05 November 2012

Instagram!

I finally got my first smartphone and so I’ve become and Instagrammer. Instagram, the app that turns your camera photos into vintage or grungy or hyper-colored images. I have to admit I love it. The styles achieved with “IG” are what I always tried to achieve thru hours of working in Photoshop. Now, simply press a couple buttons and I’ve made an image that evokes nostalgia as I’ve so often tried to achieve thru Photoshop. And it’s so easy it’s making everyone an artist. Granted, many photos posted on Instagram are lousy snapshots, but many are actually excellent compositions worthy of art galleries and I enjoy perusing the Instagram user galleries. The Instagram revolution has enabled millions more people around the world to express something that’s been inside them but they didn’t have the tools before now. I say this is all a plus. Yes, it’s “competition” for visual attention, but what the heck. More power to everyone to express themselves, I say.

My phone is a lesser model with only a 3.2 megapixel camera. And being an Android phone, I don’t have access to some of the apps (software programs) to enhance images that are available for the iPhone, which itself has a better camera. Nontheless, I’m just starting out and having fun with it. And unless photography is used for official ID photos or to document a crime scene or what have you, whether its end result is fine art or a portrait of a loved one or vacation memento photos, photography has pretty much always been just about having fun.

06 April 2012

Exhibition Of My Photos


Indian Springs Winery is now showing some of my photos at their tasting room, where there'll also be a reception on Sunday, April 15, 2012 from 3 to 5pm.  Come see my photography and sample some wine! 

Nevada City is an historic town of old buildings, shops and gold-rush era displays interesting for both adults and kids. Make a day of it!  Here's the winery's website:  www.indianspringswines.com and click HERE for directions.  Prior to their given directions:  take 80 east toward Reno and when in Auburn, take the Highway 49 exit (then pick up the directions at the link above). 

See you there!

29 November 2011

On Autumn

I love Autumn.  Cool days, chilly nights, and the freshest morning air of the year.  I like to go outdoors the first couple hours after dawn and take in the pure oxygen that was created overnight (before the rest of the world gets busy and dumps their junk into it). Deeply breathing-in the clean morning air not only feels healthful but also gives me a sense of connecting to nature as part of it. 

An especially lucky Autumn morning will be overcast. Clouds work, but fog is better.  With fog, dew drips from everything and distances fade into nothingness. This soft white backdrop that increases with distance focuses one's attention on only what's nearest, emphasizing close-by trees, their leaves, branches, any remaining fruit, and rendering any distant mountains into faint impressionistic suggestions.  Fog also seems to enhance the quiet of the morning as if the fog itself were a muffling compound, a sound-damping insulation packed between everything.  And colors seem deeper.  Dew wets the reds, oranges and yellows of autumn leaves into opaque dabs of painter's oils on the palette, while later daylight shines through the leaves and illuminates them into bold displays of fiery translucence.

I love nature, cool temperatures, earthy colors and I always favor spirit-calming stillness over a noisy environment.  So of course I love autumn most!  And mornings.  Bright clear daylight is too bold and loud for me:  a brash and busy competition for attention.  Morning is a whisper, a world of quiet where whatever speaks to you is profound for emerging from stillness.  Midday is like a busy Jackson Pollock painting; morning, the meaningful single stroke of a Japanese calligrapher's brush on blank paper.

Can I please live where every day is a soft autumn morning?  Cool temperatures, clouds and fog, even rain (which makes being indoors feel so homey. On a rainy day, bake something, drink cocoa, and light up the fireplace. Nothing is more comforting!).  And the smell of smoke in the air from other people's fireplaces adds to the romance, putting you in mind of so many sharing your delight of being warm indoors on a chilly day.

For variety, toss in a few summer days during the year, with up to about 85 degrees max.  And springtime.  That's good too.  Springtime, when winter's bare trees get tiny buds of green on their otherwise dark bare branches. That's one of my favorite sights of springtime: the hints of green on the dark 'bones' of a tree.  But that's another tale.

I took all these photos in my own backyard on the overcast, in fact foggy, autumn morning of November 26th, 2011.  When I was younger I would always move my camera back farther to capture more of a scene. But then a photography teacher told me, "You can't capture everything; instead, move in closer." Now, not only while taking photos but when just passing through the world, I'm not as fascinated by the big picture but by components of it:  shadows on an object, the chance perfect turn of a person's head, and the blaze of color of a single fiery autumn leaf remaining on a tree of brown. There are amazing effects of light, shadow, line, texture and color when you look close; and doing so enhances your appreciation of the world by noticing even the small stories.  In fact, if you look at the 'big picture' of my backyard you'd say, "What a mess!"  But these are samples of what I see there.  Enjoy your autumn. There's so much to love!

