Gas Tank Gimmicks

Woman reading on a warm sunny day

A young woman relaxing, reading on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Fall, MA

 

With all the talk and battling policies in the presidential campaign, nobody is willing to tell the American people the one thing they can do to lower the cost of gasoline.  Drive less.

Nobody wants to say it because they don’t really want you to do it. Well, ok, maybe some of the conservationists do. They’re the ones telling us the government should raise the gas tax. Of course, they’re not trying to get elected. Who would vote for them?

The truth is, many of the of people running government today are themselves enriched by our dependency on oil. Once the big oil supplying nations around the world saw that the American people were willing to pay anything for gas, they just lifted the lid on prices and they’ve been soaring every since. Don’t you think it’s strange that the prices never went up so high before? That’s because the conventional wisdom was we wouldn’t pay high prices. Member nations of OPEC used to be very worried if the price of crude went up above $30 a gallon. They thought the American people would stop buying, find other ways to get around. Maybe years ago people had such choices to make but not anymore. And that’s the point. So many more people live in suburban communities now, not to mention rural areas where I live where there is hardly any mass transit and driving is the only means of transportation. While conservationists think rising prices are great, that all these high gas prices are going to make people find other means to get around, “invest in alternative energy”, the reality is people are going broke – and losing their homes in some cases – because the cost of going to work is more than they can afford.

But still, I see a game in this. President Bush came out and said he is upset that we haven’t done what he’s asked to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. His solution? Drill in Anwar, Alaska. OK. I couldn’t help but wonder – if we let him drill for oil in Alaska, will he talk to the Sheiks and get them to pump more oil onto the market to lower prices? Is he just holding out for what he wants before he talks to them and says, ok, you can open the spigot now?

The other thing he wanted was an easing of the impediments to building more oil refineries. I have to admit I don’t understand this one. It seems logical to have more refineries. Perhaps someone can help me out here. What is the problem?

Still, when it comes right down to it, we the people have so much power. We just don’t know it. If we would drive less, spend less money on stuff we don’t need, fill savings accounts in our local banks with the excess money saved from all that junk we didn’t buy and gas money we saved from car-pooling and saying no to our kids once in a while (no it won’t traumatize them for life) maybe our economy wouldn’t be built on match-sticks.

I went to a meeting in Greenfield, Mass. this week on Sustainable Living with a focus on transportation and the one good idea I heard that everyone could do right now is car-pooling. Not just with fellow workers although that’s what a lot of people do and is very good for everyone. But this could start at home. Families with three cars could consider leaving one (or even two) at home and driving each other to work or school. Imagine the benefit of not getting that 16 year old his or her own car until they graduate from high school. It could be a graduation gift! The greatest benefit would be that they would all actually get to graduate, as so many of our youngest drivers die in auto accidents every year. Why not let kids drive the family car (is there such a thing anymore?) for a while to get the experience of driving before giving them ownership and a level of freedom they’re not mature enough to handle. Perhaps they could drive their parents’ car on date night. Conversely, maybe it would be better to have a parent drive them when they’re going to a party, for safety and to avoid those hazards of intoxication young people sometimes get into unexpectedly, out of a lack of experience. Wouldn’t it be so much better to just have an understanding in advance that Mom or Dad would be picking them up from the party at a particular time instead of having them “call” (who does that?) if they’re feeling like they need a ride.

There are so many ways in which our dependence on the automobile has skewed our society in a dangerous direction. We are fighting a war not so much over oil as because of it. This war started with a terrorist attack by a group who claimed to be angry over our presence in Saudi Arabia. We’d been there since our war against Iraq in 1991. Our entire involvement in this part of the world is because of oil. If this was just a bunch of people living in the desert fighting with each other over water rights we wouldn’t care about them at all. Yes, there is the issue of Israel, but the Arabs would have no clout with the U.S. if it weren’t for oil, and the argument over Israel would be a lot simpler.

I keep hearing that people have to be responsible for their own actions. I think that we as Americans are more than willing to do our part. We just need to know what that is, and in this election year, we are just going to get silly solutions that don’t work. Is anybody really going to pas a gas-tax holiday in this year of huge deficits and national debt? If anything, the politicians will give us just enough flim-flam to keep us from guessing that if we all stayed home every Sunday and watched tv and played with the kids (or the dog) and didn’t drive one day a week, we could lower the cost of gas at the pump in a month.

So, you heard it here first. Don’t shop, don’t drive one day a week, and put the money you save in a savings account so the banks won’t have to borrow from China to keep themselves afloat. That’s what you can do for America.

Working Artist or Business – Which Am I?

