Tuesday, December 13, 2022

2022 In Review

I stored the memory for future examination because I knew that someday it would matter. —Genie Zeiger, How I Find Her

Prologue, 1988
Fulton Street, with St. Ignatius Church, oil on panel, 1988

I painted this picture during the first months I lived in San Francisco. The city excited me, and I ran out with my paintbox at every opportunity. 

Twenty years later, I passed St. Ignatius with a little boy beside me. He asked what happened in that big building.

Daddy: You remember I told you about church? Some people think a big person made us and the world. They go to church to say hi to the big person.
Max: Yep.
Daddy: They call the big person "God."
Max: "God?" That's a yucky name! That's a trash can name, "God."


I want to acknowledge the terrible events in the larger world this year: war, earthquakes and violence we all are concerned about. If I ever discover something intelligent or helpful to say about them, I will. Meanwhile, my silence is motivated by respect and a desire not to interfere with those who try to help. 

Max with classmates from elementary school
each wears a shirt from their destination college

Max completed high school in the spring. Parenthood is harder than I could imagine when I started. Graduation was no time to relax and appreciate a job well done. We immediately launched into the stress of helping Max choose his college and begin his semi-adult life. 

As I wrote last year, we returned for a winter visit to the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks. 

Grand Forks looked pretty in the snow. 

Not North Dakota

In the end, Max chose a school closer to home, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. He is doing well there. Misa and I struggle to adjust to the new situation. Max was close to us all the time for 18 years. Now he's like a satellite that signals regularly and passes overhead once in a while. 

We managed a family vacation to the big island of Hawaii over the summer. I first saw the island in 1992 and returned with Misa in 2001. The place changed a great deal in that time, and so did we. It was a trying week in paradise. 

Kahikina in 2001

One bright spot, we enjoyed a brief conversation with our old friend, local radio host Tommy "Kahikina" Ching. We informed him that the blonde guy and Japanese girl he saw 21 years ago were back with their giant Hapa son. 

Misa 2001

Misa 2022

JP 2001

JP & Max 2022

Kona moon shining so bright
Smiling at you right out of the sky
Heard you whispering wonderful words of love
Promising that we'll never part
Kona moon she knows it all
So why deny your kisses so sweet. — A. Gaspar

We took one more short trip to Catalina Island, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in October. 



Misa and I are old. Do not believe the deluded souls who claim "60 is the new 40" and similar nonsense. Our bodies malfunction now, and some of our malfunctions can't be fixed. The Stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca (c. 4 BC – 65 AD) wrote about the infirmities that accompany age, in a letter to his friend Lucillius Junior, procurator in Sicily:

Come, did you not know, when you prayed for long life, that this was what you were praying for? A long life includes all these troubles, just as a long journey includes dust and mud and rain.

Max helps paint a picture, 2004

And yes, the Eternal Picture continues. I work on it nearly every day. Often the first thing I do is recognize yesterday's work missed the target and scrape it off. That's the special moment when I receive a deeper vision of the world. To welcome the backward step requires practice, and I have a wealth of practice. I don't leap for joy, neither become discouraged, but remember the words of dear T.S. Eliot:

the way up is the way down,
the way forward is the way back. —The Dry Salvages
Christian Music from Africa kept me going this year. I discovered these two fine performers in Kenya, Rozinah Mwakideu and Audiphaxad Peter Omwaka—who performs under the stage name "Guardian Angel." 

Please stay in touch. All the best to you in 2023.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

2021 In Review

I need regular encouragement. That's one reason I live in California. When we ride the train and look out at the ocean as in my video above, all feels right with the world, even though we know it's not. Watch it in 4k if you can. Do not, under any circumstances, look at a photo of me in 4k. Here is a photo of all of us in low-resolution.

Max is half way through his senior year of high school, living in the anxiety of college decisions. In summer he and I flew to Grand Forks, North Dakota to visit the state University there. Max wants to be an airline pilot and the University has a respected aviation program. Max had never seen the heartland of America, and I elected to drive across the state from Minneapolis, to give him some exposure to corn and barns. 

Max agonized over his test scores and applications, wanting to be the strongest possible applicant. He will have at least three choices of colleges to attend. At this point the University of North Dakota is a prominent contender. We will visit again in winter so Max can prepare to survive the long, extremely cold months near the Canadian border. As I type, the temperature in Grand Forks is just 2°F (-16.6°C). Living in California up to now, this will be a new experience for him.