11 July 2011

My Grandfather - Czech Legionnaire and Banker

What started a couple months ago with looking through my parents' photo albums and asking for their memories has now led to my suspicion of my grandfather's deep involvement in one of Europe's greatest stories.
1st Company Rifle Regiment in Irkutsk 1919
photo from http://www.pamatnik.valka.cz
This surely looks like grandpa.

Born in 1896 in Siberia, my paternal grandmother had been married at 18, had a baby who died and a husband who disappeared to some other part of Russia and was never seen again.  Born in Brno in 1895, my grandfather was part of the Czech Legion fighting in Russia after that country's Revolution in 1917.  Both single, (or in my grandmother's case, presumably so), they met in approximately 1919 when my Czech grandfather was stationed in my grandmother's hometown of Irkutsk, Russia.


Cutting a long and complicated story short (and the following details may be imprecise), the Czech Legion was a remarkably successful army. They pushed back and held against the Bolsheviks, they captured and controlled the Trans-Siberian Railway from Siberia to Vladivostok, whose port they also controlled, and they even captured and possessed eight train car loads of the Tsar's gold.  Their advances were so renown that diplomats in Versailles and President Woodrow Wilson in the USA endorsed creation of an independent Czechoslovakia that would be homeland for all the various Czechs and Slovaks, etc, as reward for their military successes against the Bolsheviks and for their assistance in holding ports open so that international troops could enter Russia to help in the fight..

Czech dignitaries in Irkutsk, 1919. Grandpa again? 2nd from left, standing. (Close-up below)
photo from http://www.pamatnik.valka.cz

Close-up from photo above.

By 1920, Trotsky had finally built up his Russian armies to over 3 million soldiers making them a threat to the Czechs.  This threat of defeat, Czech disillusionment with their leader Kolchak, and a desire now to get out and return to their newly created homeland, the Czech Legion decided to make a deal with the Bolsheviks.  They would hand over Kolchak and return seven train car loads of the Tsar's gold (but remember, there were eight) in return for a guarantee of safe passage out of Russia to their new country Czechoslovakia.  The deal was accepted.  Kolchak was soon executed, the gold handed over and, through the port at Vladivostok, the Czech soldiers returned home to a hero's welcome for having been instrumental in creation of a new independent homeland.

My grandparents' wedding day?
But my grandfather did not return to Czechoslovakia.  We have no marriage records, but based on a document (explained below) I'll assume that after meeting in Irkutsk my grandparents married in 1920, perhaps at the Czech Consulate in Vladivostok (where the Czechs had a strong presence).  We assume they remained in Russia, but where? Vladivostok?  Siberia (Irkutsk)?  And what job did my grandfather do?  I have a postcard addressed to my grandfather in Vladivostok, dated 23 August 1920, so I know he was there at least temporarily at that time.

Perhaps the reason he remained in Russia - Vladivostok, apparently - after 1920 is revealed by a business card of my grandfather's that identifies him as working with the "Czechoslovak Central Economic Commission in Vladivostok" [чехословацкая центральная экономическая комиссия Владивосток].  After a lot of Googling, I remain unclear what sort of economic affairs this commission attended to. I can only find a few websites, in Russian, which I Google-translated.  These poorly translated websites suggest that this Commission might have acted as import/export agents for goods between Czechoslovakia and Russia including return to Czechoslovakia of Czech Legion property.  But these poor translations also suggest that by September 1923 Soviet officials had become so suspicious of this Commission's activities that their trade was halted with charges of improper transfers.  The internet seems to have very little information on this Commission.


A Russian woman I know who translated some of Grandma's documents from Russian explained that a travel document issued in 1923 references my grandmother's Czech passport previously issued in 1920 in Vladivostok (thus, that she's Russian-born but was issued a Czech passport in 1920 is why I assume she married my Czech grandfather in 1920; and perhaps they married at the Czech consulate in Vladivostok).

