Wednesday, January 25, 2023

McWhorter's Last Fence

 My husband and I had the good fortune of careers that took us to many places, and we would not trade those experiences and the friends we made.  However, this blog is about Texas, and specifically, it is about a cowboy poet named Larry McWhorter.  If you want to know what a cowboy poet should look like, sound like, and represent the honorable character of a true cowboy, just google Larry McWhorter, cowboy poet.  He looked the part and had the voice for reading his poetry, and the authentic life to know what he was writing about when he wrote his poems.  Cancer cheated him, and those of us who knew him, out of the long life he deserved.  The last time we saw Larry was in the hospital.  Instead of flowers, I had the nerve to take him a poem I had written for him.  

We became friends not through his poetry but through his business building pipe and cable fences. We had bought some acreage in the country and wanted a fence to go all the way around it.  His business name was Fiddlestrings, and he was an outstanding craftsman with pipe and cable fencing.  We thought his bid was high, but it turned out that the limestone post holes, the curves and shifts in terrain, and his stubborn determination not to settle for anything less than perfection took months longer than he had anticipated.  Of course, some of that time included interruptions to jot down poems that came to him as he worked.

By the time he had finished our fence, his recognition as a cowboy poet had grown, and he had published a book of poems and had gained a reputation as an entertainer.  We hired him twice as an entertainer, and he was a hit both times.  But, his greatest gift was as a friend.  At his funeral the sanctuary and the church classrooms filled, with a crowd standing outside, and I am sure each person believed that he was a close friend.

The poem I wrote for him was titled "McWhorter's Last Fence / Apologies to Fiddlestrings. I will share the first two stanzas and the last two stanzas of my 10 stanza poem, as well as pictures of the fence he built for us.

        The job began in April

        with the pasture full of flowers.

        Grass was green and skies were blue.

        He didn't mind the hours.

        He worked long days on pipe and wire,

        and when each day was done,

        it hardly seemed he's moved ten feet

        from where he had begun.


        Yet, when the fence was finished

        and lay stretched across high plains,

        what he saw was strength and beauty. 

        He forgot about the pain.

        Stinging nettle, sun, and fire ants--

        all had put him to the test.

        But, he'd kept his word to do the job,

        and always done his best.

                Lyn Fenwick, (c)

                         March, 2003

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

So, you want to be an Artist.

From the time I was a little girl I wanted to learn to draw.  None of the schools I attended had an art program.  In the 3rd and 4th grade we cut out shapes for the season--pumpkins for Halloween, Trees for Christmas, Bunnies for Easter.  The windows in our classroom were divided, and each of our seasonal shapes filled one window.  

I never really gave up on the idea of learning to draw, and on my own I learned a little.  I also volunteered as a docent for an urban museum and learned a great deal from the training I received.  I joined art organizations and learned more.  I even took a few classes.  I bought books and visited museums.  I didn't give up. 

Portrait from a photograph:  Lyn Fenwick

How silly of me.  Recently I was watching television and learned about AI used to create art with Artificial Intelligence.  What does that mean?  It is the simulation of human intelligence using computers.   Computers can be trained to think and act in the same way humans can.

These computers can learn, and the more it learns the better the output it can produce.  If the computer has thousands of specific descriptions or images you have put into it, the more specific the result of what it can produce will be.  

So, if you tell the computer you want a "picture of a little girl at the zoo" that is one level of description, but it you tell the computer you want a "picture of a little girl about 8 years old with blue eyes, freckles, and red hair pulled back into a pony tail, leaning on the wooden railing of the elephant pen," you are going to get a portrait much closer to the little girl you wanted to create, assuming you have "taught" the computer by entering all the information it needs to complete your description of the girl.

Copyright:  Lyn Fenwick

The question remains, are you an artist?  Did you create the picture of the little girl?

Another question might be, does it make any difference how it was created if the end result is a satisfactory portrait of the little girl you set out to draw?

But, perhaps the next question should be will you experience the same satisfaction by creating the portrait with AI as you would have by using your own hands and shaping and coloring to complete the image?  Is there something missing in an AI portrait that can't be exactly explained but has failed to capture the indescribable spark that art requires?

Is going for a drive in the country the same if your hands are not on the wheel?   Is the pride of training and practicing and sacrificing to improve as rewarding if everyone who entered the race gets a trophy? 

We human beings should be asking these questions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

A History of Difficult Solutions


My Great Grandparents shortly before immigrating to America.

    The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French to pay tribute to the United States for its   democracy.  The Statue honored the end of slavery and other tyrannies and represented the friendship between France and America.

