Martin Kimeldorf is a retired teacher and author. Following his brain surgery in 2013 he entered a learning and writing frenzy on the topics of death, love and drink (mixology). And now the frenzy concludes with a work about dreams. He sleeps well.
As my parents exited middle age, they began receiving flyers and seeing ads about retirement living communities. It was as if they had entered a momentary pause in their lifeline. My father, Don, began talking with my mother about the items they should keep and things to get rid of. Then one day my mom, Fay, showed up with a brown paper bag of books by Dr. Spock on child raising.
After her first vodka gimlet, she told me she was giving me the bag of books she had been saving for me. Then after her second vodka cocktail, she confessed she just couldn’t part with them.
There was a pause. It was awfully long. We averted our eyes and scanned the room.
Then she quipped, “This was silly. I should be going.” Without comment, she rose and headed for the door. My wife and I were struck mute and motionless. Then my mom got up and wordlessly left. It was so unlike Fay.
I had been having this dream for several days as winter drew to a close in 2023. It turned out this early morning would be the last night I dreamt this story…It has now reached its conclusion…and so I write.
“Either we all survive or none of us do” ~Vincent Van Gogh
In 2020, I drew together a small collection of lifetime short stories and essays in a slim volume entitled Camping On The Edge. I was facing a medical fork in the road about eliminating my anti-cholesterol pill which caused tremendously painful leg cramps. I felt I was faced with choosing more life in the years remaining versus simply adding years to my life. Or, as I like to say, “Longevity is highly overrated.”
One of the essays was entitled Dear Theo. It is a letter I wrote in the spirit of Vincent Van Gogh based on my readings and lifelong study of his art and letters. Now, after sharing my letter to Theo with our delightful editor-publisher Ms. Levine, I try to respond to her query: How Do You Make Art Come Alive? The next morning the answer was clear and concise: I become them in a letter writing session.
Whether I’m studying playwrights like Eugene O’Neil or Bertolt Brecht, artists like Paul Cezanne or Vincent Van Gogh, I dig deeply into their works and what others have said about them. Over time, I find myself becoming like one of my heroes. When I am full to the brim with Vincent Van Gogh I write a letter as though I were him, addressed to his brother Theo. It is a great way to sum up my learning. My process does not require submission, display, or editing, and I just toss down whatever comes my way as I write the letter.
My letter began in my first round of Van Gogh studies and was marked in my journal with the title: 1/25/12 RX for Reclaiming Life. As a boomer growing up in the 1950s, my parents were intent on educating my entire personality. This included painting, carving, and dancing lessons . Carving has randomly sustained itself over the years in the form of soap carving. Recently, I placed an Amazon order for a palette, paint tubes, brushes, and pallet knives. I am returning to my lifetime lust for life: painting.
In 2022 we were fortunate to attend the spectacular Van Gogh exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Upon exiting, I spied a book weighing several pounds and running 800+ pages. In my life that would be the equivalent of 3+ books. Never too old to learn a lesson, eh?
This book, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, turned out to be one of the best three books I’ve ever read. I learned so much about the times and the personalities. On my walls these last few decades I get to view my favorite Van Gogh quote: Either we all survive or none of us do.
Longevity plus Creativity! I am gassed up, tank be full, as I release the parking brake and head back down that acrylic painting highway. With this I present you my slightly edited long lost letter from Vincent to his brother Theo.
Vincent Van Gogh’s Lost Letter
Dear Theo, The longer I stay in Paris the more my reason dissipates. My life is in jeopardy! Ever since the breakup, it has been like a perpetual funeral in winter. Dark and brooding colors are choking off my very breath. Clouds of burnt sienna shut out all the light, and dull olive-green shadows close in upon my very footsteps.
I am choking on bourgeois snobbery. The dealer you sent me to has rejected my work as the product of an “amusing colorist.” I must flee the cruel passions of an indifferent public.
This is why I must use your generous check to strike out upon a new path. I must take leave of this heartless city before the gloomy horizon swallows me up, body and soul!!