Part of grandma's 1923 Soviet-issued travel permission
This travel document, issued by a Soviet official in July 1923, allowed my grandmother to remain in, and travel anywhere within, Russia an additional three months during which time she would need to obtain a Russian passport and papers.

Did my grandparents intend to remain in Russia and obtain more permanent Russian documents within three months, or did they obtain this travel document, allowing my grandmother free passage anywhere within Russia, for some other idea they were planning?  And by the way, why was my Czech grandfather allowed to remain in Russia after 1920 when many Czechs who did not return to the new Czechoslovakia were imprisoned in Russia for their prior activities against the Bolsheviks?  What business was he tending to at that Czech Economic Commission of such importance that he was allowed to stay (or perhaps that he felt was so important that he risked imprisonment)?

From within that complicated background emerges a curious potential political intrigue.

Grandma (L) w/friends in Shanghai,
Josef Park; Easter, 1924
Feeling that the unstable political situation was changing for the worse, and as my grandmother's three-month period of ability to travel freely allowed by that 1923 document from Soviet officials was coming to an end, they hatched a plan (or perhaps their plan prompted them to seek the document?). My grandparents apparently lied to Soviet officials about their travel plans, and they didn't even tell her family in Irkutsk what they would really do.  They fled to Shanghai. 

They must have arrived in Shanghai sometime between when that travel document was issued, in July 1923, and when it expired, in October of that year, and additional documents show they remained there until October 1924.  In Shanghai we know that my grandfather worked in banking; a bank manager, if I recall correctly (from a business card I had years ago but have since lost).  Before that he worked at the "Czech Central Economic Commission" in Vladivostok. Clearly, my grandfather was deeply experienced with banking before arriving in Shanghai.  Before going to Russia in 1919 (or earlier?), my grandfather attended University in Prague. If he studied banking and economics, I don't know.  But sometime before working at the "Czech Economic Commission" in Vladivostok from appx 1920 to 1923, he learned all about banking and international money transfers. 

Back to that eighth train car full of the Tsar's gold that the Czech Legion did not hand over to the Bolsheviks before returning to their new homeland of Czechoslovakia in 1920.  Those returning Czechs funded establishment of a new state bank, it has been proposed, with that train car of gold.  It has never been proven that this was true, but it has also never been proven not to be true. Books have been written on this subject (that I have yet to read). The Czechs claim that the funds to establish the bank came from soldiers' thriftiness in saving all their soldier pay and from the many side-businesses they made during their time in Russia. Were those side-businesses fronts for hiding and processing the Tsar's gold?  The Russians apparently always believed the Czechs funded their bank (and their new country) with the gold because, in 1945, Soviet soldiers stormed the state bank in Czechoslovakia and robbed it of millions. The Tsar's gold, they claimed.

My grandfather was a banker. The Tsar's gold from that eighth train car went somewhere. The idea to form the bank in Czechoslovakia was innovated in 1919 in Irkutsk when and where my grandfather was stationed.  Apparently (according to those books on the Tsar's gold and the Czech bank) there are records of the gold being processed  - "laundered" might be the correct word - through transactions at banks in Shanghai and San Francisco.  Apparently as soon as my grandfather arrived in Shanghai, he became a bank manager. After one year there - in October 1924 - he traveled to San Francisco and a letter I have shows that in 1931 he was head of the Czech section of the Slavic department of a bank in San Francisco that was experienced in transactions of all kinds including international money transfers:

1931 Letter from San Francisco bank to a "Mr Pane" at the Czech Consulate in San Francisco
introducing my grandfather, Raimund Formanek as head of the Czech section, and explanation of financial services to
Czech countrymen "through our bank" such as savings accounts, personal loans, money transfers - to anywhere - funding of businesses and insurance, etc.

Was my grandfather a, or THE, accountant for the Tsar's gold?  Was he part of the team that created the idea for the Czech bank and made it happen? Did he arrange or process transactions at banks in Shanghai and San Francisco (and were these banks where he later got jobs)?  Was he instrumental in hiding the gold in "side-businesses" of the soldiers of the Czech Legion?  Was the business he was tending to at the Czech Central Economic Commission in Vladivostok after 1920 the continuing management of the Czech Legionnaires' "side-businesses" in Russia? And were those businesses really fronts for laundering the Tsar's gold, perhaps in import-export transactions?  All of this arouses my belief that my grandfather was involved in economic transactions that channeled the Tsar's gold into the new Czechoslovakia (or some sort of economic business between Russia and the Czech homeland).  Perhaps by 1923 my grandparents feared growing Russian (Soviet) suspicion that the Czechs had, and continued to, channel the Tsar's gold out of Russia, and so my grandparents fled. (Remember, the Soviets had become suspicious of the Czech Economic Commission and in September 1923 shut it down. This was within the 3-month window of time that my grandmother's Soviet-issued document allowed her to travel anywhere within Russia unencumbered.)

