Tag Archives: Japan

135Journals: You Should Go to the International Print Fair. Here’s Why.

5 Nov

IMG_2180.jpg(Note: Linocut above by  the author, who graciously gave herself permission to use it.)


If you have the twenty bucks, and you live within a 20, no 50 mile radius of the Big Apple, and you have a few hours free, you would be insane not to gird your loins and race to the The International Art Fair at the New York Armory at 643 Park Avenue at 67th Street either today, November 5, (until 8:00) or tomorrow, November 6, 2016 (until 6:00) .http://www.ifpda.org/content/print-fair

Why, you ask. What is this “Print Fair” (or more properly, “The International Art Fair Presenting Historic Masterworks, 20th Century Icons and Innovative Contemporary Projects” and why should I care?

The Print Fair, friend, is an exhibition of works on paper by some—probably most—of the greatest artists the world has known, curated and displayed for sale by vendors from around the world. It is a chance to get up close to gorgeous artworks that range from hundreds of dollars up to $160,000 or more. Just wandering around, you will pass by historical treasures such as original copies of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, works by Durer and Cranach the Elder and other Old Masters. There are also works by Picasso, Monet, and searingly emotional portraits by Edvard Munch. For those who favor more political and the moving, timeless, political woodcuts of the not-well-enough super-brilliant African-American national treasure Elizabeth Catlett, and the mocking pop art of Andy Warhol. It is hard to express the variety of what you can see here.

Here are a few  highlights from the fair:

Japanese woodcuts by the 19th century master of the Ukiyo-e “pictures of the floating world” School, Utagawa Hirashige. This school of art showed lovely, exotic and haunting scenes of beautiful women, theater, flowers—lovely and ephemeral things that haunt the Japanese esthetic spirit. These prints are amazing for their detail, but also for their incredible use of color and pattern. The subtle shadings of blues are so iridescent that I, a printing novice, cannot even fathom how they are done.

Another surprise for me was the kinetic, expressive artists of the Grosvener school, such as Sybil Andrews and Claude Flight. These artists worked in London in the  1930s, using linocuts brilliantly to express movement and pattern which gave their pieces of everyday scenes (kids running, a motorcar driving, people at a coffee bar)  a fierce futuristic energy reminiscent both of jazz and machines.

Karl Schrag was a painfully beautiful and heartfelt artist whose work depicted the horror of living through World War II in Germany. His work had recently been acquired by the Susan Teller Gallery. http://www.susantellergallery.com.

In fact, noticing what individual collectors chose to collect and talking to gallery owners was one of the great pleasures of being at the fair. After all, these people have dedicated themselves to spending their lives with these artworks. These people are often passionate artists of observation in their own right.  I mention the Susan Teller Gallery because I particularly enjoyed their collection. It  specializes in American works from the 1920s through the 1950s. in addition to Karl Schrag and my much beloved Elizabeth Catlett, many artists whose works just hit me in the gut, among them artists I’d never heard of before, but whose works I really liked, including Betty Waldo Parish, Victor deWilde, and Ansei Yashima.

One Dublin dealer opened up a box containing an extremely expensive and valuable artwork consisting of pages that contained large gold leaf circles to share them with me. I am ashamed to say that I was so stunned by his kindness and the beauty of the work that I forgot both his name and the piece—that I felt as if I were enveloped in magic. He did not have to share this with me, because I obvious did not have 20 billion dollars to buy it, but he could just tell I adored it and he did, too. Afterwards, I told him, “Thank you, I will never forget this experience.” And I will not. It’s stabbing me in the heart that I can’t remember his name. I certainly remember his kind face and his gentle hands, holding the paper so reverently. Sometimes, it feels as if two people just breathe together, seeing something beautiful.  That’s all and that’s everything. Because someone was passionate and made something with care, and other people are alive enough to see it. It’s powerful enough to cut right into your heart. That was one of those moments that make you remember how time tesseracts.

Gettin’ corny now, so I’ll move on. Let’s just say that I would definitely say that I wish I could  give this nice man a  shout out because he could sell anything, and I would buy that damn book if I had 20 billion bucks for sure!

