Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Back to Grumble

It's time to break the blogging holiday.

It's midterm time in our college. Handing out grades is seldom pleasant. I've always tried to drop hints  along the way in hope to get through to some young skulls that unless they step up efforts, their grades won't be pretty.

Invariably, I have failed to impress the ones most in need of my impact-levelling message.

It means right about these two weeks there's much shock and distress accompanied by plenteous tears and gnashing of teeth.

Let me illustrate (exchanges not in exact words for brevity):


Case One

STUDENT A (who accumulates five unexcused absences in half of a semester, emails me on morning the midterm portfolio is due): Hey there, I've been working from home. I'll be done at noon and bring my stuff to you.
ME (email reply):  Your excessive absences are a ground for being dropped from the course. I made attendance policy very clear on Day One. You are not allowed to work at home without first consulting and obtaining permission from me.
STUDENT A (shows up with portfolio an hour later, visibly in distress, tears running): Can we talk?
ME:  Sure.
STUDENT A:  So I have been dropped? How could that be? I thought I was doing good and I actually enjoy this class! I'm so shocked.
ME:  You've missed five classes.
STUDENT A: But... but, I thought I was doing fine. Look, I did this at home and it's turning out good.
ME:  You consider that good?
STUDENT A:  Yeah. Don't you??
ME:  That's the problem.
STUDENT A (tears gushing, voicing trembling):  I can't believe you think it's no-good. I really enjoyed doing it.
ME:  You cut classes, your work is regressing. I can explain why the work is bad. But you miss one more class it'll be all over. I could overlook your performance up to now if you clean up your act.
STUDENT A (looking up with hope through tears):  So, I'm not being dropped??
ME:  You have half of a semester to prove yourself.


Case Two
ME (looking at a portfolio of about a dozen figure paintings by STUDENT B, chronologically displayed against the wall):  Tell me what you think.
STUDENT B (a hyper-sensitive, chronic complainer, cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat type):  I've made a lot of progress.
ME: You did. But you're still doing just average work.
STUDENT B (with arched eyebrows):  What do you mean?? I think I'm doing so much better.
ME: I'm glad you're doing much better. You would have failed had you not improved.
STUDENT B (in apparent disbelief): Ugh.
ME:  You struggled hard, and you've overcome much. But this is the third painting class you've taken, and I expected you to do better once you've overcome the slump.
STUDENT B (apparently flabbergasted, with a forced smile to stifle emotion, forcing each syllable):  I did. I think I've succeeded. What more do you want me to do???
ME:  You did very well in the Intro class. The still lives you did were very good. These don't measure up.
STUDENT B:  But this is not still life, I love figure. I think figure is more important and meaningful, still life isn't. I want to do figure the rest of my life.
ME:   What's the difference? In still life you learn to see form in color. A bottle is a cylinder, so are an arm and a neck. Still life in Intro ought to have prepared you for figure.
STUDENT B (breaking down in tears):  I don't know what to say to you.
ME:  And that, the tears, too. Where does the tear fit in?
STUDENT B: I'm...ugh, just so...frustrated!
ME: Set your earlier still life next to this self portrait, which would be the better painting?
STUDENT B:  The still life.
ME:  So? Although I disagree that still life is less significant than figure, I won't argue with you. What about the lessons you learned in still life? Your work now shows little evidence you understand color and form.
STUDENT B (still crying):  I don't deny anything you say. But what do you want me to say?
ME:  I guess I'm just telling you that you're doing average work.
ME (again, to myself, silently): You talk a good talk, your work sucks. 


Some context:
College art instructors, it seems, have a special hair shirt in store for us: to tiptoe around criticism, often ridiculously looking for nice things to say about crappy work. The artlings have been told their entire pre-college lives that whatever they did, was wonderful. After all, isn't art whatever expresses yourself? If you can't follow instructions, very well could it be that you're unique and deserve a special delivery. I've conceded to and accommodated Student B's "unique" learning style, avoiding at all costs her avalanche of tears, her constant belly-aching and hand-wringing. I've high-fived her on her minor breakthroughs and suggested ways to accelerate progress. I've halted the entire class so I could paint a demo exclusively for her sake... Whenever I feel my patience straining, I reminded myself of her delicacy and "uniqueness." Her high-minded art talk made me believe somehow I just hadn't found the golden key to unlock her genius.

Must admit, no one to blame but myself. Two bright light bulbs: She ain't no genius, and I ain't her problem.

Feels so darn good to come to terms with truth. Heck, feels even better to tell the darn thing. I have a feeling that the truth-telling session is good for both Student B and me. Her tears soon dried up and I suspect I shall see them less in the future.


Notice something in the two exchanges?
ME: You've missed five classes. You may be dropped. I made the attendance policy clear on Day One.
STUDENT A:  I'm shocked! I thought I was doing good and I enjoy this class!
ME:  This painting of yours is bad.
STUDENT A:  But I really enjoyed doing it!
ME:  You did better in Intro painting still lives. Your current work doesn't reflect what you learned then.
STUDENT B: Figure is much more important. Still life is not. I want to paint figure the rest of my life.

Granted, I speak English with accent. But I couldn't have mangled the messages that badly??

