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The other morning while waking over coffee at the Gelateria Tavolini Coffee House on Washington Avenue in downtown Saint Louis, the discussion turned to downtown attractions. A newcomer to the City should see the City Museum, said the Barista. He added,“it will blow your mind!”

Out the door, wandering down the street moving against the winter weather… Turning the corner as directed from the Coffee House, I came upon the gate; the entrance to City Museum. The gate, a cement wall which organically rolls up on ether side of the passageway like the end of a serpent tail, (looking like something out of a surrealist sketchbook).   

In crossing the threshold of the City Museum even the most seasoned Artist will be wide-eyed in visual amazement. The floor unfolds in shards of hand laid triangular tiles. The tiles climb to become a stairwell. This stairwell morphs into the side of a cement Gila monster. Moving deeper into the complex one is transported to worlds thought by most people to be beyond their imagination. However as a person moves through this space, he or she will realize that this assumption is wrong and the Museum becomes not simply a wonder of brick and mortar, but an experience molded by each persons interaction with the space.

This “self-making” experience is why the Museum has no guided tours. That is the most outstanding idea behind the “Art” of City Museum, it is a place of exploration. Whether it is walking through the Hall of Mirrors or marveling at the many found objects: fragments of buildings from around the City of St. Louis’ history.  It all acts as the foundation of a visitor’s whole experience at City Museum.  Enjoying the many other attractions housed on the grounds insures there is something for everyone at any age.

Realize this, in visiting this place you are taking part in what can only be described as an “Art Action.” The Museum is constantly changing, growing like a living being, nurtured by the more then twenty Artist on staff there. Each time you visit you will be guaranteed a new experience. Visit soon, at: 701 North 15th Street. For further information on the Art of City Museum go to their home on the http://www.citymuseum.org

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An Island In The Sky

In the heart of West Virginia, there is a piece of land that has been dedicated as a park. This park exists on the top of Kayford Mountain. The park is an island in the sky because all around the mountain there exist only craters where once had stood a chain of mountains in the Appalachian range. Kayford is the last standing link in what used to be a glorious chain of peaks and valleys.

The chain was slowly cut away by a mining practice called mountaintop removal. This type of mining is characterized by the removal of the tops of mountains to more easily access the rich coal seams running through mountain’s center. As a part of the removal process, the debris from the top of the mountain is simply pushed over the edge down into the valleys below (called valley fill). This process ignores the impact on the streams and the water table. They are further impacted because of the use of chemicals used to clean the coal as its harvested, leaching into the water and poisoning it. West Virginia is called the birthplace of rivers for a reason. It is within our mountain range that major river tributaries find their beginnings, and so as mountain top removal continues, so too does the poisoning of the water that feeds much of the US.

We can barely touch on the immense environmental impact mountaintop removal has in this article. What I want to do is talk about the people standing up against such practices, particularly Larry Gibson, who is the keeper of Kayford Mountain. He has fought long and hard to maintain his island in the sky. Just as important as protecting the environment, Larry and people like him protect a history, culture, and way of life, for it is within the coal country of Appalachia that the worker took a stand against the industrial barons. This historical moment is known as The Battle of Blair Mountain. The workers rose up to demand their rights and an end to economic, social, and political tyranny that showed its face as mass repression. As the workers attempted to break their chains, the system responded by dropping bombs..It is clear to me that the battle of Blair Mountain (which opened up so much possibilities for organizing worker’s rights) has,for the most part, been squashed by history.

Today the coal industry is planning to take the top off of Blair Mountain, thumbing their noses at the worker’s history. This is a last ditch effort by the coal company to rewrite history. They have convinced the mass population of West Virginia that they are the number one job providers in the state, a complete lie. The predominant coal extraction process only employs 16 miners per site, while a deep mine would have employed close to 200 workers. The coal industry that has made so much money on the backs of Appalachians has taken more than physical resources from this place. They have repressed culture and even human potential. Many native West Virginians do not believe that they could do anything outside of the mono economy.

West Virginia, Appalachia is full of creative, strong, persevering people. Folks like Larry Gibson and the numerous unnamed people standing up against this industry are examples of the possibilities. It is through their example that we can break this oppressive system that has made Appalachia into a third world region within the borders of the United States.

I call for solidarity.

