Category: life

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

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all in a day

I think I’ll go for a daily ramble…wanna come?

“Sometimes I worry about being a success in a mediocre world.”-Lily Tomlin.

Some days I wake up and start the day and some days I don’t. I have learned to appreciate the former and ride through the latter. Recent days haven’t been so bad. I have done lots of nothing and a little bit of something and I am content. My brain, however, continues to work whether I am or not…pushing out thoughts and rationalizations and fears throughout the day. These thoughts seem to stem from the world around me, both near and far. Here’s just a sample of a typical day.

Okay, time to get up and start my day. What day is it and what are my goals? How do I feel? Is it shower day? I say hello to R. out of habit and preference, he is usually downstairs working on his laptop. I am not satisfied until he responds. If he doesn’t, I know I am alone in the house.

Cereal, milk, bowl and spoon…today I managed to get them without having to think too hard about the next step. What’s the weather like? Can I sit on the back steps and eat while hanging out with my four best buds? They circle me like vultures, hoping today is the day they get to have some leftover milk.

During my morning ablutions, I notice that the redbud tree has grown so much that I can see the mockingbird from the “throne” and I am thrilled to see him back again this fall. I imagine he and I have a relationship, even though he is a bird and I am a human…yes, I really do believe he is looking at me…and then of course I have to get my real camera and catch him hanging out by the berries.

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When I am satisfied that the pictures look good and post them on facebook, I stomp out to my studio. It is blessedly cool and I actually feel like welding. I seem to be focused and there are no cobwebs in my head which is a super bonus. I take note of what’s around me, the air, the sky, the smells, the sounds of the wind in the trees.

Putting pieces on the third seed pod form, my mind is occupied for brief moments while I determine which piece goes where and how should it get bent in order to fit. The rest of the time I am left to think about other things, the plight of the world, the plight of my friends, family and neighbors, the latest conflict both personal and worldly. I take the time to mentally connect with my three siblings and think about their lives for a while. And I usually touch upon a friend or two, especially if there are any moments of happiness, angst or disruption in their lives. The latest book, the latest movie or TV show is great fodder for rumination as the steel sculpture grows steadily.

Then I come back to me for a while. I think about what a great time I had hiking with my niece and her daughter one day and with my neighbor and her two horses the next. I fantasize that I am the horse whisperer, that there is some magic that was passed down the generations from my grandparents that allows me to be a natural horse person. Then I think maybe I’m ridiculous and I should just be careful, horses are not magical beings, they are 1,000 lbs of unpredictable animal. Of course if the horse wants to take a selfie, who am I to argue?

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I often spend lots of time rehashing all my moments of interactions, both pleasant and unpleasant which might lead me to wonder how to resolve a very small and seemingly insignificant dispute over driving speeds on our driveway with one of our neighbors. I think how totally silly it is to have tensions around this issue and I don’t want to be the speed Nazi and I don’t want to yell and I have had my share of neighborly conflicts over the years and I am simply tired of it and I refuse to play this game anymore.

Then it’s on to the country, the world…Trump, blah blah blah…Hillary…blah blah blah. I am scared of what the future holds, I see major problems, I feel like the country has opened up a Pandora’s box and it isn’t pretty. I wonder about our civility, or lack thereof and then I wonder about whether the media is making things bigger than they really are (very likely). I also wonder if the media and algorithms and facebook are controlling what we think (also very likely)  and what I can do to stop it. And I wonder if maybe this is the year that I get off my butt and stand up for my convictions, come out of my self-imposed political black out of opinions (a lady does not discuss politics or religion. A lady understands that everyone has their own opinion but it is nobody’s business but theirs. That way conflict and tension will not be present when relating to others. Oh, wait…then there is the other side of the parental coin…I’m going to argue vehemently and loudly with anyone who crosses my path even if they agree with me. Hmmm…which one will win???)

If I am honest, I also will tell you about the multiple times that I think, “Am I done yet? Can I go in to the house? Can I take a nap? Is it lunchtime? ” But finally it is time to stop and then my thoughts come back to the mundane, the in-the-moment of meal preparation. And the anticipation of chocolate.

