Although I do not consider myself an "artist", I do get to take credit for the "Blue Turtle" graphics that are part of the header for this blog. Occasionally, people have asked me, "How did you come up with this idea?", so I have decided to explain that here.
First of all, during the earliest days of my childhood, my father was a long-haul truck driver in the region of Kentucky and Tennessee. Not in-frequently he would bring home box turtles he found along the side of the road. It was not until many years later that I came to fully appreciate the fact that my father would take the time to pull-over his eighteen-wheeler in order to pick-up a turtle for me. However, as a child, I just thought the turtles were really cool and as much as I loved my dad, I grew to love turtles as well through associating them with him.
As it turned out, I was pretty good at getting those turtles to come out of their shells, usually just letting them sit in my hand quietly until they were ready to come out. I would sometimes put them in my baby stroller and take them for tours around the neighborhood, showing them off like children to all of my friends. I continued to keep turtles of various kinds off-and-on throughout my life. In fact, one of my last adventures in turtle keeping was with red-eared sliders and evolved into a 110 gallon aquarium set-up that could have easily been an attraction at a nature museum! That was also one of the first things I had to find a home for before I left Maryland in 2011.
Later, in my early 20's I fell deeply in-love-with a man who was much older. He was an instructor at the university I attended in the music department and I was in the marching band. Although I wanted to believe I was ready for a serious relationship, I think he saw that I still had a lot of "growing up" to do and so he decided to end the relationship.
That was not easy for me to take. In fact, at one point, I threatened to commit suicide in order to try to get him not to leave me. So much for my thinking I was "mature enough"!
However, during that same time of transitioning out of relationship with this man I had come to love so deeply, I had an opportunity to listen to Sting's Dream of the Blue Turtles album, and especially the song, "If You Love Someone, Set Them Free". The song spoke to me, guiding me in how best to respond to this man I loved. So I decided to keep loving him, while at the same time I determined to Let Him Go. Consequently, when I saw him 20 years later, I was able to tell him honestly that I had never stopped loving him, and, as it turned out, he had never stopped loving me either, even though many years and life experiences had passed between us.
More than that though, over the years, I developed an attitude of loving people as a way of "setting them free". In other words, I learned to love people unconditionally and gave them the space to be free to be themselves with me, to be with me if they Wanted to be with me, and to move on and be with others, if that's what they wanted instead. I decided that I did not Own anyone, and I certainly did not Own anyone else's heart. I learned to love others so they were Free to love me back, or not. In other words, I did not make a Bond of Love, or associate love with controlling attachment.
Over the years I had many opportunities to learn how other cultures related to turtles. Somewhere along the way I came across the idea of the world being carried on the back of a turtle, and in the height of the "New Age" movement, it was hard not to be exposed to the ideas of "yin" and "yang". It was in the early 90's that the details of my Blue Turtle graphic started to emerge in my mind's eye, but it took some time before I could put everything together.
Although computers were available, I was not that computer savvy, especially where graphic design was concerned. Instead, I had to purchase a portable light-table which allowed me to overlay different elements of the design to trace them as a whole. I remember finding a world map of about the right size from a newspaper article on a international choral festival. I had to trace it and compress it in order to get it to fit onto the outline of the turtle shell. Once that was done, I went back with the yin-yang overlay and adjusted the light or dark parts of the mapped eastern and western hemispheres so that the yin-yang symbol could be seen, if only subtly. As many have noticed, the shape of the head is eagle-like. My inspiration for that idea came from the cover of a super-compact version of the poetry book, Turtle Island, by Gary Snyder.
I began to pull all of these elements together during what turned out to be a very difficult time of "recovery" in my life. As I detail in my blog here NAPF Workshop...Nuclear Sleeping Pills I had become suicidal after a working-intimate relationship gone terribly wrong. I had a lot of pain and sadness at that time, but, like so many artists often do, I chose to channel all of that energy creatively, and this "Blue Turtle" arose out of that process.
So what exactly does it represent to me?
First of all, all of the senses are represented with this turtle, the vision of the eagle, as well as hearing (that small blue patch lower down on the head represents the turtle's ear). It has toes for touch and nostrils for smell, and you may presume a tongue in its mouth to taste.
