Monthly Archives: February 2022

Bottom of the Cup

I streamed the movie Nightmare Alley recently even though I hadn’t heard anything about it. What I did know was that it was directed by Guillermo del Toro, and the actors included Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, and Rooney Mara, among other noteworthy cast members.

Carnivals and their various hustlers create the context for the film. Highlighted are the grittiness of life and the ingenuity of the people who entertain.

As I watched the film, I was struck by how, historically, some individuals have been able to make a living and even fortunes by manipulating the vulnerabilities of others. The manipulators have been able to convince intelligent people that they have the gift or power to read minds, to know a person’s past experiences, and to predict someone’s future. Stunningly, people who use logic in their everyday life can be fascinated by the idea that some people may be endowed with powers of the mind that defy all logic.

About 20 years ago while in New Orleans, a couple of friends and I were strolling through the streets and saw a sign in a window that read Bottom of the Cup. Finding it both hilarious and fascinating that someone would “read” tea leaves and tell us all about ourselves and even our future, we decided to have our tea leaves read.

As strong skeptics, we went into the shop “knowing” that this was just a way for the tea-leaf reader to make money and provide some entertainment for tourists. Yet, I think there was a small part of us that hoped the tea-leaf reader could tell us who we were and what we would do in the future. Aren’t we all desperate to know these things?

I was disappointed that almost none of the revelations about my current circumstances hit the mark. However, the tea-leaf reader recorded the readings to take with us. Years later, I came across the tape of my personal reading. I played it and was surprised that one of her very particular predictions that I thought came out of left field had actually come to pass. Coincidence or not, she said that this situation would occur. As I’m thinking back on some of the other things that the tea-leaf reader said, I think that some of what I saw as inaccurate about my life at that time may not have been misses, but the time had not yet come. 

Many of us are thinking more about what lies ahead for us personally and for us as a community of people. If only it were true that we could find some sense of stability by having our tea leaves read.

Who We Are

When a dear and trusted friend who has been super cautious regarding COVID said that she would risk dying to see this film, I decided that I had to see it as well.

Who We Are movie poster with Black man looking at American flag

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in Americais a documentary written and told by Jeffrey Robinson and directed by Emily and Sarah Kunstler.

Without hyperbole, Robinson makes the case that since Africans were brought to the shores of the Americas, there have been conscious and deliberate efforts to keep people with black skin enslaved in one way or another.

The film uses a graphic to show what continues to occur. A small ball climbs slowly up one side of a curve and when it reaches the very top of the curve, instead of continuing to move forward, it slides back down the curve to where it began. Though I don’t know much about physics, I think that the climb up to the top of the curve was slow and hard, but the descent, with the force of gravity, was swift and strong.

Though disappointed that more people didn’t choose to see this documentary with the word “racism” in the title, I was glad that I was the only person in the theater, alone with my feelings. I left the theater thinking that the nature and culture of our country is the same old song. Some of the lyrics are re-arranged, but the chorus stays the same.

Some thoughts on drawing and painting

Guest post by Dee Jenkins

I think drawing and painting demand a certain kind of faith, a willingness to believe that bearing with the processes involved will eventually lead to a worthwhile outcome. If I didn’t hold that view, I don’t think I could tolerate the inevitable frustrations and disappointments that occur along the way.

When I work, I repeat a sequence of actions over and over again on the same surface. There are two phases in the sequence; one is analytical and intellectual, and the other is driven by interior sensations and needs. I used to think the phases were in conflict with each other in a negative way, but I have come to see the conflict as positive and critical even, because the tension it creates can eventually lead to a surprising and gratifying resolution well worth the time and effort involved.

Such a process, however, demands an endless evaluation and re-evaluation of pictorial elements, including the elements of a picture’s dimensions and edges. It was Giacometti who gave me permission to think of them this way, despite the fact that in most of my art classes I had been instructed to take the dimensions one starts out with as a given. Watching a dog “make its bed” also gave me permission, since before deciding on the right space in which to settle in and settle down, a dog will thoroughly investigate an area; go here, go there, circle around, dig things up, pat things down, etc., just as I like to do (sort of) before I can settle in and settle down within a pictorial space that feels comfortable.

Jazz, Latin, and Tango have all enriched my visual education, as have art and artists from both past and present. Best case scenario: there is music in what I do, and a rhythmic connection between the parts and the whole of every picture. It is frequently the “mistakes” I make as I work that lead me in the most unexpected and exciting directions, and any idea I start out with has by the end, been transformed into something very different from my initial intention. The process of creating an image is ultimately a mystery, and it may be one that is better left unsolved.

Dee Jenkins is a painter, and retired professor, County College of Morris, New Jersey.