Thursday, January 10, 2019

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #31 Looking back to look ahead

   Looking back to look ahead

1950 - Fifth Grade class photo

The relentless process of ageing finds expression in our bodies and our minds. I’m not sure which I find more challenging to deal with, the physical or the mental expressions. Recently I’ve been questioning everything I have always thought about myself, looking back on my life with a critical and skeptical eye, questioning my choices and behavior over the many years. Was I a spoiled only child? How did my friends and my cousins see me? Was I so centered on my own interests and goals that I ignored the needs and problems of others, especially my parents? And as an adult, have I been less than honest with myself regarding my relationship with others, and in my assessment of my art and my ambitions?

These are some of the questions I’ve been struggling with in recent weeks. I don’t have answers yet, but I expect they will eventually make themselves known. I also expect the answer to each of them will be yes and no, and I will come away from this enterprise with a better understanding of myself, both then and now.

The eighth decade began with an intense desire to go back and reconnect with the past, through family, friends, old classmates, and acquaintances. Each connection would trigger a new memory and/or bring a fleeting flush of excitement over hearing a voice or seeing a face after 50 years or more. It appears to be ending with the same desire for retrospection, but with a different focus. Now the goal is to reach a deeper understanding of the life I’ve lived, its purpose and meaning, to me and to my family and friends. I seek an honest, unvarnished understanding of myself, one I can accept and embrace with the hope it will enhance the quality of my remaining years.

In spite of all the attention to the past, my primary concern is the quality of the remaining years of my life. I want them to be filled with the same meaning and purpose as those that came before. Artists do not retire. They may rest a bit, and move a little slower, and perhaps walk away from the commercial community, but the words, the art, and the music never cease. I believe I have something worthwhile to contribute to my family, friends, and community, how ever modest it may be. It’s complicated, but I believe an honest understanding of my past is critical to the work I have yet to do.

Saturday, December 29, 2018


78 and counting – March 1917

I began writing about the process of aging nine years ago as I approached my 70th birthday.  Reflecting on the arc of my experience, a pattern seems to be emerging suggesting an evolution in my response to this inevitable process. This 8th decade can be thought of as a tunnel we must pass through, a little dark and scary in the beginning, but gradually becoming lighter and easier, with the promise of relief at the end. We enter knowing we are still young, and leave knowing we are old.

Some observations from my first 8 years in the tunnel:

1.     A combination of amusement and disbelief that I could be 70 years old.
2.     Confronting the question – What defines old age?
3.     A growing interest in my past – childhood, family, memories
4.     Reaching out to old friends and family
5.     Struggling with my work and with ambition, aspirations, and expectations
6.     Recognizing the physical and mental implications of ageing
7.     Eventually finding old friends becomes less important
8.     Slowly seeing and accepting myself as “old”
9.     Aging gradually transitions from an abstraction to reality.
10. Growing appreciation for the role of fate in determining our future, (There but for the grace of God go I.) and the opportunity to make it this far.

Aging is primarily a physical process. Remaining “young at heart” does

Saturday, December 15, 2018


October 2016

At age 77 I am aware of how compressed the remainder of my life is becoming and the tension this creates within me. There is still work to be done, aspirations to be met, and lofty dreams that refuse to acknowledge a limited future.

The problem is not that I have not done all that I set out to do, but that I continue to discover new paths that I want to travel, and more work that I want to do. My art is slowly improving, but there is so much more to learn.  Forty years ago I promised myself, and my patients, that I would strive to create the best work I am capable of doing, and I have not yet done that…I know I can do better. I recently had the opportunity to see some outstanding art that has inspired me to push the boundaries of my own work. At the same time I saw several pastel paintings of mine that were completed about 15 years ago, and realized I wanted to return to that medium that holds so much promise.

And there is more. I want to write. I am enticed by the satisfaction and fulfillment of conveying an idea, a message, or a memory, using words instead of paint. Writing has become as important to me as my art. Beyond the craft of writing, is the desire to share my story and the lessons life has taught me.  I believe I have something to offer, in spite of the doubts and insecurities that constantly hang over me. 

When I look into all the tomorrows through my rose colored glasses I see books and essays waiting to be written and paintings to be painted, a daunting challenge because I still need my quiet time for reflection as well as my afternoon nap. So much yet to do – so little time – so much insecurity and doubt – so much stress – and I would not trade it for anything. I consider myself fortunate to be right where I am.

Friday, December 7, 2018


March 2016
How do we become the person that we are? How much control do we have in defining ourselves? If we are fortunate, life offers us the opportunity to grow and develop as persons, to become what we were intended to be. The circumstances affecting our lives are many, and their influences range from the most minor, to the most significant: heredity, family, and financial and economic status all play a role, as does the unpredictability of fate.

How do we define ourselves? Occupation, personal beliefs, passionate interests, family, and socio-economic status are some of the criteria we can use, personal choices we much each make for ourselves.

Looking back I see now that I have always wanted to be more than I am. This has been especially true with my art. From the very beginning, I entered our local art world (Wilmington Delaware) with unwarranted boldness and optimism. I had grand ideas for my future that would remain with me for the next 35 years. It would be inaccurate to say that I’ve been driven in pursuit of these aspirations, but I have certainly been committed to be the best that I could be. I imagined my work being represented in several “good” galleries, as well as commercial success that went beyond my local market, and over the years have had a measure of success in this regard.