Monday, September 23, 2013


To my friends and random readers of this blog,

I've decided to take an indefinite holiday from updating this blog. The statement may strike you as unnecessary as the place is obviously uncouth, in disrepair and criminally neglected. Well, I just thought it would still be polite to stick a yard sign among the weeds saying "Gone fishing, will be back some day" to those who give a hoot. After all, I'm from the South.

If you would like me to hear from you, don't hesitate to shoot an email.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

Who is Steve Gershom

In an earlier post I mentioned Steve Gershom and his blog Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine. Well, yesterday, the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, "Steve" not only revealed his real name as Joseph Prever, but also that the blogger Shimcha Fisher is his sister!

After blogging under the pseudonym Steve Gershom since 2012, Joseph "Joey"decided to take his identity out of the shadow. The post ended with a photo of himself, a handsome young man. The whole thing made me teary-eyed and feeling grateful.

As I was linking Shimcha Fisher's blog, I noticed that her latest post is titled "Steve Gershom, My Brother". I'm going to read it as soon as I finish my own.

I'm also adding Mr. Prever's blog to the link section of Izyperspective.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

What I Had...

for supper on my birthday:

garbanzo beans, avocado, and boiled egg with Italian salad dressing

Yum. Thanks for the "recipe," Jan!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I Shop, Therefore I Go On

Yours Truly turned forty-six today. My reply to everyone who wished me happy is that I've been indeed happy for forty-six years.

Life is good. No complaint by me.

I had planned to start a brand new drawing on this day. It didn't pan out. My original ideas bummed out. I spent nearly two hours on a still life arrangement only to work myself into an unhappy (Ah ha! You got me there!) mental pretzel. KDM suggested that we got out of the house, perhaps I'd get inspired away from the ultra familiar.

Off we went.

And I went shopping, in dollar and thrift stores.

Take a look at my catches of the day -



A wreath to call my own!

I've become obsessed with dots. 

Winter isn't all that far away, you know. Just look at the bow, the bow!!

My first purchase of seashells! I wanted to show off the prints and patterns and shapes of the shells but decided to leave them in the original package for the sake of uniformity.

I think it's a candle, but it doesn't matter. I bought it for the radial symmetry, and the transparency, and O that glorious shade of green!

Did I say that I love shadows as much as what casts the shadow? Look for me in the foreground. 

I'm totally sold on the stripes, especially the black ones; as well as the label: 3 BALLS, BALLES - it is unti-superflousness in advertising.

Again, GREEN! And look at the contrast in texture and pattern! 

Oh, not to forget this bonus find:  

The author is from China. I remember reading him long time ago. I'm intrigued by the title and the synopsis, mostly though, I want a taste of the translation.

Open randomly.

This looks good. 

What in the wild wide world ...???
Buoyed by my post-shopping mood, I snapped a shot of one of the countertops, with the camera set on a wrong mode. A little photoshopping teased out this much detail. 

Must the countertops in my life always look this way?? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Unbelievable: Pope Francis Loves Gay People

The Catholic Church is about many things, yet in today's press it's really just about two or three things, you know, only those deemed important by the self-important Western world. Check out the screaming BBC News headline on Drudge Report, right below the photo of Pope Francis: "Who Am I to Judge Gay People?"

Surely a juicy entrée on the menu.

Read and find out more.

Update: Elizabeth Scalia takes notice (who wouldn't?) of the article. She, of course, has some worthy observations. I'm trying to limit topics I take in from the daily news cycle. This, I believe, is a good one to take in, and reflect on.

In the immediate aftermaths of the 2012 Elections, I said to KDM, the coming years will be the years of all things gay. It will be the issue of our times, eclipsing abortion. We are only seeing the beginning of it. However one feels on the topic, it will not suffer being unnoticed.

Concurrently, I've recently discovered Steve Gershom's blog, with a subtitle: Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine, Thanks. The writings are gracious, sensitive, and most appealing to me, honest, reflections of a person who grapples and dialogues with self and others. I've promised myself to read  his blog more often and thorough. I'm thankful he lends a calm and authentic voice in times of confusion and tyrannical political correctness and agendas.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Remember Spain in Prayers

The train derailing happened in Spain yesterday, the eve of the feast of the apostle Saint James, patron of that nation, was horrific. More than 80 people were killed. Based on the reports, many of the passengers were pilgrims to the famous shrine of Santiago of Compostela. The incident will likely provoke the question why God allows such disaster and suffering happen to His faithfuls. Why death to pilgrims on the eve of His Apostle's memorial?

As Catholic, of course, I know that God does not cause suffering. An accident is an accident. Wars and other violences and disasters do not take a vacation on the eve of Christmas, Easter, or on any other feast days. The train wreck is under investigation, a driver is being held in custody in the hospital by police. We have to wait to find out what, who, caused the train to derail.

In the mean time, let us not be indifferent to the destruction of life, and pray for all who have died or left to suffer.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pope Scare

So this is what was behind the chaotic scene I saw on EWTN yesterday: the Pope's motorcade inching through an apparently unprotected (except by the secrete service franticly pushing and fighting back the throngs gushing toward the pope's car) streets. The aerial view broadcast was made from an chopper by, I believe, Vatican Radio. I was thinking to myself how in the world the organizers let this happen? There was no one there to control the crowd, the secret service guys were outnumbered. I was so worried that I had to turn off the live streaming.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Scary WYD Mania

EWTN is showing Pope Francis arriving in Rio de Janiero for World Youth Day. I'm a nervous wreck at the sight of the unruly throngs of screaming youngsters swarming the open-sided Popemobile. I no longer sees the point of the WYD, and fear for the safety of the Pope and the poor secrete service guys.