My grandparents would refuse to talk about these matters in later years.  And my grandmother only ever wrote two letters to her family back in Russia because she feared the Soviets could intercept her letters and then punish her family back home for letting her escape. Punishment only for leaving?  But many people left Russia without retribution. Or did she fear punishment if the Soviets learned that her husband was involved in an ongoing scheme to funnel money out of Russia?  Regarding this, was her fear even more specific: punishment for having fled after the activities of the Czech Economic Commission were shut down and intended to have been investigated, with grandfather being wanted for questioning (where the full depth of his past involvement would be discovered)?

From my grandmother's 1924
passport, issued in Shanghai
We also possess my grandmother's passport issued at the Czech Consulate in Shanghai September 30th 1924 with an immigration visa stamped October 1st 1924 and signed by James P Davis, American Consul in Shanghai in 1924. My grandparents set sail aboard the ship Taiyo Maru from Shanghai on 5 October 1924 and arrived in San Francisco 27 October 1924.  About a year later, in 1925, they gave birth to their first son and their second (my father) in 1928.  And by 1931, as shown above, we know my grandfather worked as head of the Czech Department of a bank in San Francisco where he clearly was intimately familiar with Czech financial systems.

Even in his retirement years he continued to work in a bank.  As a security guard.  I would love to track down his university course of study in Prague, what he did in Russia during the Czech Legion years and beyond until 1923, and the nature of his work in Shanghai through 1924. (I used to have a business card showing the bank where he worked in Shanghai - a big help - but I lost track of it some 20 years ago.)

"Taiyo Maru" passenger list showing my grandparents aboard

Was my grandfather instrumental in laundering the Tsar's gold through various transactions?  That's a grand theory, but he certainly seemed to have been involved in some kind of financial affairs between Czechoslovakia and Russia. And unfortunately, in fact suspiciously, he never talked about it.

Please also visit the website for the Czechoslovak Legion Memorial for about 200 more photos, history and even a database of Legionnaires who lost their lives in the fighting.  (Is there a database of Legionnaires who did NOT lose their lives, like my grandfather?)

02 July 2011

On Clowning

As a very young boy, even by six years old, I idolized Charlie Chaplin. He used his body in charming ways to express joy, fear and love. Words were irrelevant, even superfluous to his eloquent expression. He rarely even tried to speak; as Roger Ebert wrote of Chaplin's "Little Tramp" character, "he exists somehow on a different plane than the other characters; he stands outside their lives and realities."  And yet WE were "in" with him. We were his friends who understood him.

Loaded with admiration for this talent from my earliest days, I always wanted to be a clown. Not particularly the white-face, big red nose type of clown; but a silent 'real person' clown from the Chaplin school who uses his body to communicate with outsiders as friends who will understand me; outsider friends whom I will understand.  As I grew up I continued to admire all the great comedians: Laurel & Hardy; Lucille Ball and even the old Warner Brothers cartoon characters (their comic timing and physical schtick were impeccable). In my 20s I seriously considered running off to the Ringling Brothers Clown College in Florida.

A side-story now, that will become relevant shortly.  In about 1995 a friend's son was two years old and needed surgery on a malformed lung (he couldn't breathe-in sufficient oxygen).  After the surgery, I went to the hospital to visit the parents as their boy recovered. In the pediatric ward I saw children with all kinds of illness: some bald from chemotherapy, another pushing his own IV bottle on a stand as he cried his way to receiving yet another procedure, a girl with a cast on her arm (from lord knows what injury), and so on.  I had two impulses:  to run out of there and never think of these unfortunate children again, or to approach each of them and do what I could to cheer them up.

When I moved to Boston in 1997 I heard about a local troupe of clowns that are trained specifically to entertain children in hospitals.  Perfect!  With this one group I could achieve two heartfelt goals:  to be a clown, and to help ease the pain of all those kids who are lonely, frightened and possibly depressed in hospitals.  I contacted the troupe founder and expressed my desire to join.

