On Painting, Poetry, and My Old Age (Part One)

Korean - I love you

Hye Sook Park returned from South Korea last week, and Linda and I were able to show the studio space we are going to sublet in San Pedro at The Loft. Someone had told us that the building was not earthquake reinforced, but unless the square blocks spaced several feet apart that gird each side of the building have been glued there for ornamental purposes only, it looks as if it will hold up enough in all but the worst smack-downs. So much of a building’s survival depends on the ground on which it is built that it is a bit of a crap shoot, no matter how much reinforcement you instill in a structure. Back in the mid-1990s, the major earthquake on MLK, Jr., holiday wiped out several buildings in the prosperous neighborhood of northern Santa Monica, whereas the much more working people environs of Ocean Park fared very well. It was mainly the firmer ground of Ocean Park that made the difference.

We went out for lunch together and talked about painting and the commitment it involves. Hye Sook said that my paintings might surprise me in their ability to attract an audience. Perhaps if I had chosen visual art rather than language as a primary means of imaginative work back when I was 20 years old, I might have a larger audience than I do now, but I doubt it. When one starts out poor, ugly, and not particularly gifted in terms of intellect, one should consider oneself lucky to have gotten as far as I have. (Recently, someone commented on social media on my physical appearance, “Not so pretty.” Things have changed much since I was elected “Ugliest Man on Campus” back in Fall, 1964.) It’s highly unlikely that painting would have had a different outcome than poetry. In my case, just as it seems I ended up writing poetry so that I could enjoy the full perplexities of reading it, I would guess that my attempts at painting will primarily end up expanding my capacity to read paintings by those who have devoted their entire lives to that art.

Towards the end of the meal, Hye Sook showed Linda and me a hand gesture that has become popular in Korea, and she says that it has caught on among the fans of a major Korean pop band. When I took out my cell-phone to take a picture of my hand making that gesture, our waitress came by to pick up our empty bowls and plates. She saw me taking a “selfie” of my hand. “I wish I had my flip phone back,” she said.

I wish we had print culture back.

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