Sunday, December 20, 2020

2020 in Review

Wildfire smoke

I'm glad we are able to communicate, at the end of this trying year. You have weathered the storm of 2020 sufficiently to read this, and I to write it. We are the lucky ones. Misa, Max and I have so far been spared the worst difficulties of this strange time. We are healthy. I'm still employed, and since I've worked at home exclusively since 2006, remote working was not a big challenge. 

Misa enjoyed staying home and made high-fashion face masks for us. She also sold them in her Etsy Store.


Max studied day and night, took a college board test and managed his worry about school and future. Some of his friendships grew through separation this year. He began learning to drive, and that’s one activity that helps him cope with the extra restrictions everywhere else. He also flew high in his computer flight simulator.

My eternal picture continued to develop, mirroring the pace of the carving of the Grand Canyon. I hope to show you more expansive completion next year.

The rest of our challenges produced no stories to share, even though they consumed vast time and energy. Family members went into quarantine. We worried about the direction of the country and the world, then hoped for the success of the vaccines. We appreciate the bravery of our front-line caregivers and hope for their relief from danger and overwork.

We can’t be together, but perhaps we can exchange thoughts as we digest this complicated year. I think the first thought is grief, for the lives we have lost, the careers, the businesses, the fearful and disappointing struggles played out in our country.

One thing I want when grieving is to share that grief with others and to remember the suffering of other people. What happened to them, and how did they endure?

Daniel Defoe wrote a book about a biological catastrophe that struck London in the year 1665, titled, A Journal of the Plague Year. Though he wrote the book much later than the events it records, Defoe knew many people who lived through that time. His uncle, Henry Foe, kept a journal, which may have served as source material.  

Fear and grief paralyzed the population. Defoe’s narrator watched sadly, as people abandoned their reason, just when it was most needed.

Defoe wished, as I do, that we could learn from suffering and redeem ourselves by improved behavior. When the plague exhausted itself and life returned to normal, he looked for signs of a better civic life to come. The signs were mixed, however.

I wish I could say that as the city had a new face, so the manners of the people had a new appearance. I doubt not but there were many that retained a sincere sense of their deliverance, and were that heartily thankful to that Sovereign Hand that had protected them in so dangerous a time; it would be very uncharitable to judge otherwise in a city so populous, and where the people were so devout as they were here in the time of the visitation itself; but except what of this was to be found in particular families and faces, it must be acknowledged that the general practice of the people was just as it was before, and very little difference was to be seen.

Some, indeed, said things were worse; that the morals of the people declined from this very time; that the people, hardened by the danger they had been in, like seamen after a storm is over, were more wicked and more stupid, more bold and hardened, in their vices and immoralities than they were before; but I will not carry it so far neither. It would take up a history of no small length to give a particular of all the gradations by which the course of things in this city came to be restored again, and to run in their own channel as they did before.

Stan Rogers

I call on an old friend, to help us grieve. When I was a young man, I lived in Philadelphia. The alternative radio stations there, WHYY and WXPN introduced me to forms of music I’d never heard before. One new voice belonged to a Canadian folk singer named Stan Rogers

I spent many weekends alone in my apartment, painting my pictures and listening to Stan’s deep, steady voice. He often sang about boats, and this song, The Jeannie C, expresses a fisherman’s despair when his boat sinks and his friend drowns.


For those who are ready to look ahead and hope for redemption, I share another of Stan’s songs, The Mary Ellen Carter.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

2019 In Review

Writing about our year is always harder than I expected. In the beginning, I can't think of a single sentence that is interesting, or even coherent. We have a blessed life in Carmel Valley. It is somewhat monotonous, as I've written before, but it's the monotony of abundance. A desirable monotony.

Max is in the 10th Grade now. His school work is challenging as always. He also volunteers at our local library, helping young children with arts and crafts. 

Misa took a part time job at a retail store last year. She did well but gave it up this month to be at home more. She continues to study dance and jazz piano, and people on my conference calls occasionally enjoy her diligent practice. 


We had some family business in Japan this summer, and we enjoyed revisiting Misa's home town of Tokyo. I can't say enough good things about this city. It's clean and quiet, and everyone pitches in to make it run efficiently. The Japanese have a lot of urban issues figured out. Everything is under control here. 

