I just published another story on my blog at Steemit. The story refers to my brother’s brush with death when he was nine years old. He had severe heart disease. One hospital refused to treat him. St. Francis Hospital, in Roslyn, New York accepted him as a transfer patient. The physicians at St. Francis saved his life.
I think my story is a commentary on the fragility of life and on the importance of seeking care at a topnotch medical facility.
I was five when my brother had his crisis. Everything was clear to me as it unfolded back then. All of us knew, my siblings and I, that my brother might die. Although he came out of his acute crisis that first night, he struggled for months to overcome the heart disease that had plagued him for years.
My brother’s struggle became part of my developing psyche. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without having gone through that early trauma. While I was just a witness to my brother’s struggle, in a family there is no such thing. Each person is part of the event.
If you feel like checking out my story on Steemit, please do. The story doesn’t talk about my brother so much. It deflects the panic of the moment onto an attending physician, who goes through a life-altering crisis of his own.
I’ve been working on and off on a memoir, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”. It’s an odd book. Because it is about my early childhood, many memories are vague, but impressions are not. As a consequence, I created pictures, using “Paint” and “Gimp”, to help recreate the scenes I recall. The narrative below explains what is happening in the picture. My book, in yet again under revision. I hope to be publishing it…soon.
As I explained earlier in this book, my first years in school were not successful. Everyone believed I was slow. This assessment persisted into at least November of the third grade, when my teacher wrote a sympathetic note to my mother and lamented my poor performance. Between November and the end of the year something remarkable happened. I learned to read. By June, I had become one of the most advanced readers in the grade.
With this improvement in skills came an insatiable appetite for reading material. There was none at home, until we discovered the shack. This humble building, shown above, was concealed by thick overgrowth in the forest. When we investigated, we found that comic books covered the floor of the ramshackle shelter. We helped ourselves to these, though we did not know who might have proper rights to them.
The shack was my library.
Reading was one of the great gifts of my life. Socially I remained awkward, but peers and teachers showed new respect simply because I seemed to be talented. The conversion from being a dolt to being an excellent student taught me an important lesson. I was the same person before and after my transformation, but people around me changed. Previously, they had punished me for being dull, a circumstance over which I had no control. And then they rewarded me for being bright, a gift I’d done nothing to earn. The folly, the sheer cruelty, of their early behavior enlightened me. It taught me to place little value on the judgment of others. And it allowed me, for the rest of my life, to see worth in people whom others disregard.
Increasingly, I see no distinction between art and life, although there is a sense of the word “art” that suggests fabrication. As a writer, or someone who loves to write (sometimes it feels pompous to call myself a writer), I have found art to be simply another form of expression, one that flows naturally as a complement to my words. This is a view that traditional Chinese artists embrace, particularly those artists known as literati.
In literati painting, inscriptions on the work are intrinsic to the art. The literati derive their inspiration from nature, tradition and philosophy. In literati painting, art is an expression of character. Technical skill, or “artifice”, is less important than the genuine inspiration evident in the work.
Literati artists have an affinity for nature. In their response to nature they believe they are revealing essential qualities about their own character. The qualities they hope to cultivate in themselves, they believe, are innate to certain plants. Four of these, called The Four Gentlemen in Chinese Art–the bamboo, chrysanthemum, plum and orchid–are said to embody different aspects of a noble character. In fact, the plants are also called The Four Noble Ones. Each of these plants has been featured across the centuries in exquisitely expressive art.
Wood, Bamboo and Elegant Stone, a painting by Yuan Dynasty artist Ni Zan (above), is part of a long tradition that reveres this plant. Bamboo is seen as a natural embodiment of longevity, humility and endurance.
Ong Schan Tchow, a twentieth-century painter, devoted a book to the study of chrysanthemums. This flower holds a special place in Chinese culture because the flower was first cultivated there. Chrysanthemums blossom in autumn, when winter is looming and other flowers are fading. It is the flower’s ability to flourish when others perish that makes it a metaphor for withstanding adversity.
Lu Zhi, an artist from the Ming Dynasty, was also a calligrapher and poet. His painting, Plum Blossoms, is featured at the top of this page. The plum tree blossoms in winter. This winter bloom, in harsh circumstances, represents to the Chinese the qualities of endurance and prosperity.
Another Ming Dynasty artist, Hu Zhengyan, was also a printer and calligrapher. He was a traditionalist who featured a variety of simple, natural themes in his painting. The image presented here is “Orchid”. In the orchid many see qualities of humility and grace. The orchid blossoms in remote locations and often exudes its fragrance in solitude. The nobility of quiet repose is much admired in classic Chinese art and poetry.