After lunch I sit down at my computer to work (and check facebook) and work (and check the newspaper) and I spin myself into fear about the world and what is going on in it. How the world is disappearing, the land, the ice, the water all going away because of man and his/her attempts to control, to live beyond the necessary into the have-to-have world of cars and TV’s and plastic and petroleum and technology and nuclear weapons/power plants and it is all so scary as to make me want to run and hide but then I remember that there is really nowhere to run to. I have been known to take a nap at this point, I am so tired…and then I remember a conversation that I had with niece and all of a sudden I am reminded to take a step back and see what is important in this world. This does not include any of the nominees for president, nor does it include conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, terrorists, global warming, silly neighbors…it includes (not in any particular order) cereal and mocking birds and dogs and cats and horses and chocolate and husbands and friends and family and…and bugs. Especially ones that are hanging out on my screen window making new bugs for next year.

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And then I breathe.

And I finish out the day reading and learning and making a good dinner and drinking some wine and eating more chocolate and yes, playing a few games of solitaire and petting a cat and letting the dogs out one last time before bedtime. And life is mostly good. Now if I can just get to sleep…

 

on being successful

I have always been attracted to fairytales, magic and metaphor. I relate much better to Jung than Freud, Joseph Campbell is my hero and I prefer to see myself as a greek goddess than a child of one God. I am trying to get over being a product of the 80’s and 90’s psychological mantra that says that the subconscious (and by extension and relation, the conscious) drives all the bad things that happen to you. Self sabotage, unconscious desires of failure and sickness ruled my view on life, even when I was given proof that it was a false supposition. I used it daily to castigate myself, to remind myself that even if I consciously thought I could succeed, there was a part of me that would take care of that and lead me to failure or worse. If something went wrong, I could say that I had subconsciously willed it. In a way it meant I didn’t have to take responsibility for my actions. In a weird way it meant that all negative stuff happened to me because deep down I wanted it to.

I am slowly letting go of this philosophy. I now work harder on my conscious thoughts, my conscious actions and conscious relationships with people. Ironically, this requires much more introspection and identification than I am used to. In order to succeed it is imperative to know what your limitations are and to ask for help when you need it. Not so easy for the stoic person who was taught (by my amazing mother) that showing your vulnerabilities and your weaknesses opens you up to a plethora of possible negative encounters. Hide it, take care of it yourself and you will become stronger. Make it look like you know what you are doing, don’t ask questions, learn by observing…those were my mantras. You can probably see how this led to a series of failures on my part, not to mention huge anxieties and panic attacks when I thought someone would see through my veneer. Now I can see that these thoughts, and not my subconscious, were responsible for my lack of success.

One thing I have learned from this personal transformation is that magic doesn’t work by itself. Magic works with a degree of collusion from the audience. You can only make someone believe you are better, talented, successful if they want to believe it. It is easy to create the smoke and mirrors that can make something look amazing. Ask anyone in theater about that. All you need is the set, the costumes and the lighting to transform a person into a character in a story. But if the audience member is not willing to go along with the magic, they will understand that the set is one sided, the costumes are put together with tape and stitches and the lighting is ephemeral. I grew up in the theater and was trained in how to put on the face of a happy, successful person. But I always knew better.

Now, funnily enough, I can say I am successful. I am able define my abilities, limitations and goals in a different light. I can say that, while my definition of success is much different than the traditional American one, I am successful. I am mastering the ability to create form, emotion and story using steel, fibers and (sometimes) polymer clay. I have found a way to share my talents and my stories with my community in a way that brings me pleasure. Of course I still have my mother’s voice in my head saying “tooting your own horn is vulgar” to which I would respond (if she were still here) “Tooting my own horn is a part of claiming myself as a person, a woman and an artist.”

