Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Never a Still Life


Painting flowers can be frustrating sometimes.  One night I started a project on very fresh flowers and the next day they were all facing downward. We often hear the phrase 'still life' to refer to certain works of art.  Still life, according to my uneducated interpretation, has one characteristic - staged and unchanging.  The image is maintained.   

Still life is meant to be still.  However, in the case of making art using things that are organic (living matter) there is no such thing as still life.  My art is currently focused on botanical subjects, in other words- perishables.  Assuming that lighting is a controlled factor, my reference fruits and flowers are never still. They change, the flowers droop and loose petals, the fruits get spots and they shrivel a little more everyday, the leaves dry out and curl, seedpods crack open and burst, etc.  Not that these are all negative occurrences - no in fact they display very interesting, uncommon and sometimes even more beautiful form. All these observations happen on my drawing/painting table on a daily basis.  Therefore, it is fair to say then that there is no such thing as still lifeStill life is an anachronism.  Life can't be still.  Only lifeless things can be still.   This is not a new revelation or discovery because it has always been that way.   Rather it is a matter subversion.  :)

Well then, let me take this opportunity to digress.  Life is never still.  Life is timed.  Time dictates the movement of life and man cannot do anything about that.  King Solomon in his God-given wisdom understood this dance between life and time when he wrote the third chapter of Ecclesiastes.



There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.  
~~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

"He has made everything beautiful in its time." (v. 11)  But we, in our natural mind, desire to preserve specific moments of this life.  When we're having fun, when we're experiencing glory, when we have a lot of money, when the people around us are accepting, when we're healthy, when they are healthy, when we're skinny or when our skin is tight and elastic :) we want to freeze it.  We strive to keep it that way - like a still life where the only change is the accumulation of dust.  But alas, we do not control life.  Life is timed.  There is a time for everything and therefore laughter cannot take the time allotted for weeping.  God obviously designed life so that we get the total package of experience.  It is a test we all have to take.  What then can we do?  "There is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot..." (v. 22)  We are left to deal with our attitude towards everything under the sun.   

Going back to art now, 'still life' can still be achieved by faking the effect of time on a perishable subject.  A quick snap shot preserves the image.  In life, we can file those memories that we like to keep. And even though we cannot linger on one enjoyable segment, the memory of it might remind us that time keeps a tight schedule and that the next segment might be different but equally beautiful.


Life is never still.  Life is timed.   

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Photograph

I was going through old pictures in search of the ones I took of my niece Hazel on her first visit to  El Dorado Hills when a sealed photo envelop caught my attention.  The envelop looked as if it has not been opened ever.  It made me very curious and so I took a break from looking for Hazel's pictures and decided to investigate this mysterious envelop.  It turned out that it is the one that contained all the pictures taken during my mother's funeral.  I remember I had the film developed and printed at Costco right after coming back from the Philippines in May of 1998; but who took those pictures is now beyond my recollection. It must  have been my cousin Eddie because I appear in those pictures.  And yes, that envelop was sealed on purpose.  I did not really liked looking at the photographs - it was too painful.  At that time as if a time would never come when I would look at them again.  

That time came.  However, seeing the photographs again brought me back to that time with a different view.  There remains an empty space in my heart but no longer do I grieve.  Experiences with my mother were no longer renewed but memory of the short time we've shared is very much alive even after 20 years.   The thought of her still make me feel like a child being loved  by her but now I've also come to experience the life of a mother - which is among the happiest part of my life to this day.  In other words, I am no longer the same person.  Although the photographs remained the same, I have changed.

One picture in particular struck me.  It is a picture of my mother. She looks so beautiful.  Pearl earrings gave a sparkle on her face as if she's ready for something special.  A white veil that covered part of her face made her look like a bride.  A bride ready to meet the one she loves.  It makes me sad that her eyes are closed. And yet something inside me feels glad that she no longer is focused on this world.  In that picture, her eyes are already fully dedicated to the sight of her Lord. In fact all her senses, all of her is now with her God.  Oh my Lord God,  I hope you found her in her best when she came home to you.

