Tuesday, December 29, 2009

There's No One Like Flannery

Die-hard Flannery O'Connor fan, do yourself a favor by clicking here, read the review of her new biography. There's also an MP3 interview by NYT with author/biographer Brad Gooch on the page, which is a real treat.
To give you a foretaste of the review by Joy Williams at NYT:

Flannery. She liked to drink Coca-Cola mixed with coffee. She gave her mother, Regina, a mule for Mother’s Day. She went to bed at 9 and said she was always glad to get there. After ­Kennedy’s ­assassination she said: “I am sad about the president. But I like the new one.” As a child she sewed outfits for her chickens and wanted to be a ­cartoonist.
She reluctantly traveled to Lourdes and claimed she prayed for the novel she was working on, “The Violent Bear It Away,” which she referred to as Opus Nauseous. She referred to each of her novels as Opus Nauseous. Rust Hills, the fiction editor of Esquire, put her in the middle of the “red-hot center” in his Literary Establishment chart of 1963. Elizabeth Hardwick took her to dinner at Mary McCarthy’s apartment, where McCarthy conceded that the communion wafer was a symbol of the Holy Ghost and a pretty good one, whereupon Flannery made her famous reply, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas: continued

Jan's threatened "cork-popping" about the Christmas-is-over-crowd is well heeded here. In certain real sense, it has just begun for me. Here's a confession for you: I'm still learning to love Christmas. That may astonish some, but it hasn't been long since I began to dissociate the season with shopping and eating and gaudy decorations and music that incessantly attacked my senses, and, more, shopping. A couple of years ago Rush Limbaugh had a feast day over Maureen Dowd's article in The New York Times about her bitter and depressed regards towards Christmas. Rush offered to reboot her perspective and cheer her up. It was a radio riot as only Rush was able to muster. I love Rush, but secretively found Dowd's sentiments sympathetic.

But that was then. What difference a few years have made! I'm not saying I'm totally smitten with the season; I can't be blind to the cultural and commercial side of it, which is easily overwhelming; and I am every bit prone to the distractions and diversions from between the store ads and the kitchen pantry. The last several days found me all Martha, nearly completely absent of Mary. When the parties receded, the remains of the parties shoved away or hastened into the dish washer, and I finally had the rest of the night safely parked on the couch and next to the silent lamp, what I reached for was Dante, in stead of the Bible or The Little Book of Hours: my wayward heart wanted art after several days of "martyrdom" in the kitchen and amongst wrapping paper, it wanted luxury in lieu of necessity.

So, you see, I haven't quite gotten over that residual, hmm, to put mildly, ambivalence, about how much I have to do to be a social and family creature. Generosity of the heart is hard to come by when one is sluggish in seeking external assistance. But at least, I'm able to shift vantage points, shake my head, and laugh at my own forgetfulness and childish ways.

Roll on, Christmas! I'm ready to recollect, gather my dissipated self. After every tiny shattering, there must follow every re-creating. Roll on, Christmas!

Maureen Dowd on this Christmas: fun to read, and I didn't know she had a conservative brother, to boot.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The night is descending, temperature is dropping, Christmas Eve is upon us. Let us rejoice. Let us keep in our hearts the true meaning of this very night, and give thanks and sing praises (the last I will do so very silently).

Merry Christmas to all my friends whom I've come to love in this truly peculiar space wherein our paths have crossed.

To Jan, my sunny-delightful, albeit self-admittedly-sometimes-temperamental, friend: may your Christmas Eve be frozen but not your dreams; may the goddess of punctuation, and the angel of spelling be on your side always; may your pictures be forever blurry and beautiful; may your nifty-crafty Advent wreathe resurrect and stand firm; may all the juxtapositions run away from you, or, at least, run away from December.

To Sally, whom I tracked down only to find having admitted a "Seasonal Fraud:" May your writings grace First Things often, and give it the zest as only a home-schooling mom / poet could; may your little warriors and princesses grow in fearlessness, knowledge and grace; may it snow at least once again around this time next year where you live, so that you will have a timely photo of genuine snow-shrouded, fairytale house (not that I have any problem with the existing one, but that you'll never have to call it a "fraud").

To Webster and Frank: may your blog long live, and your followers grow to a million! May your two personalities be always so perfectly juxtaposed that we, your faithful readers, whenever logged in, always feel comforted and entertained, not to mentioned informed and edified.

And to everyone else who has ever set "foot" in, or simply stumbled onto this little corner of mine: may your spirit be settled and tout, your heart broad and free, your foot steady and strong; may you find whatever I humbly offer kindred to your fancies or memories. And pray for me, if you would, for the ever enlarging of my heart; and I will pray for you, for peace.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Briefly Again...

KDM and I are in self-congratulatory mood: we are nearing the end of Christmas shopping- names are being checked off, the "Done" pile is heaping up in the closet where we keep it hidden, wrapping paper and ribbons are beckoning... all so promising of an end of a task which looked endless merely 48 hours ago. That's an accomplishment we can believe in!

As I type, KDM is out tree-hunting. You read me right, tree hunting. We try to live up to our tradition of not getting a tree until two days within Christmas Eve. We have a cool name for this tradition - Christmas Tree Rescue. We scout the city looking for that unwanted, picked and left over, perhaps crooked, scrawny, short, little Christmas tree. Sometimes the store owner would just let us have it, for free. We'd bring it home, put it in water, dress it up, turn on the lights. Then we'd sit down, holding hands while admiring our adopted orphan, imagining it happy and merry, no longer forsaken and forlorn. When the holidays are over and it's time to remove the tree, with a slight pang of melancholy, we'd take it to the pond, where it will become a haven for the fishies to escape the big bad turtles. As of now, there are about 4 tree skeletons floating in the pond.

Well, I did say we are "nearing" the end of the shopping list. That means some names are still remaining, just so you know what I'm up to when I'm not around.

O, BTW, with all that's going on, shopping list etc., I still have been able to get my daily doses of disgust by keeping up with what's going in our nation's Capital. Thankfully I have just enough light in me to not to despair. My zoom lens is working still: I zoom way out in times like these in order to really see the "big picture." Try it, it works. And keep in mind the difference from self-deception.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Missing Dogs: the False Alarm

Inky and Barney

I hope nobody saw the post I put up earlier this morning: the soggy, weepy sob story about two missing dogs (the two Blue Heelers in the pictures, not the yellow one) and a teary plea for prayers for their return. The fact that these two rascals had gone missing since late last evening made me sick and wanting to cancel the day and possibly, the night too.

But my darlings are back, mysteriously, and dare I say, miraculously. Now let the day resume, and a light-bedecked night to follow! Hallelujah!

I hope you forgive my display of irrational exuberance following the irrational (can there be another kind?)hysteria. Would you not have been as broken-hearted had you believed you'd never see these blue beauties again?

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Just so you know, I'm kinda taking it easy with blogging. My shoulder and back have been hurting lately and this sittin' and typin' and thinkin' stuff is kinda getting to me. I still slip in here, however, when I get a minute, to check on my buddies (you know that I've been at your door :)) and would share my earth-shattering opinion in the comment section where I see fit.

A brief update -

I finally saw Charlotte's Web the movie, on VHS, with Debbie Reynold (sp? too lazy/hurt to look it up; edit later) as Charlotte, just to give you an idea how old it is. Oh the part when Charlotte began her magical web!! I felt like four and silently cheered, "O Weeeeave, Charlotte, Weeeeave!"