I'm going to turn off the live streaming and hide myself behind an easel upstairs. And pray and beg all the guardian angels on site to not even blink in that chaotic town.


The Subject Is Light

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Occasional Foodie

I've been trying all sorts of new, interesting food lately.

Starting with Greek yogurt. I know, I know, by the time I boarded the G.Y. wagon, it's like a rash infecting every grocery store in town. Fad notwithstanding, I like the stuff. Some people suffer yogurt, I'm not one of them. Been drinking and eating the stuff since my early twenties. G.Y. is creamier than the other versions.

Then there's the granola - it's been fad so long it isn't fad any more. The biggest, chewiest one I've ever had was at a breakfast place in University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio. Good stuff, but way too pricey at stores. So, I bake my own. It's really just another way to eat oatmeal, which I like. For binder and sweetener, I use olive oil, honey, and molasses. It's so easy to make. Trouble is, I like to eat it right out of the jar, and can't stop when I should.

Hummus, anyone?  I had wanted to make this forever. When I found out the ingredients under exotic names tahini and garbanzo beans were no more than sesame paste and chickpeas, I took heart. Heck, I had a jar of sesame paste in the fridge right there as I studied the recipe. I had zero trouble finding chickpeas on my next trip to Wal-mart. Soaking and cooking the peas were painless, while the prep and mixing it with sesame paste, oil, liquid and seasonings required some TLC. In the end, I added some peanut butter which I believe was an improvement to the original recipe. We had shrimp lettuce wrap for dinner that night, and used the hummus for sauce.

Ham bean soup -  I spotted the package label boasting fifteen beans on the grocery store shelf. It sure looked mighty pretty, what with the greens and reds and varied beiges, and a packet of Cajun seasoning to boot. Only after I'd put the beans in water for soaking, did I notice that the recipe on the package called for ham or sausage. All I had was three hot dogs, which I reasoned WERE a sausage. In the Dutch oven they went, and cozied up with the legumes for five hours. My and KDM's verdict: it was very, very good.

By the way, the cooked chickpea itself is surprisingly delicious.

I'm not done with beans yet. Today I made my very first split pea soup, after listening to KDM talking about it with such fondness and nostalgia for year. In China we call the peas green bean, often made into dessert. According to traditional dietary theory, all foods fall into either the hot or cold camps. Balance among the two is the way to good health. The green bean belongs to the cool type, suitable for summer consumption. In the heat of the summer, beverage stands offer a drink made of its powder, sweetened, iced, and always jade colored, said to keep heat stroke at bay.

And, if sesame paste- um - tahini, is a deterrent to you, I don't see why you can't replace it with peanut butter outright, provided you don't serve it to any potential hummus Nazi.

For past four weeks, we've been babysitting two of KDM's grandkiddoes. We watch movies with them. Beside popcorn, I treat them to snow cones, ice cream, and popsicles. Last night, I took the leftover, fizzed-out root beer and an orange-themed soda, and made a tray of popsicles overnight. I was disproportionally rewarded today by its instant hit status. Who knew it took so little to throw the little people in party mood!

What new, interesting, or strange food have you been making lately?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


I snatched this and the one below on the fledgling's Big Day.

The little guy sat in that very same spot all day, while the parent flitted from spot to nearby spots, saying tea, tea, tea,  now and then coaxing it to jump the basket with a fat worm on the ground. I spied all this while drawing in the studio.

Then, for a couple hours late in the day, I got lost in the drawing, after which I got lost on the internet, When I remembered the birds, it was dusk, and this was what was left of the scene. For sometime I wandered about the porch and the driveway aimlessly, feeling empty and abandoned. There wasn't even a goodbye.

The next morning, sitting on the porch with KDM and coffee, I spotted the family, in a short cedar tree across the lawn. We watched the trio, from behind the binoculars, having their first "outdoor" breakfast. Junior,  looking a little ratty, the exact color and texture as the bark it perched on, clutched onto a branch, preening and taking food from one of the parents. We sat and watched it following the parents, taking up to a branch above, then another, and another, higher and higher until our sight was blocked by the thick needles. That was the last time we saw them. The empty feeling I had the night before abated - I felt the enclosure.

Now we've gotten our porch back to ourselves, and it's time to heal the fuchsia. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

We Have Been Chosen

See that white planter with a fuchsia on it? Exactly a month ago today, we left town for a wedding.  Upon returning two days later, while watering the plant,  I was startled by a bird franticly flying out of it, almost crashing into my face. 

The little guy/gal had built a nest inside the planter while we were gone. KDM identified the homesteader as a wren. Further consultation with a bird book confirmed it as a Carolina Wren. Since that day we have all but stopped using the front door, been tiptoeing around our own front porch, and let the fuchsia wilt, nearly die, from thirst, as you can see in this photo taken about two weeks ago. 