Of course, it would not be an art show without a bit of entertaining bullshit about which to grumble in a misanthropic fashion. There was an artwork that consisted of a high heeled shoe on a stand. Maybe I missed something. And there was a Damien Hirst picture of dots. If Damien Hirst wants to arm wrestle me and tell me why his damned pictures of dots are worth ca$h, I’m game. I like abstract art, and I still say those damned dots are nonsense. This is the reason why your relatives make fun of you when you take them to MOMA. “Right, here’s a corn beef sandwich and you want to call it Icarus Seven.” “No, Mom, it’s actually the guard’s corn beef sandwich.” hahaha.

To return to why you should see the Print Show–now–it is worth going simply because this show brings together works that are rarely seen, because these pieces are for sale, and won’t necessarily end up in museums, but in hands of private collectors. This is your chance to see them. And they are all printworks of one genre, which helps to focus the mind and help you to see a new side of many prominent artists. But even more importantly, there is something profound about experiencing both the individual lines of the artists up close and about being so very close to the paper itself. It feels different and more real to see the actual paper with the actual indentations that was once handled by a real artist.

As a student of printmaking,  I was absolutely astonished by the incredible range of possibilities that different artists brought to paper. Printmaking is difficult, technical, and expensive. There are any number of ways it can go wrong and very few it can go right. Every time a piece of paper is run through a press, the ink can be too thick or too thin, leaving the paper blotchy or empty. It is so hard for it to come out right. So each print is a miracle. Seeing how many of these incredibly delicate miracles still exist today is a breathtaking delight.













135Journals Book Club: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

11 May






Fukushima accidents overview map. (thank you, WIimedia Commons). Was Nao there?



Could Ruth Ozeki’s compelling A Tale for the Time Being be called a portmanteau book—i.e.; one into which many different things are thrown, as if into an old trunk? It could be, I suppose. It touches on many things—Proust, Japan (both modern Japan and historical Japan), teenage girls, bullying, the Pacific Northwest, the patterns of movement across oceans, including gyres and vortexes, and , Zen Buddhism, Martin Heidegger’s ideas about  Dasein, quantum physics (including Schrodinger’s cat), and more–the Japanese earthquake/tsunami of 2011, global warming, and even a touch of mysticism. But it is saved from being just a book about a lot of different stuff by having a compelling plot and two engaging narrators. One is Ruth, a writer who lives on one of the Canadian islands off the coast of Vancouver island, if I am getting my geography right, with her intellectual and charming husband Oliver. (Note that Ruth Ozeki lives on one of those islands with her charming husband Oliver).


One day, she finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. It contains several fascinating objects, including a plastic-wrapped book on the beach. It has a cover of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Times, but inside, the book has been “hacked” with blank pages—which are filled with Japanese writing. Ruth, Japanese herself, can read it, but she does so slowly. As she does, she gets to know Nao, the 16-year-old narrator. We first encounter Nao writing in a sleazy French maid café where waitresses feed food directly to the male clientele. She is angry and rebellious, as she has a right to be. She had grown up partly in Sunnyvale, California, where her father worked for a computer company. He’d lost his job and was now unemployed, making attempts at committing suicide. Her mother was trying to calm herself by watching a tank full of jellyfish in an aquarium all day. She herself was caught between worlds—in Japan, students who had lived in America were considered impure and stupid—and so she was treated to a brutal, particularly Japanese form, of bullying called Ijime. The saving grace for her was her 104 year old Buddhist nun grandmother, Jiko, whose Zen Buddhist ideas inspired and interested her.