This group is now known as the Hearts and Noses Hospital Clown Troupe.

(another clown; not me)
The troupe was founded just the year before and I was in the second annual class, learning from their founder Jeannie Lindheim.  She was an acting teacher who had gone on a trip to hospitals in Russia with Dr Patch Adams, who later personally endorsed Jeannie's troupe.  Clowns in this troupe are not white-face circus clowns, they are more 'real life' clowns, like Chaplin, and simply wear bright colors and each has his own personality. Without going further into the unusual techniques of hospital clowning, let me share a few of my clowning experiences.

It was with the clown troupe that I fell in love with the Special Olympics.  At a competition held on the fields of MIT (yes, MIT has sporting fields!), as I clowned with the athletes in their world (and not paying much attention to adults), I could feel their mood of exultation and sense of value earned by participating in the games. Enjoying this empathetic feeling of their joy, I clowned all the happier and more energetically, and they joined in my play. I was now the Chaplin clown with outsider friends who mutually understood each other and made each other happy.

At a Catholic Charities event, one boy about 8 years old seemed so starved for love that he took to me, eventually hugging me and even telling me, "I love you." I gently redirected his focus back onto the people who know him. But what sticks with me to this day is that this boy must have been through so much pain, and given the circumstances of this charity, perhaps abandonment and so on, yet still had love to give if only someone would offer it back.  Lesson learned: wanting to love is stronger than never having received it.

At a hospital where the most injured children live, essentially year round, troupe founder Jeannie and I were on our way out of a room after having tangled ourselves up with jump ropes and whatnot.  As we exited, a boy of about 14 laying back in what looked like a dentist's chair on wheels put his arm out to stop us and said in a soft pleading voice, "talk to me."  Instantly, Jeannie and I stopped and glanced at each other, both of us clearly shaken and a bit emotional. This one was gonna be tough. While we never ask about a child's illness, we later learned that he apparently had been a strong and energetic boy who liked to play sports until a drunk driver hit a car he was in. The boy is now blind, brain damaged, partly paralyzed and talks with slurred speech. Jeannie handed him a rubber 'kush' ball. He asked, "what color is it?"  We told him, "blue," and then just sat with him for awhile, talking.  It was very difficult to finally leave him.  People who drink and drive: I hate hate hate you.

At the same hospital we went into another room where a very tiny-for-her-age girl lay in an open-top cage; a bed on wheels with caged sides. She had more IV tubes and monitor wires in her than I had ever seen in any human being.  After trying a number of false starts with this girl, I tried a technique with a nearby girl-clown. I laughed.  Per the technique, the girl-clown laughed back. I laughed again. Now the IV-tube girl began to chuckle. So I laughed more. And my girl-clown partner laughed back. The IV-girl laughed harder. Now I began to laugh genuinely, not falsely. The girl-clown still laughed back falsely. And now the IV-girl began to laugh hysterically. I am now genuinely laughing hard. And now I see my girl-clown partner's face has somehow changed; she is now laughing genuinely too. The IV-girl continues to laugh uncontrollably.  Soon, all three of us are in fits of genuine laughter that none of us can stop.  Even in your worst of times, you can have the best of times.  You just need to open yourself to it.

There is much value in being an outsider who exists on another plane. You will find your audience. I thank Jeannie Lindheim and my fellow clowns for enabling me to be that outsider who found some of my greatest friends in their time of need. And Charlie Chaplin who planted the seed.

A Fond Memory

Now that I've been alive more years than I like to admit, I've noticed that some memories stand out as charming, beloved or pivotal.  Certain moments or little 'things' shine thru the muck of all the years.  Feel free to post a comment with one or more of your beloved memories. It could be an event, a person, a smell, a walk, a compliment, an artwork. Anything.  What stands out in your memory?  Post short or lengthy comments!

I'll start:

Grandma.  My father's mother. She was from Russia, always cooked a bounty expected of a Russian grandma and had the greatest-smelling Christmas tree every year.