Ten days ago, four or five hatchlings appeared. I took this picture this morning, of the apparent only one surviving into fledgling - I don't know what happened to the other ones.  I have been rather bitter about their mysterious disappearance and would rather not discuss the topic. From the goings on we've observed this morning, this is going to be a big day for the little guy. Both parents have been on the go and fro, in gentle and short chirps pleading and coaxing: on this very day junior is to try its wings.  It has edged its way outside the nest since I took the photo, and I've since moved downstairs with my drawing, keeping an eye and ear on the neighborhood, especially on the four resident dogs in case junior decides to touch down on solid ground. It really takes a village. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Random Find

For three days I've been drawing with charcoal. Charcoal everywhere, on my hair, my face, my neck, my tank top and my shorts; charcoal on the floor, over the easel, under my fingernails. 

Hello, charcoal! I've missed you. 

Next to oil, charcoal is my favorite medium.

The artwork I'm sharing below is unrelated to my rekindled enthusiasm for charcoal. I simply came across it on Facebook during lunch break, and wanted to share with you all, knowing at least one of you (you know who you are) is a fellow Albrecht Durer admirer: 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Knot Not - with update

Am on the brink of giving up a painting I've worked on for 3 weeks. As the sentence indicates, I'm indecisive. But if I do, there'll be a mourning process. Call me a drama queen. You don't give up something you've hung on for that long without feeling defeated. Besides, there's enough good moments in the same painting, almost good enough to go on fighting for. That's where the bitterness comes in.

Yet, sometimes it's better to move on. My former resolve has fallen into a jumble, a gordian knot I have little skill to untie, and it's unraveling my confidence, and worse, poisoning my joy in painting.

I need a clean slate.

I realize that this talk of the pain of painting may be boring to my readers, but belching it out helps me think and make a decision. Even a little whining can be cathartic.

So bear with me when I engage in this sort of self-absorption.

Thank you.

UPDATE:  After making the above, round-about, announcement to give up the said painting, I took another look at it, and decided to give it one more chance. After all, I had nothing to lose. I worked on it for about 3.5 hours, and quietly declared it done. No spectacular improvement, but at least, I won't paint over it like I often do to paintings I deem unworthy of preserving.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hello Again

Sure, it's been a while. So what if I considered calling quit my pathetic blogging only a half hour ago, and at this instance am back at it again? Just ask my indestructible peony (the one I bought five years ago labeled "Guaranteed to Grow," and which I proceed to pronounce dead at end of each subsequent growing season, and which resurrected every following spring), it will tell you that for me to pick up the pieces, the object of my engagement must be made of steel, persist in staring in my face daily, leaving me restless and guilty at night.

That's what this blog has done. And, here I'm back at it again.

But if I told you that posts had not just been scant, but near extinct, not because I had nothing to say, but because I had too much to say that I simply let it slump, would you believe, and understand?

And I'll let you in on another reason for the days of not-saying-much: painting.

Unlike English, the grammar of painting is not second language to me. Line, color and shape are words I know at heart, in which intellect and instinct feed each other wordlessly. I search and formulate meaning in what I see, and delight in the pure act of seeing. When things go well I elate and exult; very often failure throws me back in self-pity and despair. Remembering the yoke of the gift and the promise of joy, I pick up the pieces and start over. At the end of a day in the studio, I'm exhausted.

It's a condensed explanation of how painting can placate the urge for verbal expression.

Placate, but not equal. And since painting is essentially a lonely activity, it cannot speak camaraderie nor utter names. There's anguish in that lonesomeness, and I have missed my friends whom I've grown fond of. Can't say I'm here to make total mends for my omissions, but at least sticking my neck out the cave to say "Hi!"

Monday, May 27, 2013

Art Ed Breeds Contempt

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I had felt contempt for my students at some points of the past school year. This video may help explain what could cause such singular emotion to erupt within the soul of an college art instructor - this was literally a hair away from happening to my little flock:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Were You Slapped by Your Bishop?

In honor of Confirmation season, go over to First Things, read Brian Doyle's piece, which I quote below. Read the rest and laugh your head off. Norman Rockwell would have mined the scene like a treasure trove. 

I will have my print issue in the mail soon.

"The day I was granted the Sacrament of Confirmation and was admitted with full rights and privileges to the Church Eternal got off to a slow start, because the bishop was late. There had been a rain delay at the Mets game, but His Excellency couldn’t just leave the stadium, because the Mets were playing the Pirates, and this was the Pirates team with Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell and Dock Ellis (who would pitch a no-hitter a month later while stoned out of his mind), and anyway the Mets were coming off their shocking championship the year before, so who would leave on account of a little downpour? 
We waited in the school auditorium as our parents and grandparents and disgruntled brothers and sisters rustled in the searing heat of the church. It was a roaring hot day and someone in the choir fainted. My dad said later he could hear a hole exactly the size of an alto in the choir’s subsequent performance, but we think he was teasing us. Finally the bishop arrived, having left the game in a huff when the Mets made their fourth error of the day, and the ceremony started.
Our older brothers and sisters, who had already been Confirmed and were pretty smug about it and claimed there were secret rituals and code words they could never reveal to us on pain of death, had filled us with stories of the bishop slapping kids in the face as part of the ancient Sacrament, and while none of us could figure out why exactly a slap figured in a ceremony that seemed to be about welcoming new members to the army, we were suitably forewarned, and there was a lot of loose talk about slapping the bishop back, and ducking his hand, and bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali, or catching his hand as it came hurtling toward your face and leaning in companionably and whispering not this time, big fella, and remarks like that, mostly from the boys, although two of the girls, I remember, were coldly intent on slapping anyone who slapped them, and one girl said she would accept the first blow and turn her other cheek for a second slap, but we thought she was just trying to impress Sister Marie."

