Saturday, September 15, 2018

On Nana's 98th Birthday

I've been writing some poetry over the last year, keeping a new year's resolution to write 1 poem a month.  It's been a nice, quiet, non-messy divergence from my usual visual art.  In honor of Nana's 98th (!!) birthday today, here's one.  


are what the child knows.

That you can start to cross the street before the car has passed
is what the mother knows.

That you can again find a center of balance
is what the man on the bike knows.

At the intersection is a doctor’s office. 
My grandmother, ninety-seven, is inside
filling out a medical questionnaire.

When she comes to the part requesting 
the medical history of her parents and 
grandparents, she laughs, making even the clerk look up.

That it can demand stillness 
is what the intersection knows.

But that there is no other intersection for miles
is what the street cannot know, 

which is what the child knows,
is what the mother knows,

is what the man on the bike,
dropping hands from handlebars,


Saturday, July 14, 2018

"It's like somebody's plugged a light in"

oil, 11x14"

Enchroma glasses allow people who are color blind to see colors on the spectrum they have never seen before.  You can watch videos of adults seeing colors for the first time:   
With the glasses, many people take a few moments to adjust to their new environment.  Some react emotionally.  Some verbally process the experience in a way you wonder if a newborn would, if he or she could.  They are childlike in their exploration of the environment.  It seems purple is especially striking.  Several choose to have this "first" experience in a garden.

(Also worth watching are videos of people with cochlear implants hearing for the first time:

This painting marks my return to oil painting after more than ten years.  Oil is the preferred medium for many professional painters due to its vibrancy, texture, and endurance over time.  It also comes with additional particularities: it takes a long time to dry, it requires special solutions to wash the brushes...until now, with the development of water-soluble oil paints which require no toxic cleaning solutions and come with no associated smells!

I painted this for friends getting married today who enjoy contra dancing.  As usual, I don't like painting people, so I'm hoping the vibrancy of color can help make up for, say, the lack of faces...  Here's to many more dances to come!

Sunday, July 8, 2018


"For the boys -- some of whom can't swim -- the most dangerous part of the journey out of the labyrinth cave system remains the first kilometer, in which they are required to pass through a flooded channel no wider than a person. During this process, rescuers need to hold the boys' oxygen tanks in front of them and swim pencil-like through submerged holes." CNN

I am catching up on the week's news, including learning about the rescue mission of the Thai boys' soccer team from the Thailand caves.  The rescue effort is increasingly time sensitive due to impending monsoons.  I am thinking about the amount of drive, skill and bravery directed at this place.  

Then, I picked up the book I'm reading, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

"We have seen how people describe the common characteristics of optimal experience: a sense that one's skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing.  Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.  Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted.  An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous."

May God withhold the rainflow.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Upside Down Cake: What Maya was Making the Day King Died

Upside Down Cake: What Maya was Making the Day King Died

April 4, 1968, Dr. Maya Angelou's 40th birthday, was also the day of MLK Jr'.s assassination.  Maya was cooking dinner for friends.  She had promised to support King in his fundraising for the Poor People's march, but said it would have to wait until after her birthday.  

Her NYC apartment was saturating with smells: Texas chili sans beans, baked ham, candied yams, pineapple upside down cake.  She left the dishes to walk to Harlem when she heard the news.

For years afterward, rather than celebrate her birthday, Maya would send flowers to King's widow.

Hear her voice: "On the Pulse of Morning:"

"Couldn't I have done better somewhere?  I wish I'd known better so I could have done better." - M.A.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

sane and ebullient

I spent Saturday at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center, for an Art & Spirituality retreat.  The hill was home to a private mansion in the late 1700s and in the wake of the Civil War was claimed by 6 Sisters of the Visitation, whose mission was to pray for healing over the city of Richmond.  The sisters established a school but later closed it with the decision to embrace a contemplative life, producing communion hosts for the diocese and running a print shop.  When the Sisters moved out in the 1980s, an ecumenical group assumed the Sisters' mission, and in 2004 Richmond Hill opened its doors once again to pray for the city below.

The day had a schedule but we were encouraged to wander the gardens 
and visit the chapel and library.

A grandmother-mom-daughter trio participated.  
The mom's artwork represents the 3 generations plus her grandmother, 
whom she has never met, but whose attributes she feels are represented in the other 2.  

This woman was inspired by the chapel's stained glass.  
She is deciding whether to place a silhouette of her friend holding the phone taking a photo of the window.

I was curious to explore the library, where I came across The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery, by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  The book read as a journal and seemed appropriate given the setting.

Here is an entry.  It reminds me of the response attributed to famed mountaineer George Mallory to, "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?": "Because it's there."

'If I see three oranges, I have to juggle.  And if I see two towers, I have to walk.'  These remarkable words were spoken by the tightrope-walker, Philippe Petit, in answer to the question of the police as to why he had walked (at 7:50 A.M.) on a rope shot with a crossbow from one tower of the New York Trade Center to the other.  When Phillipe had seen the two spires of Notre Dame in Paris, he had done the same.  'L'art pour l'art' is this highwire artist's philosophy.

I have been thinking today, off and on, about this beautiful man Philippe Petit.  His answer to the police is priceless and deserves long meditation.  We always want answers to impossible questions.  Why do you love her?  Any answer to such a question is usually ridiculous.  Because she is beautiful?  Because she is intelligent?  Because she has a funny pimple on her nose?  Nothing much makes sense.  Why did you become a priest?  Because you love God?  Because you like to preach?  Because you don't like women?  Why did you become a monk?  Because you like to pray?  Because you like silence?  Because you like to bake bread without being bothered?  There are no answers to those questions.

When they asked Philippe Petit why he wanted to walk on a slender wire strung between the two tallest towers of New York City, everyone thought he did it for money, for publicity, for fame.  But he said, 'If I see three oranges, I have to juggle.  And if I see two towers, I have to walk.'

We don't believe the most meaningful answer.  We think that this man must be insane.  In fact, they took Philippe to a city hospital for psychiatric examination but soon found out that Philippe was as healthy as could be.  'Sane and ebullient,' says the newspaper.

His is the true answer.  Why do you love her?  When I saw her, I loved her.  Why are you a priest?  Because I must be a priest.  Why do you pray?  Because when I see God, I must pray.  There is an inner must, an inner urge, or inner call that answers all those questions which are beyond explanation.  Never does anyone who asks a monk why he became a monk receive a satisfying answer.  Nor do children give us an explanation when we ask them, 'Why do you play ball?'  They know that there is no answer except, 'When I see a ball, I have to play with it.'

The police who arrested Philippe Petit seemed to understand this because they dropped the original charge of trespassing and disorderly conduct in exchange for Philippe's promise to perform his aerial feats for the children in Central Park.  That at least brought some real humanity back into the picture. Meanwhile, I keep saying to myself, 'If I see three oranges, I have to juggle.  And if I see two towers, I have to walk.'

I loved these oil colors.  
This woman works in an office, finds time for art precious, and has a goal of painting a portrait of each of her grandchildren.  

My product.  Tuscany, not Ireland, though it was St. Patrick's Day.  But the top 1/3 is reminiscent of the Irish flag, eh?  And it's done on cardboard backing so you could say it's green. :)

I wonder how it was that each of the participants found solace in art to the extent that they would treasure setting apart a day to fully engage with it.  I imagine some of the answer may be that unknowable response to the supplies and blank canvas that, like a tightrope or a mountain, beckoned. And that may be all the answer needed.