Mid-night musings: Jason Shinder

Santafe.com - July 20, 2011

"I’m fortunate today to live in the kind of community Jason sought to create nationwide"

I woke this morning at 3 am.  The moon was full.  The dogs, again, had managed to get out of the house and were howling for all they were worth with a couple of coyotes down in the meadow by the horses.  Around the hills, the echo of their voices sang in unison with the voices of other dogs–distant and muted–while a full moon bathed the land in a silver white scape.

I had been dreaming of paintings, of giclees.  The first proof– back from the printer today was so close to the original you wouldn’t know it wasn’t original until you touched it–was a scary thing so that I kept my distance, circling it cautiously with the feeling that somehow, if I am not very, very careful it will bite me.  And it could.  I’ve never been a fan of giclee for all the usual reasons.  Still, the weight and time factor make them appealing for these steel paintings and the cost makes them more than affordable for people wanting the work and unable, especially now, to hit the prices of originals.

The dogs came running up the hill to my calls, tails wagging and thirsty as though howling in the middle of the night was something usual, fun and even necessary. 

Fifteen minutes later, after I lay back down under the full moon in the bed on our bedroom patio, they began again.  Another door, somewhere in the house was open and I, cursing, knew I was awake for the duration. 

This time, yelling  for the dogs again – urgently now and with a pitch somewhat hysterical, kin to them crazy under the moon–my thoughts were of  Jason Shinder.  This is especially weird. 

Jason was a poet.  He founded the national Writers Voice program at the 57th street YMCA in New York city.  He fervently  believed in art, in arts education, and in demystifying the ever pervasive myths about artists.  He gave his life to that.  In all his years as an arts advocate, he only published two small volumes of his own poetry.  His third book was published after his death.

In 2001, just before 9/11, I  had been working in the national YMCA arts and humanities program under Jason (a long way under Jason) and it was the first time in my life that being an artist was not only ok, it was imperative to others beside myself. 

Jason was a kind of hero to me.  I took his teachings to heart and worked overly hard at teaching my staff, the grant makers, the parents and the kids that all artists are not smelly, sexually deviant, lazy, deranged, unreliable, or any of the other myths typically associated with artists.  They are, instead, just people who do things both amazing and mundane but who are intrinsic to what it means to be human.  They are our collective voice. 

Jason also, indirectly, is responsible for me becoming a full-time artist.  I had been working at implementing the Writers Voice program in Santa Fe.  In collaboration with the annual book festival, I had organized a reading by several well known writers at the Lensic and Jason, personally, was going to do a reading for us.  He had even brought in Pam Houston for the event.  All my bosses from the Albuquerque Y were in attendance.  Pam Houston cancelled.  There were kids and parents and people I had begged to come just to fill the huge room.  Jason got on stage and proceeded to read explicity sexual poetry to an audience both conservative and unknown.  My bosses were shocked.  I was shocked.  All that training  and he’s reciting poetry about as explicit as it can be without being downright pornography.  So much for demystifying the stereotypes about artists!  A few weeks later, after 9/11 and a new executive director who believed the Y needed to be about God and basketball, I lost my job.  It was a laid off, get your shit out of here, kind of thing that blew a hole in my world about as big as I had seen. 

It was also the thing that made me say to myself, ”Now or never.”  I became a full time artist and didn’t look back.  I haven’t thought about Jason for years.  I learned that he had died in 2008, but other than that he hadn’t really crossed my mind.  It kind of surprised me that he was on the edge of my consciousness under the moon this morning. 

Then I realized that I had written a blog post on the new website for my gallery this afternoon describing a fledgling artist collective and how it's not really hip or cool that most of the artists look like normal people most of the time, but how there is something magic in the air.  An energy and vitality that quickens the pulse, a dialog both witty and strange, a community for whom art is not only imperative, its as natural as breathing. 

Jason danced with a soft shoe.  He negotiated.  He compromised.  He was the bridge between worlds until he had an opportunity to be on stage as merely an artist.  Then, though I had heard him read multiple times prior in different political settings, he let loose, shocking us all, becoming on that stage not the director, not the educator, not even the man.  He was, in that instant, a poet — vulnerable, real, hard core and bristling — and he changed my life forever (though not, I’m sure, as he would have liked to).

I’m fortunate today to live in the kind of community Jason sought to create nationwide.  I don’t think I would be working so hard at sparking this collective if it hadn’t been for him and what he taught me.  He stayed a bridge in my life and I’m glad, writing this, that he was still there somewhere in my deep subconsious waiting for a moon, coyotes, baying dogs and the middle of the night to surface and remind me that though we are unpredicatable, often weird, crazily vulnerable and scary honest, we are the voices, the hopes, and the middle of the night dreams.   The catalysts and crusaders. The harbingers of change.