 

Black Iris

Russian Black Iris, New Brunswick, Canada, 2005

Last week I put up a show on Main St. in Greenfield, Mass.  Part of a project called AWE (Artist Window Exhibit) the Artists of Franklin County (AFC) are displaying their work in various store windows in town.  It was a big hit last year and so we’re doing it again this spring.  On Tuesday I put six framed photographs in the window of Simon’s Stamps.  They cleared on entire window for me which was great, giving me space to spread my frames out neatly in a little half circle.  When I looked at it from the street I felt very excited and proud.  It’s so exciting to have this kind of opportunity to share my work. 

Last week as I was contemplating preparing for the window display, I got an email from Douglas who is the executive director of Rowe Camp and Conference Center in Rowe, Mass.  I’d given him some of my photos on a CD last fall and he wanted more.  He didn’t actually say why but he’s an old friend and I’m a big supporter of Rowe so I just asked him what he wanted and spent a few hours over the weekend sorting through my images looking for the right ones that would meet his needs.  All of this could have been considered procrastinating as it gave me a good excuse to put off doing the matting and framing I needed to do to finish getting ready for AWE.  Still, it was easy and something I liked doing so I did it.  A lot of times I don’t decide things based on much of anything except do I feel like doing it.  Sounds selfish I know but there it is.  After so many years of working for a living, keeping a house (such as it was) and taking care of my family, there’s a certain stubborn pleasure in just doing what I feel like and deciding not to do things I don’t want to do until I really need to do them.  And then still… 

So, anyway, when I got to Tuesday morning I had what seemed like a simple task, mat and frame two photographs and get them ready to be transported into town.  Actually, there was more to it than that. I thought I’d just pick two more pictures from the ones I had stored in my file cabinet and frame them but as it turned out they weren’t the right size for the pre-cut mats I was using.  So I had to remember how I’d printed the other photos to fit, do that, then mat and frame.  I’d bought a piece of glass in town the day before because one piece previously purchased has a scratch on it and I’d thrown it out.  After I looked at the glass (just as I was cleaning it off to put it in the frame) I discovered it had several marks on it making it really unusable for framing.  Still, tick-tock, tick-tock, I didn’t have a choice so I used it, reminding myself my old friend Stephen Andrew’s admonition against trying to be perfect, “try to mess up one thing each day” and so I guess I succeeded in that.  I did get everything out and into the windows as promised with just a small imperfection on one piece of glass the only flaw.  

It turns out that Doug is using my photographs for the Rowe Center Post, a quarterly newsletter, where I will be the featured artist for the next edition.  In lieu of pay I will get a free workshop which I’ve already started considering.  I’m leaning towards Molly Scott’s workshop with horses.  Not sure I understand entirely what it’s about but I like the idea of hanging out in the country with a bunch of horses for a weekend.  And no doubt there will be an opportunity to spend some time singing around a campfire. Generally speaking this would certainly be considered a successful week for me.  Two creative activities coming to fruition.  

And so when I went into a meeting with Amy at the Franklin County Community Development Corp. (FCCDC) on Friday, I did so with a good deal of confidence and optimism.  We were getting together because I want to work on my business plan and she agreed to help me look at my finances and explain what I should be doing with them.  I consider myself rather poor at understanding numbers and maintaining records.But before I could even pull out my little Excel spreadsheets she stopped me and asked me this:”Is this really a business?  Or is this a hobby?”I was surprised.  The word hobby makes me think of stamp collecting or paint-by-numbers artists.  A real artist doesn’t have to be a business but I can’t really call serious art a hobby.  And yet, there are many people who are photographers who do pursue it as a hobby.  That’s not how I would chose to define my work, however, whether I’m successful at selling my work or not. 

So I asked her, “At what point does an artist become a business?  Is it when they sell one piece of art work?  When they sell ten pieces?  When they get accepted at a gallery?  Is it when their earnings match their expenses? (Or exceed them?)  Is it when they get representation, get their work in a museum, get written up in a national magazine?”

She answered that it was a very good question.