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hello, summer!

It's official: I'm on summer vacation. I have had to pinch myself to be sure.

Let's revise that: I HAVE BEEN on summer vacation since Tuesday, that is, after I posted the grades online.

Since the final exam, I had dithered, deliberated, over the grades I was going to assign, enduring repeated flashbacks of each student's quality of work, extents in efforts, time spent at the easel, pursued major, even individual temperament. I had lost sleep over the consequences of my "judgement". I consulted colleagues, even KDM on my criteria; I prayed for guidance and truthfulness.
In short, I took it seriously and suffered indecisions.

My deliberations and agonies paid off.

On the day the grades were due, having consumed my accustomed amount of a.m. coffee, I sat down by the computer, logged on the grade page, found the names, typed the grades in, submitted all, logged out, and never looked back.

I have no qualm for wanting to evict these names from my mind for a while. I've cared and fussed over them for sixteen weeks. I've alternately felt affection and contempt for them, justified and rebuked my conflicting emotions throughout; I've managed to come out wanting to be just fair and true (because I'm sorta under the yoke, and I don't mean just the ethics, you know?)...

Now I just want the leaf turned over and move on.

I commenced my release by making this painting -

May Flowers, oil on canvas,  8"x10" 

for my parish carnival which is set for this weekend. Being a true last-minuter, I started and finished it the day before yesterday, after three tumultuous (yes it's that serious) previous starts (painting has gotten painful in these parts, even a tiny and utilitarian one like this, but let me not digress). To speed up drying, I used extra dryer in the paint. Still, it will need a "wet paint" card beside it on the silent auction table.

Then, yesterday, KDM, the families of his two sons, and I went to Crystal Bridges, to see the blockbuster Norman Rockwell exhibition that I had wanted so badly to see.

And we all had a ball, from KDM down to the 22 month-old. The size and diversity of the crowds, many gray-haired and in wheelchair, were like nothing I'd seen in all of my museum goings. Norman Rockwell have united the snobs and commoners alike in art. The museum, founded by members associated with a mega-business known for efficiency and organization, looked even a bit overwhelmed and disheveled. Nobody seemed to mind it, though. And I was all too happy to see so many flocking to an art house, and none needed my instruction or grading.

Too bad viewers weren't allowed to photograph either the works or the throng. But neither Norman Rockwell needs introduction nor does his work lack reproduced images. Still, I want to share this exhibition header from CB's website:

As I slowly recollect my story-telling, expressive consciousness, you may expect a little less desolation around this place.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Busy Hands

A few recent paintings of still life -

Friday, April 19, 2013

Remember Her?

 Ms Bass? Well, she turns 99 on this fine April day. I got to see her and wish her a Happy Birthday a few hours ago. She looked spunky and spiffy, sweet and serene, just as I remembered her from our last meeting at the opening of my art show in 2009.

It did my heart good to see her at 99 and going strong. Someone took a picture of us, which I don't have access to at the moment. For now, I have the memories:

with Ms Bass in 2009; she turns 99 today.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Update on Mama

Several of you have learned the news that my Mom was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago, and have sent words of sympathy and prayers. I hope you know that your compassion strengthens me greatly in this trial, even though I have not said anything on the topic via this blog. Please forgive the tardy and allow me a brief update of Mom's condition.

She has gone to see a cancer expert practicing traditional Chinese medicine and is now in the first phase of treatment consisting of twenty-one days of frequent daily dosages of two drugs. I wish I were better versed in traditional Chinese medicine to let you in on their contents. Although both my parents worked in medical profession all their lives, neither in traditional field. Most likely, though, they are concoctions of various herbal and animal parts, to be made into an utterly bitter, a dark dark and rather scary looking brew and drunk, while others come in the form of more benevolent-looking capsules. I was told that she takes one nine, the other thirteen times a day. She manages well with the help of a maid.

This past Monday I Skyped with my older sister. She said Mom is in good spirit, and there has been evidence of progress the doctor had prescribed. My niece Mimi, the only other practicing Christian in the family (not counting Mom and Dad who were confirmed Catholic by a priest during my last visit in 2012), has been praying the St. Peregrine Novena, as have I. Thanks to my dear friend Jan, for pointing me to this great Saint. He has been a major nerve calmer in these days of fear and anxiety.

Again, I'm grateful for your prayers more than you will ever know, and that is not an exaggeration.

Mama & me in front of her rose patch, June 2012

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Current Diversion

To spring break with love -

This is the fourth day I've worked on the painting, literally a work in progress.

As you can see, the upper part of the painting is in a rough stage. The tripes in the fabric behind the red box are a toss-up - to keep or not to keep, still a question. My present instinct is to keep, as the upper right hand corner of the painting needs something active, something near-vertical, like the stripes.