The crimson passion, smoldering deep inside me, is about to burst if I don’t find an outlet for my energies! This is why I plan to leave this dreary place for the sunny south lands. I want to use the money to open a deli in Arles. But this will be much more than a bagel-shop. I’ll call it the Post-Impressionist Deli and it will cater to the needs of tortured souls — a haven for my misunderstood brethren.
I have just finished sketching plans for an entire art colony, built around the deli. I know artists will flock to a terrain overflowing with lemon yellow sunshine. Each day gently bids adieu amidst a delicate, purple haze. You must come and see for yourself, dear Theo.
I have already written Gauguin and offered him the upstairs. I know what you will say. You think I am a poor roommate owing to my stubborn and argumentative qualities. Do not worry. I will give Paul complete reign of the upstairs which he can flood with canvas. I will play out my mission below, constructing my themes upon the stove and butcher block.
I realize that my past exploits in the kitchen are nothing to brag about. I ignored the treasures of the tongue because my mind was fastened upon my oils and brushes. But I am now free of that plague! Your “amusing colorist” is driven by a deep and abiding hunger to create for others, and this hunger will catapult me into the ranks of my culinary colleagues. Today I salute the new direction my life has taken!
You should also know that I did not make this decision lightly. In fact, I believe this choice was guided by the very hand of God! Last week I was watching Cezanne painting an open-air market. My eyes were caught up with the colorful array of fruits, meats, breads, and flowers. I suddenly began hearing a chorus of color in my head. Before my eyes a dazzling parade unfolded. I saw starburst yellows cavorting with fruity oranges, celery greens streaked by pure meaty reds. My head was spinning, spinning as my vision dissolved into flecks of pure color!
I found myself stumbling backwards, falling against a bookseller’s cart. The words of a hundred authors cushioned my decent. I reached out for a railing to pull myself up, and providence guided my hand in this divine comedy. I found myself clutching a slim, colorful volume entitled “Recipes from the Impressionist’s Kitchen.”
Surely, dear Theo, this is the sign I have been waiting for all my life! God is urging me to this calling. You will die for the Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Chocolate Upside Down Cake.” And the chapter on “Pointillists Appetizers” is nothing, if not brilliant!
I would write more, dear Theo, but I must hasten to the market before sunset. I’m going to begin with healthy foods, starting tonight with Monet’s “Water Lilly Low-Fat Salad.” I will throw my entire being into this venture!! I will keep at it until I get it right. I don’t care if I must eat a hundred salads by next week! I will rip my tongue out before I quit!!
Author’s final note: Fortunately, for the history of art, Van Gogh was a terrible cook and never got much beyond a potato eater. As a result, his brother Theo refused to fund the deli and Vincent returned to painting while in Arles. And for those of you who share Vincent’s passions, for whom the art of cooking is no less than the art of writing, painting, playing, or helping others, I ask only that you let me know when you open your own Post-Impressionist Cafe.
What will 2022 be like? Let’s do some time travel to see how the intersection of future and past events will shape us. It’s now the year 2142 and the original MAGA banner has a new spelling: MaEGA. Using an imperfect 40-year cycle, the MaEGAts (as the followers are known) look at 2022 by tracing their origins back two centuries to the 1880s.
The MaEGA followers possess a dark humor born out of the many imperfections they often deny. Their manifestos and guidelines were written with disappearing ink, because they knew their ideas would not last. They were most often united in chuckling quietly at their own serious intent. They relied on distracting others with their racist rants and misogynist jokes. Turns out, their roots go back much farther in US history.
In my leisure wellness book (and workshop) Serious Play I shared my observation that too many people forget how to play. And to drive the point home I shared my personal motto Play Now or Pay Later. Toys enrich our experience across a lifetime. I also believe that if you want to measure a person, look at the “toys” they collect. One toy I dearly treasure is the Magic 8-Ball and now I see its relevance expanded to 17 digits.