The Elusive Wedding Gown
(A quick sketch)
During her living years, she never had the opportunity to wear a wedding gown.  At eighteen, she was pregnant with me.  And the usual prenuptial talk between parents of the future bride and the future groom were undertaken, but in the process, her father in his best judgement knew that it would be better for his daughter to remain unmarried in spite of the scandalous situation she was in.  He was convinced that it would be less painful to bear the shame than for his daughter to be stuck with the Laquindanum family.  To make the story short, he did not approve of the marriage.  I was born out of wedlock, my grandfather and grandmother would raise me and protect me from being seen or seeing him for as long as they have lived.  At age thirty, my mother got married to Rodolfo, my step-father who I never learned how to address, but the wedding was  a simple one that she did not wear a traditional wedding gown.

Once we die it's game over.  Whatever is done after that no longer have any effect on our eternal destination or position.  Hence the last outfit my mother wore had no consequence on her final journey.  But to me, who is yet to make choices and decisions on this side of my life, seeing her photograph impacts the way I see life.  Once my mother brought shame to her parents but in the end she was the one child who made the right choice to live a godly life.  Memories of that life nudges me to look at my own and see how I am preparing myself to meet my Lord.

~~~~~~~

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Seventeen



Time flies.  My surprise baby is now seventeen.  She has become a delightful spunky girl.  She is in her senior year in high school and in her last effort  of putting herself into the next level of education with the hopes that she will land in a university of her liking.  It seems only only last year when we moved to El Dorado Hills.  I was heavily pregnant.  She was born when our house was fresh and new - the walls were stark white and our backyard was mainly dirt and rock and few tumble weeds.  It was shortly after she was born when we started having our backyard landscaped, that I remember holding her swaddled in my arm as I gave directions to the landscapers and carpenters.  Now she is a smart self-driven person who does things in her unique ways of achieving her goals.  This girl is good at aiming her goals in what I would say steep angles and she hits them most of the time.  At seventeen she's driving herself to her band activities and leading the snare-drum line being the center snare drummer. 

She is her own person - so different from her siblings in many ways.  Well, all my kids are unique. The only consistent thing  about all of them is the way we raised them.  But even so, we (the parents) who raised them got older over time and the way we did things with our children also changed.  The chemistry and composition of the family also changed as the children got older.  So therefore, there is no such thing as raising children in the same way.  And not to mention God's design that made each person to be different.  




It could be lonely being the last child at home because there are fewer people who would be cheering you on your birthday.  Such is the case with Miriam.  However, today Brahms surprised us all with a visit to come and celebrate with his sister.  That made Miriam very happy that she cried.  Then I had to whip up a nice meal - of grilled salmon, mango salsa and rice which they both like.  We even sang a happy birthday song before she opened her presents.  

Shannon, although she is far away, also planned a special activity with Miriam on this day.  They watched a movie remotely together.  Technology.  And because Brahms was also home, the three of them watched the movie together.  Even more special!


Tim and I are truly blessed.  As parents we consider our kids as blessings and gifts from God.  And to be given the opportunity to watch God continues to take care and bless these blessings is a multiplied blessing to the nth power.  God is good!


Birthdays are milestones where we can count our blessings
and reflect on God's goodness.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Learning is a Journey Not a Destination


In this life there comes a time when we reach a certain level of expertise in one area which then creates a confidence that flows in all areas of life.  This is usually good and often considered emotionally healthy.  This has been my observation on my own and other people around me.  But sometimes the confidence we derive from excelling at one thing goes beyond some boundaries and it becomes a license to feel superior at everything.  This is not a good thing.  It makes someone emotionally, unhealthy.  It hinders learning.

Beat your last record.  With my recent attempts to engage in a new form of art, in spite of my 59 years of life experience and a PhD,  I have to position myself as a student/beginner putting all other measurements of my own abilities in other areas of life.  As a student, in this new area of interest, one of the first things I've learned is that if I want to excel then I have to thread the long road towards excellence.  I am at the starting point of this road and if I want to get better then I have to look at this road as one without end but with every step taken a new terminal towards my goal. The question would then be:  Is this terminal moving me forward or is this taking me in a loop?  There are no short cuts to getting better but to walk the road.  To keep on is the only way to get ahead and the only measure of improvement  is based only on my improvement from my own starting point. This idea positions me in the right place. If my painting is better than the last one I made then I am moving forward. Sometimes, subconsciously, I compare my abilities with others - which I think is a stumbling block in my improvement as an artist.