How lucky is Wilbur. If Wilbur buys lottery he'd win every time. I know in real life folks like that.

I received the box set of E. B. White's books including Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan, which I ordered for a child for Christmas. The box came shrink-wrapped. I wanted to open it and read the two I haven't read yet. KDM stopped me, wisely. Although I still don't see any harm it would do: the child would never know the box came shrink-wrapped. Or, would she?

Arrived with the children's books was a little treat to myself: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Some wisewoman, upon reading my blog post on The Elements of Style, recommended it to me. The cover alone cracks me up: Why o why, does it have to be a panda?? An upright panda, mind you, gun in hand (or paw?), exiting a cafe (the book cover, really). "I'm a panda. Look it up." (Now I'm nervous about whether that period, uh, full-stop, was supposed to be inside the quotation marks.)

Have we not enough neurosis without all this? Wisewoman, it'll be all your fault, if I develop a paralysis over punctuation.

The things we do to ourselves. Sigh.

Night, fellow crawlers.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ms Bass: My Model

Portrait of Ms Bass, oil on canvas, 24"x30", 2009
Ms (m-i-z) Bass was 95 years old when she posed for this portrait last summer, when I belonged to a group of artists who met on weekends to paint from life models. Ms Bass came wearing a neutral colored dress with floral prints and a black hat. Her companion carried this two-piece, royal blue suit in a long dress bag behind her. She changed into it before taking the model stand. Ms Bass sat patiently for us for about 3.5 hours. Then it was time for her afternoon nap, as evidenced by the numerous miniature naps she took during the pose, for which she scolded herself and apologized every time she snapped awake.
I absolutely, positively, loved painting her.
  • I loved her blue suit - it had shiny jewels on it.
  • I loved painting it using my very expensive cobalt blue paint.
  • I loved the way she folded her hands over her laps.
  • I loved her flat-soled shoes, clunky but neat and clean.
  • I loved her patience.
  • I loved her falling asleep, her head drooping slightly over one of her shoulders.
  • I loved her waking up, and in her little-girlish, spidery voice, apologizing for her failings.
  • While surveying the works-in-progress in the room during the break, she stopped at mine, pointing to the head part and saying in a firm tone, "Put more white on the hair!"
  • It sounded more like an order than suggestion, still in that same, little-girlish, spidery voice.
And, I really, really loved that she came to the opening of my show!

 Upon entering the gallery, she asked the cameraman, in her little-girlish, spidery voice: "Do I need to comb my hair?"

Posing before her likeness

Ms Bass: best-dressed woman in town

She stayed a good part of the party, and enjoyed the crowd, cookies, fresh fruits and cheese. When she was tired, KDM drove her home. She told him that she had been raking leaves in her yard the day before. She also showed him a street named after her.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just Another Picture

Time for another piece of
eye candy -I personally endorse
this one.

"Oil and Citrus"
oil on canvas

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

I want to look heroic

Still trying to get over this flu-ish thing. The ginger tea comfort lasted for about an hour. After that I had fever and chills, aches and pains all over, and at bedtime, made a couple of trips to the bathroom to give back both the ginger tea and the shredded wheat I forced down an empty stomach earlier.

It turned really cold overnight and we were surprised by a very light snow at breakfast time. It lasted for no more than 10 minutes. Since then it's nothing but sunny sky and a ground returning to its moist and soggy previous self.

And I have paperwork to do. I really just want to sit around reading Dante till I feel justified for a nap. Besides, I have excuse: I'm sick, and I still can't eat solid food. But I'd promised an education partner for my next teaching residence, that I'd get the paperwork required for getting a grant done before Christmas. I also figured that typing away on the computer, occasionally pausing to ponder, study, and put cirles and marks on the paper draft on the table, would give me an air of diligence, even heroic fortitude, in the eyes of KDM. I need that kind of respect from this man, who thinks I'm soft, flabby, wimpy, spoilt, and an all-around squanderer of the gifts God has given me.

All that said, he's real sweet when I'm sick. He takes my temperature, puts extra blankets on me, brings hot water and aspirin, stays up listening to my puking, tells me to stay low and not to worry about anything...

There you have my bit of update around here. While here,I did sneak over to Sally's place. In case you read this post, I want you to know that I'm grateful that you have added me to your blogroll and even mentioned my blog in your post today! Along with Webster and Jan, you have just given this fledgling "blogget" a lift in reaching more readers. Although my original motive for blogging was to organize and record my own thoughts, I have discovered a friendly and mutually uplifting community out here.

I promise to share my thoughts on art.

Back to the paperwork.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Feels like I'm coming down with something. Besides the obligatory headaches, I'm having my first taste of joint pain starting from my neck, shoulders, down through the wrists, even thumbs. I've refrained from complaining so that I don't have to listen to KDM's refains: "Offer it up!"

But I'm hopeful: I drank ginger tea, a home remedy I learned from Mommy when I was a little girl. It's simple: boil slices of ginger, add a lot of brown sugar to it, and drink it piping hot. I don't know if it really works, but there's no question it comforts. Comfort is what I really ache for more than a cure, and ginger tea has never failed me on that account.

Just meandered over to the Achoress, saw the pictures of snowflakes in which she saw Christ's perfection mirrored. While marveling over the geometric symmetry, I was struck by something I had mused on recently: what makes beauty?

Don't worry, I'm not that deluded as to stick my face in such a bottomless, not to say, murky, hotpot of aesthetic, philosophical, theological potion. After some years of hand-wringing, I've come to the affirmative side of the notion of beauty. I really don't need a dissertation in order to uphold that affirmation. But what an ever edgy, ever exhilarating topic for contemplation!

What I concluded was: for beauty to be manifest, there must be repetition. Obvious it is, I was still somewhat startled by my resoluteness. Repetition is one of the principles of design we learn, and teach others in art classes. Symmetry is the most typical and formal way to repeat a motif. There are other ways to repetition with variations of size, color, and texture.

To be true to my digressive mind, I have to quote Chesterton again (is there any subject this man did not put his million-dollar worth in? I'm reminded of Fr. Richard Neuhaus who admitted that there was scarcely anything he didn't feel compelled to comment on, shamelessly. But again I digress), on repetition:

"A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again," to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again," to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tracking Down Sally Thomas

I noticed that Sally Thomas of the Icons and Curiosities blog on First Things disappeared a while ago. I made a mental note that I would track her down some day. And today I done did it! I even located a post in which she discussed her and others's conflicted feelings about blogging. Such introspection could not have been unique: within a period of a couple of months I'd seen it discussed on FT, expressed by Webster Bull, by Jan, not to mention flip-and-tossed over internally by myself (and I'm but a yellow-lipped birdie at this enterprise!), now in veteran Sally.

There might be something to it. We would understand ourselves better if we sit back, look at it for what it really is. One thing I want to avoid is undue embarrassment or guilt which may trap us in scrupulosity.

Another internal debate incessantly occupying me has a striking parallel to the "To blog or not to blog" question. It has to do with the function of art: "To teach or not to teach." More on that later.

I think Sally's piece would help us too.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Without a Name

My show opened tonight. The reception was great, good turnout, good party. For a couple of hours I was the center of attention. I talked to and met more people than I had the entire year, or so it seemed.

