Monday, December 25, 2023

2023 In Review

People viewing an eclipse, Balboa Park, October 14

All across the surface of the globe, a weary, exhausted humanity, filled with self-doubt and uncertain of its history, prepared itself as best it could to enter a new millennium.
— Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles

Hello everyone,
2023 was not the best year for humanity. We could call it a "mixed bag," at the risk of breaking that word. Many of us hoped for more peace and harmony in the world, but in several places, the world wasn't listening. There may be only so much peace and harmony that humans are capable of, like it or not. Bearing this in mind, I won't put off reporting on our little lives, waiting for global conditions to improve.

Big rains visited Southern California this year, stirring up the ocean and throwing tons of rock past our favorite beach, burying the walkway.

Our hills blushed a delightful green glow, relieving their usual yellow and gray.

Max continued his studies in Arizona. He discovered a pilot career wasn't suited to him, and changed majors to Aviation Business. The curriculum is challenging, but he's doing well with it.

Max visited several countries in Europe in spring. He'd planned this trip for 2022, but the tour company canceled due to COVID developments.

Misa and I remained in-country, keeping the bills paid.

We drove north and visited the San Francisco Bay Area while Max was in Europe.

Mount Tamalpais still rules over the fog

Two old guys visit Da Bridge

We also visited my family in Dallas in December. The autumn leaves were in full color. I didn't remember seeing them before, even though I lived twenty years in Texas. It made me wonder if I don't pay attention to the right things.

The rest was just getting through the week. I found a bench in a secret place near my house. I go there on Fridays with a book and a can of strong beer. The thought of Friday Bench Time pulls me along, week to week.

After completing a book, I often compare notes with my friend on GoodReads, Edmund Roughpuppy.

On some Fridays I copied pieces of writing, with pen and paper. One of these is the Heart Sutra, also called "The Sutra of the Heart of Transcendent Knowledge." Like many other religious texts, the sutra is purposely opaque, but I clean off the opacity with Windex. It contains the famous lines:

Form is emptiness: emptiness itself is form.
Emptiness is no other than form: form is no other than emptiness.
In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus . . . all [of our teachings] are emptiness.
There are no characteristics.
There is no birth and no cessation.
There is no impurity and no purity.
There is no decrease and no increase.

Um, what is this emptiness? Empty of what?
Empty of our ideas, desires, expectations. We have thoughts about how the world is and how it should be, but the world itself will never know about them. The universe neither conforms to our ideas nor contradicts them; it simply continues being, the only way it can be.

I thought about his while walking around the shoreline in La Jolla with Max, two days ago. Seals and dolphins played in the waves. I captured a short video; their short flights out of the water were impossible to keep up with.

The big wave hammered me toward the beach. Bodysurfing was the best way to forget yourself. The power of the ocean made you understand your place in the natural scheme of things: You didn’t have one. The wave rose up and pounded the beach, with you or without you. This was a favorite notion of mine. It freed you from the disasters—past and present—of your life.
—Rick DeMarinis, The Morticians Apprentice, GQ, June 1992

Max on the Coaster Train, 2009

Misa and Max on the Coaster Train, 2023

San Diego Model Train Museum, 2009


All the best to you in 2024.

The road behind

The road ahead

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)