Grandpa and Grandma at their Easter table, 1957
Christmas and Easter (and "Russian Easter") were my favorite holidays to visit her, as she always had a dining room full of hearty food.  Piroshki, pelmeni, kasha, and a particular favorite of mine as a boy was her white rice with mushroom soup mixed in. And it seemed as though the savory aromas of all these delicious meals embedded themselves into the very walls and furniture of her old San Francisco house.  It was a musty and sweet smell that seemed to accentuate the taste of the sweet pickles she always had on a platter on her table (along with olives and slices of swiss cheese all for nibbling while everyone conversed for hours). And there were also bottles on the table for the adults including vodka and Creme de Cacao, the bottle cap of the latter I would rub my finger around the inside of and have a taste.

I don't know how she did it, but her Christmas tree every year had the most intense aroma.  No other could compare. Maybe the decades of savory food smells embedded into the walls and furniture accentuated the sweet aroma of pine.  I do recall that smells of pine and cooking buckwheat (kasha) and beef piroshki cooking in grease combined into a sense of comfort unmatched anyplace else.

Grandma was intensely opinionated, and called those she most despised "pygmies."  But she was also generous and always welcomed her lonely older Russian widow friends into her home on these holidays. And she always smelled nice, like the perfume counter at The Emporium (Stonestown Shopping Center, San Francisco, her favorite store it seemed), and was always nicely-dressed with a sparkly starburst brooch.

Her impression on me is so strong that myriad things evoke memories of her. For example, the 1950s jazz recording by flutist Herbie Mann of the song "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" reminds me of Grandma shopping in downtown San Francisco in the early 1960s; wearing a white sweater, large purse and the mild sun shining as she walked among the crowds.

Grandma.  Herself a sweet and savory gal. I remember her fondly.

08 May 2010

A Moment of Bliss

It happened at 7:06 PM on 8 May 2010. I was driving my car through a residential area lush with trees just outside of the downtown district.  My car windows were open about halfway, letting in the perfect springtime temperature of about 72 degrees. It was somewhere between full daylight and not yet dusk, with the sun in front of me at about 45 degrees up in the sky.  On my car CD player, Miles Davis was trumpeting the tune "Just Squeeze Me."  The moment struck me: this is one of those fleeting, perfect moments. Beauty in the ear, beauty in the eyes and in the perfect springtime weather.  Then it got even better:  a shaft of sunlight was falling through the trees just ahead of my car and, though it was springtime, not autumn, something - perhaps chaff of new springtime leaf buds - was falling off the trees and fluttering slowly through the light like celebratory confetti. As I drove through this I raised both hands like a winner in victory, and in celebration and revery for the moment.  Miles blew a fanfare on his horn.

We must be sensitive to the nuances of our environment because sometimes light and nature and everything come together in little moments of perfect harmony.  It would be a shame to spend one's life missing so much potential beauty by not opening our eyes until we reach our destination. Beauty also happens on the way to the art gallery.

12 April 2010

My Dirty Little Life

It's 10:35pm and I'm laying on a velvety soft comforter atop my unmade bed eating sweet high-calorie pastries while listening to mellow evening jazz on the radio (first Billie Holiday, now Louis Armstrong...).  It's such a comfortable, sensuous delightful moment that I actually find the broken closet doors next to me charming. Just as I do the filthy stained carpets here in my cheap little house in the poor part of town, and I even bet the toilet could use a good scrubbing. Clothes are in piles on the floor, dishes are stacked in the sink and papers are everywhere. It's a dirty little life, but it's mine, and it's comfortable!

06 April 2010

Beauty In Simplicity

One can make pretty pictures full of detail, but to me the most satisfying art is a simple object against a blank field. For example, simple brush strokes depicting bamboo in a Chinese painting. Or in Japanese flower arranging, the vase and flower placed in an empty location with nothing near it.

In Asian art, beauty is revealed in masterful presentation of the simple and familiar.  Lifetimes are devoted to learning the qualities of something so the beauty of its essence can be presented. There is beauty in minimalist architecture, flower arranging, or brush strokes of calligraphy. When I toured through Japan, I watched the ritual precision of the Tea Ceremony: whisking the tea, turning the cup two quarter-turns, presenting the cup to the guest, and so on. The ceremony is always the same, and beauty is in the grace of execution as well as the variety of variable elements such as apposition of a round kettle to a square plate and in the variety of sound the boiling tea kettle makes: does it suggest water flowing over rocks in a creek, or rain in a forest?

