art, controversies, modern problems, musings

“Legitimate artists” and the value of their work…

Welcome to Sunday, y’all. I’m going to try to keep today’s post short, simple, and non-controversial. Yesterday’s post was a rant, because I was really angry and emotional for a lot of reasons. I’m less so today, because when it comes down to it, some people just aren’t worth the energy. Or, at least to me they aren’t. Maybe they are worth the energy to others. I’m sure plenty of people wish I’d drop dead. Other people think I’m incredible. It’s kind of like art, right? What one person likes, another person hates. There’s no accounting for taste.

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos about so-called constitutional “auditors”. These are people who get involved in police interactions as a means of testing their knowledge of the laws and finding out if they respect rights outlined in the Constitution. I see there are Brits who also do these videos.

Personally, I don’t think I’d want to do that kind of stuff, even for YouTube, because I don’t enjoy unnecessary or unpleasant confrontations with people. However, I do think the videos are interesting and informative. They’re also very popular, as I’ve noticed a lot of people are making them. I’m sure the auditing videos make it harder to be a cop, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Some police officers do get off on power trips and need to be brought back down to Earth.

Today’s post isn’t about those videos. Rather, I would like to address an attitude that I saw promoted by an officer in Richmond, Virginia. An auditor confronted him and said he was an “independent journalist”. And the cop basically made some snarky, dismissive comment about how the journalist was just going to put something up on YouTube.

The guy on the far right in the glasses basically dismissed the person who made this video. He doesn’t see the value in the auditor’s creations.

As a blogger and occasional music creator, I’ve often run into the dismissive attitude demonstrated by the cop. A lot of people don’t think what I do is “legitimate”.

Former tenant, who was stalking my blogs for four plus years before she departed this life on her own terms, once made a very disrespectful private comment to me about what I do. In retrospect, it was not surprising to me that she had secretly harbored a disdainful opinion of me, as she was monitoring my activities and, apparently, reporting my activities to our former landlady, as she also insisted on her privacy being respected. I found her discounting attitude disappointing, hypocritical, short-sighted, and depressingly typical.

Former tenant claimed that she didn’t see any value in what I do, yet she was apparently watching me obsessively. Obviously, there was some value in my activities, if only that she and ex landlady and ex landlady’s daughter could sit around, gossip, and laugh about it, right? At the very least, they got intel from it… or insight… or maybe even something to talk or laugh about that might have even made them feel better about themselves.

Former tenant had once claimed that she liked reading about our adventures and seeing photos, especially of the old neighborhood she and her husband had lived in before they abruptly moved mid tour. If that’s the truth, then there was value in my blog posts about my activities. If it wasn’t the truth, I guess she was lying to me, as she was sanctimoniously lecturing me about my occasionally “problematic” content. Or… she wasn’t lying, but just wanted to be mean to me because she thought it was her place to define what constitutes creative pursuits. She didn’t see the value in what I was doing, and didn’t have the integrity to just go away and leave me alone. It didn’t occur to her that maybe other people valued my “work”, and they get a vote, too.

This morning, I noticed that Janis Ian was on a tear about the author, Flannery O’Connor. She had recently used one of O’Connor’s quotes as her “quote of the day”. People in the comment section were up in arms about it, because Flannery O’Connor had some objectionable personal beliefs that many modern audiences would find distasteful or just plain wrong.

This quote apparently caused a bit of a shitstorm.

Janis Ian claims that she doesn’t support censorship, and she writes that we should separate artists’ personal lives with their works. This is what she posted on her Facebook page:

Re the discussion about Flannery O’Connor’s work, a note of clarification – I wouldn’t have intervened if the discussion had centered around her work. However, it quickly became involved in personalities (mostly hers), her letters, her journals. Those were not her work. Her work lies in the short stories and novels she left us.

As an artist, I will always stress that there is a marked difference between the life of an artist, and an artist’s work. Discounting or banning an artist, or refusing to engage with that artist’s work, because you disagree with their personal life, politics, or behavior, is something I find absurd.

Like every artist I know, I hope to live up to the best of my work – and know I never will. What do I want my art, and that of artists I admire, to do when someone experiences it? I want them to feel elevated. I want them to have cause to think, and reflect, and be moved, for good and for bad. Mostly, I want to make them FEEL something.

I believe most artists think this way, though it might not be conscious.

