166 posts categorized "Thinking Out Loud"

September 29, 2016

A Prayer for Owen Meany

OwenmeanyThis is one of the my favorite passages from the book, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

It's a book that delves into the topic of The Vietnam war, but also topics related to friendship, baseball, love, and faith. It does this as deeply as an author might feel allowed to do, when the particular literary pond for the story is 543 pages-deep. Certainly a deeper pond than those that I wade in in this modern day ... where I wake up in bodies of water so shallow that the liquid feels evaporated before the sun fully rises. Simple sentences everywhere that boil down complexities within 4x4 inch graphics that bottom line it for everyone. No need for critical thinking or in-depth journalism or robust discussion about the ironies, the wit, and the true conundrums of life.

Yesterday, I heard a podcast about research that points to how contrary to the popular notion that  stating our intentions out loud and publicly might help make that intent come true, there is research that points to the opposite. That is, when a person states that "In one month I am going to become healthier" that the brain sometimes tricks that person into thinking that just by having expressed that intention out loud, they actually think they ate healthily and took brisk walks around the block. And because of this phenomenon, the research shows that the person who declares a plan out loud has a less likelihood of doing anything to make that plan come true, compared to the person who just does the plan and declares nothing beforehand.

This particular passage by Irving presents so many non-simple facets with that war ... including those who protested it. Which makes me think of modern times ... and how our brains trick us into thinking that by declaring that "I am against" or "I am for" X, Y, or Z, that not only do we not do anything in support or against it, but that just that lofty utterance can add fuel the fire for the opposite thing to happen. 

I also heard an interview with journalist Bob Woodward who points out how shallow our ponds of discourse are really getting. And that as a journalist, even if he spends any time feeding the simple sentence platforms, it is the responsibility of journalists and writers and thinkers to continue doing in-depth work and presenting deeper ponds of thought ... regardless of whether a single person steps foot in it.


September 20, 2016

Anna Karenina x 3

AnnaI have not yet read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It's been on my list of things to read ... but it just hasn't made it up to the top yet. In a short story by Haruki Murakami, there is a protagonist who actually ends up reading Anna Karenina 3 times. She does this in an effort to combat her insomnia and with each reading, she picks up totally different nuances that she didn't pick up in her earlier readings.

This situation ... where we humans consume content but are unable to fully notice or fully remember what we've consumed ... has really bothered me. Like there's SO much content. Can I ever come close to conquering it all?! 

My book-loving friend Lorrie was recently telling me that she's been re-reading some of her favorites from the past ... Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, etc., just to see how she would react to them now in this different season in her life. When she told me this, I thought ... "Wow ... imagine that ... going back and re-reading and re-experiencing loved books from the past rather than trying to race against the clock to conquer the never-ending amount of content ... from classics to contemporary.

So maybe I won't ever get to Anna Karenina. Maybe I'll allow myself to remember that I'm a human, not a robot ... and enjoy the process of just interacting with content rather than conquering it. And if I do ever get to it, maybe I won't notice some things until I re-read it. And maybe I'll be able to focus on the best parts of the book-reading experience for me ... the feel, the smell, and the wonder of life-affecting words on real paper. Used hardcover edition whenever possible, please. Tell me, is there anything more wonderful to hold than that?

September 07, 2016

To Live

To liveI've always been intrigued about the fact that at least one of the characters in novels written by John Irving loses a body part. A hand ... leg ... penis ... It never fails. Well, I just started reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and sure enough it happens. This time, the character that loses a body part is a beloved stuffed armadillo toy ... This paragraph I think explains Irving's reason for it all ... to show that we all go through loss. And the loss is painful. And regardless of the pain, regardless of how utterly unacceptable it all is, we still have to find a way to live with that loss. Don't we?

August 19, 2016


HallelujahThis is a fallen tree that rests in my park where I run. When I see such awesome scenes from nature, I sometimes startle myself as I utter things that usually don't come out of my mouth. Like "hallelujah."

