In 2002 we ran away from Illinois where we were born and raised, and started a new life in SW Florida. This blog is about me (an eccentric old artist), ROM (my Real Old Man), Isabella (our neurotic Standard Poodle) and Emmy (our crazy snake killing Jack Russell Terrier). Oh- and the neighborhood old people. Life is good in Florida!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Two Old Atheists Walked Into A Mosque...

... and nothing awful happened. 

When I got up last Saturday morning, visiting a Muslim mosque was the farthest thing from my mind. Later that morning when I was reading my Twitter timeline I noticed a tweet from a Bradenton Herald reporter (Jessica De Leon) about the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton (ISSB) hosting a food and art festival at their mosque. I love food and art, plus I'm curious about Muslim culture. it seemed like the perfect distraction from my self pity party I've been wallowing in lately. So I got dressed, grabbed my camera and ROM, and off we went to the local mosque. 

I've read old online articles that claim there was a connection between past members of this mosque and the terrorists responsible for 9/11. I don't know if it's true, though I do know there was a connection between SW Florida and the 9/11 murderers. They had received flight training in Venice, FL.  Whether they had ties to this local mosque, I don't know. But I do know that I don't hold any Christian churches that Dylan Root or Robert Dear Jr. attended responsible for their horrible acts of violence against innocent people. 

I had no idea what to expect from from either the local Muslims or the general public. Since the slaughter in San Bernardino by two Muslim terrorists, there's been a backlash of fear and hatred toward Muslims... all Muslims. Trump has a large support base in this area and I wondered if they would be there protesting. 

As we approached the entrance to the mosque, I noticed a police car with the lights flashing and immediately assumed the worse. 

I was relieved and surprised to discover that the police were there only to direct traffic to the overflow parking area across the street from the mosque. I was amazed at the size of the crowd, but still curious as to what the mood would be inside the mosque.  As we made our way to the mosque I noticed many of those attending were just like ROM and me- old and white. 

Just outside the mosque was a large tent where the food vendors were set up and large tables where people could sit and eat. We unwisely decided to tour the mosque before eating. By the time we made our way back there most of the food was gone, obviously the turnout had been much larger than the vendors expected. 

The outside of mosque was beautiful with the copper (or is it gold?) dome in the rear. 

Inside the mosque there was an open courtyard with vendors set up selling their wares and an information booth giving out brochures and free Qur'ans. I passed on the Qur'an but stuck some of the brochures in my bag to read later. The woman running the information booth pointed out the Imam and urged us to talk to him if we had any questions. I'm more of an observer than a questioner so I didn't talk to him. I was surprised with how young he was. He looked to be in his twenties, and appeared to be very relaxed and approachable as he talked and laughed with people. 

I didn't take many pictures because I didn't know what the policy was for photographing inside a mosque and I seemed to be the only one with a camera. I've been taken to task by a few artists when I've tried to take photos in galleries and shows. You just never know what is going to piss someone off. So I just sneaked in some quick shots here and there. 

There were several clothing and hijabs (head coverings) sellers, a henna artist, women selling sweet desserts, a fine art artist selling prints of her paintings and other booths that I can't remember.  

I noticed there were two different entrances to the main prayer rooms- one for women and one for men, so I assume the sexes pray separately. But that's merely an assumption on my part. On this day the entrance to the men's room was open and all were invited to step inside after removing one's shoes- even women. 

It was very quiet and serene. The shadows of palm trees outside the windows danced on the walls creating accidental art. 

So what did I learn from my afternoon at the mosque? I noticed that most of the Muslims at the festival were young families. I saw very few older Muslims. One thing that surprised was how involved the men seemed to be with their children. I assumed that would be considered women's work. But I saw several men with small kids in tow with no mother in sight as they mingled and socialized. There was one man carrying a baby around in his arms the entire time we were there. 

And the women? I will never understand why any woman would choose to wear all those clothes in the Florida heat and humidity. Most of the women were dressed in several layers of clothes- long sleeves and either long dresses or long loose fitting long culotte style pants. And the head coverings- has to be stifling and sweaty. I don't know how they tolerate all those clothes in our tropical type weather. Although I'll never understand not dressing appropriately for the weather, it doesn't bother me that they choose to dress that way. It did bother me when I saw a couple women who covered their entire faces. I'm always uncomfortable when peoples' faces are covered by masks, hoods or whatever. I get a creepy sinister feeling when someone is completely covered and I can't read their facial cues. 

I was more interested in the Muslim culture than the religion, but their culture seems so entwined with their religion that it's impossible to separate the two. According to the pamphlet Concept of Islam "Muslims believe that He created humankind with a simple purpose- to worship Him". Sounds like a self serving, needy and egotistic deity to me. As fallible and imperfect as humans are, most good parents strive to raise their children to be independent and self reliant so that their kids can live successful and happy lives. What kind of parent would raise their child with the sole purpose of being worshiped? I just don't understand following a belief in anything so controlling and stifling. But then, I don't understand the blind faith in any religion. I digress, this wasn't to be a blog entry to debate the existence of a god of any religion, just my impressions from our visit to the mosque.

My overall impressions of the local Muslim people were that they're friendly, enjoy good food and love their children. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

I Hate You, December...

 My once favorite month has become my most dreaded month of the year. It's become 31 days of gut wrenching memories, regrets and unresolved issues. Last week was the second anniversary of my son's death and this week is his birthday. It hasn't gotten easier with the passing of time. If anything, it's gotten harder. December brings so much anxiety that often I can barely breath, other days I'm paralyzed with inertia and numb. Hours can go by as I sit at my desk looking out the window, unaware of the time passing until ROM pulls in the driveway.  Late at night I turn on NetFlix and watch hours of episodes of the old series House. For a while I'm able to get caught up in the dysfunctional world of Dr. Greg House and the bizarre medical cases. 

I try not to watch real time TV because of the Christmas commercials. In my memory banks, my son's birthday is forever entwined with Christmas. Memories of him being born and coming home from the hospital for his first Christmas. How Santa always made an appearance at his birthday parties until he stopped believing. Hearing people talk about Christmas and their kids coming home is a reminder that my son is dead, and all the things I wish I had done differently. 

And then there's my birthday. He was born 12 minutes before my birthday, so of course that memory will forever be part of that day. December is a month of one frigging trigger after another. A month of white knuckling it from one moment to the next. My emotions and memories even take over my sleep with vivid dreams of my son. There is no escape... except with art. 

I spent several days totally immersed in creating my holiday card. I painted it four times before I got it the way I wanted it. (I still struggle with watercolor, but love it too much to give up.) Then the hassle of setting it up to print out on watercolor cards, getting the margins right and everything centered gave me a welcome distraction. 

They've now been printed and mailed, and I'm back to my brooding. But the month is almost half over, I can do this. There are 5 more seasons of House to fill my nights. Maybe I'll even motivate myself enough to make some fudge and cookies. Lord knows, ROM loves his holiday sweets. 

I apologize for this totally self centered, self absorbed and self indulged blog entry. For some reason I can write out the thoughts and feelings that I can't say out loud without dissolving in a puddle of ugly crying. I know it's a total downer but that's the price you have to pay for my funny stories. 

I hate you, December, but I'll survive you.