Category Archives: Journal

Reaching Out

The view across the Connecticut River in Turners Falls, MA  ~ December 2004.
Photography by Ellen Blanchette.

I have been so fortunate in working for the Montague Reporter in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. They have given me the opportunity to write a variety of articles this year including a new column about my experiences moving from Brooklyn, New York to Western Massachusetts in 2002. I also recently wrote an article about the limitations of public housing which was a departure for me from news reporting to expressing my own opinion in print. I think perhaps I’ll continue to look at that kind of reporting from time to time.  It is harder to just focus on the day to day news with the national challenges to our hard won accomplishments, forcing us to reconsider our positions on such matters as health care, child care, discrimination, immigration as well as the education of our children and how that is affected by social pressures and economic fairness.

I’ve also spent a lot of time in the last few years doing theater reviews and that has proven most enjoyable. The local theater companies have been so generous in opening their process to me, allowing me to photograph their work and watch their theatrical development, which has given me a unique opportunity to review a performance with better understanding of what went into creating that work. I grew up in a family that appreciated the creative arts and considered knowledge of art, music, theater, dance to be vital to the education of their children. In sharing this with others, I find the arts to be of great value to all the members of our community, young and old. And I find myself increasing my own inclination to be creative, bringing my own art out to the community. And so I will be sharing some of that here on my own blog, including posting some of my past writing here to share with a wider audience. I hope you enjoy it.

WHAT BELONGS TO US?

 

In the dark days of winter these plants brighten our lives.

“Holiday Poinsettia” photo by Ellen Blanchette

On the New York Times website are photos from the concert at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon.  Great photos of the people gathered to see it, of the President and Vice President elect along with their families, and the artists who performed.  Along with the photos are some descriptions of the event – who sang, what they said, what Barack Obama said.  On the Huffington Post I found a link to a web broadcast of the concert.  Unfortunately, by the time I found it, the concert was over.  If I like, though, I can go back at 7 p.m. or 11 p.m. and try again.  This generous gesture from HBO does some small bit to make up for the fact that they basically stole this event from the American people by purchasing the exclusive rights to the broadcast.  Why stole, you may ask, if they paid for the rights?  Because this was not something that should have been sold.  This was part of the Inaugural events that should be open and freely available to everyone whether they could afford access to HBO on cable or through it’s internet link.  This is a part of history, it is a public event that could only be held as exclusive if all the other networks and news organizations were willing to accept the fact that they couldn’t cover it.  What was it that made ABC cover Obama’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial live but not show the concert?  Somebody told them not to?  How dare anyone decide that something held on public property, with the participation of our newly elected public officials participating, an event leading up to the swearing in of our 44th President, with millions of people excited to see everything to do with the day that we finally get to see the new President take office, how dare they steal this and keep it for the few from the many?  By what right?

Why do I care about this?  Because it is just another example of how free TV is being replaced by pay TV. There is an assumption that everyone has cable.  They don’t.  There is an expectation that most people can have access to the internet. Not true. People think that because libraries have computers and there are schools with internet access that the majority of Americans are connected.  They are not.  Most people living under the poverty level cannot afford the $100+ per month to pay for cable.  Dial-up internet barely gets you anything anymore with the bandwidth required for any live streaming totally beyond what such old-fashioned methods allow.  And libraries?  Are you kidding?  In our town the library has maybe four computers available when they’re open and that’s not all that much so what are they talking about?  That’s for people who want to go check email in the afternoon on their way to the grocery.  It’s more a way of life for penny-pinching senior citizens. For anyone with serious interest in anything more, a home computer and internet connection is what they need.  I pay for it because I couldn’t stand doing without it, and I offset the cost by using it for my phone service, which makes it cheaper than any land-line telephone service alone.  Still, it’s money I really shouldn’t spend. Anybody living below the poverty level with kids to feed is never going to be able to afford it.  As for cable, I only have what they call “basic” which means I get to pay for what I used to get for free, network broadcasts plus some a couple of extra channels that offer nothing much of value.  There’s a debate in the courts now about maybe cable companies won’t be required to carry C-SPAN if they have to offer too many local access stations.  Our local access channels (which I do have) carry a little of this and that, some local bands, some talk between a couple of geezers, mostly poorly shot with generally terrible sound quality. They cover town meetings, which is of value although probably pretty boring for most people.  They do have a kind of neat view of the eagle bird’s nest above Barton Cove. You can watch the chicks get hatched and the eagles feeding the chicks and all, very cool.  But should this replace CSPAN?  No.  Not that I get CSPAN.  I would have to subscribe to an “expanded standard” cable package.  So, no CSPAN, no CNN, and mostly I’m locked out of everything important that goes on because the networks have abdicated their responsibility for news coverage, claiming they no longer have to because now there’s all those cable news channels.  Is this anyway to run a country?  Nope.

