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)

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