As the mythical turtle I heard about, not only is it carrying the world on its back, it is also the world itself, both the eastern and western hemispheres, representing eastern and western geographies as well as philosophies. The inclusion of the yin-yang symbols speaks to the experience of all of the dualities that exist in this world, the play of opposites.
What may be most important though is that this turtle is Happy and Peaceful. The fact that there is a slight up-turn to that otherwise eagle-like beak of a mouth, and a shine in its eyes was also intentional.
Now here's an interesting side-note to a particular line of thought that was circulating through my mind as this image was coming into being. It was composed of two major elements - a sermon given by the minister of a church I attended many years before in Tennessee, and the theme of Defining Quality that was elaborated in Robert Pirsig's first book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
The study of the sermon was the passage where Moses is standing at the burning bush and asking God "What is your name?" to which God responds, "I Am That I Am". What I learned from the sermon was that in Jewish culture, to know someone's name was to also be given the power to bless or to curse them, By Name. In this particular sermon, the minister suggested that since God was the giver of those blessings and curses, then it was not appropriate for Moses, or anyone else for that matter to know God's name, because that would imply they had the power to bless or to curse God.
In a somewhat similar way, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig asks the question "What is Quality?", and the story recalls his going crazy (literally) while he is trying to figure out the answer.
What became a revelation to me as I pondered these ideas was that: You can't put a label on God...or, more to the point, you can't put a SINGLE label on God. In fact, if God is Infinite and All-Pervading, then...it's All God, and that also means Every Label is Another Label for God, or another "Name" for God. Every "thing" that exists that can be "labeled" is still "God", and "God" therefore includes all "Labels", all things, all beings.
So by creating "The Blue Turtle", especially in the all-sensing, world-comprehending, duality-embodying, ultimately loving-peaceful-happy way that I had, I was simply creating another representational Form of "God", a new "name" or "label" for God; i.e. "God" as "The Blue Turtle"!
Although my ideas about "God" have changed somewhat since then, I still remember the profound sense of gratitude I felt for having this potentially very powerful "symbol" manifest through me. On one level it is merely a "picture", ink on paper. But, it means much more to me. And, as Robert Pirsig later decided: "Quality" is what you will perceive in that which is loved.
I love "The Blue Turtle" and I Love God, and all of God's Forms. I loved being able to bring this idea out of the realm of intangible thought, into this world as a more tangible reality.
Furthermore, it is my hope that the Love, Peace, and Happiness that is embodied and can be seen in this Blue Turtle graphic, will be fully realized in the World that it also symbolizes.
Pedaling for Peace
On April 15, 2012 I started riding my bicycle cross-country from Jacksonville, Florida in voluntary support of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and the work of author and Peace Leadership Director for the NAPF, Paul K. Chappell. By July 4th, I had covered over 1300 miles to just west of Luling, Texas where a major mechanical failure brought this first stage of my cross-country journey to an end. After storing my bicycle and trailer with my aunt and uncle in Weatherford, Texas, I flew from Dallas to Santa Barbara, California to attend the NAPF First Annual Peace Leadership Summer Workshop. I then lived and worked in Santa Barbara for several more months before I returned to Jacksonville and sold off the rest of my possessions that I could to help fund a continuation of my journey. Starting June 8, 2013 and ending August 9, 2013, I rode from Weatherford, through 400 miles of the central Texas hill country, including Austin, Texas, back to Luling. It was at this point that a friend of mine invited me to work for a brief period in Pennsylvania before flying me back to Santa Barbara where I continued volunteering for the NAPF as well as for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. As of August 9th, 2014 I began"Stage III" of my cross-country adventure, this time heading south from Santa Barbara to San Diego and then east to El Paso, TX. It was there that illness, winter weather, and diminishing resources brought that leg of my journey to an end. After staying with another friend in Columbus, GA for several months, I moved "back home" to Kentucky to stay with my dad for a while and build a better "resource base" for future endeavors including review and further tracking and primitive survival skills training at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School , and a possible longer tour of the east coast, northern tier, and north west coast back down to Santa Barbara, CA.