Max and Misa plot our route in the train network. I'm the lucky one who doesn't need to know anything. I follow along, like a three-year-old. 

The eternal picture
I spent this year painting water (on my study) and sky (on the big canvases). I have already painted the water and the sky several times, big and small. They came out wrong. I needed to start over. 

 This sky isn't terrible, but it's not right yet. I decided to scrape it off, along with the previous skies underneath it, down to the pinkish ground I started with, long ago. I didn't have this scraping ability a few years ago; I acquired it along the way. 

You might think it's depressing to take a giant step backward like this, but I like it. It's like going back in time. 

One of my favorite musical performers, Johnny Mathis gave a concert here this year. I saw him 19 years ago, when he performed with the San Francisco Symphony. Johnny is 84 years old now, but his voice is still clear and strong. 

Johnny early in his career, 1957.

Notes from failed drawing expeditions in Shinjuku

Misa and I washed laundry at a tiny shop a few blocks from the hotel. We took breakfast at a McDonald’s. Misa returned to the clothes and I tried to draw a young man next to me. The drawing was stiff, inaccurate, but the work lifted me nonetheless. Later the three of us went to the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, where the art was less “modern,” more traditional. Many works on paper and silk revealed that Asian mastery of drawing I’ve reached for but never touched, these last 40 years. Precision and fluidity simultaneously; how can they do it? 

Misa and Max took another subway excursion while I napped. After dinner, Max charged on ahead of us to the hotel. I decided to linger out in the delicious night breeze, while Misa bathed. 

I went to a coffee shop and tried to draw again, this time a plump, doll-like young woman who was chattering away to her boyfriend. Once again, the drawing was not cooperating; it was a failure all the way. I worked for about 40 minutes then gave up. As I walked out of the shop, running feet followed me. Both male and female asked to see the drawing and took a photo with their phone. They only had a few words of English and I had fewer Japanese, but we had a nice short conversation anyway. They smiled warmly and took my hand. This is what my attempts at art did for me. They gave me a way of being at home in the world, which I sorely needed. 

Please comment or email about your year. All the best for you in 2020.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

2018 In Review

Everything you do, be it great or small, is but one-eighth of the problem, whereas to keep one’s state of mind undisturbed even if thereby one should fail to accomplish the task, is the other seven eighths. 

—St. Abba Dorotheus (sixth century), quoted in E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, Early Fathers from Philokalia




Facebook depresses me because everyone's life looks better than mine. I don't want to contribute to that problem by presenting a choreographed product here. You don't want to read about my heroic struggle to clear the drain in the dishwasher, but that's the kind of excitement that fills my days. At any hour of any day, you're likely to find all three of us working. That's mostly what we do. It's not a bad life, I have no complaints about it. I only mention this to avoid misleading by omission.

Max took his first training flight in an airplane on his birthday. He liked airplanes from birth. At preschool, when asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, "A airplane! Wiff ten engines!"

He studied photography at his high school, and made this ad. I like the composition, but Max only says, "Yeah, I calculated you could land a plane on this street, given the right conditions."

Misa continued to make and sell jewelry, handbags and scarves at her store, LoveMisaStyle

Work continues on my Eternal Picture. Right now I'm working out some problem areas off the main canvas. We'll see how far I get in 2019.

A Buddhist shrine enclosure hangs on the wall in my office. Elaborate rules dictate what to place inside and how this sacred space is cared for. Naturally, I ignore every one of the rules and do what I want with it.

Today I placed photographs of women who taught me important lessons. The photographs were taken over a period of one hundred years. When I stepped back and looked at them, I noticed every head was slightly tilted in the same way, and each girl beamed the same delicate smile. 

Each face connects to the others, to this Earth, to the passing of time, and to me. There it is, the horizontal arc, the wider pattern we swim in. Like the curve of our planet's surface, the arc is always there, but we catch a glimpse only a few times in life. 

Music this year comes from a Canadian singer, Ken Lavigne, who deserves more attention.

SoCal decorations, courtesy of Dr. Seuss