I was tired, thirsty, stiff-necked by the time we got home. After a cup of hot chocolate we went to bed. KDM fell asleep quickly. I tried to do the same. 40 minutes later, my mind was still racing. After another twenty some minutes of trying, when it was pretty clear that my efforts were a waste of time, I got up, put on a sweater, came downstairs and turned on blogger. It was the last thing I'd thought I would do tonight.

As I was lying in the dark with my eyes wide open, my tired body pleaded with a mind which refused to give up the sights and sounds of the evening. They crammed it like an unstoppable train. I closed my eyes tight in order to shut out the madness, only to find my consciousness on a collision course with another entirely unrelated thought: the recent death of my college professor. Regrets and sadness got into the mix. In a clumsy manner I found myself commending his soul (who probably was agnostic, at least a sceptic of organized religion) to the Eternal Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit...More sadness and regrets. Once again sights and sounds of the evening rushing back to cram my head barely resisted. Some strange, nameless emotion began to rise and disperse within my chest. It set about to gather, with its multiple tentacles, the shapeless orgy of memories under one overwhelming urge: to get on my knees and to pray, for what I know not how to fit in one abstract notion expressed in words. All I wanted to was to be on my knees, to gaze upon one Entity, one Unmoved Mover, at a still point, and "let the darkness come upon me."

Whence this emotion? What's its name? It's wholly unfamiliar to me. The faces I saw tonight spun around in my mind and slowly and eventually merged into one with my art and my devotion to art, with all the teaching, giving, sharing, nourishing that had been lavished upon me over these years...Could it be gratitude that I was feeling?

But, still, there's that nagging, undeniable, stubborn emotion which felt like anguish.

It was gratifying to see my own work beautifully framed, displayed, all at one place. It was good to see people, acquaintances and strangers alike, study and enjoy them, approach me and talk about them. I've had shows before, but somehow it feels different this time. Somehow, it no longer feels like a trip for the ego, but rather like a harvest of sowing, of growing, pruning, and all the labor and mistakes that went into the making of a good thing.

Vaguely, I seemed to grasp what I read in Rebbecca West's A Strange Necessity, what she described as art's ability to bridge odd things. It is very hard to elucidate such amorphous feelings. Writing it out helps bring some peace to it all.

In a few hours I will be on my knees, in Adoration of the only Still Point keeping the world from spinning out of control. I will commend my confusion to His Sacred Heart, and I may know what it is that is storming my own heart tonight. Then all the weariness will give way to clarity.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hang Day and Chairman Mao

Busy busy busy day! Tomorrow is hang day for my upcoming exhibit - remember? It's opening on Thursday. I wish y'all could see my house - No, I don't wish y'all could see my house. It's an assembly line of sawdust and regular dust, of frames and clamps, of sand paper and spray paint, of nails and screws, of wires and glues, of touchups and decisions, and of more decisions... There are over thirty paintings, with smallest ones measuring 10"x10", largest 30"x40". We're taking them to town tomorrow!

By the way, have y'all been following this "climategate" thing? I've always said that fifty, or a hundred years down in the future, we'll all look back at this and say to ourselves, incredulously,"How did we get duped so badly?" That's what people my parents's generation say to one another now when they look back at their revolutionary zeal to follow and adore Dear Leader Chairman Mao (Oh, yes, adoration. They thanked him, bowed, sometimes danced, before his portrait prior to taking meals in their own house).

Methinks the saddest thing can happen to "nice people" is gulibility.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sermon by Fr. George Rutler

I'm a huge fan of Fr. George Rutler, Pastor of Our Savior Church in New York City. I try not to miss any episode of his show on EWTN on Tuesday night, Christ in the City. From time to time I'd "sneak" in to the Pastor's Corner on the website of his church, to read his homilies, like the one from Nov.15. It touches on the art of Iconography. Fr. Rutler had an Icon of Christ the Pantocrator (meaning Ruler of the Cosmos, image below), one of my all time favorites, painted (or "written" as preferred by iconographers) in the sanctuary of his church. The same sermon also touched on Communism, the "religion" I was fed as a child and youngster. I quote a few paragraphs -

The iconography in the sanctuary is now completed with figures of Moses and Elijah and two angels worshipping our Saviour. Ken Jan Woo devoted four months to “writing” these images, which are based on the Transfiguration icon of Theophanes the Greek (ca.1330–ca.1410) for a church in Novgorod. Theophanes was a colleague and tutor of Andrei Rublev (1370–1430). The Novgorod icon, which now is in the Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow, suits the transitional Romanesque architecture of our church, and is one of the images particularly admired by Pope Benedict XVI. The angels are of the Sienese school, also representative of the Italian transition from Mediaeval to Renaissance art, just as is our church. Using our local talent, we have been able to glorify God’s House at practically no cost while budgeting more than we ever have for the church’s charitable works.

Our church was dedicated at the most intense time of the Cold War. Parishioners then would have been gratified that those involved in these recent installations are young people who survived Communism. Ken Woo’s family endured the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and families of the workers who braved high scaffolding for these installations lived in Poland in its last years of Marxist control.

I am writing on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. We in the West, with no experience of the Church’s heroic suffering, may be tempted to take freedom for granted and to be seduced by contemporary dilettantes who disdain Christian culture and even praise figures like Mao and his heirs.

The political philosopher, Leszek Kolakowski, died this summer in Oxford. His father had been killed by the Gestapo during the German occupation of Poland, and he secretly taught himself to read. Having hoped Marxism would change things, he eventually saw through it and was expunged from the Party. He wrote: “Communism was not the crazy fantasy of a few fanatics, nor the result of human stupidity and baseness; it was a real, very real part of the history of the twentieth century, and we cannot understand this history of ours without understanding communism. We cannot get rid of this specter by saying it was just ‘human stupidity,’ or ‘human corruptibility.’ The specter is stronger than the spells we cast on it. It might come back to life.” (emphasis mine)

Just Another Picture

Apple & Pear, oil on canvas, 11x14, 2009

Little Gems No.2

This is a follow-up post to Little Gems No.1. I will skip over the Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes, for obvious reasons. I wish the RCIA would teach this stuff. You can never over-emphasize the basics. Some of us bookish converts, in the rush for all the nuanced teaching delicacies offered by this magnificent Church, we sometimes neglect the bread and butter. I find myself reaching for this little book time and again whenver I feel distressed or lost.
All italics are mine.

Six Precepts of the Church: 1) To hear Mass on Sundays and all holydays of obligation. 2)To fast and abstain on the days commanded. 3)To confess our sins at least once a year. 4)*To receive the Blessed Eucharist at Easter, or within the time appointed. 5)To contribute to the support of our pastors. 6)Not to solemnize marriage at the forbidden times; not to marry persons within the forbidden degrees of kindred, or otherwise prohibited by the Church, nor clandestinely.
*Has there been change since the Vatican II?

Seven Sacraments: 1)Baptism. 2)Confirmation. 3)Eucharist. 4)Penance (or Confession). 5)Extreme Unction (or Anointing of the Sick). 6)Holy Orders. 7)Matrimony

Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity

Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord

Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, *Longanimity (FORBEARANCE), Goodness, Benignity (KINDNESS), Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency (SELF-RESTRAINT), and Chastity.
*I found this word in the third (Webster's Third New International) dictionary I consulted: a disposition to bear injuries patiently. - You gotta love old(er) English!