I won’t change the words of another artist to suit the times, or peoples’ perception of what is hurtful to them. I am resolutely against changing a single word or image or movement in any piece of art; instead, I expect people to take it in context, look at it historically, be educated by parents, teachers, and themselves (indeed, educating yourself is an obligation, IMHO, because most people don’t have the luxury of parents, teachers, society teaching them all they need to know).

If you are on this page, keep in mind that civility is expected. Snarky comments are removed and, after a certain point, that profile is blocked. Rudeness is not tolerated and yes, I define what is rude. And co-opting a quote to discuss an author’s personal beliefs because you disagree with them is not okay.

The QOTD (Quote of the Day) is for discussion. Not whether the author or their views are likeable.

In the spirit of the discussion, then, I found this interesting article on line. https://dspace.calstate.edu/…/121/completethesis.pdf…

A good and absorbing (though long) read for anyone interested in O’Connor and her work.

Additionally, as someone pointed out, there is a huge difference between “racism” and “prejudice”. For what it’s worth.

I have written about Janis Ian a few times on this blog. I want to make it clear that I highly respect her as an artist. She’s written and sung some beautiful songs. I think she’s smart and funny, and she deserves all of the accolades she gets. However, I also think that sometimes, she’s quite hypocritical. She writes in the above post that she doesn’t support changing artistic works to suit the tastes of modern audiences. But then, she also lays down very strict rules about what people can post as a response.

Janis Ian writes that she doesn’t see Flannery O’Connor’s letters or journals as artistic works. However, there are many artists and academics who would beg to disagree with her. Personally, I disagree, because I know there’s an element of creativity in blogging. There’s also creativity involved in writing letters. Maybe it’s not the same significance as writing a novel or composing music, but it’s still a work of art, in a sense.

I’m very proud of some of my blog posts. I wrote one a couple of years ago that I reread this morning. It was titled “The Red Scare”. It started off being about how, back in 1981, people were terrified of a Soviet invasion. By the end, I had segued into a discussion of puberty, with a dash of musical theater. It sounds like the parts wouldn’t connect, and yet they did. I thought it was a really creative and interesting post, although it’s definitely not one of my most popular. My most popular posts tend to be about true crime, which I find a lot less creatively challenging.

I’m sure someone like Janis Ian wouldn’t find what I do very significant, artistic, or creative. Hell, the troll on RfM yesterday took a big dump on my post about Arran. And yet, that incident inspired yesterday’s blog post. At this point, it has just one “like” and five hits, and yet I’m rather proud of it. I like the title, and letting my feelings out in a rant can be very liberating, and even fun.

I was legitimately angry and upset when I wrote that post, and yet I don’t regret writing it. Maybe someone out there in Internetland can relate to it. Maybe it would even change someone’s life. I will never know. A few people did tell me that my video tribute for Arran made them cry. That accounts for something, doesn’t it? Isn’t the point of putting stuff out there to make someone think, or feel something, or maybe even change in some way? Isn’t that what art on all levels is about?

A person named Laurel left a comment for Janis that I found very interesting:

The Tennessee Williams Estate agrees with you. When we staged 2 of his one act plays, we asked about updating the word he used to refer to black people, and were told no, and that if any actor chose to replace that term with a more modern one, the production would be fined for any instance of a changed word. They felt the term was appropriate in the time the play was written, and carefully chosen for the overall “lyrical” flow of the various passages. And I personally did not disagree with their choice or their reasoning. 

Art is not necessarily meant to comfort; it is more often meant to disrupt thought patterns, open minds, and sometimes even disturb for effect. Creators often edit numerous times to find the perfect word to fit THEIR visions. If it disturbs you, well maybe that was the intent.

And yes, an artist and that artist’s art are 2 very different things. Most artists are imperfect. Their art may reflect that.

Apparently, Laurel then left a couple of follow up comments that Janis didn’t like. She wrote this:

“tone it down. I’m hiding both your responses.”

So… Janis Ian doesn’t see all writing as “artistic” or creative. But then another commenter wrote this, and Janis heartily approved:

“there is a huge difference between “racism” and “prejudice”. 50+ years ago in Dallas a friend of Mexican descent taught me the difference between: bigotry (racism), prejudice and discrimination. He spoke from experience. I’ve shared his wisdom many times since then. It has helped me put a lot of things in perspective. Mainly: we all have prejudices (in favor and against many things); we can legislate against discrimination (an action) but unfortunately not bigotry (a belief).

Janis wrote: “so stealing…”

The commenter misunderstood Janis and wrote, “sorry I missed the mark there. Your last comment in your post took me off on a nostalgia tour. Thanks for the memory – I’ll try to do better in the future.”