I'm already conceiving my next painting. As it is, the spring break will be all too short for starting another work.

Indeed I may spend the rest of the break trying to bring this one into fruition. Someone once said, a painting is never finished, it's given up.

I will post the final stage of the painting when it has been "given up."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the Other Hand

A lot of unexpected bodily mortification, involuntary penance, has visited upon my quarter, more specifically, upon my left hand, courtesy of sputtering-hot cooking oil.

That entire sentence brought to you by the entire team of fingers from my right hand. I learned to type properly with both hands from day one. I must say, this one-hand business is an all-new sensation.

In case you were wondering what I was doing with that hot oil, the answer is I was craving me some very spicy, lip-smacking chili sauce on whatever I was going to have for lunch. After heating the oil, I proceeded to pour it into a jar with prepared red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and minced garlic through a funnel. As some of the oil got trapped above the lower passage of the funnel, it sputtered upward, right over my left hand which was holding the funnel. Let's just say KDM heard the horrific scream and jumped from whatever he was doing and rushed to my side. The guy is always resourceful and helpful in crisis like this, the problem for me, is that he can hardly do so without scolding.

This time, I probably deserved his scolding. Let me explain.

Before Lent began, when I was thinking of something to give up, spicy food was a candidate. Now you must understand that I'm not condemning spicy food, I'm just telling you that my appetite for all foods spicy borders on inordinate, ravenous, gluttonous. In the past Lents I gave up sweets like so many did, playing the good girl. All the while I doused my meals with Sriracha sauce.

Nonetheless,  I muffled the glimmering voice of reason in me, and once again elected to "give up" sweets and snack between meals. I just love me all my spicy food too much.

Ironically, the sputtering oil episode, and for perhaps next several weeks, my ridiculously bandaged-up left hand, will be an annoying reminder of my intemperate love for chili sauce.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Subject is Light

Seven days before the Lunar New Year at my mom's house: my niece Mimi helping Grandma use the webcam. Since they didn't have a good light, Mimi ingeniously whipped out her cellphone to light the screen. This is the screen-shot I took during our video visit.

This wall in our living room has looked like this around 8AM everyday for the past several weeks. The peacock feathers are in honor of Flannery O'Connor.

Fr. Rutler on B16

Fr. George Rutler, pastor of the Church of Our Savior, New York City, whose weekly column at his parish's website I subscribe via email, has the following words from his meditations on Pope Benedict XVI's resignation:
When a pope retires, I have to change the proposed topic of my column. Now I know how a pastor must have felt in 1415 when Pope Gregory XII resigned, and in 1294 when Celestine V did the same. While papal resignations cannot therefore be said to have become a habit, they do remind one that Holy Orders are indelible, but the papacy itself is not.

   We also are reminded, as we need to be in an age of diminishing attention spans, that there have been 265 popes. I recently read of a Protestant lady who converted to Catholicism upon being shown that list. God gave the Keys of the Kingdom to Peter, knowing that the Galilean fisherman had a limited life span. Since there is no re-incarnation, there is a succession, and that will go on until the end of time. Even calling Rome the Eternal City is extravagant rhetoric, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). No one knows this more clearly than Pope Benedict XVI, whose intellectual brilliance and eloquent teaching have enabled him to explain this to the world in remarkable ways, but never more so than by his own example.

   Pope John Paul II died in the days of Easter, having taught a confused world, as Christ said when He rose from the dead, “Do not be afraid.” Pope Benedict XVI is relinquishing the Keys in Lent, and another will hold them in Easter. This gives a special import to the Forty Days on which we have now embarked. Pope Benedict enters a new phase of his life, when he will be devoted to praying for all of God’s holy Church. All of us can more closely identify now with the first apostles, who were called by Christ to change their lives. The fishermen became fishers of men, and that is why we are here now, worshiping the same Lord that they learned to worship after many signs and revelations.

   As Lent is a time of abstinence, it would be good to abstain from the vain speculations of the media and self-appointed “experts” inside the Church and out, who see these things with merely human eyes and may use a papal resignation as a suggestion that the papacy is just another human office like a presidency or prime ministership. We should also remember that the world has been around a lot longer than we have, and if an asteroid changed the whole ecology of terrestrial life some 66 million years ago when it struck Mexico, as scientists have now determined, the Good News of Christ really is recent news. What is required at this crucial moment in history is that we follow the example of the first apostles: “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11).   
Note: see some mementos from my visit to Our Savior a few years ago.

Note also: Ignatius Press is offering two of the Pope's books for the price of one, for a limited time, just $19.95! I've ordered mine already. My ambition is to finish reading both by the end of Lent - no pressure. None. At. All.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

B16: witness of trust

Could Maureen Mullarkey's blog post today, and the article by David Warren it links to, shed some light on the abrupt (or so it seems) resignation of Pope Benedict XVI?