Meanwhile, Ruth is doing various kinds of detective work to find out what has happened to Nao. She takes some writings in French also found in the lunchbox and finds a burly French-Canadian to translate them. Her husband describes how the book may have reached Canada’s shores from Japan because of certain types of gyres in the ocean current. Strange things are happening on the small island—a special kind of Japanese crow also appears suddenly one day. We learn that Ruth is from New York, but met her husband at a conference in Canada, and that he could not tolerate being confined in the urban atmosphere of New York. It becomes more and more urgent for her to find out where Nao has gone. And particularly, to find out if Nao survived the earthquake and the tens of thousands of deaths it caused. Their cat, Schrödinger,, disappears—this is a kind of in-joke for those interested in quantum physics, because in Erwin Schrödinger’s cat experiment, (or theoretical experiment, thank goodness, although let’s just say in retrospect Germans and poison gas just don’t seem like a tasteful combination) a cat is put in a box with poison gas, and, the cat both lives and doesn’t live, until the moment it is observed. This refers to the smallest particles and the universe, which Werner Heisenberg (I believe) made his famous “Uncertainty Principle” –the inference that we can’t know both the momentum and the position of the tiniest units of the universe at the same time. In fact, the more you know about one, the less you know about the other. In fact, here’s a joke to illustrate the point:

Heisenberg and Schrödinger get pulled over for speeding.

The cop asks Heisenberg “Do you know how fast you were going?”

Heisenberg replies, “No, but we know exactly where we are!”

The officer looks at him confused and says “you were going 108 miles per hour!”

Heisenberg throws his arms up and cries, “Great! Now we’re lost!”

The officer looks over the car and asks Schrödinger if the two men have anything in the trunk.

“A cat,” Schrödinger replies.

The cop opens the trunk and yells “Hey! This cat is dead.”

Schrödinger angrily replies, “Well he is now.”

ANYWAY, we learn more about Nao’s family tree, how her great-uncle was a suicide bomber for Japan during World War II—how he was forced to train for this mission, and what pain it caused for the grandmother. How Jiko teaches her the power of meditation as a “superpower” and it ends up helping her ground herself after a slide into seediness. How she and her father both hit bottom and struggle upwards. The translation of the material reveals the suicide bomber’s final thoughts.


We also learn about how similar Zen ideas about being and not being are to quantum physics. And also, how they have similiarities to German philosopher (and unfortunately, big NAZI) Martin Heidegger’s idea of their being such a thing as a “Dasein” (there-being—i.e; a being who is aware of being a being and who is therefore aware of his or her life taking place in a specific space and time, with complements of objects and other humans that have separate histories of existing and not existing at the same moment the Dasein (say you, as an aware human being) do.


And, we learn about a whole bunch of other things, in a gyre that seems to spin faster and faster, just as the gyre around the Pacific turns with an unusual quickness. Are too many ideas introduced too closely to the end? I think so. But at the same time, the solidity of the characters she has created, especially the character of the scrappy, thoughtful Nao, are strong enough to keep us holding on to the very end. I would highly recommend this highly readable yet quirky book. It is personal and stimulating and gives a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s future while at the same time finding fascinating connections between world events, science, religion, and more.


Writing Prompt: What is a book you’ve read recently that contains a richness of knowledge?

An Evening of High Culture in New York including a Snooze. In Pictures.

5 Mar


1. Get to New York. It is possibly -8000 degrees. Plus I am half hour late (curse you for being on time, NJ Transit trains, so I must take sad, wheezing bus because I am 2 minutes late).


2. See those coats? Everybody but everybody is wearing their freaking sleeping bags in NYC.


3. Presence of food and husband is somewhat mollifying.


4. Famous scholars start talking about aspects of Buddhism about which I am in a great state of unnowingness. What does he mean about Tantric Buddhism spreading across Asia at approximately 800 of the Common Era? Remember . . . mmm, dukkha? Samsara? Catch word here and there. They all have thick accents. My eyelids grow heavy. So heavy. I am suddenly floating away, so far . . . wait, am I in an auditorium or some sort? This isn’t my bed? Oh yeah, um, dukkha. I remember that word. It means, “anything that sucks to any degree.”


5. Two sets of beautifully dressed monks sing slow chanty songs. I am jealous of their socks. They each sing a couple of songs. It is beautiful. But a whole evening of this would kill me.


6. And now, time for the ladies room, Japanese style (we Americans are sooooooooooo backwards.)
By the way, sorry, I swear I photoedited these pictures and they just came out all wrong or SOMETHING.

Writing Prompt: What was the Last cultural experience which you attended

What would you do if you won the lottery?