SLOW MOTION

Rockefeller Center holiday display December 2001
Angels & American Flags
Rockefeller Center, December 2001
    

I feel like the world is slowly collapsing around us as we sit and watch, helpless to stop it.  We are waiting for the new President.  We’re waiting for Wall Street to start acting rationally again.  We’re waiting for banks to start lending, for somebody to help the people who are daily being forced out of their homes as foreclosures continue unabated, for something to stop the constant loss of jobs and company closings.  We watch, we wait.  I’ve felt this way before.

It’s like the days after Katrina when the people of New Orleans couldn’t do anything but wait for someone to come help them.  The waters had stopped rising but everything was ruined.  There was no place to buy food, no fresh water, no way in or out of the city because there was water all around and so they sat in shelters or on roof tops while bodies floated by.  Those on dry land couldn’t get gas for their cars or money from their banks.  The gas stations were dry.  The banks were closed.  Nothing worked.

In the days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the trains stopped running in Brooklyn where I lived.  The quiet was eerie. A lot of the stores were closed.  People were afraid of what would come next.  We hid in our homes, only going out for food or other necessities.  I remember I kept a radio in my ear as I did my errands because I was afraid to be away from the news for even a minute.  People put together survival packs with water and flashlights and portable radios and – yes, gas masks.  We were afraid someone would drop chemical weapons on us next.  We were afraid of everything.  People couldn’t sleep because every time they heard a plane fly overhead they thought it was another attack.  The whole city was sleep deprived, paranoid.  An entire new meaning to the saying, the city that never sleeps.

Now we wait while the members of the current administration try this and that, and mostly fail to make a difference.  They’ve spend billions of dollars to prop up the banking and financial institutions that were at fault to begin with.  Money that was supposed to be used to help people stay in their homes somehow ended up being spent on bonuses and dividends to stockholders in companies that back in September were supposedly about to collapse.  Nobody understands anything, the American people have absolutely no faith in those in charge, and so everyone is sitting and waiting for a sign that it’s safe to spend a few dollars on Christmas gifts before they take that risky trip to the mall.  We could all just skip Christmas, we’ve done it before.  In 2001 my son and I agreed there would be no holiday gifts exchanged. It just didn’t seem right.  Instead I sent out cards to all my friends and family with a photo of the American flags flying at Rockefeller Center in place of the usual gold and silver holiday flags.  Around the nation, the idea of all those American flags on display was taken to be a sign of patriotism.  For many of us in New York City it was more about honoring the dead – like the flags we put on graves on Memorial Day.  We were a city grieving, the flags were our way of expressing our grief.

Now in a way we are grieving again but nobody feels like flying flags.  We are the ones being buried now, buried under a mountain of debt.  We have been victims of multiple outrageous schemes that have stolen our future.  We look down a long tunnel of despair and fear is surely creeping back into our psyches once again.  We get daily advice from people on CNN who still have their jobs, preaching about being frugal and planning our 2009 budget, cheerful young folk who imagine that a 50 year old man with kids in college who just lost a high paying job and is now about to lose his home can solve his problems by planning a family budget.  Frugality is a given when you’ve lost everything.  With any luck the guy losing his home won’t have cable news anymore so he won’t have to listen to their nonsense.