We probably have all uttered that word, especially when singing along with the song, Hallelujah, written by Leonard Cohen, and covered by countless musicians. I am currently reading a book about this very song titled The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light, after listening to Malcolm Gladwell's outstanding Revisionist History podcast about the song.

Says Cohen: "I wanted to push Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world ... I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion."

Says Nick Baines, the Bishop of Croydon: "We're broken human beings, all of us, so stop pretending, and we can all use the word hallelujah because what it comes from is being open and transparent before God and the world and saying, 'This is how it is, mate.'"

Transparent before God. Is there a God?

So shifting gears, I am also reading a book titled From Eternity to Here by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll (after listening to another outstanding TED Radio podcast episode titled Shifting Time). One of the most mind-blowing concepts that Carroll explains is how through entropy (disorder), our universe continues to expand. We have more disorder today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow. That's how the universe has been and will continue to be as it continues to expand ... as trees continue to fall, eggs crack, rooms messied up, lives lived. In other words, fallen tress cannot become unfallen. Cracked eggs cannot become uncracked. Tears shed cannot be unshed.

So then this truth about entropy leads us to ponder that a long long long time ago, there was less entropy and more order. Physicists agrees with that. And that begs the question ... what is the origin of such order?

Isn't order evidence of God? To that question, Carroll says "I don't know." Nobody knows. Maybe we will know some day. But today, when I ponder all of that ... all that I know and don't know yet ... what I find myself saying and frequently singing and dancing and painting and expressing is the singular word that has become my anthem, my battle cry.



July 28, 2016


RelevanceAfter attending my 30th high school reunion recently, so many memories and emotions have been swished around for me, as I contemplate them all ... about how to measure and determine time, reality, illusion, and existence.

In Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli says this about such matters:

"We say that only the things of the present exist: the past no longer exists and the future doesn't exist yet. But in physics there is nothing that corresponds to the notion of "now." Compare "now" with "here." "Here" designates the place where a speaker is: for two different people "here" points to two different places. Consequently "here" is a word the meaning of which depends on where it is spoken ... "Now" also points to the instant in which the word is uttered ... but no one would dream of saying that things "here" exist, whereas things that are not "here" do not exist. So then why do we say that things that are "now" exist and that everything else doesn't?"

Here's another great passage:

"There is no longer space that "contains" the world, and there is no longer time "in which" events occur. There are only elementary processes wherein quanta of space and matter continually interact with one another."

I know. In one moment I feel the clarity of such concepts and then in another moment they turn muddy and tangled.

Like most of my days, I will paint today. With each stroke, I'll try my hardest to be here, in the now. But I know that the here and now that I aim to be in is MY here and now. I know yours is different. And if we are lucky, our differences will continue to interact in ways that we can't fully understand ... but which is fundamental to the evidence that we exist and therefore we have relevance. We all do.




July 12, 2016

Matters of Importance

MattersWhen I was a new immigrant to this country, I was the only girl of Korean descent in the elementary school that I attended in Bakersfield, California. There was a bully named Andrea who used to slap my face regularly. I told my family about this and before I knew it, Marilyn, from our sponsoring American family, started coaching me with my limited English skills. She told me that the next time it happened, I should look at Andrea in the face and say "Stop it!" And so I did. But it didn't work.

So the next thing I knew, Marilyn accompanied me to school and asked me "Where's Andrea?" I pointed her out and witnessed Marilyn going over to talk to Andrea and telling her in no uncertain terms that she was to stop slapping me.

It worked. Andrea heard Marilyn loud and clear. Even though I was different, I mattered. 

If someone had said to Marilyn "But what about Andrea? Doesn't she matter too?" Marilyn probably would have said "Of course she matters. But I'm here not because someone is slapping Andrea. I'm here because Jenny is being slapped. And I'm not going to not do or say anything about that."