In simplicity, subtle variations become major statements.  In one of my favorite movies, the 1953 film by Yasujiro Ozu, "Tokyo Story," an elderly couple are seen in a distant shot sitting silently on a stone wall watching the ocean. This single shot continues quite a long time. Eventually the woman slowly stands up - a routine movement - but then falters. That very subtle error is emotionally devastating: you know immediately that she is falling ill.

I just stood in my early morning springtime backyard and looked around. All the detail of grass, hedges, fence and so on fell away and my eyes saw only certain elements as if in a Japanese painting:  almost bare grapevines stretching across the trellis (with splashes of new-growth green); in the southern sky, the half moon hovered between wispy clouds; across the fence, a neighbor's small tree presented tiny buds of green on its dark branches.  An ability to see simple objects of beauty among the clutter can make one's day so much more pleasant. I recommend learning to do it.

02 April 2010

You Are What You Think About

On a radio talk show this morning a woman involved with a charity said, "what you think about creates you. So what do you want to think about? Do you want to think about petty politics and gossip TV shows and fill yourself with garbage or do you want to think about something that could make a difference and help someone?" 

Good point. The charity she works with is www.mmfc.org, Medical Missions for Children, Inc., a not-for-profit organization created by Boston area doctors and nurses that provides free reconstructive surgical and dental care to children born with cleft of the lip and palate, deformed or missing ears (microtia), and other congenital deformities, as well as severe burns at zero cost to the patients.  The surgeries they provide cost so little yet change people's lives.  "But there are so many people here in our own country that need help; why go there?"  Wherever your heart takes you with a desire to help is good. Here, there, wherever.  But be a person who helps. This issue, another, whatever. From this page http://www.mmfc.org/what.htm:
In underdeveloped nations, cleft of the lip and palate are 2 of the most commonly occurring congenital deformities.  The deformities of the children cause physical pain, and foster shame, isolation, and sadness as the afflicted children grow older. Deformed children feel different from peers; in many cases, other children ridicule and ostracize them. The deformed children’s lives become lonely, isolated, and hopeless. These children are also plagued by chronic infections, at which point the deformity becomes dangerous – and sometimes fatal.
Help wherever you can, in any way you can. There are many ways to help. If you can't help financially, you can spread the word about the need and the organization.  Doing so, you might let someone know who CAN help financially. And, you'll help others become a better person by making them think about something other than petty politics and gossip. So here I am, spreading the word about www.mmfc.org which operates on a mere 3% overhead; the rest all goes to funding missions around the world. The doctors contribute their time AND money.  Please visit the website and watch the videos on the left margin of their homepage, then at the very least share the link to their site. If you can, and if your heart feels moved to do so, give financially.

Think back to your childhood: how could your childhood have become so much easier and happy if someone had just done something really nice for you.

01 April 2010

Charm and Delight

My last post inspired a new thought. In my previous post I commented that only people who lived during the time of a certain entertainer or social movement could fully understand it for what it was, and this appreciation is lost on later generations who can only look back academically on what came before, devoid of emotional understanding of the era. Ah! But now I realize that later generations gain something unique.

Nowadays, only BECAUSE we live in times of redefined values and changed experiences can we now find previously unknown delight and charm in old things. Back in the 1950s, for example, advertising style was just what it was. Nothing particularly charming at the time. But nowadays, the 1950s style of illustration, catalog photos, drive-in restaurant neon signs, movies, and even furniture, cars and small home appliances is looked back on as charming and delightfully retro! Because we consider our world today as complicated and with utilitarian design and cheap construction, we look back on 1950s advertising as charmingly naive and 1950s design as more colorful, whimsical, sparkly, hefty and all kinds of adjectives. These adjectives didn't describe style IN the 1950s; it was just what it was. It's today's values that give us whimsy, charm and beauty in old things.

At the time it was created, the above photo (movie still) was just the style of the day and nothing special. But in today's world of flat lighting and bland color, the photo appears endearingly charming. A souvenir from a more __________ [insert your interpretive adjective] time.

An Advantage of Being Older

GrandpaReaching birthday #__ was really bad for me.  On my Facebook account I wrote that "I honestly do NOT see any advantage to getting older."  However, I recently thought of one advantage:

Older people enjoyed fuller experiences of performers and entertainments that are now considered "legendary."

