see a little water on the kitchen floor.  (Now, listen to the first measure of the Jaws sound track...du dum.)  Don't think much about it...I prolly just spilled some when cleaning up, right?

When I come back from errands, I start to thaw the perch for dinner, and then I see some more water on the floor.  (du dum...du dum.)

I open the sink cabinet door and see that the space beneath the sink is god-awful wet. turn off the sink water, and pull all the fricking cleaning supplies and trash bags out so I can see what's going on, but there is no apparent leak. 

So, I grab a flashlight, turn the sink water on, and stick my head up under the sink.  And then I see it, a steady trickle of water from base of the faucet.  It's not a standard hot water on the left, spigot in the middle, and cold water on the right type; rather, it's one of those all-in-one units.  At first, I figure just put a pan under the drip and call the plumber.  But, then, I decide to investigate further.  (du dum, du dum, du dum!)  

So, I find the valves for the hot and cold water lines and turn them off.  I pull my wet self out from under the cabinet and test the faucet.  Turn to the left, no water.  Turn to the right, no water.  I've successfully cut off the water so I can work to my hearts content.

It is at this point where I reached the MOFU fork in the road.  (Every home repairman knows this Moment of Fuck's the point of No Return...the point at which you should proceed past only with extreme caution.)  I could have just left things alone and worked with some inconvenience, but, no, I go to the Moment of Fuck Up and bulled right through it...although I certainly didn't think I was.

My trusty allen wrench fit the recessed and mostly hidden retaining screw and a few turns later I was lifting the spigot from it base "just to check" if there was anything I could easily see amiss.  (du dum, du DUM, DU DUM DU DUM DU DUM!!!)  I lift the spigot one inch and nothing, I started to lift it a little more and...


I clamp down on Old Faithful with one hand and now the fountain now sprayed horizontally in all directions.  

Next, I grab it with both hands, like I'm gonna choke that fucker.  The water then just gushed out and up, but nowhere near as bad as before.  But, there's one little problem:  IT'S HOT WATER!

I mean, my hands are being boiled alive.  

No choice but to let go and dive under the sink cabinet again, this time looking for the damn third water shut-off valve.  (Who the fuck ever heard of there being THREE shut-off valves, anyway?) 

While I'm fumbling around, trying to find a valve (they are itty bitty little valves that are hardly noticeable), I'm wondering where the fuck is the t-handle so, at worse, I can turn the water off at the street.  

I groping around, hot water is pouring down on me, I know my wife is gonna kill me, and then, BOOM!  The overhead ceiling light explodes because the water has hit hot glass.  

So there I am, boiling hot water pouring on me, glass raining down on me, I'm on my back, barefoot, and stuffed under the sink.  At this point I want my wife to just kill me where I lay and get my torture over with.

But, I find the valve and turn it and, mercifully, the fountain of my despair ceases.  

So, the next thing I did what any self-respecting, do-it-yourselfer does and reach for...

Only then do I assess the damage.

Water is fucking everywhere: on the ceiling, on the kitchen/breakfast room/den floors, on the counters, and in the drawers.  Apple computer was drenched, I-phone wet, recipe book soaked...and on and on.

So, I start mopping...THE CEILING.  Can't reach it.  Have to stand on a fricking wobbly stool.  And, yeah, by this time the wine is kicking in.  Imagine a half drunk man, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, standing on a stool and trying to mop the ceiling, all the while trying to avoid the recessed light socket that is hissing and spitting...that's me!

Long story short, I called my wife and said that I would meet her for dinner out.  She asked why and I said that the kitchen faucet was broken...that I tried to fix it but had bad news and good news...the bad news was that my attempt resulted in no water in the kitchen, but the good news was that the den, breakfast room, and kitchen were spotless...and that her interior flowers had plenty of water.

Two wine glasses later for her, she laughed.