THE PAST EVER PRESENT

 

 

It’s 1998 A.D. 

I’m dining inside the Tate Gallery exhibition hall at Royal Holloway College outside London, surrounded by Victorian paintings of every size and shape. These works depict different levels of society, from the outrageously poor treatment of the disenfranchised, to the pompous privilege of upper crust folk. It’s a visual kaleidoscope of the past world, hardly different from today’s world in so many ways.

 

The work of art that amazes me most is one by Edwin Long (BABYLONIAN MARRIAGE MARKET) depicting slave brides being auctioned at Marriage Market in ancient Babylon. There are thirteen girls being sold to the highest bidder, arranged in order of beauty. The painting is so large it occludes from view everything else in the gallery. Suddenly, I am inside this work of art, smelling the perfumes and sweat of the auction block, staring back at the one girl who is staring at me, wondering at the testosterone gazes of the men who are trying to purchase these women, trying to guess what the most beautiful woman looks like (her back is to the viewer), what the least attractive woman looks like (she covers her face with her hands).

 

The girls wait barefoot on the tiled floor, resting pensively on animal pelts, awaiting their fate. Some seem hopeful (perhaps being owned by a rich man is a better fate than being battered by an impoverished life), some are frightened, some sad, some dazed.

 

One man keeps tab of the auction on a red clay cuneiform tablet, a scale nearby, the richest men in the audience try to see through the gauze clothing, each person is dressed and coiffed according to station and wealth. In the hands of the master painter, you can tell much about everyone in this painting. In the hands of the master painter, there is much mystery that draws you in and makes you only guess at what’s really happening, what led up to this moment, what the next moments will bring.

 

These daughters and granddaughters, nieces and neighbors, are all beyond my assistance, their journeys are individual and lost to all tracking systems, their existence only remains in memory and imagination.

 

Now, it is 2010 A.D.

 

I am once again visiting this painting at the Huntsville Museum of Art. This is the work’s first and only visit outside England in its 135 years of existence. My girls are still there, frozen in time. The auctioneers and attendees are still hoping to sell and purchase their dreams.

 

I am left to wonder whether this kind of thing is happening all over the world in different but identical ways, whether we as a species will ever stop bartering with the souls and bodies and futures of those unable to fend us off

 

© 2010 A.D. Jim Reed

HOLISTIC EAR-FLAP SMOKER SKIPS MLK/REL LAUNDRY DAY

Listen by clicking below…or read on!

http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/holistic.mp3

It’s not just any Monday morning.

I pull up to the laundry next door to Golden Temple, drop off my week’s worth of wash/dry/fold, not very surprised that the laundry is open despite the fact it’s a national holiday. The laundry lady sighs when I say, “I see y’all are open on Doctor King’s birthday.” Her eyebrow movements tell me a lot.

A scruffy chain-smoking guy in ear-flap hat pulls at the locked Golden Temple door, carefully reads the sign, takes another drag, then saunters on down the street, just barely missing a chance to pick up some holistic medical advice…about how to quit smoking? Maybe?

Eleventh Avenue South is almost barren.

A Christmas tree peeks over the back gate of the pickup truck in front of me, waving a forlorn good-bye to the season.

At the shop, computer tech Daniel reminds me that this is also Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Sorry I forgot, Bob.

I unpack my bag of show-and-tell goodies from yesterday’s speech at the Alabaster public library, receive an e-mail thank-you from one of the attendees, and wonder what it is I said that made a difference in her day.

I pack for shipment a leatherbound limited edition of Ayn Rand’s THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS, prepare rough drafts of the weekly message I’ll be sending out to fans and subscribers, and send a note to Joey Kennedy, thanking him for granting me permission to publish one of his stories in a future Birmingham Arts Journal.

I think about the world and all its incredible inconsistencies, small joys, hugh terrors, gentle comforts.

I think how nice it would be to have a national holiday devoted to unselfish kindnesses

Jim Reed (c) 2010 A.D.

WHAT TO SAY AFTER ALL HAS BEEN SAID

WHAT TO SAY AFTER ALL HAS BEEN SAID

Read below or click and listen!

http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/rapt.mp3

 

What in the world would somebody like me have to say to a rapt audience had I the opportunity to say something useful?

I never know the answer to that question, but that does not prevent me from accepting invitations to speak before all kinds of groups large and small, young and old, literary and non-literary. People invite me to speak or teach, and I almost always accept. For instance, this coming Sunday at the Alabaster Library I’ll be speaking on the topic(s) “How To Become Your Own Book” and “What to Keep and What to Toss.”

The first is all about the joy of writing, how to find it, how to keep it, how to do it, how to stop doing it if it isn’t joyful (see my outline at http://www.jimreedbooks.com/become.html )…the second is in answer to the age-old question that we all ask eventually: Do I need to keep this or throw it away or donate it or stomp it or re-gift it or sell it? (I have the answer, though you might not like hearing it).

How does all this running about and making public appearances fit in with my otherwise hermit lifestyle, the lifestyle of a bookish bookie who writes books, sells books, reads books, edits books, purchases books, gifts books, donates books?

Well, here are a few answers to that question:

1.     Making speeches, conducting seminars, teaching…all serve to get me out of the shop, out of my shell, re-connect me with the general public I tend to hide from most of the time. I obviously-and reluctantly-need some social contact now and then.

2.     Doing all this public stuff allows me to spread the gospel of respecting old things, old memories. It’s important to recognize the past as part of our journey into the future. It comforts and sustains us, teaches us what works and what doesn’t work, what is right and what isn’t right. We don’t just wake up one morning wise…we have to travel forth and experience life in order to learn much of anything worth learning.

3.     Going forth introduces me and my hideaway (Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories/The Library of Thought) to folks who long to know such a place exists somewhere in the world. Believe it or not, after 30 years of  my owning the shop, most people still do not know it exists. Each day, new visitors arrive at the door saying, ”Why didn’t I know about this?  Awesome!”

I get a kick showing them around or leaving them alone to wander through the looking-glass all by themselves. They almost always find a treasure or two they don’t want to live without.

4.     Wandering around telling my tales gives me a chance to hear other peoples’ tales, too…and everybody has them! Some even become so excited that they begin to write them down,  after I’ve simply given permission for them to do so. It’s an amazing thing to behold.

And so on.

There are other reasons for getting Out There and sharing myself, but these will do for a start.

Every day is a new reason for leaving a legacy of respect for the past, appreciation for the present, and hope for each future day we can make better in some minuscule way.

Let’s get out there and do it alone together

© 2010 A.D. Jim Reed

http://jimreedbooks.com