Amy taught a business class for artists offered by the FCCDC which I attended in 2006.  We meet as a group periodically to update each other on what progress we’ve made and share our work.  It’s been a very interesting process that I’ve worked hard to comprehend, not always successfully.  This could have been a disappointing conversation but it wasn’t.  Amy encouraged me to consider just enjoying the freedom I now have to chose what I want to do and pursue whatever creative endeavor interests me.   I’d not looked at it this way before and realized afterwards that it took a great burden off of me as I go forward.  To some extent, when I begin a project and it doesn’t lead to financial rewards (as in, somebody actually buys what I put out there) I feel a bit of a failure and fear I’m letting people down.  Those people would include friends and family who seem to have such hopes for me, and even those in the class who have to hear once again that I went to this show but didn’t sell anything…

Amy said she sees me as still finding my way, building towards something, gaining skill, knowledge, experience, confidence but still not really as having a business, and I woud agree.  It’s still not clear what product I have that is marketable, to whom I’m going to sell my work, or even if that is my ultimate goal.  A big part of me wants to go out into the world and be a reporter and photojournalist.  Use my camera to tell a story.  I love going to events and photographing whatever I see.  Even the photographs of flowers that everyone seems to love are usually taken on the fly, as I walk through a garden or across the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne falls.  I don’t set up a tripod as many professional photographers do.  I prefer to walk.  If I walk through and the light is wrong and nothing inspires me, I’ll go have some lunch and read a paper and go back later when the light is better.  I like to go back to certain places I’ve been before and see what’s new but also appreciate that I know the place and have learned the best way (and time of day) to photograph what I see there.  I also love to go off to new places with my camera and just see what I find.  Art is an adventure.  It’s a vacation in time, a break from the doldrums of normal life.  If it isn’t that then it’s not worth doing. 

All I can say about art and business is this.  In New York City, when I was working as an assistant to a creative director at Grey Advertising, I got to see the results of a lot of working artists.  I don’t think I ever met an individual artist in person except for one that was my boss’s son-in-law come to visit. Successful commercial artists pretty much spend all their time working on their art.  Other people, artist’s representatives, agents, stock houses, do the business side of things.  I don’t know if an artist by her or himself can do all that and actually get any work done.  If nothing else, it will steal the life out of your work if you walk the streets of New York with your portfolio (like some actress or model hoping to be discovered) getting sore feet and discouragement for your efforts.  That’s not to say that in the beginning you don’t have to go to people with your work and make an effort on your own to get seen but it has to make sense.  It has to be specific, and deliberate, tailored to your work and intentions. 

I think before an artist can be successful they need a body of work.  To some extent, because I’ve been working with photographing flowers for about ten years now, I have such a body of work and can take that out in the world and try to promote that.  But there is always that itch to do something new, to say, I’ve done this already, I’m bored, I want to go do that instead.  As an artist who is more than a photographer, I have begun to think I want to try my hand at painting again.  I gave up painting when my son started to crawl.  Initially it had to do with space and the fact that kids get into everything but after a while it was just that I wasn’t doing it anymore and I’d just stopped.  In the artist’s group I belong to there are a lot of people who work in several mediums and they’re inspiring me to try my hand again.  Plus there is this funny thing about my hands; they crave the feel of a brush, they long to take a pencil to paper.  It’s a physical thing that can’t be replaced by a computer program.  And the spring air calls to me to watch the world transform and record the action in paint, brush and photography.  Can these things work together?  We’ll see.

Thinking Out Loud

 twin-tulips.gif

Twin Tulips, Spring 2005 

I find myself quite excited about the voting taking place today in Ohio and Texas.  In a New York Times article posted on their website today, I read a quote from Hillary Clinton.  In defense, ahead of time, of going on beyond today’s elections (in case she doesn’t win) she said, “We’re just beginning to draw those contrasts and those differences and that’s when voters start to zero in.” 

I’m not sure what she means.  The voters certainly have paid good attention to this process.  The Times reports that she is ahead in early polling in Pennsylvania, which holds it’s primary on April 22nd.  She was also supposedly ahead by some 20 points a few weeks ago in Texas.  She seemed assured of a victory in Ohio as well.  Somehow she keeps slipping backward as the primary day gets closer.  The differences between her and Obama are not so great on substance or policy.  The difference to me seems more in style and his is clearly more appealing as time goes on.  You can see her struggling to find something that will stick but the problem is, the more she reaches, the harsher she seems to get and that inclination to fight dirty is what I think is turning people off.  We are all so sick of the dirty tricks, the deliberate misstatements of fact, the implied slurs.

So far, Obama has tried to be above it all while Hillary has been taking a harsher tone of late.  The high point of her campaign was the “moment” as the Clinton campaign called it, when she turned to Obama and said what an honor it had been to debate him.  Then she undid all the good that moment gave her when she started complaining in her best mean-school-teacher style about some statements made in his campaign flyers that she felt were unfair.  She said he mischaracterized her health care plan.  Is there anyone left who doesn’t know what her health care plan is?  And to be so angry, so indignant.  Then there’s that “shame on you” line.  Boy, did that make me cringe.  