Spiritual Works of Mercy: To give counsel to the doubtful. -To instruct the ignorant. -To admonish sinners (You mean to judge??). -To comfort the afflicted. -To forgive offenses. -To bear patiently the troublesome (Give thanks for this one for the sake of you and me!). -To pray for the living and the dead.

Corporal Works of Mercy: To feed the hungry. -To give drink to the thirsty. -To clothe the naked. -To harbor the harborless. -To visit the sick. -To visit the imprisoned. -To bury the dead.

Seven Deadly Sins: Pride. -Covetousness (AVARICE, GREED). -Lust. - Anger. -Gluttony. -Envy. -Sloth.

Contrary Virtues: Humility. -Liberality. -Chastity. -Meekness. -Temperance. -Brotherly Love. -Diligence.

Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance: Wilful murder. -The sin of Sodom. -Oppression of the poor. - Defrauding laborers of their wages.

Nine Ways of Being Accessory to Another's Sin: By counsel. -By command. -By consent. -By provocation. -By praise or flattery. -By concealment. -By partaking. -By silence. -By defence of the ill done. (All deserving our deepest reflection. I think most of us would be surprised by our own implications. I, for one, am scared to go there.)

Three Eminently Good Works: Alms-deeds, or works of mercy. Prayer. Fasting

Three Evangelical Counsels: Voluntary Poverty. Chastity. Obedience.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

B16 to Artists

My pastor, Father T, just sent me an email with a report on Pope Benedict XVI's audience with a group of 262 artists at the Sistine Chapel, on November 21, during which the pope delivered an address. I quote the last part of it:

"Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary,it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful".



I just got word that the professor whom I mentioned in a previous post, the one whose Seminar of Art History class I sat in, and who recommended Wings of Desire to me, accomplished novelist, Dr. Donald Harington, died earlier this month. He not only taught me history of Modern Art, but also introduced me to Vladimir Nabokov. More on that later. Here's link to the obituary in New York Times.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Little Gems No.1

KDM has several leather-bond, old fashioned prayer books which he received as Confirmation or graduation presents from his parents and relatives, some bearing inscriptions. Since I became Catholic, I've effectively appropriated this lot of his personal treasure. One of these is a little book of no bigger than 2"x3", with loose spine and missing pages, called "The Vest-Pocket Gems of Devotion: A Manual of Approved Prayers for Catholics," published in 1891, New York.

A gem it truly is. In the first ten to fifteen pages, it lays out the essential teachings of the Church in a nut shell called "An Abridgment of Christian Doctrine." *The following list should give you a taste of the no-nonsense style:

  • Ten Commandments
  • Six Precepts of the Church
  • Seven Sacraments
  • Three Theological Virtues
  • Four Cardinal Virtues
  • Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • Twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • The Spiritual Works of Mercy
  • The Corporal Works of Mercy
  • Eight Beatitudes
  • Seven Deadly Sins and Contrary Virtues
  • Sins Against the Holy Spirit
  • Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance
  • Nine Ways of Being Accessory to Another's Sin
  • Three Eminently Good Works
  • Three Evangelical Counsels
*I will post the detailing following each on the list in later posts at allotted times for blogging: I'm sick of being a perennially lousy time manager, and I'm trying out a new time-management scheme. Like fasting, it won't be easy, but self-discipline is the only hope I have.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Just as I was turning in the last post, KDM came in from outside asking me for help. "Put on a heavy jacket," he said. Turned out that he had commenced putting up the Christmas lights. We got the job done in the next 20 minutes.

This, my friend, is unprecedented (Now there's a buzz word for you ;-)). In the past, Christmas lights didn't even come out of the attic of this house until a couple of days before Christmas Eve.

We're turning those babies on as soon as the night descends on our farm.

Two People's Thanksgiving Day

Our Thanksgiving Day is traditionally quiet - I say that with a wink. KDM's children from previous marriage celebrate the day with their mother every year. We get calls. Even got one as we sat at Mass this morning. KDM had forgotten to turn off the phone: it's not Sunday, you see, and one is not used to turning off the phone on Thursdays.

After the Mass we stopped at Wal-Mart, and bought a young chicken, enough for 3-4 meals for two people. The store was peaceful and quiet, everybody saying "Happy Thanksgiving!" to everybody. We also picked up some framing supplies, and labels and postcard stock etc. for the show. KDM has three more days to get all the pictures framed. He plans on taking the steers to the big livestock market in the big city in our neighbor state for sale this Sunday. There is a brand new, shining, aluminum trailer parked in our pasture, and he has been itching to put it to use.

Quiet day, but no worry. we have stuffing mix and canned cranberry sauce in the pantry. One of our three Le Creuset dutch ovens can turn any ordinary Tyson chicken into a repository of splendid flavors! Seeing my handyman husband so diligently laboring in the workshop, turning out one elegant frame after another, ever refusing to compromise on fine craftsmanship, I resolved to bake him a made-from-scratch apple pie for desert.

For entertainment, I'm going to watch Charlotte's Web on the VHS tape the second grade teacher whose class I visited last week lent me. She was filled with compassion upon learning that I had never read the book on account of my growing up in China. (At second grade I was learning to sing Internationale and reciting Marx and Lenin by chunky paragraphs). For extra charity she threw in the video. I was delighted. I'm almost done with the book and I'm pretty confident that by the time the chicken is ready for the table, and surely before we settle on the couch for the movie, I will have finished reading it. (The story is so deliciously written by E. B. White that one feels obliged to slurp while reading it.)

KDM sometimes would give in to my plea for watching a movie together. Most of the time he would promptly check out at the 35 minute mark, or thereabouts, and I would not notice until his snoring breaks my concentration on the what's going on on the screen. But by that point I would be so engrossed in the movie I would just let him be, sometimes lending my laps for a pillow. It is a pattern we both have grown comfortable with. Is this time going to be different? We shall see.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

too many deadlines

I'm sorry for not posting.
This has been a crazy busy day.
Why does everyone want a piece of you-
all at once,
all at the end of the year,
all by the end of next week???

I'm pretty brain dead right now.
But I do have pictures :-).
I leave you this one for the night -

By spacing the text this way,
I make the post look a little longer,
and make you scroll a little harder
all just so that you would not run away, and stay away.
Because I don't want you to run away, and stay away.
All of you, and you know who you are.

Possumhaw Holly Branch, oil on canvas, 10x10

(still has wet paint on it)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Paintings for Good Cheer!

Title: Christmas Herbs in GKC Cup
Medium: oil on canvas
Size: 16"x20"

Title: Christmas Potpourri
Medium: oil on canvas
Size: 18"x24"

Busy Happily

I've been busy working with the gallery which will exhibit my recent paintings in December/January. They had some serious personnel trouble lately and I threatened to cancel the show due to what I perceived as lethargy-induced lack of preparation, a decision I regretted almost immediately afterward. That's what the last post was all about.