I think that when a nation has a long-standing track record of killing unarmed Black people, it it not illogical for someone witnessing that to speak up. And when the witness stands to speak, they may say something like "Stop it!" Or a collective community of witnesses may say it another way, like "Black lives matter."

To me, those three words don't mean that other lives don't matter. Because of course Jenny matters and Andrea matters too. This great nation protects the right for Marilyn to speak up and get involved and it protects a collective group of like-minded and concerned witnesses to stand together ... to state the case and shine light on matters of importance.

July 09, 2016

Melancholy and Gratitude


I am mesmerized by the art of Andrew Wyeth. Magnificent works mostly with tempera that have a cloud of melancholy hovering over them all. Certainly he observed and contemplated the world and the human condition with intensity. I think that is the job of the artist. And when I do my job, I can't help but get melancholy. It shows in my work I think. And frequently I try to be honest and reference emotions I battle as an artist/human every day including loneliness and sadness. And usually someone points out to me how sadness needs to be overcome by being grateful. Stat. To which I want to officially respond here. Being melancholy and being grateful are not mutually exclusive. I can be both. I AM both. The subject of many of Wyeth's works were windows ... portals that certainly get me to look out and within as I ponder the bitter, sweet, ironic, tragic and beautiful facets of our singularly brief and collectively never-ending human condition.

Relentless Swarming


In Seven Brief Lessons in Physics, Carlo Rovelli writes: "Quantum mechanics and experiments with particles have taught us that the world is a continuous, restless swarming of things, a continuous coming to light and disappearance of ephemeral entities ... A world of happenings, not of things."

I feel the passage could be describing art, not just physics. I think art is a world of happenings, not of things. It's a coming to and disappearance of. And just like scientists who never feel satisfied after discovering the latest, the artist also never arrives. We continue to inquire, seek, and seek again. Sometimes with a sense of loss and disappointment and loneliness. Sometimes with jubilation and assuredness. To me, that is art. A never-ending, restless swarming of things.

January 12, 2016

8000 Hours ... and counting


8,000 Hours, 200 Sales
Thought I'd take a moment to place a marker on this moment, which is where I've made 200 sales of my art. More importantly, this moment marks my having clocked in approximately 8,000 hours in terms of doing the work related to my art.

In the book titled The Outliers, Malcom Gladwell presents research that argues that in order for mastery in a field to occur, there needs to be approximately 10,000 concentrated hours of work that is put into that field. I once calculated what that means and if you calculate full-time work to mean about 9-5 every day, about 2,000 hours equals one year.

Best Words Ever Spoken
I started dabbling in painting in 2010 and then more focused painting in 2011/2012 and then fully committed and focused since 2013. I remember when I decided to fully dedicate myself I asked my husband "But what will we do with all the paintings? We surely can't handle storing everything in the house." To which he said, "Your job is not to worry for one second about how we will store your art. If we need to rent a storage unit, we will do that. But that is of no importance. Your job is simply to study and make magnificent art."

Those were the best words ever spoken to me. It set me free to paint and focus on painting and studying without worrying about what to do with my works, least of all, whether I would ever be able to sell even one of them. I think it's because I never focused on the idea of sales that they started selling.

Sincerely, Relentelessly, and Without Bullshit
So when people ask me these days "Tell me how I can also sell my work" or "How do you package your art for shipping" I say "Those are irrelevant questions."

What you should be doing is just painting. Sincerely and relentlessly. At least for about 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 thousand hours. And then before you know it, sales will become a byproduct of the sincere work you put in. I don't mean to sound hocus pocus about it because I hate hocus pocus in terms of talking about how to paint. Like light a candle and write "i am enough" on your body and pray to the gods of painting to help you make a painting and get a phony cohort to say they "love love love" your painting just as it is. That's bullshit. There's no candle or body paint or god that helps me like that.