So here I am, a middle aged woman who is finally coming into her own. It’s been painfully hard work sometimes but surprising, exhilarating and rewarding in the end. I think how different my life could have been if I had known how to stand up for myself, how to admit my lack of knowledge and how to ask for help when I was younger. But those years are over and I am grateful that I am learning these things now. I still have a ways to go, old lessons die a difficult death, but I am still young, I have time to perfect myself.

Besides, I just helped my dad celebrate his 95th birthday. That gives me 40 more years to figure out how the hell to play this game of life. And if this selfie is right, the lesson is that it is more important to be excited about chocolate cake that got put in front of you than it is to smile at the camera…

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random thoughts

I have had thoughts floating through my brain this week. Thoughts on everything from my dad to politics to what is going on in the studio. Here’s a sample.

  • My dad turns 95 on the 17th of this month. That is really old. He’s been old ever since I can remember (he was 41 when I was born) but now he’s REALLY old. And he is so excited about his birthday. He is planning a little party for lunch. I will be there with my brother. Some times in the last few years I have grumbled and complained about my dad and having to deal with him. But for this moment, I am grateful that I will have one more fun memory of him.
  • Speaking of my dad, (not to totally take away the good feelings of the previous thought) but a certain presidential candidate reminds me of him a bit. My dad would have made a terrible president.
  • Speaking of a presidential candidate, it may be true that he has a personality disorder. But mental illness is NOT a reason for not being president. Look at Lincoln. I will leave it up to you to determine what the differences are between them.
  • Why do I feel the need to dress up and look my best when I go buy a car today?
  • Making paper is fun, messy and time consuming.
  • Rust and hand made paper…an interesting combination. The jury is still out as to whether I will continue this interesting idea or put it aside for the moment. Stay tuned.
  • Curving a 15 foot 1 1/2″ diameter pipe into a circle requires two people. Thank you husband-o’-mine…
  • Previously mentioned pipe is the start of a new piece. If all goes according to plan (and I don’t expect that it will) there will be a very large bowl on the property in the future.
  • I am feeling really sad about the devastation of a local town here in Maryland due to a flash flood. I spent seven years working and playing in Historic Ellicott City. It breaks my heart to see how many buildings and lives were ruined in the course of a short amount of time. Disasters like this happen everyday but it is different when you know some of the main players.
  • Young, male car salesmen should not tell middle-aged women “You’ll get used to it” when explaining the new safety technology of a car.
  • And finally, I think I will not start autumn squashes indoors next year. This year I will be harvesting pumpkins in August. Guess I will have to buy pumpkins at Halloween. Sigh.IMG_2414

thine enemy

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how and why we define someone as an enemy. It seems that these days enemies are everywhere and we are being told who they are and what we can do to defend against them. To me the answers seem ludicrous and childish. But there are a lot of people drinking the enemy Kool Aid.

While I was pondering (and rewriting) this blog this afternoon, I took a break and went out to take some pictures. I found honey bees on my Cranesbill, siphoning off the nectar.

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All of a sudden, the whole issue clarified for me. And here is what I began to think:

Have you ever gotten stung by a bee? The fact that they sting is a defense mechanism developed a very long time ago. They do not sting because they don’t like you. They sting because they perceive you as a threat. They would perceive any large being encroaching on their nest as a threat. But they have no feelings towards you specifically. Humans also attack those whom we perceive as a threat. The difference is that we aren’t always good at knowing exactly who the enemy is. It’s not always as simple as defending against a big destructive giant. There are subtleties and nuances and group dynamics to be taken into consideration.

And yet it seems easier for most people to see the world in black and white. If you are not my friend, you must be my enemy. There are also many people who seem to be waiting for a reason to hate, to condemn, to attack. And given the right amount of tinder, they will. For no other reason than because they feel threatened. They are afraid that the person who is not like them, the “other”, is somehow going to make their lives worse. They will have fewer jobs, they will be poorer, their kids will have fewer resources, they will have to pay more taxes…the list of potential grievances goes on. It is easy to fault the government, illegal immigrants, Muslims, rich, poor, African Americans, mentally ill people, homeless people, guns, corporations, Wall Street, Jews, women, men, white people, stupid people, smart people, LBGT, Democrats, Republicans, the news media and any other groups of humans that can be described as “different than me”. And I think that the politicians make it even easier by defining who we should hate and then claiming that they can defend us. They feed into our general fears and focus us so that we know who and what we should be fearing.