Without going into details, the "happy hour" I spent at the Adoration Chapel on Friday morning lifted me right out of the murky blues, and I knew what I must do when I said goodbye on my knees to Him in the monstrance, and drove off from that modest little building. I wanted to work with anyone who would listen to me about my dissatisfaction as well as my desire to reestablish the cooperation. I would rally myself and anyone who wanted to join me; I wanted to build, not to knock down. I would put aside the thought about what there was going to be in it for me, at least for the moment, and focus on how I might help turn the dismal situation into something communally uplifting. I tell you, that's not how I usually think, let alone act. I'm not much a leader in anything, I wait for others to make things happen for me.

By 9:30 Friday morning, I had cancelled the cancellation.

And wouldn't you know it, all has been well since then: phone's been ringing (not quite off the hook, yet); emails shuffling, postcards being printed, mailing lists prepared,, meetings planned, hands are being offered for the hanging...

That's why I'm busy.

The show opens on December 3, reception from 5 to 7PM, admission free, with refreshments, and if the stars line up right, maybe even wine and cheese. Everyone is invited. And I will be dressed up something artsy, and would want to see you there.

Cheers, for art, and for rallying.

p.s. I must add that over the weekend I received emails from Jan, the Famous Jan whom The Anchoress quoted recently about her meeting with the Pioneer Woman! I'm near giddy with this bit of sunny delight! Thank you Jan!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bad Fruit

I am agonizing over what I now think may have been a bad decision I made 12 hours ago. Bad decisions are often fruit of impulse, something I have been battling since I turned 18 (up until that point I didn't see anything wrong with being O-so-romantically impulsive).

My prayer life has been shoddy of late. I can't even follow up the simple, easy-to-follow, but very nerve calming Little Book of Hours which I bought from a convent gift shop a month ago. Sloth. Avoidance of going to confession. What did I expect.

I really should go to bed. I have to get up early to drive 30 miles to the adoration chapel for my 7 to 8 shift. I'm going to get some sleep, leave all the "should have," "would have"s behind, at least till I wake up. I'll have an hour to meditate on them. I will bend, twist, turn upside down, my face, in order to look the pride, vanity, anger, sloth, stinginess, straight in the eye. The bad fruit-sowing, will-stealing dark masters. I might squirm, but will not look away. I don't know if I can follow the hard exam with some corrective action. That may be asking too much right now.

Because I'm still stingy at heart.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Coincidental No. 2 and a Butterfly Dream: The Winged Things

When I was studying for my BFA, I took a course called Seminar of Art History, at the center of which was a 20+ page essay we had to write about an artist of our choice. I chose Paul Klee; my thesis was about the mythological, winged figures which populated and persisted in his work to the end: strange heroes with tree stump leg and broken wings, angels who forgot things, angels who wept, angels with breasts... These creatures appeared in different forms and sometimes morphed into each other. As a side, my professor recommended a German film about an angel who wanted to be man. I took the advice and used it as a source.

Then it happened that recently, about five years since I saw that film, some of its scenes began to reappear in my mind. I don't know why or how, or remember the thought thread which led to it. I tried to recall the name of the film, yet for the life of me couldn't no matter how hard I tried. After some forced attempts on my faulty memory, I gave up. Nevertheless the scenes kept coming back to me, like a tease and a taunt, off and on.

And then, this last Sunday, when I was sweeping the kitchen floor, it happened, it kinda just popped in: The Wings of Desire. That's it: the name of the film. . And I had no doubt. Yet I still couldn't remember the director's name.

Then it happened, again, this morning, when I was routinely going through my emails of the day, in an update from the Image magazine (on faith and arts, founded by Gregory Wolfe), a name it mentioned stopped me in my tracks: Wim Wenders. I immediately recognized that it's the name of the director of that film: The Wings of Desire.

So that's how lost memories are found: you sit on it, for a few days. Then you sweep your kitchen floor, then you check your email, coffee in hand, then, "Bingo!" It's there, right in front of your forehead, or your eyes. It's there. But try not to blink, or it'll just sly away in a twirl, like a fairy; or fade, like a firebug.

An ancient Chinese philosopher once wondered "Is it I who dreams of the butterfly, or is it the butterfly who dreams of me?"

A beautiful poem was recited at the beginning and the end of the film, something called When A Child Was a Child. I can still hear that dreamy, grave, wistful, German voice: "When the child was a child.."
Song of Childhood
By Peter Handke

When the child was a child
It walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful, and all souls were one.

When the child was a child,
it had no opinion about anything,
had no habits,
it often sat cross-legged,
took off running,
had a cowlick in its hair,
and made no faces when photographed.

When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
Is life under the sun not just a dream?
Is what I see and hear and smell
not just an illusion of a world before the world?
Given the facts of evil and people,
does evil really exist?
How can it be that I, who I am,
didn’t exist before I came to be,
and that, someday, I, who I am,
will no longer be who I am?

When the child was a child,
It choked on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding,
and on steamed cauliflower,
and eats all of those now,
and not just because it has to.

When the child was a child,
it awoke once in a strange bed,
and now does so again and again.
Many people, then, seemed beautiful,
and now only a few do, by sheer luck.
It had visualized a
clear image of Paradise,
and now can at most guess,
could not conceive of nothingness,
and shudders today at the thought.

When the child was a child,
It played with enthusiasm,
and, now, has just as much excitement as then,
but only when it concerns its work.

When the child was a child,
It was enough for it to eat an apple, … bread,
And so it is even now.

When the child was a child,
Berries filled its hand as only berries do,
and do even now,
Fresh walnuts made its tongue raw,
and do even now,
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.

When the child was a child,
It threw a stick like a lance against a tree,
And it quivers there still today.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Little Flower's Little Ways Summed Up

Fr. Wade Menezes on EWTN sums up Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, The Little Flower's "little ways": Do whatever NEEDS to be done, WHEN it is to be done, in the way it SHOULD be done, and you will become a great saint.

There can be no doubt that he was saying it to me.

As Sebastian Flyte said to Charles Ryder, in Brideshead Revisited, about the women lodged on Oxford campus that particular morning, following an all-night party, "Sloth has undone them." Sloth attempts to undo me, every minute, every situation. I attempt to undo sloth, repeatedly, and to redo me.

Thinking about Merton

Just read a post on Why I Am Catholic (see sidebar), where Thomas Merton and his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain are mentioned. This got me to think why I don't talk about or recommend Merton and his famous book more than I have. Does it have something to do that Merton was first recommended to me by a college professor, who incidentally was a non-practicing Catholic (I am a fairly narrow-minded person)? Not that at the time I cared a hoot either about Catholicism, or a fallen away ex-believer. I remember the writing in question included nature, a secluded cabin, more nature, and an awful lot to do with rain, and harsh indictment of evil consumerism.

About a year after I officially became Catholic, I came across the famous book at a parish spaghetti supper where a table-full of used books were for sale as part of the fundraiser. I grabbed it, took it home and immediately started reading. I read it, wept, and read it, wept, virtually non-stop, except when reaching for Kleenex to wipe the mess off my face. It was a thick book, and Merton's style tended a bit toward the meandering (and so do some other writers I love). I don't think I paid much attention to the formal things, e.g., style, phrases, imagery, witticism, etc. I read it for the "story," and cried my heart out.