Strive to Improve.  It is good to appreciate other's works and skills especially if they are taken as inspiration to get better.  I'm my case, I follow a number of artists on Instagram to learn from. As they say, every expert was once a beginner.  No one skips that.  However, there are times when I lack the motivation to push forward because my improvement seems nil and unmeasurable.  But as in any advancement, the change is not guaranteed a constant speed.  Learning does not happen at a constant speed.  And yet this is all part of a balanced life I'm talking about.  One must strive at some areas while being proficient in other areas.  We learn from others while others learn from us.  No one monopolizes one side of the equation.  We all have a fair share of both ends.  This is how social balance is maintained. This is what makes the journey more fun.  Even my former elementary school classmate who is now a surgeon in Chicago admits to striving to learn about new advances/technology in medicine just to keep his practice current.  For what kind of world would this be if everyone is exactly as good as each other in all subjects? Nothing less than boring, I would say.

Look Up and Learn.  Sometimes when we start on a journey, there is an anxious longing to get to the destination that we miss to appreciate journey.  There is the dream that when we get to the top, that we will be great.  However, time and time again we see that the end is often  a let down.  The end brings us closer not to the imagined glory but to another level of a challenge.  I find it both stimulating and humbling to be at the bottom of the learning process (in art).  I can learn something new from those who have traveled the road longer than than I did.  And sometimes I hear them say something very simple but I keep that in my head and apply it in my next project.  On the other hand being on the bottom of the ladder also helps me appreciate the struggles of those who may yet have to learn what I have already mastered.  Learning is not a destination, it is a journey. 


"Painting is damned difficult - you always think you've got it, but you haven't."   Paul Cezanne

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Preaching Like a Pro


Today my son preached at the University Covenant Church.  It is very exciting but as his mother, I was concerned in the last two days and even waking up at three o'clock this morning wondering how he was dealing with the pressure of writing and delivering an appropriate sermon to a relatively big church - three times. 

When we saw the video later today, my husband and I were not only relieved but delighted. He is engaging with a good amount of humor. He has the characteristics of a good teacher. 😊   



The unexpected effect of seeing my son preach is the reminder that my husband and I are growing old - really growing old.  And so we must now consciously take on this journey with grace...😉

Friday, July 14, 2017

Conversation on Worship


Miriam and I were home alone, Tim was on his regular business trips to Taipei.  Getting up at ten o'clock in the morning is normal as a summer-privilege for Miriam. One morning last week Miriam and I were talking during a late breakfast, enjoying the fact that we were inside sheltered from the scorching morning sun, and the conversation we were having was intermittently interrupted by the busy birds in the patio.  Then the topic on worship came about.  Miriam often surprises me with her wit and understanding of life.  She is young but she understands concepts and how it is displayed in peoples lives.

Although the juvenile mind still lacks the experience to see the parallel image of the physical in the spiritual sense of the world, there is the transparency in every child that seem to peel away the filters that older people have put on over the years.  And hence the importance of having a regular parent-child philosophical exchange.  That was the case of our conversation.  Needless to say, we had a very interesting, sweet and honest conversation.  

It all began with a quote by David Foster Wallace: 

"In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.   And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship ... is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive."  

1. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough.

2. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.


3.  Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. 


4. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.


Think about it.  We worship that which drives us to the choices and actions we take.  It drives us to make sacrifices because we think that it is glorifying to that which/or whom we worship.  We suffer for which we worship.  We are fearful of what we worship.  We do not want to offend that which we worship. 


So this begs the question, who or what do I worship?  What consumes me?  Does it revitalizes me or does it drain the life out of me?  I was stunned at my own question.  

