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I love this model and wish he worked in the studio more often, especially now that I’m drawing lots of hands and feet. His are wonderfully veiny. Still, something that figure drawing has taught me is that there is no such thing as an uninteresting or un-beautiful human body, so I’ll enjoy all the other models too, until he comes around again.

I’d left the house in a hurry, chivvying the child, and forgotten my drawing stuff, so I only had the studio’s charcoal: no pencils, and I could only find very dark and very light charcoal. This has happened before and makes for an interesting challenge: to use the edge and corners of the charcoal for fine lines, and develop a light touch with very soft, dark charcoal. The latter in particular is tough for me, and I got better at it today.
(Click on images to enlarge)


You know the feeling you get when you go to another room for a distinct purpose and the moment you walk in, you forget what it was? I now get that with websites. “I know I opened this particular window for a reason . . . now what was I doing here?”

Spoiler alert: this post reveals the end of the movie Grave of the Fireflies.


Joy gave an inspired gift to our Munchkin for Christmas: the complete films of Studio Ghibli. This is the great Japanese animation studio, headed by Hayao Miyazaki, that has produced My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and other excellent movies. Now Munchkin can watch Kiki’s Delivery Service over and over with no more video rental fees. (Pixar writers and directors, please take note! I know you adore Miyazaki and frequently pay tribute to his movies, so have you noticed how many of his main characters are girls? Not tokens, not supporting roles, but the stars? If he can do it, so can you.)

So we have been watching these movies, and some of them get into more grown-up territory than Kiki. Our Neighbors the Yamadas are short pieces satirizing family life very funny for grownups, but a little over the munchkin’s head: picture a less frenetic, more realistic The Simpsons.  Munchkin enjoyed Whisper of the Heart, but it’s really a coming-of-age movie about a teenager’s falling in love and searching for a goal for her life. A few nights ago, we started watching Grave of the Fireflies, not knowing anything about it, and pretty soon I started to think we were in deeper than Munchkin or I was ready for. It takes place in Kobe, Japan, near the end of World War II, when the city was firebombed and much of it was destroyed. A teenage boy and his unbearably cute four-year-old sister are the main characters, and it isn’t long before we see the bombing that kills their mother.

Munchkin has a high tolerance for scary. She first watched Star Wars when she was about two. As she moved on to The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi, Joy and I wondered at what point we’d have to skip scenes. It never happened; she watched them all with no ill effect. She loved Coraline at age three and only occasionally wants us to sit with her for the scariest part. She loves The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas (yes, we have a budding Tim Burton fan). Scary, scary things happen in these movies, including death, torture, and the disappearance of a child’s parents.

Yet with Grave of the Fireflies, I wondered if I should turn it off. The munchkin was doing okay, but I was trembling. Why? Because to her it is just a story, and to me it’s an account of something that really happened. I didn’t know at the time that it was based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, who suffered through similar circumstances when he was a teenager taking care of his young sister. I just know that Kobe really was firebombed: that human beings, not people long ago in a galaxy far, far away, do these things to each other.

We watched about half an hour of the movie, and then it was bedtime. I looked it up on the Internet Movie Database to see how bad it was going to get, and discovered among the parental warnings that the little girl dies. That settles it (Munchkin would say, “That does it!”). We are not watching a movie about the death by starvation of a child her age. So I told Munchkin that it turns out the movie is pretty grown up and we’ll have to watch the rest when she’s older. She suggested, “When I’m seven?”–an age at which she imagines wondrously grown-up capabilities descend upon us.  (The other mystical ages, judging from her games–which are dominated by her obsession with people’s ages–are 10 and 16.) For me, the question is terribly poignant. At what age is one ready to learn that children starve, that one’s own country drops fire on them? Seven, 10, 16, 30, 50? How does one prepare someone for the knowledge that life, not just fiction, is tragic?

My favorites from last week’s session

and today’s.

What’s going on in my head in the studio has changed so much in the past few months. The idea that the main effort in making a drawing might be to portray the light is one I’ve heard many times before, as has anyone who grew up in an era that adores the Impressionists. But that I would make that my aim, myself, is completely new. It’s as if I have never seen the way the light falls (I won’t say “seen the light”!)–at least not in quite this way, with this attention.

Recently I was playing the piano, which I do very badly, and Joy, who does it very well and is a good teacher, said, “The whole phrase is about that G. That’s what you want to be aiming for. Not by making it louder . . . ”

How, then, I asked?

“Mostly you just think about it.”

So I played it again, thinking about it. I couldn’t hear the difference, yet, but she could, and said, “Exactly!”

That’s what drawing with an eye on the light is like. Of course I’ve always seen the light on a person’s arm as I drew the arm. But now I am aiming to draw the light. It makes a big difference.