Janis clarified, “I’m not sure what you’re referring to? I’m stealing what you posted, to use later!”

And the commenter wrote, “lol. I get confused so easily any more. Feel free to “steal”.

From that exchange, I take that sometimes Facebook comments can be “works of art”. Or, at least they can be so good that Janis Ian wants to “steal” them to use later. But someone else writes something that she doesn’t like, or uses a “tone” that she alone finds objectionable, and then it has no value and “censorship” is okay.

The troll who left me the mean spirited comment on RfM yesterday really hurt my feelings and, I’m sure, meant to make me feel terrible. Or, at the very least, they didn’t care about my feelings, even though it was clear that I was mourning a huge loss and expressing myself on a “recovery site”. Make no mistake about it. I still think that person is a massive fuckwad and I’d happily fantasize about rendering them sterile with a well placed drop kick to the gonads.

But, at the same time, that person’s mean comments provided fuel for yesterday’s post… which some people may value on some level, even if it’s just to laugh at me for making the effort to write it. Also, it’s not lost on me that some people might have agreed with that person’s very mean comments. So maybe I shouldn’t have reported them. In fact, I could have probably turned that person’s post into a plea for sympathy and gotten even more views on Arran’s video… if that was my ultimate goal. It wasn’t my goal, by the way. I don’t share things just to get likes or views.

When it comes to published works, I agree with Janis Ian that it’s wrong to “edit”. In fact, I don’t like cancel culture at all. I think people should have the right to decide for themselves what is, or what is not objectionable to them and vote with their wallets. I also think that people should have the right to make their own rules in their own houses, so to speak. At the same time, there does seem to be a level of hypocrisy in the idea that some “offensive” writing is okay, and some isn’t. And some things are “art”, and some things aren’t.

So far as some people’s ideas of what is, and what is not “offensive”, is somehow better than other people’s ideas are… well I think that’s how we end up with extremist loudmouth assholes like Donald Trump in the White House. People don’t like to be told what they can or can’t say, think, or believe. They will vote for those whom they think will protect their right to be an asshole.

I do kind of like how Janis handled this person, though…

Vote with your feet… or your wallet. But you’re not always going to be able to do that, so getting all high and mighty about what people like or dislike is kind of futile… and hypocritical.

Meh… well, I guess I’m glad that most people don’t value what I do. I don’t think I’d want people to “expect more from me”, just because I made a living creating things. Everybody’s human, and everybody’s shit stinks. Whether it’s former tenant being rude and dismissive about my creative pursuits, while also obsessively stalking me… or Janis Ian telling people not to judge artists by their personal lives or support censoring them, as she censors and steals people’s posts… or commenters feeling that their decision not to buy things made in China as they also pay taxes to governments that have policies that harm people… Or a cop thinking an “independent journalist” isn’t a “real” journalist, and there’s no value in what they do… Some people would beg to disagree, right?

And some people think that in order to be “legitimate” as an artist, one must be formally employed by someone else. Some of those independent journalists on YouTube are actually making enough money to live on, though.

People are always going to be offensive and inappropriate on some level. Sometimes, I’ll admit I get upset about stuff, but then it leads to a good rant that might make people think or feel… or even just laugh. I think as long as people learn and grow from their experiences, that should be our focus. I think we should all keep creating, whether or not someone else thinks it’s a valid pursuit, or the creator is a “decent person” whose views should be promoted.

But isn’t it nice that we can still disagree? For now, anyway. And isn’t it nice when people are doing something constructive with their time? It reminds me of the trash scavengers/dumpster divers in Texas who raided people’s trash for metal they could turn in for money. To them, that was a job that actually helped them keep the lights on, even if some of us didn’t appreciate them rifling through trash we were throwing out, just so they could make a living off our discards. Some people think certain art is “trash”. Other people think that same art is “brilliant”.

And no matter what you might think of what I do, I still think of myself as a writer and a singer. You gotta start somewhere, right? Lots of people like me didn’t become “legitimate” until they were already dead. Think about it. ūüėČ

ETA: So much for keeping this post short and non-controversial. Oh well.

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law, memories, nostalgia, YouTube

Repost: Our “senior trip” to the Virginia State Pen…

It’s spring, and when I was in high school, that meant taking field trips. When I was a senior in high school, my government teacher, Mr. Eccleston, took us on a trip to Richmond, Virginia. This was something he did every year, although I’m pretty sure our class was the last one to go to the Virginia State Penitentiary. That’s because they closed the “Pen” in 1991, and tore it down. Here’s a repost of my 2013 blog post about my experience visiting Virginia’s old state prison… Meanwhile, I’m still thinking about today’s fresh topic.