I've always assumed that I worship God.  I do the things a good Christian does, or so I think.  But if I truly worship God why then do I not have the peace that comes only from worshiping God?  Why then do I not think of God as often as I should?  Why then do I not choose based on what makes God look good.  Why then am I not afraid of the consequences of my lack of attention.  As I write these diagnostic questions, pictures of things that possibly could have won my worship flashed in my head.  "Do I really worship God?"  "Good question."  

To make a long story short, I admitted to my daughter that I seem to worship the welfare of my family.  It is what I think about in every passing day.  The thought of messing it makes me fearful. One might say it is typical for a wife/mother to have such concerns.  And yet it is obvious that I seemed to have placed my family on the pedestal that rightfully belongs to God.  (Lord, forgive me and help me adjust my life in the right way!) 

In like manner my daughter was able to easily recognize the thing that consumes her - high grades.  It is the trap that gets smart and over-achieving people.   

There is a very fine line between enjoyment and worship.  We enjoy the gift and worship the giver.  And from time to time we get mixed up.  When we take pride in the blessings that God has given us to enjoy and we begin to use it to define who we are; when we begin to value the blessing over the Giver;  when we begin to believe the blessing has power to give us peace and life - that's when we stopped worshiping God. 



Enjoy the gift and worship the Giver.
  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Recalculating


After every storm always comes a period of calm.  Sometimes storms come one after the other but there is always a promise of rest and peace from any form of storm or stirring.  The storm I'm talking about here represents a change that comes from a move, a loss or even a gain.  In other words it can be initiated by either an upward, downward or even a horizontal change.

The change...
It has been two years since my daughter Shannon moved to Wisconsin to take on a lucrative job at Epic.  And because she finished her degree earlier than scheduled, we could say that she was under-age to be on the career ladder.  Add to that the fact that she has always been the youngest if not one of the youngest in her class.  Fresh from college and barely had enough time to go on the trip of her choice (which we promised if she finished her degree within four years) before she started her independent life.  Although the career opportunity presented to her was great, getting on it involved tremendous stirring in her young life.

For her - having a career job, buying her own car, having her own place and away from home is a dream-come-true.  It is something she has long dreamed even before going to college.  Things were happening in the right direction for her.  It was all very exciting.  But like any storm, everything was happening on hyper-speed against time that is moving on normal speed on a child who is maturing at normal rate.   And although her opportunities and events seemed good at the time, she was taking a beating...

Suddenly she was managing her own finances, paying her own bills, signing her own car loan and apartment lease.  She had to learn working in a huge corporate world - meeting deadlines, finishing projects beyond her control.  As a student her success depended solely on her performance.  But suddenly she had to figure out what to do when success depended on others doing their job.  This was a huge change for someone  who is goal and success- oriented person.

She may not admit it, but there was also a whiplash that came from living in a place that had real winters and rains to a person born and raised in California.  :)  She was alone.  She had to learn, alone.  She had to make new friends.  I too went to a different land in my earlier years but I was not as young as she was.

All these things will probably form one of the biggest change in her life at that age.

Recalculating...
For the first 15 months or so, everyday was a day of adjustment or for a more current choice of word - recalculating.  We step into a situation sometimes that involves many unknowns. We have no control on everything and each step we take is not always the best.  No matter how thoroughly we plan our lives, there will always be factors that alter our desired outcome.  Therefore we recalculate.   That is fine - it happens everyday in every life and humans are designed to be experts in recalculating. Shannon is no exception.

There is a Jeep Compass Recalculating TV commercial on television this year which portrays man's life as planned but ever-changing and ever-recalculating journey.  "Whatever your destination there is a million beautiful ever-changing ways to get us there." 

And now...
After two years since she started life-after-college, she seems to have come out of the storm. Things are calm again - not a lot of stirring.  She has shifted her position from playing in the defensive to the offensive.  Thank God she made it through to get to this point in her life.  As long as she keep moving on, change will happen again.  However, having successfully recalculated to this point improves her position and her experience prepares her to be more composed to face the next storm.
God is good, indeed!

No one would have crossed the ocean if he could 
gotten off the ship in the storm.  
Charles Kettering