10 Nov

Please excuse me for taking a gap in posting, but between not having the internet for a long time and giving my computer a spa treatment at the Apple Store in SoHo for a few days has completely discombobulated me. Now I’m wired in once again, thank the heavens, and I can post some things I’ve been meaning to for a long time . . .

One of the things I wanted to talk about is how and why I am a Toastmasters junkie. Recently, , the very charming Ms. S.,  Vice President of our Toastmasters Club, was in charge of Table Topics at Toastmasters. If I have failed to explain what Toastmasters is, it is a public speaking club. In some ways similar to Alcoholics Anonymous– a support group of people sharing and trying to get better. But instead of sharing our illness, we are, generally speaking a community of mentally healthy people who are trying not just to live, but to flourish by becoming better communicators. I’ve been part of Toastmasters for six years and I have learned how to speak, how to listen, how to frame a two-minute answer to random questions, how to use my hands, how to change my posture to fit the situation, how to behave in a formal group, how to assert myself, and much more. Not only that, I have had the pleasure of seeing many other people make the same journey and I am proud to call them friends. Especially impressive is that many (most!) come from other countries and many of them are making this journey with English as their second language.

Anyway, the Table Topics is a section of the meeting where you can be called upon to answer any question—ANY. And you have two minutes to do it. Old hands say that the best way to do this is by walking slowly and framing your answer so it is like a two minute story with a beginning, middle and end. This may sound very difficult, but honestly, you start to get the hang of it after a while. And, you also learn how to deal with questions when you’re put on the spot. When you honestly can’t give an opinion on something, you can do what politicians do and say something along the lines of, “Well, let’s not talk about MY love life, what we really need to talk about in this country is jobs!” As you can imagine, this can come in mighty handy when you’re in a job interview and someone’s asking you what you thought of your former *$(#)!*)@&%%)* boss. (Not that I feel anything but love for MY former boss, and even HER boss—long story, but true).

Anyway, the theme of the day was millionaires. Shea had to come up with about 25 questions, and many of them (naturally), had to do with what you would do if you won, say, $350 million dollars. I was thinking about that during the meeting and I thought about it later, too. Here’s what I would do, and I’d love to know what other people would do, too. In  fact, maybe if you all have some great ideas, I’d put it into another post.


  1. I’d pay for the college education of all my friends and family’s kids. Go for broke, kids! This includes private schools and grad school.
  2. I’d pay for the further education of my friends and family so they can learn whatever would bring them joy. And cover all their expenses while they’re doing it. Our friend Heather is going to Oxford to study Women’s History this year and get her master’s degree. I’m so proud of her!
  3. Go on a monster vacation all over the world for a LONNNNNNNG time.
  4. Send son number 2 on a giant trip on Outward Bound—they have ones that are three months or more.
  5. Do something similar for son number 1, but not on Outward Bound, and not to Japan, because he hates fish.
  6. Buy my husband the best bike ever, and the chance to go on some super rides in other countries.
  7. Buy an apartment in the Murray Hill section of NYC.
  8. Get a personal assistant (as in Kevin, the character played by the exciting new comedian and best childhood friend of Son #1, Ramy Youssef in the new Nickelodeon show See Dad Run (http://ramyyoussef.com/. )Heck, I’d hire Ramy but he’s a little busy right now!
  9. Get cleaning ladies in EVERY day.

10. Cleaning ladies for ALL of my nearest and dearest!

11. Buy my sister her dream house.

12. Take my mom on more trips because she’s really fun.

13. Go traveling with my best friend Julie, like Thelma and Louise without the rapy/suicidy stuff.

14. Spend a lot of time reconnecting with friends in California.

15. See my friend Maggie in England and go touring around with her.

16. Do the Eat Pray Love thing but mainly just the Eat. If you can’t learn it in Italy, what’s the point?

17. Hire someone to make me an awesome website

18. Find some people I miss.

19. Find a few people I hurt and apologize to them.

20. Recover my health and help other people I know who are hurting get the best doctors and care as well.

21. Toastmasters Road Trip!

22. Hire a limo to bring my mother to visit me more often.

23. Hire more people to teach me stuff

24. Get an MFA in writing.

25. Learn more about drawing/painting/etc.

26. Sail on a long, long windjammer trip with my husband.

27. Visit all of my aunts and uncles and tell them I love them.

28. Go see my friend Evelyn in Arizona and do all kinds of fun Arizona things with her.

29. Go to Seattle and visit my friend Joyce and get some acupuncture, wisdom, and tea from her.

30. Fix up the house any way my husband likes without getting that cringy overwhelmed feeling

31. Get a country house (which he wants) that isn’t too far from a place that has foreign movies and has a nice community of people who will like us and not just think we’re interlopers.