If anything has been a source of contrast between these two candidates it is this matter of style.  He is calm and cool and appears sincere (although some may think it’s just a show) while she has been gradually losing it.  The quick changes of nice to nasty, soft to harsh, policy wonk to sarcastic cynic have left me feeling a bit dizzy.  Call me crazy but that call to super delegates to follow their hearts may just backfire.  Or it may be unnecessary as the vote becomes obvious.  Still, it could end up after all these votes today that nothing changes, and they get to do it all again in Pennsylvania.  Like the reporters say, it doesn’t get any better than this.   

Do We Care? I think we do.

Turners Falls HS Marching Band 

Turners Falls Marching Band in Memorial Day parade 2007  

This has been bugging me for a long time so I thought today was as good a day as any to get into it. According to Bob Schieffer, reporting on Face the Nation this morning, there have been almost 4000 American soldiers killed and over 90 thousand wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many of the wounded have severe injuries that will affect the rest of their lives in a profound way.  

War Dead Memorial 2007

Turners Falls memorial to those lost in the war.  

As this war has dragged on and debates rage, the suggestion that Americans are not really personally engaged  the way they’ve been in the past has been put forth by some politicians.  They compare it to Vietnam with all those people in the streets.  They suggest that it’s because there is no draft and so most people who are not connected to the military simply don’t care.  The criticism has abated a bit lately.  Perhaps that’s because it might be unseemly for a politician to suggest, during a presidential election, that the people don’t really care.  Still the thought lingers, and is implied whenever people note that life here goes on as usual and the war seems not to affect the lives of everyday Americans.  Which is probably true.  I imagine, especially to a soldier coming home after a tour in Iraq, that the degree to which life here is unchanged must feel a bit of a slap in the face.

Our government has asked nothing of the average American while asking a great deal of those in the military.  The policy of the Bush administration of demanding that no pictures of coffins returning from the war be shown has contributed to the sense of isolation of military families.  Keeping these images out of the major media coverage of this war insulates the public from the consequences of war.  For reporters, covering the war in Iraq is difficult.  A significant number of  journalists have lost their lives in this war.  Their bravery is noted by the media, as well it should be, and I don’t think the media fails to cover the brave soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan but still, the thought persists that Americans don’t feel the losses as personally as they should.   

Senator Stanley Rosen addresses the crowd.

State Senator Stanley Rosenberg addressed the crowd.

I do hope that the 2006 election where those opposing the Bush war policy won a lot of races in Congress did something to show that Americans are engaged and do care.  I find here in my small town in Western Massachusetts that many people are strongly connected to the war and do care deeply about the soldiers and their families.  It was clearly on display this past Memorial Day when the people of Turners Falls showed up to honor those who fought bravely for their country.  

I thought it might be interesting to show what the town has done to honor those lost in the Iraq war.  It started with a Vietnam vet putting flags on a hill behind the town’s war memorial, one flag for each American soldier killed.  As the war went on and the deaths added up, townspeople donated time and money to help with a task that had grown beyond anything this veteran had imagined.  By the time we got to Memorial Day 2007, there were 3, 845 flags planted in the grass behind the stone memorials honoring the dead of earlier wars. 

 memorial-day-kids.gif

Even the kids got into the act. 

I find people here care and also support those families who have loved ones fighting in this war.  That does not mean they are unified in their support of the war.  A WWII veteran of 85 years told me he had serious doubts about the war.  He had been on the shores of Normandy during the invasion.  He was a true patriot.  You don’t have to be for the war to be a patriot, and you don’t have to march to make your voice heard.  In fact, what is truly different between then and now is that in 1968 we had to go out into the streets to get our voices heard.  Young men were being drafted to fight in a war they couldn’t even vote against because while they could be drafted at 18 they couldn’t vote until they were 21.  That simple change in the law, made after the war ended, made all the difference in the world.  It’s not just that we have no draft, it’s also that we don’t need to march against the war because we can vote for the people who represent our views, and thankfully, there are a great many of those willing to run for election and stand up against the powerful groups that support this war.  What we have to do is make sure we tell them what we want and let them know when we like what we do.  It’s not enough to complain when we object, we must also let those who stand for what we believe in that we are behind them.  That will empower our representative to be ever more bold in what they do.  And that will be good for us all. 

Ellen Blanchette, Sunday, March 2, 2008

 

Looking through the fog

Foggy Sundown

 

The air was warm yesterday, looking strange and  mysterious as mist coming off the snow created a kind of fog that wouldn’t clear even in midday.  It stayed through the rain in late afternoon and remained to day’s end as seen in the photograph above.