I own another a little dairy book by Merton the Monk, of his Trappist days, interspersed with exquisite little drawings by him. They make you think of Zen (indeed he wrote about Zen in the journal), which ordinarily would trigger the suspicion in me (another topic. No, I don't resent any one's fascination with Zen, the problem is entirely my own. Remember, I grew up in China, where Zen - called Chan in stead, is invented; not by the Japanese, mind you. I was smitten in my teen years with the poetry of the Zen Literati ). But these little drawings are clearly exercises of contemplation and sincerity, albeit perhaps a little too charming. I respect them by not thinking too deeply about them.

I can't sincerely say Merton is one of my favorites, even though he made me cry, he did not do it like Augustine in the Confessions. Take that for what it's worth. I may meditate on the topic some more, later.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Word of Rememberance

I should have written and posted this two weeks ago.

A popular singer in China committed suicide on October 31, the eve of All Saint's day, followed by All Soul's Day, when the Church commemorates all the Faithful Departed. I learned the news from a Chinese blogger, who pointed out that the date, the birthday of her first husband, was key to understanding her final decision. She was deeply, deeply in love with him, who left her for another woman in showbiz. The bloggersphere was abuzz with speculations about the lingering hurt of the divorce, from which she apparently never recovered. She remarried in July of this year, to a fellow band member, who lent a shoulder during her depressed years. The marriage showed signs of strain just prior to her death. She was 39.

I knew virtually nothing about her. She became famous since I left China to live in the U.S. What makes the news different, even significant, is that she and I shared the same name. Our common family name puts us "in the same clan 500 years ago," as the customary, friendly jest goes in my birth country; our given name, are identical not only in sound, but in written form (or character) as well, a noteworthy occurrence, especially when one of us was famous. Some five years ago I flew back to China to visit my family. Upon entry at the Customs checkpoint in Beijing International Airport, the officer took notice of my name on my then Chinese passport, took an extra look at me, with a guessing smile asked slyly "Are you that famous singer?" Caught by surprise, I stuttered "Oh, oh, no, no, I'm not she." This sort of friendly, almost jolly, exchange at a Customs booth in China, almost never happens. In hindsight, I imagined that the officer, dutiful as he was, might have been a fan and let slip a youthful fancy.

The star singer was said to be "different," "strong-willed," "stood-apart,"and "original" in both personal style and her music. She suffered heartbreaks and depression from her divorce and the subsequent low points and hiatus in her career. She recently remarried, formed a new band, was seen performing with renewed gusto at a hip venue in the Capital city shortly before the fatal jump she took from a close friend's highrise apartment near the Olympic Parks.

My heart was dampened, even bruised by the reading of the news. The emotion surprised myself, as more and more I could hardly feel any sympathy over this kind of celebrity news. I shrugged them off as cheesy, cheap, and sensational. I find it harder and harder to work up empathy faced with all the stupidity and cruelty relentlessly dished up and piled upon our psyche in the daily news cycles, even when they are genuine events deserving our concern and outrage. Like Andy Warhol's electric chairs, repeated and recycled, absent of humanity, the shock of cruelty is replaced by numbness.

The sadness I felt for the singer went beyond narcissism due to our shared names. I've been reading The Divine Comedy, in which Dante places a suicide, Cato of Utica, in Purgatorio (Yes he DID put them in droves in Hell too, only to generate some of the most poignant dialogues between the Dead and the Living), bestowing him the high honor and dignity of a Guardian of the "antechamber" of Paradise. From the early stages of my acquaintance with Dante, I'm no stranger to, and share his susceptibility to pity, as I'm no stranger to the pit, the emptiness, and the despair of that place. As I grow in Christianity, the pity deepens by the increasingly stark contrasts with the Faith, the Hope, and the Charity on this side of things.

I indulged in fantasies that I could have helped: that I could go back in time, across the vast physical and psychological spaces, to the side of the girl; I imagined that I had just the perfect timing, the right tone, and the necessary eloquence and tenderness, to persuade her, to assure her, that life is worth living and enduring, that there are things bigger and sturdier than her love, her art, and her circumstances.

Would I have succeeded?

I said a rosary for her. Trusting that the Author of Life takes into consideration ignorance and grief overtaking reason, I prayed her peace and salvation, and bid farewell to my mourning.

I love Nell Blaine

Since the last pages in my hands before I turned the lamp off last night, were from the book on Nell Blaine (1922-1996) I'd begin with what passed my mind with them.

She's best remembered for her table-top still lifes and sun-dappled interiors and landscapes. At first glance, what you see are near violent brushstrokes, storms of colors, which simultaneously convey cheer and chaos. Yet, a calmer heartbeat on the viewer's part, aided by a bit of distance of time and space, reveals that they are everything but chaotic. As the eye surveys the work's entirety, the underlying structure emerges, almost miraculously, out of the high-keyed colors and intertwine patterns.

I like the little drawings in India ink and watercolor alongside the paintings included in this book. They tell me of an inquisitive, yet disciplined mind that's Nell Blaine. I can feel her command of the difficult media, her earnest eyes seeking out patterns and spaces, decisive, intelligent, but always spontaneous, though her paintings speak a different sort of sensibility: delight and joy in the act of seeing.

You never get a feeling that she's academic; she works outside of the mode of the shopworn and the schooled. One must know and remember that she lived in the age of Abstract Expressionism, closely followed by the onslaught of Pop. Indeed she began as an abstract painter, the career of which taught her color interaction and harmony without the distraction of recognizable objects.

I have tremendous respect for Blaine, whose name I first learned from an insert of a phone/address book themed Women Artists, which I picked up at a TJ Maxx store some six or seven years ago. The cover is a still life of daffodils by Blaine: lush, sensuous, but strangely and subtly restraint. That's right, mind you, not excessive, like some formulaic colorists', Matisse-wannabes' stuff you see in posters and calendars. That juicy, lopsided, near-deformed, artless, deep purple fruit in the foreground took possession of my psyche, and began my quest for, and cyber friendship with this gusty artist.

And since I acquired this monograph, I've been satisfied with learning her life's story as well: a remarkably strong, independent, woman who followed her art instinct into a path of adversity and devotion. She was considerate, grateful, never whiny or ugly. I find myself turning to her pictures over and again for guidance, for lessons as general as clarification of the vision, as concrete as the positive use of paint across the canvas.

She's a good and faithful teacher every time I turn to her. I love Nell Blaine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Leave Mother Teresa Alone

Over at First Things, under the First Thoughts blog, Joseph Bottum posted about the latest attack on Mother Teresa by the oh-so-tired Christopher Hitchens, whom I never really read (o that should discredit me right there for saying anything about him, right?), but am sick of hearing his mad rant against my God and my belief. I don't hate him, I'm just annoyed at the pattern of juvenile behavior, the frothing at the mouth. Let's just say that he doesn't believe what Mother Teresa believed, why not leave her alone? After all, she's dead. Even when she was alive, all she did, from a non-believer's point of view, was to work and live with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Yes she gave speeches against abortion and artificial contraception, even while receiving the Nobel Peace Prize; yes she built more than 200 convents around the world, but she didn't make either her personal crusade. She didn't spent her life protesting in front of the abortion clinics, attacking the UN or the Planned Parenthood, she wasn't a social worker or a CEO of the Convent Inc.. Her critics use the standard templates they learned from their college sociology classes (Can you say "cheese"?), the hackneyed utilitarian narratives. Mother was much simpler. While they see the poor as "masses," she saw each an individual. She didn't see herself any different from the followers of Christ since the times of the Apostles. She heeded the call to love the poor, the same love she gave the rich. She was called to holiness, the crown of which is Charity. She wasn't called to eliminating poverty, certainly not to reducing population. When the poor were abandoned and dying in the streets, she took them in, helped restore their self-awareness of being human, to be with them at their last breath. She wasn't a social worker. How deaf can we be not to hear that? Of her own holiness, she said that she wouldn't have lasted a day had it not been the Holy Hour she made daily in front of the Eucharist.