For more information on mountaintop removal and people like Larry Gibson, please visit http://www.ohvec.org

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It has been quite a while since I last wrote. I have been collecting and gathering material, and now I would like to take you on a journey. As you may remember from previous articles, I have talked about envisioning the Huntington that we would like to see. Robust movements, music, art, and entertainment of all types alongside the ringing of cash drawers, the passing of gifts, the sharing of time. These are things which I have argued we are on the edge of being able to see; a revitalized community spearheaded by a sense of ownership shared by all community members no matter what social strata, age, or race, or economic background they may come from. I have said multiple times that this vision is indeed possible.

My brother Wayne and I have been in search of community. We have been collecting and gathering and will continue to do this through the summer. What we have seen are wonderful sights, belonging to places that have much of the same struggle that Huntington does. I will talk about one of these places….Louisville, Kentucky.

An Ohio River town, Louisville is 2 1/2 hours from Huntington. When we first arrived, I was perplexed as to what divided this town from my own, because besides its size and a few Fortune 500 companies that exist there, I did not get an overwhelming feeling of prosperity. In fact, within the first 10 minutes, I asked myself, “Where is everyone?” Louisville encompasses a large metropolitan area, and the crowds on the street did not reflect the size of the city. Until we came upon 4th Street, a location with an open air market atmosphere combined with the attractions normally found in a mall. As we came upon it, I was immediately struck by its visual simplicity and grace. The bustling crowds of people, the smell of food wafting up from several high end restaurants, and the sound of steel drums…all under a glass enclosure which had a very modern A-framed peak to it. The enclosure stretched via open steel beam the length of the street, meeting on either end with true art deco era buildings. What immediately came to mind after my rolodex of art history stopped spinning was the simple cost of the glass enclosure against these several beautiful revitalized buildings. How simple this idea was! How applicable for Huntington!

After having dinner at a Hard Rock Cafe, we then returned the next morning to get a better glimpse. What had been a bazaar full of well dressed 30-something year olds was, in the daylight, transformed into an art gallery with tents and their walls lined with original oil paintings stretching the whole length and width of the space. It was an amazing feast for the eyes, and showed another side of this public space. My brother and I went away from there with ideas spinning in our minds about possibilities for Huntington. To my surprise I got a call this Tuesday morning that has furthered my excitement for what i saw in Louisville and how it can be applied to Huntington.

A member of Create Huntington called me this morning to remind me that we had scheduled a meeting for 9:30 and that it was already 9:39. So, as is par for the course for this writer, I went screeching out my back door and down my ramp to a meeting I was already 10 minutes late for. Now, in Pulman square, sitting across from my friend who is a community organizer, Eve Marcum-Atkinson, we began our meeting. I had forgotten why we were meeting until shortly into the discussion and remembered that Create Huntington wanted to find a way to engage the visual arts in new ideas that they have. Last Saturday, community members began having a farmer’s market/open air bazaar between the visitor’s center and Pulman Square in the alley behind Mac and Dave’s. She asked me if I thought CCAMP (Cabel County Art and Music Project) would be interested in having a tent set up to display some artwork when they got the full bazaar up and running.

That immediately made me think of the morning Wayne and I spent together walking around 4th Street in Louisville looking at amazing artwork under a wonderfully modern glass enclosure. So, I did what I always do…I began ranting about it. Eve explained that kind of concept is on the drawing board for this space sometime in the very near future. What she was describing to me as the vision for Huntington’s open air market didn’t quite have this architectural element. I asked her to please go to my brother’s Facebook profile and look at pictures of the Louisville space for herself. As I moved away from that meeting today, I decided to go one step further. This article is submitted as my vision for the market for what it’s worth. I see an enclosure that may not have to do with high end corporate businesses, but rather highlights small businesses, local restaurants, and creative forces which Huntington is teaming with if one looks hard enough. It’s worth thinking about.

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A small framed hand against window,
damp cool air meets with the warmth of Child’s breath;
and the dreams of youth and life are on those lips.

Young eyes peer out into a world blanketed with gray.
Gray as sheep’s wool, safe, pacifying and non-challenging,
A great soft gray blanket, the secret of this blanket, is that it is a killer.The dreams of youth and life are smothered deep within its fibers.

A tear rolls from the eye down the cheek and on to the tongue.
Curved reflection on pupil, wet, the teacher has turned away.

The dreams of youth and life have ended for the teacher
with one turn…

What for the young pulse that runs through the hand that leaves an impression on this gray world?