After fiddling for a week, the President finally announced on Friday that he would give the money to the auto industry to keep them from collapsing along with the rest of the economy.  He did basically what he could have done a week ago but somehow needed to look like he was giving it a lot of thought first.  In the meantime the stock market did its panic dance and people stayed away from the stores wondering if they would have jobs next week.  Way to go W.

Everyone’s counting on Obama to save us.  NY Times columnist Tom Friedman wanted him to take over last month instead of waiting until January.  Too bad we have those pesky laws to get in our way.  I thought he was nuts when he said it but now I wonder if there will be much left to save by the time he gets to take the oath of office on January 20.  Of course, the lack of confidence in our future is at least in part due to the steady drumbeat of dire predictions – the statements of “the worst economic crisis since the great depression” do nothing to encourage the Americans who still have homes and jobs and money in their pockets to go out and spend some.  Having been on a 10 year shopping binge, there really isn’t all that much we need to buy right now and there’s nothing wrong with a nice pair of socks for a Christmas present.  Being frugal is what we’re all about right now.

The financial storm

Photo by Ellen Blanchette:  Cypress and Lily Pond
Chanticleer Gardens, Wayne PA, May 15, 2008

Reading about how the financial crisis keeps spreading ever outward, into the far reaches of the globe, makes me sad for all those who struggle yet somehow separate from it all. While thousands of people (or is it millions?) worry over the loss of everything, their homes, stock portfolios (I do have art portfolios, does that count?) now hedge funds whatever they are, I sit quietly in the eye of the storm with not a single thing changed in my life. That is because I have nothing and therefore nothing to lose.

I do have a safe warm place to live. I have food in my cupboard and in my refrigerator even if it is tiny and I keep hitting my head on the freezer door when I get up from looking inside. I have clothes, shoes, I do need a winter coat but no worry, my credit is intact.  In this upside down economy, as long as you pay your bills you are a good bet but if you own a house that once was worth $500,000 and now is worth only $300,000 you are up a creek. How does that make any sense?

The thing is that people in this country who are used to having a lot of stuff don’t know how to live without. They don’t know what I know, that in America, if you lose your job after working hard all your life, you should not starve or freeze. Unlike those people in China that I saw last week on TV, standing outside a factory that used to make stuff for Mattel, who had just lost their jobs and now were worried about being able to buy food for their children, in America we look out for our own. There are unemployment benefits, food stamps, help to get you through. There is a safety net.  And if you are elderly, there is Social Security to make sure you don’t suffer in your “golden years.” You don’t need a big house with solid gold bathroom faucets (Kenny Rogers once showed off his on some TV show years ago and I never forgot it.) You don’t need 10 bedrooms. You don’t need a big lawn or a lily pond although they are really nice. You need a roof over your head and food in your belly and some clothes to keep you warm. After that, it’s all gravy. And you know, gravy is fattening and may make you slow and lazy. There’s more to life than gravy.

There was a song years ago, The Best Things In Life Are Free. If you doubt that, go for a walk, look up at the sky, listen to the birds sing, watch the ducks play in the lake, or the seagulls fly over the ocean, watch some dogs play or some squirrels hunt for acorns in the grass and think about what it takes to live in this world and what makes you happy. I find when I’m doing something useful I feel better and when I worked for people whose only purpose in life was to make more money for themselves and other rich people who had more money than they knew what to do with I wasn’t happy at all. Our financial world is upside down because our values are upside down. A lot of people already know that. More will be learning the lesson now. Maybe in the end that’s a good thing.