It's called learn to draw. It's called learn to mix colors. It's called read and understand about the effects of light and shadows. AND it's called figure out what you sincerely prefer in terms of subjects, colors, and composition. And it's called paint what you prefer and show your work to the world every single day. Even if no one pushes the "like" button. Even if a year from now the work does not look like the work you do today.

I'm so grateful to be making a living as a painter. I'll check in about these types of matters at a future milestone ... maybe at either the 10,000-hour mark or the 300th sale. Whichever comes first.

Thank you. Thank you again. And again, thank you.



December 30, 2015

Lili of My Own

JennydohIslands of Perfection
I saw the film The Danish Girl last night. Eddie Redmayne's performance as transgender Lili Elbe (who in the 1930s is one of the first persons to have received sex reassignment surgeries to transform from her former male self) was daring, inspiring, and beautiful. If scenes live on islands, islands of perfection were created with his performance.

But scenes don't live on islands. They exist in a larger whole called a movie and this movie for assorted reasons didn't blow me away.  Such reasons are hard to pinpoint because in a scene, even when an actor and costuming and cinematography are on point, there are other things off point that make the viewer unable to completely engage and relate, as we instead become "reduced to audience," as Jerry Saltz puts it in his piece about the challenges of conceiving and executing public art that engages and inspires humans.

One of the off-points was Alicia Vikander's performance of Gerda Wegener (partner to Ina-turned-Lili), who as beautiful as she is, and as many tears as she shed (in practically every scene) just couldn't "land the plane" if you will, of grabbing my emotions.

The Right Subject Matter
So why am I writing this blog post? I suppose to talk about one particular scene. Gerda was a painter. There is a scene when Gerda goes to see a galleriest to show him her paintings and sketches. He rejects her work and says something like (I'm paraphrasing here), "You have talent but perhaps you haven't found the right subject matter yet."

It's only when she starts painting portraits of Lili that her art gains attention and fame. Lili the subject was just different enough and intriguing enough to inspire paintings that became islands of perfection, to get viewers of art captivated and wanting more.

Cranberries and Mandarins
Prior to going to the movies, I had spent most of the day painting my usual daily painting (of cranberries). And as I usually feel with everything I paint, I felt really good about it for about 20 minutes after painting it. I wasn't elated that I painted cranberries per se, but that I was able to paint one particular cranberry partially behind glass so that part of the cranberry has a distorted look of being behind glass. A sweet spot. A perfect island. A skill that I'm excited to be honing. But I'm not necessarily attracted to cranberries as a subject matter. They are simply objects that I chose yesterday because they are there, they are doable, they are beautiful, and when placed behind glass, allow me to strengthen a skill. A skill that hopefully I can use when I am faced with a subject matter that I really feel is my destiny to paint.

After painting the cranberries, I went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner. I also picked up some Mandarin oranges that I thought would be a great subject matter to paint the next day (today) because they are here, they are doable, and they are beautiful. And they are what I'm fiddling with right now, to potentially compose and paint. 

Lili of My Own
Hovering above my head is that scene from last night. About subject matter. I wonder if my time as a painter will mostly be about painting subjects because they are there and they are doable and they are beautiful ... or if a Lili of my own will dramatically blossom into my life, where I can utilize the skills I have honed while painting cranberries and Mandarins to paint her with as much glory that I can muster from my years of work.

Also hovering over my head is Richard Schmid's question about whether the world is a better world for a painter having painted a painting. When I see his amazing body of work, I believe that his skills allow him to find the Lili within any of his subjects like a flower or a landscape ... subjects that don't make a grand entrance but are simply there, doable (through practice) and beautiful. And as his grand manner style shows, even paintings that aren't fully finished and manicured can elevate the viewer into more than audience but an integral part of the piece ... who upon seeing it cannot help but shed a tear, declare joy, or even impart a kiss upon the lips of another.

I am committed to completing a painting every day. I am committed to studying and practicing and being open to all possibilities ... of either a very dramatic arrival of the subject matter of my destiny ... or gradual actualization of the Lili that already lies within all that is around me.


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