Most high school kids go off to some interesting or exotic place when they become seniors.  I guess, in my case, the place my senior class went for the “senior trip” was exotic and interesting enough, though it wasn’t an overnight trip.  My senior year of high school was actually full of interesting field trips, to include a trip to a local medical school, where my biology classmates and I saw cadavers.  We also went caving, and visited the National Zoo in Washington, DC.  I skipped at least three other field trips because I didn’t have the money to go.  But probably the most interesting of all the trips we took was the one that took us to the State Penitentiary in Virginia.

Here’s an interesting talk about the former penitentiary, which was demolished just after our visit in 1990. If this subject interests you, I highly recommend watching this video. The speaker, Dale M. Brumfield, is very engaging, and this is a fascinating subject.

The Virginia State Pen was a very old structure that had received its first prisoners in 1800.  If you click the link, you can see some photos of the place, which was eventually demolished.  It sat next to the James River in downtown Richmond, Virginia. 

In the spring of 1990, when we had our field trip, the Pen was about to be closed down.  There were still inmates there when we came to visit the place.  I remember how my classmates and I were each frisked, then shown into this huge cell block that had several tiers of tiny cells.  The place was painted light blue and there was a smell of human filth, sweat, and detergent in the air.  The building was obviously very antiquated and unpleasant.  It definitely needed to be torn down or renovated.

Gazing up, I could see the huge windows allowed birds to come in.  They flew near the ceiling and probably mocked the inmates with their ability to come and go at will.  On the floor, I spied a dead mouse that looked like it had been there for awhile.  A heavily muscled guy with a mullet wore a wide leather belt with a set of handcuffs prominently displayed in a case as he led us through the facility.  He didn’t wear a uniform, though he obviously worked at the prison.

The inmates were in a different part of the prison when we visited.  I remember looking at the first big cell block, which was apparently vacated as inmates were transferred to other facilities.  We also visited death row, which had also been vacated.  Some inmates were in a yard nearby as we made our way to the death house.  They shouted and jeered at us.  I remember the death row cells were a whole lot larger than the ones in the cell block.  They had bars all around them and a lone television set was mounted on a pole that would have allowed all of the inmates to watch it.

At the end of the hall was the electric chair, which Virginia used to execute a lot of men until lethal injection became the preferred way to put condemned people to death.  Several of my classmates sat on the big oak chair, outfitted with heavy leather straps with big metal buckles.  I remember one teacher actually pretended to strap a couple of students in.  Back then, it was kind of a joke, but today, it seems kind of inappropriate and not that funny.  Virginia is a notorious death penalty state.  (ETA: Thanks to former Governor Ralph Northam, the death penalty was abolished in Virginia last year. I never thought I’d see the day.)

I remember after we saw the penitentiary, we went to Virginia Commonwealth University for lunch.  Two of my sisters are VCU graduates, so I was somewhat familiar with the place.  By then, I knew I was headed to Longwood for college. 

It was an eerie day… and probably the day that I first started to have ambivalent feelings about the death penalty.  

Edited to add in 2022: In his amazing talk in the above video, Dale Brumfield, talks about the kinds of crimes that would land people in the penitentiary. At one point, he talks about how Black men could be arrested and imprisoned for being caught on someone else’s property. They could get up to ten years for just appearing to LOOK like they were going to commit theft. As he was talking about that, I couldn’t help but think about the Ahmaud Arbery case, and how he was gunned down by three White men who thought he was a thief. It’s so sad that we haven’t evolved much since the early days of the Virginia Penitentiary’s history.

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book reviews, business

Repost: Fascinating look at the Thalhimer family of Virginia…

Here’s another reposted book review, which appears as/is, and was originally written on October 6, 2015. It comes up because last night, I was remembering The Sword and the Kilt, and trying to describe popovers to Bill.

Having grown up mostly in Virginia in the 70s and 80s, I often shopped at the Thalhimers department store at Coliseum Mall in Hampton, Virginia. ¬†Since I was a kid back then, I didn’t know anything about Thalhimers or any of the other venerable department stores that were around back in the day. ¬†I just know my mom would shop there with me when I managed to convince her to take me to the mall, instead of AAFES, for my school clothes. ¬†When I got older, I used to go shopping with my former best friend and her mother and we’d have lunch at Thalhimers very cool medieval themed restaurant, The Sword and the Kilt. ¬†It was the first place I ever had a popover.