Art Show

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Elegant White Iris

Elegant White Iris 

I’m back working to show some of my artwork in Greenfield along with many other artists in our Artist Window Display – AWE.  Prepare to be AWED is our catchy phrase to promote the display.  I wrote a little about it last spring.  The photo posted below is from that show.  The Iris above is my latest photo on display now at L Salon on Miles Street in Greenfield, MA.

Window display in Simon's Stamps, Greenfield, MA

Ellen’s window display in Greenfield, Spring 2008

The display last spring was easy.  I took six photos with pre-cut mats and metal pre-cut frames, put together with easy to use hardware, and put them up on little wrought iron display easels in the window of Simon’s Stamps in Greenfield, Massachusetts.  It did take a bit of work to print the photos and put the mats and frames together but nothing very difficult or complex.  This time I’ve been struggling and a lot of that struggle is internal.  By which I mean that I’m fighting my own fatigue and desire to quit and forget the whole thing.  I’ve been busy, working for the first time in several years.  Not a real job, not an office 9 to 5 kind of job like I used to have.  Not even a show up and work for somebody else job.  A little job where I go to select board meetings, in local town government, and report on what they say. Easy.  Only not so much.  The meetings are at night, dinner time so I never know when to eat. I get home and I’m hungry and tired and the story has to be filed with the newspaper first thing in the morning so I fight with myself over whether to write or eat, write or sleep, write the story at night and get it in so I can sleep the next morning, or sleep first then get up fresh and write the article early in the morning.  Either way it’s a fight because I don’t want to do either.  Truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore.

So I’ve been working on this little art project.  Last spring I bought a large format inkjet printer so I could have bigger prints of my photographs to show.  Then I had to get larger paper which it turns out is about three times what the smaller (8 1/2 x 11) paper costs but also, it’s only sold in packages of 50 instead of 20 or 25 so it actually costs 5 times what the smaller paper costs.  Each step along the way I question what I’m doing, trying to decide should I or shouldn’t I spend the money.  A friend stepped in and solved some of my dilemma.  She offered to buy the paper if I’d let her print her photos on my printer.  This helped us both and I was glad to do it.  I made wooden frames using pre-cut molding that comes with V shaped plastic inserts that helps in putting the frames together.  That saved me a lot of money and it was fun. The wood glue was goopy but I didn’t mind.  The finished product was excellent and I felt proud.  I cut my own mats using a mat cutter I bought about a year ago. I spent several hours practicing cutting scrap mat paper before I finally cut a quality beveled frame in the center of a mat. When I succeeded it felt great. Cutting my own mats gave me much more control and the finished product was so much nicer.  The photo of the white Iris (above) taken in a friend’s garden this spring looks great in the large 16 x 20 black wood frame.  I put it on a wooden display easel in a tall window of a beauty parlor on Miles Street in Greenfield, Massachusetts.  Miles Street is just off of Main Street where most of the stores with artwork on display are located.

The wooden easel is rather flimsy and I was worried about it but the very charming young woman who runs the beauty parlor was reassuring and so I decided it was ok.  I’d intended to put another one in but that has been more difficult as the second wooden easel, bought last week at a local art/frame shop, has such a thin support bar I didn’t feel it would hold the frame up so I’ve been on a quest to solve the problem.  I did go back to the art store but that was futile, which I knew but went anyway.  That was yesterday.  Today I went to Home Depot hoping to find something that would work and only managed to get some cheap pine cut to size but we still have to put a hole in it before I can use it on the easel.  It’s larger that what came with the easel but doesn’t have an edge to hold the artwork back and may not work out.  I could drive down to the mall instead and try to find something better there.  In the meantime I framed two smaller pieces and would have taken them in to put in yet another store but ran out of time and energy and decided to just go to Network Chiropractic instead to get a treatment, relax, turn the dark clouds in my mind into clear blue skies which Wayne with his healing ways helped me do and so I feel better about things and am not so conflicted now.  We’ll see what morning brings.