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My dad and I were talking about drawing–Dad is also taking an art class–and he quoted Picasso as saying he drew everything his eye saw. That wily Picasso. He mastered drawing what he saw as well as almost anyone on record (if you only know his abstract art, see what I mean here or here), but he knew perfectly well that drawing is also a matter of deciding what to include and what to leave out.

The two hands in these drawings illustrate my attempt to meet this challenge. Both of them are pretty sketchy. A few outlines, a few patches of shadow; much more is left out than put in. In the top drawing, a hand emerges out of those few marks, and in the middle one, it really doesn’t.

I’ve preserved that middle drawing, though, because it’s not a bad start at buttocks, a part of the body I find particularly challenging to capture on paper. Maybe it is that I find it hard to draw what my eye sees, so influential is the cartoon version in my head–and the cartoon version insists that a strong line delineates the two buttocks, which is seldom what we actually see. On this drawing I decided to focus on the troublesome area and I started to get somewhere.


We’re between terms at the figure drawing studio, and I’m getting itchy fingers, especially after reading Adam Gopnik’s interesting piece in this week’s New Yorker. There’s nothing keeping me from drawing right now, but I’m wishing for a nude model (guess I could get a full-length mirror…), strong light, and the discipline of the studio. We resume two weeks from yesterday.

These are from a roll of undated drawings. I’m guessing they’re from last fall or winter, though they might be more recent.

I notice how many different kinds of marks I’m trying here. Lots of experimenting–not wildly, but definitely trying angular marks with the long edge of the charcoal, smudgy ones with small pieces of charcoal, lines with pencil. My favorite thing in all four drawings is the hand on the first one.

Due to streaming problems on my end, I only caught the second half of Kaaren Anderson’s sermon for General Assembly Sunday worship an hour ago, but you can bet I’ll go back and watch the rest as soon as it’s up at the General Assembly events page. About the respect for different religions expressed by Karen Armstrong (Ware lecturer earlier in the week), she pointed out that Armstrong was not trying to argue common ground–the “all religions are the same at the heart” idea, which is problematic–but rather, to call each one to accountability to its higher authority. That authority being the same for all religions: does it increase compassion and connection?

That’s what my parents taught me was the test of our religion, and all religions. When I got older, I chose the one that suited my theology better than the one in which they’d raised me, but there was no question it had to meet the basic test of whether it made me a better person and the world a better place.

The track Kaaren didn’t take but that my mind went down, in those little detours that make up half of sermon-listening, was that since religion (as she said in other words) can wield the power of life or death, it is foolish to label any particular religion destructive or constructive. Or to blame religion per se, as writers like Christopher Hitchens do–but he’s always been a sloppy thinker. I’ve run into all too many UUs who tar all of Christianity or all of Islam with the brush of that religion’s undeniable acts of destruction.

And Unitarian Universalism, too, can inspire us to choose life, or it take us down the route of self-righteousness and self-absorption, which can be not only wasteful but death-dealing. I suspect the only reason we’ve never waged a religious war against non-UUs, the way Christians, Muslims, even Buddhists have done, is that we’re so badly outnumbered. I don’t mean that as cynically as it sounds, but simply as an acknowledgement that our religion, like all human creations, contains the seeds of good and evil. We have to choose what we will do with it.

All of this took a few seconds to zip through my mind. Meanwhile, Kaaren was bringing it back home, to why we join Unitarian Universalist congregations and what their purpose is. Inspiring.

Aha, and the service is up now. Back to church!

The munchkin’s school snacks and lunches come from Chefables, an area business whose sole focus is to provide fresh, local, mostly organic food to preschools. They announced a tour of a local farm, which to our amazement was in our neighborhood. For those who haven’t been reading closely, I live in San Francisco. In the city. Four miles from City Hall, as the crow flies. I had no clue there was a farm within a few blocks.

But there is, so we walked over, an easy 15-minute walk that would have been even easier, except that to avoid walking 50 yards from the freeway we took a route that led straight up a steep hill and then down again, which also took us through a housing project that I’d had only the vaguest idea was there. (Munchkin’s reaction: “Can we come play on this playground?” The project did have a lot of playgrounds. The one that grabbed her attention needs some maintenance, though.) And there we were at Alemany Farm. It’s only 4.5 acres, a great big garden you might say, but what a garden!

Kids from our school and others were there. They got to pull up carrots and eat them–the munchkin happily harvested her favorite veggie, but declined to eat any, for reasons we didn’t learn; pull up beets; learn the right way to pick strawberries (the munchkin did eat her strawberry and said it was delicious); play a Simon Says game that involved acting out sun, water, air, and soil; and eat pizza made right there, along with a salad harvested at the farm a couple of hours earlier. A wall of passionflowers caught my attention, and one of the Friends of Alemany Farm picked one for Munchkin. I learned that broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, etc. are not only closely related, as I’d thought; they are the exact same plant, same genus, same species. They’ve just been cultivated in different directions.

The farm has an interesting history. It used to be part of the city park that adjoins it, known to our family mostly for its terrific playground (you may notice a pattern here). Later, it was run by the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, whose terrific acronym, SLUG, is now tainted by scandal after its managers coerced workers, who were part of a city-funded job training program, into campaigning for Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris for citywide office, or else lose their pay (neither Newsom, who’s now Lieutenant Governor, nor Harris, who’s now Attorney General, were charged with corruption). SLUG was barred from city contracts, so the farm sat unused for two years, until the Friends of Alemany Farm formed. They have volunteer work days every weekend, and Munchkin and I plan to join one soon. Joy, who has a better recent gardening history than I do but has no desire to do more, has offered to bring the volunteers food.