The notion that everyone has a unique magic 17-digit number associated with their being came from last night’s early-autumn dream. Perhaps this was in anticipation of the toy-giving season looming just ahead. The dream did not explain how the 17-digit number was generated. It does appear, though, to have been based on the original 8-Ball fortune-telling toy, originally designed by Albert C. Carter and Abe Bookman in 1946 for the Mattel toy company. Back then, the popular 8-Ball toy supposedly possessed clairvoyant powers. Owners used it like a personal crystal ball. In that long ago holiday season it became a fad, a must-have toy for children 7 to 70.
Cocktail party discussions in the rambunctious boom years of the 1960s often ended in dark pronouncements for the next century. Upward trending population growth graphs collided with downward bar charts displaying resource depletion. A few brave souls uttered dark prophecies for the 2020s. They whispered about a world landscape filled with economic and environmental collapse. They claimed this would create a breeding ground for pandemics that would challenge our very survival.
America loves to terrorize and confine itself with a bipolar view of the world. The Ozzie-and-Harriet voices in our heads droned on with happy-talk. In George Jetson cartoons, we imagined escaping traffic gridlock in our flying cars.At the same time a Civil Defense doomsday voice commanded us to “duck and cover” beneath atomic mushroom clouds. Eventually Twilight Zone voices questioned these comedic survival tactics. Continue reading How Will You Toast The 2020s? – by Martin Kimeldorf→
Chatting off-topic one day with one of my favorite editors, Deborah Levine,I talkedabout feeling like an outsider at age 7 in my own family. Perhaps she had not discussed her similar feelings before because she embraced the topic and told about similar feelings in her childhood. Deborah told her mom how she believed she belonged to gypsy parents who must have left her on the doorstep.Then without surprise or forethought she asked her mom, “Would you please return me to where I really belong?” Her mom was amused by her hyperactive daughter with the quick mind and tongue.
I then shared with Deborah that I felt I’d been left behind by aliens as part of an intergalactic experiment by my far-away family. This was not as far fetched as you might think when I explain how my father was a scientist working for the government in Radiation Biology. He had security clearances, and this was to explain why he was gone a lot to places he could not speak about upon return. was often on the road to places he could not tell us about.It was also the 1950s when the red-scare atmosphere filled the very air and our television programing the paranoia of the McCarthy era.
In the 20th century, corporations and state enterprises perfected a “free trade” sleight of hand for extracting resources and cheap labor globally. Today, as sources of “cheap labor” become less profitable, artificial intelligence (AI) is wielded as a tool for further exploiting American labor.
When automated manufacturing first showed up in the 60s, the “pundits” (then called eggheads) worried about automation shortening the workweek. They argued that the increase in leisure would destroy the American work ethic. Today, automation’s potential for delivering the paradise of a 20-hour workweek has been largely forgotten, even though productivity per worker has rocketed off the charts. Today most people feel over-worked, and leisurely lifestyles remain the province of the rich.
What would it mean to unlock the mysteries of both the visible and invisible dark night skies? In Matthew Bothwell’s article Monsters in the Dark, the Cambridge astronomer eloquently and patiently explains the invisible monster galaxies uncovered by the Hubble Space Craft’s long-exposure images. Relying on infrared light exposures, the new imagery penetrates the cosmic dust barriers to reveal in his words: a “vibrant cosmic powerhouses in the distant Universe” engaged in active star-making.
Bothwell admits that we don’t know why these massive galaxies even exist. The spiritual-cosmological questions that follow could sound like these: “What forces bring them into existence?” “Why do they die?” and most profoundly, “Why, or what purpose do they serve?” This busy star-nursery also fosters questions about our own existence back here on Earth and to what degree are we alone in the universe.
Before going in for brain surgery in 2013, I feared that studying, researching and thinking too much about my condition would leave me bereft of hope. I dreaded being swept up with sadness or anxiety or both. I resolved to trust in all my doctors and in the destiny already laid out before me. To achieve that state of mind I returned to reciting the quatrains found in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. As a result, I was able to enter Virginia Mason Hospital calm, a bit exhausted, and filled with acceptance.
After my father died my mother slipped into a chaotic state of dementia. Over time and after countless conversations we concluded she was very attached to her anger. It was if she was raising up her problems as her new children. She preferred her alternative view of the world and it would become her undoing.