Shouldn't there be better threats and dangers that Mr. Hitchens should concern himself with, than attacking a God he doesn't believe in, and a dead, old, woman in white and blue sari? I've seen others like the Hitch (as he's known among those who feel affectionate toward him even they don't agree with him, as if he's some kind of a Prodigal Son in the making), who are angry, although I'm not sure at what: God, or the non-existence of God; the annoyance that others believe that there is a God, or just at his plain self-loathing.

My real question is: What is it about Mother Teresa that's SO UNDER HIS SKIN that he can't leave her alone? Why is she a THREAT?

Note: So many seem to think, some with glee, that the recent revelation of Mother's years of Darkness has undone her holiness. I, for one, am grateful that the author of that book gave us the truth of a saint struggling with her spiritual aridity. The deeper the darkness, the poorer the soul. When the pain is too deep to bear, nothing short of Truth would do. Honestly, I'm a little annoyed at those stories which paint the saints' life, especially childhood, in Easter bunny type of pious colors. I find myself dying to ask: is this for REAL? I loved it when Mother Angelica told her biographer, Raymond Arroyo, that if he sugar-coated her story, she'd pray him 40 more years in Purgatory!

Note note: on second thought, Mother Teresa is a threat, so is every Saint, so is God.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Latest plein air Painting

Chaffee in Autumn, oil on canvas, 24"x30"    

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Litany of Saints

I had not had a chance to check in with The Anchoress all day until now. She has a great post on the Litany of Saints. I'm linking it but will not comment simply because I'm terribly sleepy. Suffice it to say for now that I LOVE THE LITANY OF SAINTS!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Paintings for the Season!

Just took a day trip to Iowa and back! That's right, we left the house early Monday morning, drove through much drain and fog, arrived in Iowa at sundown, took care of some business for which the trip was taken, turned our diesel truck around and headed homeward. No, we didn't drive around the clock. About 1:30AM, Tuesday, we decided it was time to take a snooze. We found a Wal-Mart parking lot, pulled next to some truckers (the Big Boys as called by KDM, AKA my hubby), spread out the two blankets we had packed, positioned ourselves as comfortable as we could manage inside the non-extended cab, with raindrops hitting the roof and windows, we slowly drifted into the ZZZ land.

Ok, I really didn't set out writing about the trip, although I REALLY, REALLY would like to write about the thousand of things percolated through my mind, hyped up by the colors which filled my eyes, and the epiphanies prompted by the rosaries. I just don't have the time yet. Don't ask me where my time has gone. I either don't have the answer, or if I did, all you need is see my sheepish face.

Since I can't write much, I'll just post a few paintings I made a couple of years ago. The current weathers are so similar to the ones I braved while painting these. So here, if I may be so self-important as to presume someone looking in on my little nook, enjoy the pictures, and step into the mood of the season!

Have yourself a very daring and happy, All-Saints Day weekend!

Approaching Storm, oil on rag paper, 16"x20", 2007 (Private Collection)
Whisper: hay pasture of our farm, painted on a cold, autumn day. My fingers were stiff and my nose running from the cold air. Had to fold quickly as the looming storm threatened to topple my easel.

Pasture with Tickleweed, oil on rag paper, 16"x20", 2007 (Private Collection)
Whisper: same hay pasture on more serene day

Trees Near the Pond, oil on rag paper, 16"x20", 2007 (Private Collection)

Cold Pond, oil on rag paer, 16"x20", 2007
Whisper: pond in the "side pasture" near my house; it was a COLD day, that's it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Brand New Self-portrait

Here's the new self-portrait - fresh off the easel, wet paint and all. It took me about 12 hours to finish, and probably is my best under the pressure of a deadline: the opening of a group show next Sunday.

Although I seldom include narratives in my work, I'm not averse to sprinkling a few biographical hints or self-references here and there. I certainly felt justified to do so in a self-portrait. So look for the two books of considerable influence in my overall artistic thinking: The Habit of Being, letters by Flannery O'Connor, and Art in Its Own Terms, a collection of essays by Fairfield Porter. The latter is especially apropos with Porter's self portrait on its cover. Then there's my Chesterton coffee mug handsomely sporting the likeness of the Big Man and the quote "Daybreak is a never-ending glory...getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance." Well, neither likeness nor quote is clearly seen in my painting, but then, the hint isn't intended for the uninitiated in the first place.

Next time I will write more about the creation of the portrait, e.g. the formal choices and arrangements, etc. For now I have to get out of here: will be traveling in a few hours - you know how it is, the pre-travel chaos.
Till next time...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Coincidental Number 1

The way seemingly disparate things run into and fall in with each other has always held me in fascination. Here I am, reading The Strange Necessity by Rebecca West, and found myself bumping heads with Saint Teresa of Avila, the subject of a film which I watched on EWTN last night, being played in observation of the saint's feast day on October 15.

West was talking about James Joyce and his monumental Ulysses, of which she's both extraordinarily perceptive and critical. She affirms Joyce's power of exquisite prose and forcible use of patterns, but brutally critical of his sentimentality. In a passage discussing art's power of bridging parts to whole, of uniting ordinary, individual experiences to an art of which one feels at best indifferent, I read the following (the running of sentences is a characteristic I find visually disorienting, but so is in G. K. Chesterton. Theirs are dense stuff, stuff unfriendly to us creatures of these days of ours):

"Now I begin to be reminded of something: of a realization that came to me once when I was reading in the mystical writings of St. Teresa of Avila. I had often wondered in reading her life, and the lives of other saints, how those who had been visited by Christ himself and had had wisdom put into their hands like an open book could submit to the supervisions of confessors and investigators and bishops and cardinals, and should show themselves such eager and humble suppliants for the approval of the Church. What need for anything but one's own cell and a subjugated priest to give one the sacraments, when one's own ecstasy had brought one the Godhead Itself? But this half-page of St. Teresa's writing gave me the clue, made me perceive that in the Church was such a confirmation of her individual experience as amounted to its infinite multiplication: that the visit of Christ, the presentation of wisdom, are beneficences directed to the highly personal part of the individual, but in the collective experiences of all the other children of the Church, there is proof that the tide of the Godhead can rise higher and higher till it swamps not only a saint's cell but all the life there is, that the universe is conquerable by delight, that delight is its destiny, that some day there will be no place for pain, and that part of the individual which partakes of continuity with the rest of the universe rejoices in the salvation of it substance. For just this same purpose of obtaining confirmation of my personal experience I cross this bridge in my mind between the things that are factually related to me and the things that are factually unrelated to me."

I did not expect to read that. I had read somewhere that West briefly converted to Catholicism then dropped out. That's not what interests me. What fascinates me about her tonight is the same reason I bought her book: her uncannily perception for complex art. Her forceful personality and confidence shine through every line. She feels no need to disguise her woman's voice. She lets nothing get in her way of unfolding, unraveling the labyrinthine undergrounds of human artifice. Not even the need to be modern bogs her down. She's a woman, a force, an original.