    Today we associate the Statue with the sonnet by Emma Lazarus, the most famous part of the sonnet being "Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"    At the dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, the emphasis was on the French who fought with Americans against Britain during the American Revolution and the commitment shared by France and the United States to liberty.  The famous poem by Lazarus was not added to the pedestal until 1903.

    Yet, for generations the words of that poem have represented the reality of immigration for millions of Americans whose families immigrated to America to escape all sorts of misery.  In the beginning there was little regulation of immigration and naturalization at a national level.  Rules and procedures for arriving immigrants were determined by local ports of entry or state laws.  Naturalization was handled by local county courts.  The shift to National authority gradually began in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The Immigration Act of 1891 led to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration.  The opening of Ellis Island as an inspection station occurred in 1892, 6 years after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. However, it was the Constitution adopted in 1787 that gave the United States Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.

    The Naturalization Act of 1790 enabled persons who had resided in the country for two years and had kept their current residence for a year to apply for citizenship, provided they were a free white person and of good moral character, and any court of record could perform naturalization.  Soon, the residency requirement was increased--in 1795 to 5 years residence and 3 years notice of intent to apply for citizenship.  Three years later, in 1798 it increased to 14 years residency and 5 years notice.  

    This brief summary makes clear that settling on rules of naturalization have been complicated from our beginnings.  From white men to black men born in America to black men naturalized, to restrictions on Asian men, to voting rights for women, to the Page Act passed in 1875 to bar immigrants considered "undesirables," America has struggled with whom they wanted to admit and for what privileges.  We have also imposed voluntary repatriation to Europe and Mexico, as well as coerced repatriation.  The Chinese exclusion laws were not repealed until 1943.  We have excluded on the basis of literacy, disease carriers, and "postcard wives" who were brought to America by men who had selected them from photographs.

    In truth, nearly every one of us is the descendent of an immigrant.  Our immigration policies have almost always been messy.  This blog is not written as a suggestion of how it should be done nor as a criticism of how it has been done.  Rather, it is just a reminder that how to do it has never been easy.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The View from My Window

Iris I can see from my window

The view from the window above my desk is the same view from which I have observed the world since I was a child.  The row of lilac bushes I loved every spring is now a bed of iris, but the lilac bushes aren't far away, ...only a few steps to the west, where my mother transplanted them to form a patio created with concrete my father had salvaged from the adjacent farm he had bought.  The barn was torn down to raise crops instead of cows.  Over the years that salvaged concrete had served many needs, one of which was being piled into the frame for the front porch when my father replaced the wooden floor with a new concrete floor.  Did that stabilize the new concrete or just reduce the amount of new concrete needed?  We were a thrifty family, and we tried not to let anything go to waste.

Mother's thrift was primarily in the kitchen and at her sewing machine.  There was a canning jar in the refrigerator, and at the end of meals if there were leftover vegetables in the serving bowl, or even just a bit of juice, into that jar it went.  If somehow a piece of meat had been left on the platter, it went into the jar.  By the end of the week Mother would transform the odd collection of leftovers into soup or stew, although she might have needed to add a package of ground beef from the freezer.

She was a master at the sewing machine, and the prettiest prom dress I ever had was created from red taffeta lining from an old coat and curtain fabric for the kitchen windows that she had decided not to use.  I was mortified.  How could I go to a party dressed in curtains and coat lining!  It took old photographs to convince me that it really was the prettiest dress she ever made for me. 

Black swallow tail caterpillars devouring my garden 

But, back to the view from my window...  Today I see the foundation from the old hen house from my window, but once there truly was a hen house, and collecting the eggs and feeding the chickens was my job.  If I forgot to close the doors in the evening to keep varmints out at night, I had to go out after dark to close the doors.  Today it looks like a few steps, but when I was eight, in the darkness it looked like a mile.  The chicken house had been torn down when we came back to the farm, but I didn't want the old foundation removed.  Now that old foundation keeps the Bermuda grass out of the herb garden.  Consistent with my family training, I found a new purpose for something old.

At some time in my teen years, a daybed was put in the alcove of my window.  The wall to the right of the window was just wide enough for a peg board, and I faithfully arranged and rearranged photographs, invitations, cards and other odds and ends--things that had a special (if temporary) meaning to me.  I guess little has changed.  Today that wall holds my FHSU Alumni Achievement Award and the plaque recognizing my Georgia Author of the Year Award presented by the Council of Authors and Journalists.  I believe there is just the perfect place for the Notable Kansas Book Award for 'Prairie Bachelor.'  Old habits are hard to change.