Like most everyone else, my initial reaction to the news was one of shock, but not disbelief. The shock didn't last long either. What follows was a profound admiration for the man I had come to love and trust. Whatever the reasons beside what he cited for the dramatic departure, the decision itself is positive proof that this is not a conventional pope: he does not hesitate, he does not dither, he takes matters into his own hands and intellect. The silence he jolts us into is not a void, but rather a witness of the utter trust in the power higher than he. I guess this is why so many are calling it an act of humility. It is as if he is showing us how to cast our cares, even one tremendous as steering a massive church, into the hand of the Holy Spirit, then humbly but confidently recede into the background vapors of Providential movement.

That Pope Benedict XVI is the first in four hundred plus years to do so, puts in proper perspective just how unconventional the act is. For that, I love you so much more, Papa.

To be sure, a gift to be unwrapped for the rest of the lenten season.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Tired Papa

Okay, Papa, we hear you, we understand you, we bless you - 

Magnificat, the publication I use as a prayer aid, features a daily meditation written by various spiritual men and women. While reading it, I often play a game with myself which I secretly call "guess who is the author." I try not to peek at the name at the end of the piece, but to guess who wrote it by the author's style, tone and voice. I can always tell when it is the work of the holy father. Why? Clarity, logic, gentleness, firmness, just to name a top few qualities. No superfluousness, no platitude, no arrogance, no preachiness. My reaction is always "Wow, I must think what he is drawing me to think, and I must think it through, and I must not delay the thinking."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Bad Day

I wrote the following on Thursday evening, but didn't publish on the same day - 

During the morning class I (or did I?) made a student cry - about a value (grayscale) study and said she just "doesn't get it." She later apologized and assured me it wasn't me, it was just her frustrations, and that she felt like the only one in class who wasn't "getting it."

Just a another poundage to the melancholy I'd been feeling with regard to teaching. I was happy when the workday was over.

When I got home from work, I was greeted by a down-cast and teary-eyed KDM, who told me that it had not been a good day -a calf died of respiratory illness today and he just finished burying it. Of late we had been dealing with a flurry of sick calves. I remember having premonitions as I looked out the bedroom window while getting dressed for work this morning. I could see several calves laying in the pasture instead of grazing like the rest of the herd. I whispered up a quick prayer for protection, and went on to work.

The news had a sobering effect on my dusty feelings about teaching, it has made me see how ridiculously trivial and self-indulgent my complaints were. For all we who make a living in agribusiness know, another year of severe drought may be in store for the coming seasons. What follows would be another round of high prices in feed, fuel, and pretty much all other operational expenses.

Yesterday's evening prayer from Magnifcat was stirring ( I know I keep going backward in time):

Put now your trust in God,
In duty's path go on;
Walk in his strength with faith and hope,
So shall your work be done.

Commit your ways to him,
Your works into his hands,
And rest on his unchanging word,
Who heaven and earth commands.

Give to the winds your fears;
Hope, and be undismayed:
God hears your sighs and counts your tears;
God shall lift up your head.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Show Up

Resumed my humble exercise routine starting today. My students will never hear me admit this: commitment to routine is not my strength. Well, that may be the understatement of the month. In fact, I am very sloppy at stick-to-it-ed-nesses.

But that's just what I tell my students to aspire. Keep up the efforts and keep the faith. There's no shortcut to the mastery of color and painting. Inspiration is overrated, the important thing is to show up to work everyday.

Attendance is slipping in the fourth week of school. It always does. Absences annoy me greatly. So outwent a nasty email to the entire class from me yesterday, with threats to drop anyone who misses more than four classes.

It's one of the upsides of teaching: motivation by the shame factor to practice what you preach.

Off to the studio to paint.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Catholic School Week Art

Here's what we did last year -

It's hung in the hall of the school. There are total of twenty-four 8"x8" canvases in the icon, painted by 24 students in acrylic. 

Here's what we did this year - 

I was given the small digital print on the left by the school. On the right is the copy I painted in gouache from the print, on broken pieces of paper of 4"x4", tacked to a hard board by double-stickies made of masking tape. It took me about 22 hours to finish. I even worked on it under the flu (it's okay, I don't need roses for that).

A closer view of the copy. A square was assigned to each
of the 24 students, who collected paper from magazines
based on colors seen in their own square. They then cut
and pasted the one-inch squares on an 8"x8" canvas assigned
them. Each student had 64 squares to fill in with cut paper.
After three days intense cutting and pasting and searching for the perfect color to match, we put all 24 canvases together in order today. This was how it looked. After placing the canvases on the floor, I took the photo standing on a table. That explains the converging seams - the camera wasn't quit "square" with the assemblage. The finished size is 32"x48", same as the icon from last year.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quick Takes

Between flu and the bustles in settling into the new year's routines and schedules, I have been dormant on the blogging front. Here are few quick takes -

  • The enrollment for one my painting classes is at full capacity, the other two shy of maximum cap. Our tiny studio is a jumble of easels and taborets (a furniture fitted with wheels for holding palette and carting all the painting paraphernalia), jutting into and against each other. Negotiating through the lot tests one's agility and patience. 

  • For the fourth year I'm working with a K-6 Catholic school on an art program for their Catholic School Week. Yesterday marked the first day of this year's project - so far, so okay. If I don't forget the camera tomorrow, I should have photos to share soon. 

  • Yesterday during the class with the first graders, the teacher sub inquired about my accent. I explained that I was Chinese. She said "I know. But it's not that. I don't know, but you sound like you might be from, like, Ireland, or somewhere." 