This issue of defining who our enemy is becomes even murkier with the element of time. I recently watched an episode of a British crime drama that takes place a few years after WWII. One of the characters talks about how difficult it was to switch the concept of enemy in her mind. She spent years during the war working to mathematically solve the encryption codes of the Germans. She firmly placed the German people in the enemy camp in her mind. Years later, she was having problems letting that go and not seeing every German as an enemy, someone who turned her country and her life into chaos and fear.

I can understand this mindset in this case. This was a clear story of one man in one country causing destruction, death and suffering in many countries. He aggressively chose to destroy and conquer, and many of his countrymen followed orders. The Germans, as a whole, were threatening the very existence of many countries. I think I would also find it tough to change my opinion of people from that country. How confusing and destructive it must be when friends and even relatives become enemies and vice versa.

To go back to the bee thing, in my thirties I became allergic to certain bee stings. Specifically yellow jackets. I swell up, I get groggy and I hurt for a couple of days. It is not so bad, yet, where I need an Epi-pen or I will die. But that may come if I get stung too many more times. The first time I had the bad reaction I made a decision. I was not going to be afraid of all bees. Yes, I can be afraid, wary and respectful of yellow jackets. But bees in general are not something to afraid of, simply because I am allergic to one of the species. It takes a conscious and strong decision on my part not to judge, fear and despise all bees and wasps but it helps knowing that even though they sting, they are also here on earth for a reason. They can do something I can’t. They can pollinate flowers. They are also part of the food chain for birds, spiders and other animals.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII, there were thousands of Japanese people who were interned. This included people who were first, second or even third generation Americans. But because they had a Japanese name or because they had family in Japan, they were labelled the enemy. Our enemy. Even though they were us, they were our enemy. How confusing is that? (I am reminded of Pogo’s famous statement, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”) German Americans avoided this fate but still were ostracized. For some reason, this feels truly reprehensible to me. We judged, juried and found the need to hate and protect ourselves against a very large number of people that were not a threat. It’s a fine line, but it is an important one.

So here is my promise. I will try not to define my enemies based on hearsay and conjecture. I will try not to hate someone just because my neighbor does. I want to judge someone based on my experiences and values as well as theirs. I want to look at the bigger picture, not to excuse, but to understand and to clarify what I don’t understand. It is really hard. I won’t always succeed. But I will try. And, lastly, I won’t let a politician (or any wannabe politician) tell me who my enemy is. I refuse to follow the herd, drink the KoolAid and join the bandwagon.

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And I will continue to love honeybees. Buh bye!

 

 

 

 

in retrospect…by the numbers

The open studio is over and life has returned to its normal peaceful, ordered state. I spent the day recovering from being super hostess and will resume being an artist tomorrow. For right now, I am content reliving the weekend in all its glory.

As I ponder the weekend, I am struck by how much we as a society are stuck on numbers to qualify our happiness and success. How many home runs did someone get in a season, how many people voted in an election, what score did your child get on the test, what is your IQ. The list is endless as to how we measure ourselves. Endless, but limited. For we don’t always measure the stuff that is really important. How many people dropped popcorn while they cheered for those home runs because they were so excited? How many people were affected by the policies put into place by the elected official? How many times was your child polite to other people? And how many times did you smile today? Perhaps those are the questions we should be finding the answers to.

I am not immune to the numbers game. Throughout my career as an artist, I have avidly counted things. Dollars I made at a craft show, new names on my mailing list, visitors to my gallery, lizards sold…it all added up over the years. But quite honestly, I can’t say that any of it was really important. I continued to make stuff, people continued to buy it and I wasn’t any more or less happy after I had figured out the bottom line. Or if I was, it was fleeting because I always thought the numbers should be higher.