Sadly, back in the early 1990s, Thalhimers was lost in a hostile takeover.  The May Company, which bought a number of historic department store brands in those days, pretty much ruined Thalhimers to the point at which it was no longer recognizable.  It finally died a pitiful death after 150 years of business, mostly in Virginia and North Carolina.

An interview with Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, author of Finding Thalhimers.

I don’t know what prompted me to research Thalhimers, but I somehow ended up finding out about Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt’s 2010 book, Finding Thalhimers.  I downloaded the book and just finished it today.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the history of a local retail giant with a fascinating history.  Reading Smartt’s descriptions of the years when the business was booming made me wish I were older so I could have seen more of it for myself.

As you might guess by her name, Smartt is herself a member of the Thalhimer family, and she grew up watching her dad go to work at “The Store”. ¬†Smartt fantasized about one day being president of her family’s business, but unfortunately, it was not to be. ¬†Discount chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and even K-Mart spelled death for many department stores.¬†

Finding Thalhimers is about more than just a retail department store chain.  It’s also about the fascinating history of the Thalhimer family, which originated in Tairnbach, a tiny town not too far from Heidelberg, Germany.  Since I am currently living near Stuttgart and have visited Heidelberg, this part of the story was especially interesting.  I learned things I never knew.  For instance, Smartt writes that her family is Jewish and back in the 1800s, Jews were not allowed to have last names.  When the law changed, the parents of the man who would found Thalhimers in Richmond, Virginia, decided to give themselves a name that reflected their origin in Germany.

Smartt then takes readers on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Her ancestors landed in New Orleans and made their way to Richmond, where they would have a profound effect on the local economy and the city’s development.  I enjoyed reading about how Thalhimers had a friendly rivalry with Miller & Rhodes, another venerable Virginia department store institution.  I remember shopping there as a kid, too.  Unfortunately, they also perished just a couple of years before Thalhimers did.

I enjoyed reading about how the name Thalhimer was originally spelled Thalheimer. ¬†Thanks to a sign painter’s sloppy spelling, the brand’s name changed forever. ¬†Smartt’s book touches on so many notable times in history, too. ¬†She writes about an ancestor who spent three months with a friend driving around Europe in his father’s Chevrolet, making sure to avoid the political unrest in Germany that was going on during the 1930s. ¬†The young man visited stores, collected ideas for the business and products to be offered, and had a good time being young.¬†

Smartt writes about the civil rights era of the early 1960s, when Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes were targeted for sit ins.  I was impressed by how Thalhimers handled the racial tensions of the times.  And she reminds readers that her family once owned the Golden Skillet fried chicken restaurants that once dotted the land.  I used to love Golden Skillet chicken, though it never ended up being the next KFC as some in the family had predicted.

Smartt also writes about some of the business deals her ancestors made, some of which were very shrewd and kind of fascinating.  As someone who grew up visiting Richmond and the surrounding areas, I was very intrigued by her descriptions of what it was like there as the Thalhimer family built their business.  They made some amazing deals that netted huge profits.  I almost got the sense that things might have been different for the Thalhimer family had they focused on what the Walton family was doing.  But that would have certainly upset many of their loyal fans.

An ad for Thalhimers… I remember when furs were okay to wear.

I could tell this project was a labor of love for Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, who is just three years younger than I am.  Her writing style is very loving and warm– almost reverent– and she clearly enjoyed talking to many of her relatives and people who were involved in Thalhimers’ success.  I got the sense that she enjoys a close bond with her family, especially her dad.  I was impressed by how she pieced together her family’s history and was able to trace it all the way to their origins in Germany, which she visited with her parents, husband, and sister.

Overall, I really enjoyed Smartt’s book, though I get the sense that she writes the story while wearing rose colored glasses.  I can’t really blame her, since she’s writing about her family.  But naturally, it’s not the most objective look at the Thalhimer family.  I’m sure there are people out there who might have a different take on some of the stories Smartt shares.  I have no horse in that race, though, so I’ll just say I really enjoyed reading this book and am happy to recommend it, especially to Virginia and North Carolina natives who remember Thalhimers.  It’s also a good read for aspiring businesspeople. 

Edited to add: Elizabeth Thalhimer Smart used to have a Facebook page for this book. I wrote a comment and she was kind enough to respond. It turns out that I currently live not too far from where the Thalhimer family originated.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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