  • KDM and I were given Season One of the 24 TV series for Christmas. We're now officially addicts although we try to limit it to two episodes a day. Tonight we watched hours 9 through 11. The actions are getting red-hot (since it's only halfway through the clockwork, I assume the white-hot stuff are still to come) as the plots become impossibly thicker. For the first time I had queasy stomach and irregular heartbeats from watching. KDM reported similar reactions. I didn't have to refrain from dipping into the next hour - two were all I could stomach. 

  • It has not stopped raining since mid morning. We were under tornado watch for ten hours. When I got home no dog was there to give me the routine car-side welcome. I knew right away they had boarded Noah's ark - the mud porch. KDM said when the first thunders rolled in they beat him inside two by two. 

  • Ireland??

With that, Good Night from here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Borrowed Light for a Murky Territory

This is an unstudied response to Manny's comment to my previous post and link to the current discussion on art at several Catholic blogs (including the Anchoress, Simcha Fisher, and Manny's own).   I say "unstudied" because I've only skimped through these pages and feel not equipped to enter the talk.Yet from experience I know there's a lot of confusion about the reality and duties of fine art in the context of religion. 

Generally, there is not much clarity around the narrow but easily contentious subject. If anything, most talks I've seen - heard - fall in the wooly and muddled category. I pass no such judgment on the above mentioned current discussions because I haven't gotten time to read them carefully (catching up on class planning just three days away from school opening). But a glance over the comment sections pretty much confirms my past impression of how uncertain and divergent the views are about the art thingie in the context of religion.

Melancholia by Albrecht Durer 

As I've noticed the term religious art being used in these discussions, I thought maybe it's helpful to first clarify the definition of religious art. That reminded me of an essay written by Maureen Mullarkey, an art critic of the first order in my estimation, whose intellectual vigor and honesty I hugely admire, and who is a very fine painter herself. The essay was written for the Catholic Crisis Magazine, titled  An Unmanifesto: A Proposal to Retire “Catholic Art”. Although I'm aware of the the nuanced differences between what's called "religious art" and "Catholic art," I recommend her essay for the close relatedness addressing the two things under discourse: art, religion. 

I also want to share a bit of where I personally have found clarity in seeing the relations between art and religion. 

Following my conversion my thoughts naturally turned to the same set of questions, among them "can there be religious art?" "how does an artist who's Catholic live up to her vocation?" Or, "does an artwork have to have religious symbols to serve the Good?" In other words, all questions in the realm of art and religion. 

In my search for validation of some privately harbored convictions for being a Catholic artist, and for a model who has the grits to endure misunderstandings and conflicts from within and without, I discovered Flannery O'Connor. The book The Habit of Being, the collection of her letters to fellow Christians, artists, friendly skeptics, has been a life saver to me. As an extension for her views of being an artist who's Catholic can also be found in her talks given to college students and other communities collected under the book title Mystery and Manners. 

Through reading Flannery O'Connor, I discovered the writings of Jacques Maritain, especially his book called Art and Scholasticism, which provides me with much needed insights into the reality of art from theological stand point. There's also a collection of his writings under the title The Responsibility of the Artist, available online. These together look into the relations between art and religion, as well as helps the artist understand where his craft stands in view of his religious belief. Maritain's view is honed from his scholarship of Medieval philosophy, therefore has deep Christian, specifically Catholic, roots.

These recommendations are meant to share a few resources which have been invaluable to me as a practicing artist. I hope they help further the discussion and deepen the interest and understanding of art for fellow Christians. 

Cheerios on a rainy, sloppy day in my land. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Ann Althouse
I've been reading Althouse for a while, and I'm liking her more and more, not the least for her occasional veering off the stressful political, legal, intellectual tracks onto something arty and flirty. Check her out.

Open Culture
A total windfall from an idle trolling one internet site or another, round about two years ago. I'm Facebook friend with the impersonal entity. The site offers an array of freebies, including movies, e-books, educational resources. I especially recommend this to my home-schooling friends (I'm talking about you, Jan). There are free lessons ranging from foreign languages (like, Mandarin Chinese!) to kiddy philosophy to art history. You just can't beat free.

Glittering Images by Camille Paglia
Paglia is a fast-talking, gasoline-breathing critic of fashionable culture. I've heard much buzz, including that coming from herself during this interview with PJTV's Glenn Reynolds, of her latest book Glittering Images. According to her, part of her intended audience is home-school moms. I haven't read the book, but from I've heard and read of it, I advise taking a grain of salt to her opinions. But over all, I suspect you would find her views and rants about art timely and liberating.

And for what it's worth (if there's such a thing as visual relief), a preview of my painting in progress, tentatively titled Door:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

To Manny

I apologize for the disappearance of your two comments on my previous blog post, especially when they streamed through the email traffic and arrived in my e-box smoothly. I've given the system settings a check-up and found nothing out of order. As you said this i-engine is a pit. I've had similar problems with commenting on other's blog. Sometimes I managed to wiggle through by using a different email account which seems on friendlier terms to that particular "engine."

Before the problem goes away, feel free to email your comments with return address so that I could reply.

Thanks for corresponding.

And, Happy New Year!