"On a crowded Muni bus in San Francisco, California," by BrokenSphere

I like almost everything about riding city buses. I like the view of the city streets, not as intimate as walking but affording a lot more contemplation than the view from behind a car’s steering wheel. I notice something new each time. I like the deceptive sense of objectivity that’s created by a pane of glass and a few yards’ distance, and the paradoxical intimacy that’s created among the riders, who don’t know each other’s names nor, often, even speak the same language.

Although a car can usually get me there faster (emphatically not counting the time it then takes me to find a parking spot), I like the imposed wait time of the bus stop and the excuse it gives me to do a little reading or knitting. Sometimes I like chatting with the other people who are waiting for the bus.

I like the range of people I share the bus with and the easy way we fall into conversation when so inclined, especially when I have a small child along. I like the education she gets just riding to and from school. I like it that I can hold her on my lap, play I Spy, fix her hair, talk with her face to face, all while getting where we need to go. I like looking at the other people’s clothes and hairstyles, noticing the regulars, knowing I’m a regular to them and that they know almost nothing about me. I like wondering what they do on either end of this route.

I like being able to listen to other people’s conversations with no qualms, since anyone who is talking in such a public place is unconcerned with privacy. (One exception: that couple across from me one time who were speaking to each other in low voices but clearly having an intense argument. I didn’t try to make out what they were saying, but instead pondered what about their body language made their antagonism obvious.) When the conversations are in English, I can listen to the stories and imagine what’s behind them; when they’re in Spanish, I can practice following Spanish; when they’re in Chinese, I can try to guess the kinds of things they are saying based on the expression and tone. One half of a cell phone conversation is often more interesting than hearing both speakers. You get that opportunity often on the bus.

In fact, I like just about everything about riding the bus except the bit about being in a moving bus. Only a small boat on a choppy sea has the same power to make me whimper for a Dramamine. If only the stop and start, accelerate and turn, climb and plummet didn’t turn me green, I could ride the bus all day.

Stop the Internet Blacklist Laws

Do you love the internet? Me too. Please click, act, and don’t let anyone take away your freedom.

That’s it from me. I’m on strike January 18, neither writing nor reading any websites, because I want to try to imagine what it would be like not to have today’s internet.

Continuing my researches on the prayers of contrition found in various traditions.


This is an amalgamation of two translations: one by Robert Aitken Roshi, of the Diamond Sangha in Honolulu, and one found on BeliefNet and attributed only to “anonymous”–which it is–it’s a very old Buddhist text.

All the evil karma, ever created by me since of old,
on account of greed, anger, and ignorance, which have no beginning,
born of my conduct, speech and thought,
I now confess openly and fully.

This Buddhist “Prayer for the Courage to Look Within” was posted by BeliefNet member kuliLinei:

May all sentient beings have the courage to look within themselves and see the good and bad that exists in all of us. May we open our hearts, shining the light of love into the dark recesses where doubt and fear reside. May we have the courage to step into that light and embrace whatever we find, letting it rise to the surface freed by the act of loving kindness.


O my God,
I am sorry for my sins because I have offended you.
I know I should love you above all things.
Help me to do penance,
to do better,
and to avoid anything that might lead me to sin. Amen.

I find this one very moving despite the fact that I can’t in any way accept the idea that Jesus’s Passion atoned for us, so that I’d edit out “the most bitter Passion of My Redeemer.”

Forgive me my sins, O Lord,
forgive me my sins;
the sins of my youth,
the sins of my age,
the sins of my soul,
the sins of my body;
my idle sins,
my serious voluntary sins;
the sins I know,
the sins I do not know;
the sins I have concealed for so long,
and which are now hidden from my memory.

I am truly sorry for every sin, mortal and venial,
for all the sins of my childhood up to the present hour.

I know my sins have wounded Thy Tender Heart,
O My Savior, let me be freed from the bonds of evil
the most bitter Passion of My Redeemer. Amen.

O My Jesus, forget and forgive what I have been. Amen.


. . . or is it Neo-Paganism? I don’t know the origin of this prayer, just that it is published in A Book of Pagan Prayer by Ceisiwr Serith (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2002). I found it on BeliefNet. I like the prayer’s being directed to various guides.

A Prayer to the High Gods at Bedtime

As I go to bed, I pray to the High Gods.
I offer you my worship, and ask you to bless my family.
I ask if I have done anything today to offend you.
If I have, I ask for forgiveness and for guidance,
that I might walk the sacred path in peace and in beauty.
As I go to bed, I pray to the gods of my household.
I offer you my worship and ask you to bless my family.
I ask if I have done anything today to offend you.
If I have, I ask for forgiveness and for guidance,
that I might walk the sacred path in peace and in beauty.
As I go to bed, I pray to the Ancestors.
I do you honor and ask you to bless my family.
I ask if you I have done anything to offend you.
If I have, I ask for forgiveness and for guidance,
that I might walk the sacred path in peace and in beauty.
As I go to bed, I pray to all numinous beings.
I do you honor and ask that you extend your blessings over me and mine.