After the tour and lunch, we invited a school friend back to the house, where I went on a gardening binge and the girls played outside.

Things I’ve wondered for a long time and have finally remembered to look up:

Why is Rhode Island called Rhode Island when it isn’t an island? My wife looked this up on her smart phone after I posed it to our geography-loving nephew at lunch. Now we know. Thanks to Trivial Pursuit, I knew that the full name of the state was Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, but I didn’t realize that one of the islands in Narragansett Bay, the one on which Newport is located, was actually called Rhode Island (it’s now called Aquidneck).

Is Donner Pass named after the Donner Party, or are they called the Donner Party because the pass that did them in was called Donner Pass? The answer to this one gives me the creeps. The pass used to be called something different (Truckee, I think). After the Donner Party (so called for one of its members) tried to get through and, notoriously, starved to the point that some of them ate each other, it started to be called Donner Pass. What a charming thing to name a part of your state after. Still, I’ve wondered that for ages and now I finally remembered it while I was sitting in front of a computer.

Joy says that Lawrence Block says the internet will doom bar arguments. The master of the bar argument, Donald E. Westlake, Block’s late fellow great writer of comic mysteries set in New York, wasn’t going down without a fight. In his last Dortmunder novel (sadly, his last of all), the nameless “regulars” who always carried on hilariously fruitless barside debates in those books were arguing about the internet, and it was clear that none of them would be able to find a webpage with two hands and a map. And I generally think of a question for the umpteenth time, and then by the time I get to a computer, I’ve forgotten it again. But with more and more of us carrying internet-ready computers in our pockets, Block may be right.

After this service, one of the wonderful leaders, J., who attended Mark’s talk at our church, and who had said he wished he could come to Thursday’s meeting (“Toward a More Diverse UUCPA”) but had a conflict, came up to me and said, “I wasn’t going to come Thursday because I had a prior commitment. It’s still prior, but this is more important. I’ll be there.”

Do you see why I am filled with confidence? Do you see why I love my congregation and have such faith in their ability to do whatever they set their minds and hearts on? I can’t wait ’til Thursday.

Sermon from Sunday, June 19

I’ve missed out on most of the news here in a mostly media-free week in Tahoe, with occasional updates as family members tune in on their smartphones or laptops: Clarence Clemons’ stroke (oh no!), Terry Pratchett’s decline (sigh), Rep. Weiner’s resignation (about time), the governor’s veto of the proposed budget (no surprise). So I was startled when I checked into Facebook and saw a reference to destruction in Vancouver. Vancouver, lovely city–what happened? An earthquake? Fire? Oh, the Stanley Cup. What an insanely stupid reason to do damage to anything or anyone.

I’m a sports fan, but still, I wonder whether sports have had a net positive or a net negative effect on the world. Considering that for every win there is a loss, the joys of one’s team winning seem like a wash. The beauty of human bodies doing amazing things, which could transcend that zero-sum calculation, goes largely unappreciated: just go to a baseball game, see the visiting shortstop make a gorgeous play, and listen for the sounds that follow, and they’ll mostly be groans instead of “ooh”s. Sports are hailed for teaching people to work in teams, but in a sports context, as in a military one, teamwork comes only because of, and at the expense of, a common enemy. Some would argue that sports sublimate violence that would otherwise take much more destructive forms, but as far as I know that hypothesis hasn’t been tested. If it were true, one would think that the world’s most sports-mad countries would be less inclined than others to make war. I’d count the prostitution of universities to their sports programs as one for the loss column.

What do you think? Is the world a better place for the existence of sports, or would we be better off without them?

We are headed to Tahoe tomorrow night, for a week. I’m very fortunate: a week spent sharing a house with most of my wife’s extended family is a pleasure. Furthermore, it’s something we do every year. Last year we missed it, since we couldn’t convince everyone to put the annual vacation in Mexico and we couldn’t afford to fly back to the Russian River just for a week.

We’re packing a bathing suit and mittens for the munchkin. Bathing suits for the lake and pool, mittens for what, if my plans pan out, will be her first experience of snow. There was a lot of snow in the Sierras this year, and I’m hoping that a fairly short drive up from the lakeside will take us to some. I grew up in New England, and it just seems wrong to me to be four years old and never have played in the snow. She is excited.

While there, I’ll celebrate my birthday, which means it’s probably time to review my 43 goals for year 43. Some I achieved, some I didn’t, some I still want to keep on the life-goals list (maybe even the “year 44” list), some I can let go. Making the list had its desired effect, which was to get me to align my life more closely to the things I care about. I haven’t read so much good fiction in years.

So, I am almost done with 42, and I’m still not sure of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Although it has been a year of growing awareness of mortality. That’s polite minister-speak for “I’ve thought a lot about the fact that I’m going to die one day.”

Google Maps tells me that I saved $8.35 by taking transit instead of driving today. Unfortunately, they don’t know about the $55 ticket I got for leaving my car parked all day on the street-cleaning side of the street.

Every once in a while I take the train on Friday, or work at home that day. More often than not, I forget that I also have to move the car between 12 and 2. All in all, having a car in San Francisco is a very expensive proposition, unless you are smarter than I am and never park in the wrong place. (All the small tickets put together don’t equal the time, my first month here, when I pulled into our street so exhausted from a 14-hour day that I parked blocking someone’s driveway. That one cost a boodle.) If I didn’t have a job on the Peninsula, I’d sell the car and depend on City Car Share.

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