And I am all the richer for reading her.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

All the Roses

I painted this picture a few years ago for a silent auction at our parish's annual fundraiser. I didn't know what to give them at first, but thought that people may enjoy seeing something Catholic in the picture. I'm not a painter who uses symbolism or other overtly literary devices in my work, so I really didn't know how to paint a "religious" picture. The only true devotional art, in my opinion, is the practice of iconography. I have come to love the radiant icons of both the Western and Eastern traditions, but the awe I feel toward them almost forbids me to even think about approaching it with my profane mind and hand.

Whisper: Yes, that IS a Crown Royal bottle you're seeing to the right of, behind the statue.

Make a long story short, I did what I knew to do: I painted a still life. My husband and I had bought a marble figurine of Mary and the Baby Jesus not long before. We both fell in love with it at first sight: the sculpture is entirely white with a matte finish. Mary looks true to her age according to Tradition: a fourteen or fifteen year old girl in her chaste youthfulness. The intimacy between Mother and Son is palpable but not in the least sentimental. It became a focal point when we prayed the rosary in the mornings.

I clipped all the healthy looking roses, buds and all, from our little flower and herb garden, brought them in, planted them in vases and bottles at hand, set them up around the Mary statue on the dinning table, and started painting. I didn't push any emotions, because the only emotion I felt was joy. I may be embellishing memory, but I think I even hummed a off-key (what else?) hum.

As far as I'm concerned, it's not a "religious" artwork, it's not even devotional. It's a little still life, made in joyous colors and brushwork.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Not-your-ordinary-everyday-Ramen Noodle Soup

Looking for something quick and easy for supper, I settled on the tried and true Ramen noodle soup. I had about two dozens of packages in 3 flavors: shrimp, chicken, and Oriental. I decided to go with the Oriental. When I opened the little packet of seasoning, curiosity set in: the powery substance looked no different from the other flavors, so what makes it Oriental? I held the opened packet up to my nose, and smelled ginger. Ginger! Right there and then I had an on-the-spot epiphany: If you want to declare something Oriental, put ginger on it!

Just in case anyone is interested, here's the recipe of my Ramen Noodle Soup. Too bad I didn't take a picture of the bowls - I assure you they were a treat to the eye as much as to the taste buds:

Not-your-ordinary-everyday-Ramen Noodle Soup

You need:
  • Two packages of Ramen, any flavor
  • Two cups of leafy part of Bok Choy, cut in 2" pieces (or spinach)
  • 1 small tomato, cut into wedges
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water
  • 1 or 2 table spoons of olive or veggetable oil
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped or minced
  • 2 crispy freshly cooked egg rolls, cut into 1" sections (optional; frozen ones cooked over oil on skillet to a crispy tender stage are perfect)
  1. Heat oil in a wok or sauce pan, roast the garlic till you can smell the aroma
  2. Drop in Bok Choy (don't add here if using spinach as it cooks too fast and should be added at a later time. See 5)
  3. Stir-fry till Bok Choy is tender
  4. Add tomato, water, and seasoning; cover and let boil
  5. Add noodles, cook another 3 minutes (don't overcook or noodles will get soggy); you may add spinach at this point if that's what you use.
  6. Drop in the egg over boiling soup, break up and spread (this is egg-drop! called "dan hua" in Chinese, meaning the "egg flower")
  7. Turn off heat, add chopped green onion
  8. Serve with egg roll sections on top

Monday, October 12, 2009

it's that season again!

Title: Charleston Lake, oil on paper, approx. 16"x20", 2007
Whisper: I made this painting almost exactly two years ago; the season looks and feels just like it - high skies, cold water.

night cap

I leave you with a few quotes, from my recent readings. They have been occupying my thoughts, even when I am not able to be thoughtful, like just about right now.

"We ought to see far enough into a hypocrite to see even his sincerity." - G. K. Chesterton (Heretics)

"Your dog has no words, but it barks and whines sentences at you. Your cat has no words, but it has a considerable feeling for the architecture of the sentence in relation to the problem of expressing climax." - Rebecca West (The Strange Necessity)

"To meet God means to enter into the 'cave of a tiger' - it is not a pussy cat you meet - it's a tiger. The realm of God is dangerous. You must enter into it and not just seek information about it." - Archbishop Anthony Bloom (Beginning to Pray)

Good Night. Whoever you are, wherever you are, or whether you are reading this blog. Good Night.

swat, or not swat? Or, swat at?

Does anyone out there re-read emails they sent? I do. It has come to my realisation lately how careless the spelling, and unclear the structure of sentences sometimes are in the emails I write. Example: in a message sent to a friend I found this:

"And I knew full well it's too late for me to forget you - you are a tail too sticky to shake off, a pest too adorable to swat."

Well, shouldn't that last bit be "too adorable to swat at"? I mean, without at, the words seem to say

"You are a pest who is so adorable that you would not swat."

Which in turn could imply something like "You are such a doll that you wouldn't even think of swating, hmm, anything." When in fact what I meant originally was that my friend was so adorable a pest that I didn't have the heart to swat her. Or should that really be "to swat at her"?

Ugh, the ever pesty prepostions in English.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

new at blogging, moving along!

My first day blogging, and first posts of my paintings, and it worked! Amazing!

The Striped Table Cloth, oil on canvas, 30"x40", 2009
Whisper: I love to paint still lifes (or lives?)

Bacon & Grease, oil on canvas, 24"x30", 2009
Whisper: I painted this picture to experiment the fluid paint quality, and finished it in just a little over an hour - what fun!

Red Stripe, oil on canvas, 16"x20", summer 2009
Whisper: beer bottles left behind by my sister-in-law, who visited us on the farm. I have a weakness for commercial bottles. I have a hard time throwing them away perceiving a potential painting I could get out of each. I'm a hoarder of bottles.

new books have arrived

My latest bit of indulgence - the batch of new books I ordered off Amazon last week, has arrived. Here are the titles: The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White Jr., Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom, Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman, And four Ed Emberley's Drawing Books.

I ordered another copy of The Elements of Style shortly after giving the first to a friend. It was bitter-sweet to part with this little volume: bitter because it was a new love, sweet as I was eager to share with someone who I hope would love it just as much. I was reading and applying what was in it not only to my deteriorating writing, but also to my paintings (I find myself applying advice from writers more than from painters, but that's another subject for another time/post :)). I held the new copy pressed against my face like an old friend, and felt a surge of familiar security.

And what a delight the Beginning to Pray is! Thank you Anchoress on First Things, for recommending it! I had never heard of the author. I just read through the introductory interview at the beginning of the book, and immediately knew it's my kind of book! Beautiful, thoughtful, meat & potato densely compacted into yet another slim book.

I thumbed through the other books too. Free to Choose is in entirely different realm, and somber in tone. This is the type of book you wish you never had to read - but necessary for your own education. The Ed Emberly books teach kids to draw. I can tell they will be helpful when it comes to my visits to the elementary schools.

Well, that would suffice for now. I'm off to painting outside. The skies are not blue, as it was fore casted. But I will try to love the pearly grays, as Charles Hawthorne, the good art teacher, advised his student in his little book on painting.