My figure drawing time resumed on Monday after a month away. It felt great to be drawing again. I spread them out on the kitchen floor after dinner and the munchkin and I looked them over. She said this was the best one “because it looks like a person.” It didn’t look much like the person I was drawing, so it was nice to see it through the eyes of someone who couldn’t compare the two.

She also liked this one, which is the one I like best,

and this.

She wanted to know why I draw all in black, white, and gray, instead of in color the way she does. I told her the truth, which is that it’s hard enough for me to manage black and white and I’m not up for the challenge of color right now. She also asked why I draw people naked instead of in their clothes. I said because that way I can see a lot of the beautiful parts that clothes cover up. She looked unconvinced. I think for her, clothes are more interesting and probably more beautiful.

When I told Munchkin I had been working on the veins of hands and feet, she jumped up to point them all out on the drawings. I explained what I found difficult and interesting about them, leading to a question from M: “What does subtle mean?”

The other subtle thing I decided to tackle today is the highlight that runs right along some places, like the muscles of calf and thigh here. I have never paid it enough attention and it comes out looking streaky, obvious (not subtle!), or nonexistent. Monday I really tried to look at it and see what its edge looks like. It was so absorbing that in twenty minutes, I never really got to any other part of the drawing, not even the knee, which looks kind of flat as a result.

The resources in the previous post were from Judaism. Here are three prayers of confession and contrition from the heart of the Unitarian Universalist tradition. All three use theistic language and all three lend themselves beautifully to the devotions of a religious naturalist or humanist:

Vivian Pomeroy (1883-1961), from his Hidden Fire:

Oh God, forgive us that often we forgive ourselves so easily and others hardly;
Forgive us that we expect perfection from those to whom we show none;
Forgive us for repelling people by the way we set a good example;
Forgive us the folly of trying to improve a friend;
Forbid that we should use our little idea of goodness as a spear to wound those who are different;
Forbid that we should feel superior to others when we are only more shielded;
And may we encourage the secret struggle of every person.

from Hymns of the Spirit (the “red hymnal,” published 1937), pages 33-34:

Into this house of light we come to seek that which is just and to find that which is good, and here we remember those whose lives are darkened by the greed and wrong of others. We have not purged the commerce of our times of those harsh ways that thwart the hopes and dreams of many. In this house of peace we remember wars and rumors of wars; we have made but feeble effort to understand the peoples of the world and to foster peace among the nations. In this house of joy we remember all sorrowing and troubled folk; we would not ourselves be glad except as we seek the blessings of abundant life in body and spirit for all our fellowmen. Let us here be gathered into a common power of good will which shall issue in lasting peace and larger right. Amen.

Hymns of the Spirit, page 42:

O Thou unseen source of peace and holiness, we come into thy secret place to be filled with thy pure and solemn light. As we come to thee, we remember that we have been drawn aside from the straight and narrow way; that we have not walked lovingly with each other and humbly with thee; that we have feared what is not terrible and wished for what is not holy. In our weakness be thou the quickening power of life. Arise within our hearts as healing, strength and joy. Day by day may we grow in faith, in charity, in the purity by which we may see thee, and in the larger life of love to which thou callest us. Amen.

Next Sunday’s service is a service of contrition and reconciliation. It’s my experience that you can’t have the latter without the former, and yet our Unitarian Universalist tradition dropped even a private prayer of confession from its services long ago. We want to be better people–to reconcile ourselves with those we’ve wronged and re-commit to our ideals–but judging from our liturgy, we would prefer to skip the step of acknowledging what those wrongs are. In a workshop he led in Palo Alto last month, my colleague Mark Morrison-Reed proposed a new UU ritual, that of confession, and both I and most of the attendees thought he was really on to something.

So I’ve encouraged members of my congregation to spend time–not just in the service, but in the days leading up to it–in reflecting, as I’ll be doing, on the occasions over the past year when we have done wrong in our own eyes, and to fast overnight, starting after dinner next Saturday. We’ll break our fast together during the service, after a service that offers private periods of contrition, confession, reconciliation, and recommitment.

I promised I would suggest some aids to the process of contrition, and here are two to start with.

If you’re like me, when you set out to reflect on the ways you’ve done wrong, you tend to think of the things you already know about. You know you’re impatient, that you picked a fight with your brother, and that you ought to call your parents more often. So you reflect on those, and feel sorry for those, and maybe even tell people that you’re sorry, but what about the ways you’ve strayed that you haven’t even noticed? For those, what you need is a list of possible faults that you go down, item by item, so that you notice: oh yeah, I also don’t listen very well or give away much money.