The fog also drifted into the corners of the mind as we listened to the latest challenge from the Hillary Clinton camp against Barack Obama that he somehow plagiarized the words of Deval Patrick, the new governor of my state, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure what part of Obama’s words could be considered plagiarism since his statement was mostly well know quotes of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and others.  The part that Hillary is calling plagiarism is when he says, “Just words?”  I’m not sure where anyone could call this plagiarism but the attempt to impugn Obama’s character is in itself both desperate and counter-productive.  In highlighting the similarity between these two black leaders whose words inspired their followers, Hillary Clinton in fact suggests to me that she stole this strategy from Deval Patrick’s challenger.  

If Patrick was using this defense, “just words?” during his run for the governorship, then obviously his critics were saying the same thing about him that Hillary has been saying about Obama, that he is all talk, that his words are hollow meaningless things because there is nothing behind them.  The challenge suggests he lacks the experience to back up those words with action.  

There may be something to Hillary’s position, it’s hard to tell really.  The charge of plagiarism on this truly silly point, however, suggests to me that she has nothing to show to support this position. 

Obama says words do matter and clearly, his supporters agree. 

Stepping out with art

Rowe Pond in Fog
Mill Pond in Fog, Rowe, Mass. — May 2005 by Ellen Blanchette

I want to thank everyone for their kind words. Your support means so much to me. It is surprisingly difficult to step out into the world with your art. I don’t think most people realize that. All my fellow artists here do, and that has been so helpful to me. When we make art, whether it is painting, photography, writing, any of the arts that are done alone, it is a personal and ultimately very private process. Taking it out of the realm of a private pleasure and sharing art with the world, that seems to require a certain kind of courage. I can be very bold and sometimes even loud in my opinions yet with much of my artwork, it’s been something I’ve kept to myself. It has been so helpful to me to get to know other artists in my community, giving me a group of people to whom I could turn with questions but also getting to hear their own struggle to find their way in a world that claims to appreciate art while really offering very little actual support to artists in the development of their own businesses.

I want to acknowledge here Amy Shapiro and the Franklin County Community Development Corporation in Greenfield, Mass. for offering the business course for artists last year. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without the knowledge and gift of community that program gave to me. Suporting the development of arts in the community has become a central concept here in Franklin County. Other communities around the country are also beginning to see the value of investing in the creative economy.

Thanks to all of you for your kind words here. I especially want to thank Diane Clancy for her work on the development of this website, and her continued encouragement. And patience. This is a process I look forward to sharing with all of you.

I hope you continue to enjoy this site and make your comments.

Ellen Blanchette

Daffodil Hill

I was looking through my photographs, trying to decide what I would like to share with you, and found this one from 2003 from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. This hill was planted with daffodils in October of 2001 after 1.5 million bulbs were donated to New York City as a memorial to those lost in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Daffodil Hill

The donations were made by Hans van Waardernburg, a Dutch bulb grower, and the Dutch Consulate, plus various other growers here and abroad, as a gift to the city. The idea was to provide something uplifting, a memorial to those who died that would endure over the years and remind us all, every year, of both the endurance and sacrifice of the people of New York City. Volunteers from all over came together in the fall to plant the thousands of bulbs throughout the city in parks and communities, and in the spring they bloomed. Still grieving, the people of the city were indeed uplifted and comforted by the sight of these bright yellow flowers appearing everywhere, along city streets, in boxes outside Fifth Avenue shops, and in the city’s many parks and gardens.

Paul & Dave at daffodil hill

This photo is from a visit to BBG in 2003 with my son and his friend. I had moved out of the city by then, to Western Massachusetts where I live now. Coming back to BBG was definitely coming home to me. I had worked as a volunteer in the Herbarium for several years and loved watching the garden change with the seasons. Most people go for the festivals or events but working there gave me an opportunity to see it all through the winter and early spring before the visitors arrived. And what I saw was a garden that offered something new all year round, with grasses that turned into huge fans of white plumes along the frozen lily ponds, and mallard ducks that made their winter home there, sitting in that little bit of water in the otherwise frozen stream that flowed from the pond in the Japanese garden. If you visit this site often you will likely see more of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens as I spent a lot of time taking pictures there. It is a true treasure.

Hello world!

Welcome to my new blog! I am so looking forward to sharing my photos and thoughts with you. I hope you’ll feel free to exchange ideas with me and say what you think in a frank and courteous manner. I’ll be sharing a variety of photos and some stories to go with them. And I’ll occasionally get into writing about things I care about in the world, life, and yes, politics. I will try to be objective and informative about what I say. Thoughtful reflection on the issues of the day is something I think is lacking in our public dialogue, so I hope to find a way to encourage that here. Thanks.

— Ellen Blanchette