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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

It took months for my father to build my playhouse. I remember how he started by drawing up construction plans and leveling a patch of dirt in the backyard next to the peach tree, and every weekend, I watched as he painstakingly constructed it from scratch, board by board, nail by nail. I’m sure I was quite impatient for my father to finish it, but he insisted on taking his time.

When he was done, my playhouse had a real door with a lock and key, windows, a built-in bookshelf, a handcrafted table with two chairs, and real linoleum on the floor. Out front was a wood deck with a built-in bench. It was beautiful, glowing, smelling sweetly of timber and sandpaper, and it surpassed my wildest dreams.

Years later, inevitably, the wooden structure began to rot and give way to the elements, and my parents asked if they could tear it down. I was already grown-up and living far away, and really, what could we do? We all knew it was time. The dilapidated structure came down, and my mother planted flowers and vegetables where my playhouse had once stood.

This painting represents a treasured photo. “It was all that was left” of my playhouse. Now the photo too is gone, lost somewhere between loose album pages and moving boxes. Things–the playhouse, the photo, and perhaps even this painting someday–slip away so easily. But our sweetest memories always persist.

See the next painting in the series.

“It was all that was left” is part of a series titled “Lost Along the Way.”

4″ x 4″ acrylic and ink on canvas

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Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read fiction, but the summer I was thirteen, my brother came home from boarding school and left his paperback copy of My Name is Asher Lev. Naturally, I read it secretly.

It was the first novel I’d ever read, and Chaim Potok’s powerful use of language shocked and nourished me. I had known since I was eleven that I wanted to be a writer, but that summer I decided I wanted to be a writer like Chaim Potok.

That paperback copy of My Name Is Asher Lev followed me through high school and college. I read it at least a dozen times, marking in the margins and underlining my favorite sentences. When I was working at my first job out of college, as a designer and assistant editor for a magazine, I met a young artist who did a cover for us. We had a lot in common, and I told her she absolutely had to read this novel about a gifted artist trying to reconcile his gift and his religious tradition. And you already know what I did: I loaned my book to her.

Since then, I’ve acquired a first edition hardcover edition of My Name Is Asher Lev, but I still miss my original tattered copy. I wonder what I penned in the margins, if my favorite sentences now are the same ones that initially pulled me in and held me in a state of suspended magic.

I’ve been trying to locate that young artist ever since, but a lot of time has passed. I know I may never see my book again, but a couple of years ago, I saw a newspaper article about an old man who went into a used bookstore in his childhood town and found his long-lost favorite picture book with his name scribbled on the inside cover. It could happen. It happens, sometimes.

This painting is in honor of the book that changed my life, the book for which “I am still looking.” If by some miracle, you find it, please let me know.

See the next painting in the series.

“I am still looking” is part of a series titled “Lost Along the Way.”

4″ x 4″ acrylic and ink on canvas

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It was my favorite toy while I had it, that blue tricycle. It was a scratched-up, dented hand-me-down from my brother, but I loved it. Everyday we chased each other up and down the sidewalk in front of our house and in circles on the asphalt driveway, my brother on his brand-new red bike with training wheels and me on that blue tricycle. On that tricycle, I felt free. I felt like a big kid.

When it tipped over and spilled me onto the asphalt, its handlebar breaking cleanly off the metal body, that blue tricycle and I were still getting to know each other. We were still in euphoria.

Afterward, I went out to the garage day after day to see if it had miraculously been made whole again, but it lay there immobile, broken, finished. I was heartbroken. I was also an unusually reserved child, and somehow I got the ludicrous idea in my head that a magnificent toy like a tricycle must cost an extraordinary amount of money. Naturally, I never told my parents how much I wanted a new one.

Several Christmases and birthdays later, my mother found out. I remember the look of dismay on her face upon discovering that she had been oblivious to something I wanted so badly.

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” she cried. “I thought you didn’t care! I would have gotten you a brand-new one right away!”

I don’t know which one of us felt more regret in that moment.

Imagine the comic absurdity of it: We rush to the store that very day. We’re standing in an aisle lined with bicycles and tricycles. There are all kinds of tricycles–little red ones, a tall silver one with streamers, and even a beautiful pink one. We try out all of them, but–you guessed it–my knees knock against the handlebars, and my arms are scrunched up. I am clearly too big for a tricycle.

Life is always spinning forward; there’s no going back. That’s what I understood as my mother and I stood in that aisle lamenting that “I was already too big” for another tricycle. This painting is in recognition of the reality that sometimes we have to give voice to our wishes and dreams in order for them to come true.

See the next painting in the series.

“I was already too big” is part of a series titled “Lost Along the Way.”

4″ x 4″ acrylic and ink on canvas

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Back in the days when I wished I lived on a farm, I had a Bedlington Terrier named “Fluffie.” Originally, I had wanted a giraffe from Africa, or alternately, an old English sheep dog, or better yet, a sheep. For some reason, none of these options suited my parents. I got Fluffie instead. Size-wise, she was a better fit for our yard than a giraffe, and she was a smallish dog that happened to look like a sheep (two birds, one stone!). In fact, she looked so much like a sheep that when I took Fluffie on walks, little suburban children who had probably never seen a live farm animal often mistook her for one.

Years passed. I grew up, went away to school across the ocean. By the time my parents too left Japan, Fluffie was too old to make the move with them. We left her with our neighbors who ran a lumberyard next door.

I heard stories of Fluffie from time to time: how she went missing from the lumberyard and was eventually found in our old backyard in her favorite spot under the peach tree, how she made friends with all of the lumberyard workers, and–my favorite story of all–how she saved a man’s life. Yup. The dog who was often mistaken for a sheep saved a man’s life.

It’s a simple story. One of Fluffie’s lumberyard friends fell gravely ill, and the doctors weren’t sure if he would make it. But he did after a long, difficult hospitalization. When asked what had kept him going, he said it was the thought of seeing Fluffie again.

“That dog saved my life,” he said.

Fluffie passed away just weeks after being reunited with her friend. I’d like to think that maybe she was waiting for him, just as he was waiting to see her again. This painting is in memory of Fluffie, because “she was often mistaken for a sheep” and because she saved a man’s life.

See the next painting in the series.

“She was often mistaken for a sheep” is part of a series titled “Lost Along the Way.”

4″ x 4″ acrylic and ink on canvas

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Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things – Cicero

For the writer, the produced work is only the end result of a long process of nurturing the mind and soul and translating thoughts, dreams, and human experience into art. I believe in respecting this process, and I’d even go as far as to say that it’s my responsibility as a writer to devote time to creative exploration through activities like painting, sketching, reading, walking, blogging, and learning. This writer’s responsibility is also a great luxury though, because I get to spend a great deal of time doing things I love.

Last week, for example, I worked on a series of small paintings. The title of the series is “Lost Along the Way.” The impulse behind this series was nostalgia, I suppose. These 4″ x 4″ paintings depict precious belongings that slipped away from me and left me with bittersweet memories. You know the kind of belongings I mean. You had them too. Perhaps for you it was a favorite childhood doll that was given away, or a stack of letters accidentally discarded, or a beloved pet that died too soon. These kinds of belongings–the ones seared into our blurring memories of innocence and wonder–often have little monetary value, but as windows into the narratives of our lives, they contain a bit of magic even years later.

What were some of your irreplaceable belongings that were lost along the way? What stories do they hold? Over the next few days, I’ll share paintings of eight of my lost treasures and the anecdotes they represent. I hope you’ll enjoy!

See the next installment in the series.

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