32. Secretly buy things that I know people need and just put them in their garages so they find them.

33. Send Julie to an MFA program that she would love.

34. Get someone to publicize my work, help me edit, keep track of where mss. Are sent, etc. And get my novel polished and finished!

35. Buy my sister her own personal California Pizza Kitchen.

36. Send Son 1 to chef school, just for fun. Maybe the Culinary Institute of America up along the Hudson.


Oh geez, I really didn’t think this was going to be all about me. I’ll wait till the next post to say what I would do for the world with all the rest of my $350 million.

Writing Spark: What would you do for YOURSELF with your mega-lotto winnings?

What happened to Japan in World War II? Part I

16 Oct

In my writing group, we just finished a book called Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a slight but pleasant volume about a Japanese girl taken away to an internment camp and a Chinese-American boy. It was hard for one highly intelligent but extremely busy member of the group to understand why the Chinese-American father was so angry at the Japanese and were glad that they were taken in to internment camp. I made a comment about how utterly horrible the Japanese were in World War II, especially to their fellow Asians, and that they were vicious to the Chinese. And this was odd, almost ahistorical behavior for a nation whose chief Buddhist goddess is Kannon, the goddess of compassion (I know I’m not putting this right, but Kannon is very important), a country where no one pours for him or herself, a country of incredible civility and cooperation and orderliness.

There are many reasons why the Japanese got involved in World War II. Fear of embargo of certain essential supplies such as oil. Modern life. A re-mythologizing of their ancient native faith, Shinto, which is so mysterious and earthy that it could only be codified by someone with an agenda. A sense of pride in their past as Samurai. Certain codes about manhood. Actual insulting and inappropriate behavior by the west. Colonialism in Asia (The Dutch were no angels in Indonesia, for instance, nor were the British in India). The list goes on and on, but none of it seems to add up to the value of a single life. It doesn’t seem to answer any clearcut question—at least not to my admittedly limited understanding.

I myself am not a pacifist—I do not believe the division between slave states and free states would EVER have been resolved without the Civil War, for instance, and that deep scar, even though it unleashed a thousand poisons that still last today, stopped and partially paid the blood price of the deepest sin our nation has ever officially sanctioned. Because I love to be American (thank you, 18th century Colonists for fighting the Revolutionary War, BTW), and because of the resetting of the earliest mistakes of our union were made through the bloody process of war, I can’t say war is never justified.

However, I can say that a certain madness can overtake the most civilized peoples in the world, and things that are nonsense can be converted into brilliant justifications. Both individuals and whole nations can fall prey to the power of story—about how they are oppressed. As C., the woman in my reading group said, “The people I know who are the most prejudiced are the ones who can give you the best reasons why.” The power of the human mind, and especially for highly intelligent minds, to fall prey to “logical” reasoning that is pure madness is one that I want to cover in a future discussion about neurology/psychology. In the meantime, let me just say that, having thought about the ideas of Carl Jung a lot lately, my belief about Japanese behavior during world war II is that a madness overcame them. Their shadow came out. Here was this modest, sharing, deeply artistic people whose idea of art came from an exquisite patience with seeing the natural world (including, for example, wistfulness at the change of time (mono no aware), who became warmongering, mass murdering, torturing, killers, primarily of other Asians. Are there parallels to the brilliant, civilized Germans? Of course. And have members of other nations shamed themselves in their treatments of other people? Oh, hi there, Europe! And yes, you, too, America! And  on and on.

BUT. Back to the Japanese. I want to be concrete here because I think the subject warrants it. And so I will save that for another post.

Writing Prompt: What makes some nations lose their souls in wartime?