Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde controls the humidity and temperature in his galleries to bring real clouds into being for a few minutes. This is his 2012 work Nimbus II.
by douglas imbrogno | Life in West Virginia, for those of you who don’t know the place except for the shoe-less, toothless, married cousin stereotypes, is generally good. Almost anywhere you stand, even in the center of its largest cities, you can be strolling in deep woods within 10-15 minutes. Roll down the windows while driving its curvy mountain hills at night and the cool, invigorating air feels like silk caressing the face. The people are for the most part friendly and considerate to a fault. There was the time recently my salt-of-the-earth neighbor, Brenda, mowed my front lawn when I let it grow too long after I became more focused on my guitar than my grass. (I paid her back with a CD of my music, which seemed appropriate. She delivered a Ziploc bag of fresh radishes from her garden the following week. I can’t keep ahead of the woman).
Then, there are the days when living in West Virginia is a chore. Like today, the day after 41 percent of registered Democratic voters cast their ballots in the West Virginia primary for a convicted wanna-be-Rastafarian felon rather than for Barack Obama. I will leave for others the analysis of this depressing scenario– here at the Atlantic and at WashPo. Outside the state’s borders, the vote will be yet more verification of the Mountain State’s helpless, hopeless politics and its increased valuation on the national Laughing Stock Index. If not, as well, the burbling into view of a racist wellspring that belies the roots of the region’s birth in resisting the Confederacy, standing apart from Virginia to become a separate state in 1863.
I will certainly spot others their right to vote for ‘anyone-but-Obama’ and who had no idea who they were springing for (except for a stray story or two, there was next-to-nil coverage here of the inmate who would be president). I will, though concede nothing to those who voted because of outright visceral hatred of the president, infected via the plague-borne, fever-swamp of Fox News, epicenter and seed-bed of Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS).
Then, there is the rear-guard resistance of the state’s many coal-fired, corporate bought-and-paid-for DINO politicians. Given the anti-Obama pirouhettes in this state, many of West Virginia’s leaders – with heads lodged firmly in the 19th century, if not elsewhere — might as well give up the dance and just re-register as Republicans, especially when it comes to fundamental matters like climate change. (Or, to borrow some lines from a Salon story today headlined “Republican Climate Folly”: “As temperatures break records, the GOP holds firm: The less we know about global warming, the better.”)
The less we know, the better, indeed. Irony is not a strong suit of those afflicted with ODS. So, it is impossible to make any headway by pointing out how deeply cautious and non-revolutionary a president this pragmatic, centrist, only occasionally progressive president has been. For every day in which he announces his support for gay marriage — like today — there is another that he continues to lob drone missiles at Afghanistan and Yemen, accidentally and routinely killing women and children along the way. I have my issues with the man, too, you see. But he’s still my man. And a good man, at that.
But it is straight out of Cloud Cuckoo land to cast his cautious presidency as a cabalistic revolution. Or to portray as some sort of evil socialist takeover the modest but welcome revisions Obamacare made to American’s massively warped, screwed-up health care system. Every time I have to pay the better part or whole part of another medical bill because my $5,000 personal yearly deduction and $10,000 family deduction has not yet been met, I wonder what ODS sufferers think Republican overlords would do to begin to fix this mess of a system where they to slip into the White House?
In a word (well, two words): exactly nothing.
Noam Chomsky sums it up in an interview titled “On America’s Economic Suicide”: “The Republican Party has pretty much abandoned any pretense of being a traditional political party. It’s in lockstep obedience to the very rich, the super rich and the corporate sector.”
I will take our flawed, only occasionally progressive, yet attentive and alert president, on any day. Even this one — no, especially, this one.
I claim the prerogative on this, my own blog of quoting from one of my songs (above) to point the way through this day, trying not to take the news personally. When I know I won’t be able to bear my usual news sites or the links that shout ‘West Virginia votes for a con’ that my pals post to Facebook, I look farther afield. I turn to a favorite blog for emotional upkeep, Ingrid Fetell’s “The Aesthetics of Joy.” It’s a blog which looks out on the world with an eye to joyful certitudes in art, design and daily life, things that will last longer than the day’s baleful, soul-muddling headlines.
And, oh, my. Clicking on her blog today brings me to a post titled “Craving Wonder” and photos of the work of an artist who creates actual clouds inside of galleries. The indoor clouds lead Fetell to ponder the significance — the essentiality, so to speak — of the emotion of wonder. I will leave those of you un-infected with ODS with her words. And I cast a wish for those in the throes of ODS that one day wonder may break the fever someday. Because it is the mystery of wonder that points us beyond our differences:
I believe we have wonder because it lets us know when the laws and limits of our world have been transcended, and opens the way to new frontiers of possibility. Wonder is a signal that there has been magic in our midst. It pokes a hole in our worldview, and tempts us to investigate, becoming a powerful spark for curiosity that paves the way towards new discoveries.
As a culture we tend to undervalue wonder, but the craving for it is deeply valid. It is not a distraction from purposeful work – it may instead be the catalyst for starting it. A desire to witness magic is an impulse towards the expansion of the mind, towards the improvement of the human condition. At the root of our love for rainbows, comets, fireflies, and miracles is a small reservoir of belief that the world is bigger and more amazing than we had dreamed it could be. And if we are to be creative and hopeful, then feeding this reservoir is vital.
So go look for impossible beauty, implausible joy. Seek it out even if it doesn’t seem to have an immediate purpose. And then just be curious. You don’t have to control wonder; you only have to seek it, and be open to what it shows you.