The child does not yet know
the power of tears
to cleanse broken dreams of youth and life.

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Living

Summer garden, warm breeze
Still cool shadows, chest moist
with dew, lay foundering into
the oldest unexplored forest of the mind.

Sounds from thicket
Sudden,
large brown hare

Thoughts to the neatly boxed garden,
And question of rabbit’s reality:
What if this box, this world, is all that will ever be known?

I would rather have been a bird,
Able to move through worlds
To fly by the whims of the wind…

Flying into mesmerizing reflection pool;

…Crack…

The Gardner’s hands gently scoop the little gray bird.
And it is laid to rest inside the garden’s gate.

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The Turtledove Enigma

The year was 1977. Two crying children wrapped in white hospital linens are transported to a nursery. One of the children is comfortably positioned in an incubator. The other was shifted into another hallway, moving faster down the corridor towards a glowing exit sign. When the door flings open, light floods the creamy white of the hallway. In a strange way, the baby is like the man emerging from the mythical cave talked about by Plato.

Swishing sound fills the air. Hushed voices climb louder over the mechanical sounds of an awaiting chopper. My life journey takes its second turn in a life that within thirty years has been shaped by unexpected twists and turns. The reason I start here at the very beginning is because I feel compelled to write today about connections. You see, that brother, my twin, whom I left behind in Bridgeport City Hospital. as I was being rushed off to Newington Children’s Hospital for emergency surgery on a hernia, has built a life separate from mine even though we had the closest of beginnings that one can biologically have with someone. Our separate lives have been influenced by very different social, economic, and even political variables. He has lived on the street. I have lived in multiple homes. He has been abused and neglected. I too have suffered that…but because I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the system has paid a lot of attention to me even if only through labels. My brother has always gotten the scantiest of attention, and even that little bit that he has received has been negative.

Now, I’ve spent years analyzing this, blaming myself, blaming my biological family, and of course blaming the system for our separation and for the extreme differences in our upbringing. I have spent too long trying to find that love I thought we should share and hitting a brick wall. When I hit that wall, I always sought a substitute for my twin.

Most of my readers know that I was adopted by an upwardly mobile upper middle class family who, of course, have their own set of issues; however, even in those issues they have provided me with plenty of opportunity, even if that opportunity was not physically handed to me by them. Just being adopted and moved out of the system of foster care gave me a hand up. I acknowledge that. A lot of you readers know that I still talk to my brother on a semi regular basis. I talk to the mother of his child even more regularly. My twin is a drug addict. He is at the lowest point of his life, even as my adult life/professional life is just opening up.

So how does that make me feel? I think I understand that one can shape their own destiny, make their own way, and end up who they are because they’ve chosen that path. My brother Eric proves that some circumstances are not completely controllable, that fate is not black and white. However, I have a unique perspective, one that perhaps I want to ignore. I have a person who looks exactly like me, sounds exactly like me, flirts exactly like me, but somehow we are like mirror images. Drugs, loss, and a hard life have shaped him beyond recognition. I spent years trying to connect with him, like Peter Pan chasing his shadow. I see something that most don’t. I see the hardest of lives and the greatest of gifts reflected in two people who were born together and separated by fate.

What does this mean for you the individual reader? What does it mean for Huntington? You see, I lived the life that both plagues and makes Huntington a uniquely beautiful city. My brother is addicted to prescription meds and I’m sure a variety of other things. This past week, he lost one of his front teeth. Many of my friends comment that I have a beautiful smile. Well, my smile was his smile. Huntington has given me intellectual freedom. Marshall unlocked something beautiful within me. I have to wrestle every day with the guilt of being aware even as I watch my brother slip deeper into darker places. I think to myself, “What can we do?”

My brother lives in southern Florida. That is where a lot of our problems come from relating to drugs. This column is not to offer any solution, but for what it’s worth, it is to ask a question of my readers. What do we do? How do we help? And where do we start?

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Remembering The Salon That Shaped Me

On my way into work today, I started thinking about the idea of will, as in “God wills this to happen” or “He had the willpower to stay alive.” It came to me that everything an individual studies, say in college or just in the practice of living, is somehow linked to this idea of will. Even in the physical sciences we want to know the will of the world: how things operate, what makes reactions happen. I could go down the list of other disciplines that are all about exploring what wills things, but the list would take the entire article. Instead, I’m going to turn this question to something that’s been a hot button topic in Huntington lately: the great smoking ban.