As a teen, I watched the "Carol Burnett Show" every week and so I've seen every sketch they ever did, and I often laughed literally until I cried. Today, young people have only selected "best of" DVDs of the show available to them, not every skit the cast ever performed. This limits later generations' appreciation because they won't experience the breadth of humor in EVERY sketch they ever did, but more significantly it's impossible for young people today to watch the show in the context of the time it was presented originally. Cultural references and a sense of humor, defined by the time, are gone. So only those who watched the program in the 1970s can understand what really made it great.

I lived The Beatles in their heyday, and had innumerable additional experiences of them that later generations will never enjoy. And Johnny Carson, and... the list goes on. Every generation has its own list of "legendary" entertainers.

Being young certainly has its advantages, but understanding the cultural context of entertainment and social movements gives understanding that later generations will never genuinely feel (they can only understand it academically).

For example, the lifestyle and music of the "hippie" 1960s and the disco '70s.  I was there!  I was under 10 years old but I remember walking through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park with my older brother and cousin in about 1967 and seeing all the hippies. My mother had told us not to go to the Park because "those people are dirty and dangerous." However, I remember "those people" saying "Hi" to me, a little boy, with friendly smiles (including one particularly pretty blond girl). And then, when my cousin was hit by a car on our way back, I remember that everyone came running up to help. These were friendly helpful people, not dirty or dangerous people. And so I understood these young people's complaints about how older people ("the establishment") didn't understand them because my mother proved them correct. And as a pre-teen witnessing the Vietnam war on TV and Watergate, I understand the feelings of the time that made art and poetry in song such strong powers to energize and unify a generation in protest.

And in the 1970s, I HATED disco!  Young people today might look at all that with fun, but lemme tell ya, living in that time was HORRIBLE!  [2011 edit: ok, maybe disco DID have some catchy tunes...]

Only people who lived through the time of what is now "legendary" can fully understand why.

(PS: the photo on this article is my grandfather, after whom I was named. He certainly understood better than I ever could what life was like in Bohemia the few years on each side of 1900, then as a Czech officer in Russia after their Revolution, then living in China in the 1920s, and of coming to America in 1924 for a freer life of greater opportunity. I can only look back objectively, academically.  I cannot feel his fear at lying to officials about his travel plans so he could escape the tyranny of the times. Nor can I feel his hope and relief while aboard a ship bound for America.)

29 March 2010

Introduction

Hi!  Though I tend toward a wry sense of humor and enjoy pointing out irony and odd juxtaposition in things (and hypocrisy from blowhards), I'm not a sad-sack type. I'm really quite upbeat and easily find enjoyment in little things. Sunlight just so on a landscape. Dogs. Funny movies, especially old ones. In fact, I'm really saddened when others find only things to complain about. So when the bad economy seemed to sour my life quite a bit and I found myself falling into frustration, lethargy and complaining, I needed to do something! So just as one keeps one's body fit with regular exercise, I thought I'd start this blog as a way to keep my good nature exercised. I can't promise that I'll not mention something bothersome; but if I do, I'll do so only as a starting point for finding something positive in it. In fact, I'll try to "exercise" every day, or a majority of days during the week. So check back often!

By the way, I do photography and on the left margin is a slideshow of some of my images. You'll also find a link to my photography website in the Links section.

And a note about the two previous entries:  I made those posts about 3 years ago on an early version of this blog that I didn't maintain. They seemed like appropriate fun topics for the theme of this blog. If you're an artist, you may enjoy the online magazines. If you're alive, you'll definitely enjoy "PostSecret." Check it out!

PostSecret


Online since 2004, PostSecret is an art project that invites people to mail-in self-made postcards on which they anonymously confess a secret or a wish about their life.

From a CNN.com article:

The voices presented on PostSecret can be troubling, tender, hilarious or heartbreaking. Some of the art and graphics may have taken less than 10 seconds. Others take hours of time and effort.

Online Art-Zines

Here are some of my favorite ["underground"] art magazines online. Most you can download and save for viewing offline; all are great viewing. Some are in Flash (.swf) format, and some are .pdf. Each issue presents work from young artists around the globe - USA, Germany, Romania, Russia, etc. I keep my downloaded issues always nearby to kickstart me into "create" mode. Click around, view or download a sample of each issue, then bookmark the sites for your pleasure as you need.

Illustration, photography, etc 'zines:
BAK (swf)
NeoCollective (swf)
Ruby (swf)
Bloodwars (pdf)
Destructed (pdf)
Orangeflow (pdf)

There are lots of others, but these will get you started (and inspired).