Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It is the product of Faith, Strength, Energy, Will, Sympathy, Justice, Imagination, and the triumph of principle. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” ~ Dorothy Thompson

Barack Obama 10-2009

President Barack Obama, Winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize

Manners people, please! 

“Manners are of more importance than laws . . . Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt  or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.” ~ Edmund Burke

Sometimes, I really think that I must be living in some kind of fairy tale world, one in which individuals treat each other with respect, one in which the office of the President of the United States still commands respect, one in which the failures of a nation, as in the ability to secure hosting of the Olympics, would not be turned into a sabre-rattling challenge of President Obama’s abilities as Chief Executive.

I also believe that puppy dogs are cute, oatmeal is good for you, a flat tax is the only fair way in which to tax people, national healthcare is a good thing, Asian horror movies are better than English-language horror movies, cotton candy is only good for the first half of the cone, and you don’t yell out of turn on national television during a presidential address. You wait until a maroon from Fox News asks you what you think, and then you open your mouth and let the drivel pour forth.

I know, my liberal bias is showing. But not really. See, if by some strange stretch of the imagination W. had won the Nobel Peace Prize, I would have been amazed, dumbfounded even, but I still would have considered it one in the bonus slot for the country. That’s just how I am: I may not respect the man, but I do respect the office. And I’m pretty sure that I didn’t coin that phrase, that someone years ago came up with it first.

american_flag I would think, given that I consider myself to be pretty patriotic, that having the President of the United States win the Nobel Peace Prize would be a cause for celebration, elation, and a groundswell of that old proud to be an American feeling. But once again, I find myself to be hopelessly clueless in daring to consider such nonsense.

Apparently, there is a group of people out there—composed of both liberals and conservatives—who do not believe that President Obama deserves the much-honored prize because he “hasn’t really done anything.”

According to one article that I read, Erick Erickson of the conservative RedState.com contends that the President won in part because he is black:

“I did not realize the Nobel Peace Prize had an affirmative action quota for it, but that is the only thing I can think of for this news,” Erickson wrote. “There is no way Barack Obama earned it in the nominations period.”

That is just a vile and ignorant thing to say, and I am not going to lower myself to respond because my blog might get censored.

Fortunately, some Republicans were more gracious. Senator John McCain commented in the same article, saying that while he “could not divine the Nobel committee’s intentions,” he did think that “part of their decision-making was expectations.”  McCain said that he was certain that the “the president understands that he now has even more to live up to. But as Americans, we’re proud when our president receives an award of that prestigious category.”

Look, I will admit, as I have done before, that Obama has failed his supporters on some promises. But at the same time, I try to remember that it is only his first year, not even a year actually, and it takes time to get things done in Washington, D.C. I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that he follows through on more campaign promises than he lets fall by the wayside.

Having said that, I would like to point out that this is a pretty big deal, folks. Only two other sitting presidents have been awarded the very illustrious Nobel Peace Prize: Woodrow Wilson won in 1919, predominantly for the formation of the League of Nations, and before him, Theodore Roosevelt won in 1906 for his role in helping to end the Russo-Japanese War.

peace-earthSince its inception in 1901, Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize has been awarded to 96 individuals and 23 organizations, including ex-secretaries of state, journalists, priests, writers, ambassadors, professors, the 14th Dalai Lama, the International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, to name but a few. All with differing backgrounds, viewpoints, countries of origin, and accomplishments.

President Obama may not be the man you cast your vote for in November, but he is the man who holds the Oval Office, and the naysayers should remember that regardless of their politics, the person in the Oval Office is due the respect of this country’s citizenry.  Winning a peace prize of the calier of the renowned Nobel brings with it a great history of tradition and enormous recognition. Not to mention that it could go a long way in enabling the POTUS to mend international fences after years of eroding relationships with many countries around the world.

No, he hasn’t ended any wars. No, he hasn’t brokered any peaces between nations as President Carter did between Egypt and Israel. But by awarding him this prize, the  Nobel committee gave President Obama a show of support for his policies, for his far-reaching vision regarding diplomacy, and for his hopes for a brighter future for the citizens of the world. 

Let us stop to consider those reasons for a moment, shall we? If the reasoning behind the award is the belief in a man for what he may be able to do for people, a desire to show support for this man’s values, then that is quite a statement. A reflection, if you will, of not just mine, or hers, or my friend’s  or sons’ desires, but a desire on the part of the world’s citizens to make tangible strides towards stopping the leaks before the entire ship Mother Earth has to be scuttled.

 I, for one, am still willing to believe.

“We should take care, in inculcating patriotism into our boys and girls, that is a patriotism above the narrow sentiment which usually stops at one’s country, and thus inspires jealousy and enmity in dealing with others . . . Our patriotism should be of the wider, nobler kind which recognises justice and reasonableness in the claims of others and which lead our country into comradeship with . . . the other nations of the world.” ~ Lord Baden-Powell

peace activist posterIn case you would like to know more about why, I have included the entire text of the committee’s announcement:

OSLO — Following is the text of the announcement Friday by the Norwegian Nobel Committee giving the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama taken from the National Post:

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

“Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

“For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

Now, more than ever, Peace.

 

“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

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"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

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"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

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"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

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"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia OKeeffe White Sweet Peas 1926
"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

Georgia OKeeffe Jack in the Pulpit No IV
"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Georgia OKeeffe Black Place No 3
"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.