The Jewish tradition, in its wisdom, came up with just such a list long ago. It was so long ago, in fact, that the language is a little obscure. The prayer, the Al-Chayt, lists 44 ways one might have sinned, with a noticeable emphasis on the many ways to do someone wrong through spoken words. I’ve looked at several versions and come up with this one that leaves the question of a deity open, uses the term “wrongs” (I’ve seen “sins” and “mistakes” elsewhere), is in first-person singular, and takes a somewhat-educated guess at what the obscure expressions might mean.

For all of the wrongs I have committed, source of forgiveness, pardon me, forgive me, and make my atonement possible.

For the wrongs I did under duress and those I did willingly,
For the wrongs I did through having a hard heart,
For the wrongs I did without thinking,
For the wrongs I did through things I blurted out with my lips,
For the wrongs I did in public and those I did in private,
For the wrongs I did by abusing sexuality,
For the wrongs I did through harsh speech,
For the wrongs I did with knowledge and deceit,
For the wrongs I did through my thoughts,
For the wrongs I did to friends,
For the wrongs I did through insincere confession,
For the wrongs I did together with a group of others,
For the wrongs I did willfully and those I did unintentionally,
For the wrongs I did by degrading parents and teachers,
For the wrongs I did through the ways I exercised power,
For the wrongs I did through desecrating things that are holy,
For the wrongs I did with foolish speech,
For the wrongs I did with vulgar speech,
For the wrongs I did by listening to my evil inclination rather than my good inclination,
For the wrongs I did against those who know I hurt them, and those that do not know I hurt them,
For the wrongs I did through bribing or flattering others, or accepting bribes or flattery myself–
For all these, source of forgiveness, pardon me, forgive me, and make my atonement possible.

For the wrongs I did through denial and false promises,
For the wrongs I did through hurtful words,
For the wrongs I did through scoffing and being scornful,
For the wrongs I did in business,
For the wrongs I did with food and drink,
For the wrongs I did through exploiting others’ financial needs,
For the wrongs I did by being arrogant,
For the wrongs I did purely with my eyes,
For the wrongs I did through meaningless chatter,
For the wrongs I did through having haughty eyes,
For the wrongs I did by refusing to feel shame–
For all these, source of forgiveness, pardon me, forgive me, and make my atonement possible.

For the wrongs I did in throwing off the yoke of my responsibilities,
For the wrongs I did in the way I judged,
For the wrongs I did through violating a friend’s trust,
For the wrongs I did through the begrudging eye of jealousy,
For the wrongs I did through taking lightly what deserves to be taken seriously,
For the wrongs I did by being stiff-necked,
For the wrongs I did eagerly,
For the wrongs I did through passing along gossip,
For the wrongs I did through vowing in vain,
For the wrongs I did through baseless hatred,
For the wrongs I did through reaching out to take what was not mine,
For the wrongs I did through confusion of the heart–
For all these, source of forgiveness, pardon me, forgive me, and make my atonement possible.

The other Jewish source I recommend is Rabbi Rachel Barenblat’s personal Al-Chet, from her terrific blog Velveteen Rabbi. She grants permission to use it–of course, if you use it elsewhere please credit her.

AL CHET SHECHATATI L’FANECHA…         …על חטא שחטאתי לפניך

I need to speak these words aloud and to know that the universe hears them.
I get caught in old patterns and paradigms; I am stubborn and hard-headed.
In the last year I have missed the mark more than I want to admit.
Forgive me, Source of all being, for the sin I have sinned before you

By allowing my body to be an afterthought too often and too easily;
By not walking, running, leaping, climbing or dancing although I am able;
By eating in my car and at my desk, mindlessly and without blessing;
By not embracing those who needed it, and not allowing myself to be embraced;
By not praising every body’s beauty, with our quirks and imperfections.

By letting my emotions run roughshod over the needs of others;
By poking at sources of hurt like a child worrying a sore tooth;
By revealing my heart before those who neither wanted nor needed to see it;
By hiding love, out of fear of rejection, instead of giving love freely;
By dwelling on what’s internal when the world is desperate for healing.

By indulging in intellectual argument without humility or consideration;
By reading words of vitriol, cultivating hot indignation;
By eschewing intellectual discomfort that might prod me into growing;
By living in anticipation, and letting anxiety rule me;
By accepting defeatist thinking and the comfortable ache of despair.

By not being awake and grateful, despite uncountable blessings;
By not being sufficiently gentle, with my actions or with my language;
By being not pliant and flexible, but obstinate, stark, and unbending;
By not being generous with my time, with my words or with my being;
By not being kind to everyone who crosses my wandering path.

For all of these, eternal Source of forgiveness
Help me know myself to be pardoned
Help me feel in my bones that I’m forgiven
Remind me I’m always already at/one with You.

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