Max also began working on his private pilot's license. Here he lands an airplane on his first solo flight.

Misa began making lunches and driving Max to school again when in-person classes resumed in the fall. She continued to dance and sell clothing and jewelry on Etsy and E Bay. 

I kept the lights on and continued work on the eternal picture. You can see a record of this long project at this new page. Several people, including my mother, ask me how long I intend to work on this thing. No satisfying answer presents itself, and I can only say 15 years is not as unusual a time span to make art as you might think. Architecture and sculptures have consumed individual lifetimes. Leonardo da Vinci worked on his portrait of Mona Lisa for several years, possibly 14, and it remained unfinished when he died. In our own time, one animated film has been under development by a husband and wife team for 40 years.

During my time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, I was privileged to meet Ben Kamihira, who was already famous for pictures he worked on 10 years or more. 

Often he would return to a "finished" picture and rework it after many absent years. We had a pleasant conversation when I was 20 years old. I said, "I can't imagine how you do that. I work on a picture for a week and I'm exhausted. How do you put your mind back where it was 10 years ago?" 

"Your view of things will become more solid and constant as you work," he told me. "When you reach my age (he was 55 then, ancient!) the difference in the mind you have about a picture won't change quickly. For me, coming back to a picture I finished 10 years ago feels like it would to you after only two weeks." 

The rest of my free time was spent reading Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization. This was a bit more than casual reading, as the work is about 9,300 pages long. The Durants spent more than 40 years researching and writing it; clearly we are kindred spirits engaged in long, slow projects. I take on big reading assignments like this because my education has holes in it. When I was 18 I worked in a bookstore with another boy from a suburb of Dallas. One day someone complained of "an albatross around my neck," and I wondered aloud where that strange phrase came from. My workmate said, "It comes from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge," and I realized his high school operated at a higher level than mine. I'm still trying to catch up.

As I digest this survey of western history from antiquity through the career of Napoleon Bonaparte, it's hard to be optimistic about our collective future. I'm working on that. Some interesting quotes from the Durants:

Individualism, like liberty, is a luxury of civilization. Only with the dawn of history were a sufficient number of men and women freed from the burdens of hunger, reproduction and war to create the intangible values of leisure, culture and art.

The whole theory of progress hesitates before Egyptian art.

The first lesson of philosophy is that we may all be mistaken.

Civilization is always older than we think; and under whatever sod we tread are the bones of men and women who also worked and loved, wrote songs and made beautiful things, but whose names and very being have been lost in the careless flow of time.

Life once passed this way in all its eagerness.

Olybrius, by grace of Ricimer, ruled for two months (472), and surprised himself by dying a natural death.

[At Rome, Saint Augustine’s] brave mother overtook him, and persuaded him to listen with her to the sermons of Ambrose. He was moved by them, but even more by the hymns the congregation sang. At the same time Monica won him over to the idea of marriage, and in effect betrothed him, now thirty-two, to a girl with more money than years. Augustine agreed to wait two years till she should be twelve. As a preliminary he sent his mistress back to Africa, where she buried her grief in a nunnery. A few weeks of continence unnerved him, and instead of marrying he took another concubine. “Give me chastity,” he prayed, “but not yet!”

In the end death won all arguments.

Beliefs make history, especially when they are wrong; it is for errors that men have most nobly died.

Many bequests to the Church, especially before the year 1000, began with the words adventante mundi vespero—“since the evening of the world is near.”

History makes no leaps, and nothing is lost.

There were hearts tender and bruised under the hard surface of that disordered age [15th century].

From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day.

To know and to think, to see the truth with the eye of the mind, is always a joy. The older a man grows, the greater is the pleasure that this affords him.... As love is the life of the heart, so is the endeavor after knowledge and truth the life of the mind. Amid the movements of time, the daily labor, perplexities, and contradictions of life, we should lift our gaze fearlessly to the clear vault of heaven, and seek ever to obtain a firmer grasp of .... the origin of all goodness and beauty, the capacities of our own hearts and minds, the intellectual fruits of mankind throughout the centuries, and the wonderful works of Nature around us; but remembering always that in humility alone lies true greatness, and that knowledge and wisdom are profitable only in so far as our lives are governed by them. —Nicholas of Cusa (1401 - 1464)

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.