A blue haze morphs through the dimly lit bar restaurant called Calamity Cafe. The evening is beginning, and the artists and poets, singers and songwriters all line up their beer bottles, wine glasses, and liquor glasses across tables. Questions of the purpose of art, the state of the economy, and the merits of social reform buzz from ear to ear as songwriters take to the mic to spill their creativity like honey, sticky across the sound waves. The flashes of colour from multiple cigarette butts mesmerize me. The blue smoke reminds me of Alice’s interaction with the Caterpillar. His words echo off the walls of this restaurant as wise, melodic maps for what my young mind took as a great gathering here in Huntington, West Virginia. A gathering which, I believe, prepared me to be able to write, read, and paint on so many diverse topics.

I was 20 years old, maybe even a bit less, when I first pushed my way through the doors of the Calamity Cafe. It was a place where my true education took root. Over its food and with its patrons, I formed lasting ideas of the world, and all the time these discussions occurred through a purple haze of cigarette smoke. Now, as a young man, I chose to go into that building and to be wrapped in that smoke. I did this under my own free will. Note that I am not a smoker, unless I’ve been drinking. Oh, and I occasionally like a bowl of good pipe tobacco…but otherwise, I am extremely healthy. Knowing my health risks through exposure to second hand smoke, would I go into the Calamity Cafe today? Being that I am older and wiser, would I make a different choice? No. I think that smoke was in fact a part of the ambience and like any painting being constructed, all of the elements must be in place for it to be successful. So, I would choose to endure second hand smoke to be able to experience the intellectual growth that Calamity Cafe provided.

Notice that in the above paragraph I said choice. I think that all people choose their path. If you know that a place is smoky and you can’t stand smoke, don’t go there. Now, are you missing out on something? Great food? Good company? Yes. But that is a choice that you are making. That’s a sacrifice that has to be made for your health. For my critics, let me admit that there are many things that I would choose to do but I can’t, due to the fact that I am physically challenged. At the same time, I will myself to look beyond that, to look beyond the limitation and adapt. I think in the long run the smoking ban is a healthy move for Huntington, and will, in fact, pan out to be positive. However, the idea of the ban raises some deeper questions for me.

Should the state/city/country be allowed to enforce such prohibitions as an anti smoking law? That is a big question, because I think that in essence the decisions of the state, while well meaning in some cases, take away from not just the rights of people to make their own decisions, but the very ability to make those decisions. Many years ago I asked my mother if she was going to vote for president and she said that she did not feel connected to Washington and its decisions and that she was not empowered enough to see her vote as counting. My mother is a very civically active person. In fact, it is inspirational. But her actions are localized so that it lets me know that she has an adept understanding of the effect of will on a local level. This gets me thinking that if the entire country was made up of Margaret Worths who were each addressing their local issues by applying their will on the system, the national landscape of politics and political practice would be changed for the better. It would more reflect the people. For too many years, government in West Virginia has dictated the will of the people. I know someone is going to say, “West Virginians are very strong minded.” And this is true, but too often I hear, “Well, you can’t fight the system.” I think that many people believe, and this is true not only in West Virginia, that the government knows best when in fact I would like to scream down from the mountaintops that we are the government! Our will, collectively, is the system. The way it operates now, however, is like a person who has suffered a spinal cord injury or a stroke and one part of the body is the dominant voice in the system.

While I am not against the smoking ban, per se, I am against people who sit and complain about an injustice but don’t at least make an effort to change their circumstances. I don’t believe that any government system has the right or (technically) even the power to enforce a moral code. I am also aware that there is a great body of people, due to all sorts of circumstances, that cannot rise up from oppression without assistance. That fact may make it hard for people to see how they could change a system, yet I think that if a community began speaking as one voice, if we went out and stated the issue at every public forum provided, then slowly we would begin to see something happen. We would begin to see a change in the paradigm if we stood up, metaphorically, by physically marching not just for peace, love, and happiness, but also for true physical change. We would begin to see it. For what it’s worth, when I can’t get into a place that I want to go, I crawl up the stairs. In order to do that, I have to get out of my chair and let people see me at my most vulnerable. But therein lies the root of will. It is in that weakness that I will myself to be seen as an equal compared against anyone else. We must strike out and be uncomfortable for a moment in order to find true balance and will our own destiny.

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