I can see now that many of my aspirations were na├»ve and some were unrealistic.  But it was that naivety that allowed me to achieve what success I have had with my art. Now, in the later years of my life, that naivety is tempered with reality, and the new challenge is finding a way to balance these sometimes opposing forces. After 77 years…the piss and vinegar and unbridled optimism and enthusiasm have given way to a more measured version of the same. The goals are not as lofty, but the commitment is still there. Perhaps this is the time to really focus on improving my craftsmanship and pushing at the borders of my comfort zone, in both the art and the writing. ?????

Sunday, November 25, 2018




Is life about becoming the person we are? Or perhaps the person we choose to be, or think we should be. Which ever it is, it is an ongoing experience, evolving, hopefully growing and maturing, and not remaining stagnant and stale. If my life has been a series of “becomings”, at this age, what more can I become?

I may have abused my work, leaning on it too heavily, relying on it to give meaning and purpose to my life. Over the past several months my art and my writing seem to be unable to meet the demands placed upon them. I find myself lost and drifting through the days with no direction and no deeply engaged purpose. I can’t fine the center. More than anything else, I want to be strong and resilient, sustained by an inner strength that enables me to withstand all the challenges of life’s circumstances.

We interact with life two ways, with our feelings and with our intellect, and we are best served when they are in sync with each other, in a healthy balance. Each has the power and the ability to overwhelm the other, or to lift it up when needed. I believe I have relied heavily on my feelings to direct and give purpose to my life, and on my intellect to hold me up when the feelings were failing me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Standing on their Shoulders    

 They had little to give but themselves, which they gave freely and abundantly.  Josephine, who never knew her father, at age eleven had to leave her home, quit school, and move into an apartment with three older brothers to assume all household duties. Spartaco, known to all as Duke, lost his mother when he was eight years old. The youngest of four brothers, he left school after the eighth grade to work on the family farm, while his brothers and 3 older sisters completed high school and college or business school. Unrelenting hard work, financial insecurity, and more than their share of personal disappointments and illnesses defined their life on that small farm. Comfort and happiness were found in their large, extended family and friends.

It took forty years of living for me to fully appreciate all that these two remarkable people have given to me.

My mother died in December 1991, and my father in the autumn of 1995. I am 76 years old, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of my parents. I don’t know if this is unusual for someone my age, if it is because I was an only child, or if it’s because I am such a sentimental softy. I suspect the real reason is because they were remarkable people, and that they gave me so much. Ironically, in spite of all the writing that I do, writing about them is very difficult for me because I’m afraid I will not do them the justice they deserve.

I believe that I am the person I am because of my parents. Whatever I have accomplished of worth, or may yet accomplish, is the result of the gifts given to me by my family. 

The greatest of these gifts was a sense of self worth and self-esteem, which have allowed me to choose some of the difficult paths I have followed in my life. I believe there is no greater gift parents can give to their children than a strong sense of their own self worth.

My parents taught me about love; they taught me about tolerance and forgiveness, and they taught me about humility. They showed me that a person of worth treats everyone with the same respect and warmth, and that behavior toward others is determined by their humanity and not by their social position or importance.

They never spoke about these beliefs; they simply lived them because that is who they were. Pretention was foreign to them. I am convinced my life is a reflection of those two remarkable people, and I want it to be worthy of them. My greatest responsibilities have been to live a life honoring their gifts and to pass these gifts on to my children and loved ones. 

Where do I go from here?  The journey is far from over, and I don’t get to choose when it ends. I have lived the last 40 years embracing the life I felt called to live. Perhaps it is time to recommit myself to that task.

After 76 years I’m still standing on their shoulders.

Thursday, November 15, 2018



We were listening to the Paducah Symphony Orchestra’s last concert of the season. I have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of music, let alone classical music, which puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating the scope and the nuances of the music. But I can appreciate the passion it evokes in the listener and even more, the passion so clearly obvious in the musicians and the conductor, especially the conductor. 

The musicians were, for the most part, limited to facial expressions imposed upon them by their instruments of varying bulk. But the conductor - his every emotion was betrayed by his body movements, and when visible, his face.  First he stood very still, and the orchestra was quiet, then his arms began to move gracefully in purposeful arcs and the music followed. Suddenly the baton, an extension of his right hand began to bounce and gyrate, pulling his body along with it, and the music kept pace with every movement. Here was an artist immersed in his work with such physical and emotional passion. I was envious.

I can be engrossed in my work, sitting or standing and I may walk away momentarily and pace, which I do quite often. But to be able to experience the sound and the physicality of my work like the conductor did, that is something else. The best I can do is to have music blaring from a CD, Johnny Cash, Luciano Pavarotti, or maybe Queen.   OK…I have a confession to make.  On rare occasions, when I am especially moved, I will actually dance (I insist on calling it dance) around the studio, but not until I have checked to see if Patience, or anyone else could see me.

That is the difference between a symphony conductor and a painter. The conductor can let it all hang out in front of his audience.  The painter, at least this one, must be devious and sneaky. That is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.