And yet I continue to do it. I carefully count the names on the sign in sheet for the open studio trying to figure out how many people came. But as I do so, I wonder exactly what is the magic number? What is the number that means that the weekend was a success? That I can use to tell other people so that they will be impressed? And then I think maybe I need to come up with some different numbers.

So here they are:

Number of people who smiled when they were here: All of them.

Number of people who thanked me for opening up my property to the public: I lost count.

Number of people I thanked for coming out to see my work during the weekend of solid rain: Everyone I talked to. (At least I tried, if I missed anyone, consider yourself thanked).

Number of people who told me my work was amazing/phenomenal/fill in any number of adjectives: I lost count.

Number of kids who rode the rocking llama: over 30.

Number of adults who rode the rocking llama: Probably around 20 but I don’t know for sure, I think there were some who did it when no one was looking.

Number of chocolate chip cookies eaten: 7 dozen.

Number of people reached by my facebook post of the article in the Carroll County Times: 1,770. (This last number is quite ridiculous. It is my first encounter with the power of social media. And it doesn’t count the people who saw the article in the myriad of other places that it was posted or shared. It also reminds me of the still strong power of the press. The newspaper may be a dinosaur, but don’t count it out, especially in the smaller communities.)

Number of kids who stuck their tongues out at the kangaroo: Only one was caught on film, Others may have as well. I will never tell.

Number of tire ruts in our lawn: doesn’t matter.

Number of happy, successful artists living here: One.

Thank you.

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Tatay, part two

I am sad to report that Sotero Nieves, aka Tatay, died last night at the age of 107 and 10 months. He was two years and two months shy of his goal. While I am sad, I am also happy. Happy that I knew him, happy that I learned from him and happy to be a part of his large, loud, funny, multi-generational family. I am an honorary Philippino (yes, I have actually eaten bagoong, the traditional fish paste). I will share more snippets of memories in the next post. For now, allow me to tell you a story.

(FYI, Tatay was married to Nanay for over 70 years. For a while she lived with one of their sons very close to where we lived.)

The day was a stressful one from the moment I woke up. I was super worried about a family member, had several errands to run including a dentist appointment, and then had to be in downtown Baltimore for a meeting in the afternoon. I was driving home from the dentist, and needed to stop at the food store for a couple of things. As I approached the entrance to the market, I came up behind the local county bus dropping off some passengers. I waited patiently until it was finished, then realized that two of the passengers were Tatay and Nanay. I honked my horn and waved, then prepared to continue driving to the store. The next thing I knew, Tatay was walking over to the car and getting into the front seat. I hastily moved stuff out of his way (I have a tendency to live in my car). Nanay, paused outside the car, not quite knowing what to do at this point. I turned and moved stuff off of the back seat so she could have a place to sit as well.

All this while, there was a running commentary going through my head…”Damn, I didn’t mean that I would give him a ride, I have so much to do. I can’t tell him to get out though, he’s 90 for God’s sake, how rude would that be? Will I go to hell if I just drive away really quickly before he gets into the car?”

Needless to say, I acted with grace and poise.

“Tatay, I need to stop at the store before I take you guys home.”

Yes, I was hoping he would say that he couldn’t wait…no luck…

“Oh good,” he said, “I have a prescription that I need filled.”

It seems that I had been trumped. But I tried again.

“I can’t sit around and wait for it, I don’t have time”.

Nope…that didn’t work either.

“It’s okay, you can just give it to the pharmacy, I will have my son pick it up later.”

I was truly defeated. I went into the market, leaving them in my car, then drove them to their respective homes.

I learned two things that day. One is that the culture in the Philippines is a much more welcoming one. Families are connected to each other like a spider’s web. If you aren’t related, you are friends with the relations. People give each other rides without thinking twice. Tatay had no idea that it was considered rude to just get into someone’s car without being invited, in his mind it was an unstated invitation the minute that I honked and waved.

The other thing I learned was that Tatay could be extremely manipulative to get what he needed. And what he needed most was wheels. He needed to get out of the house, to feel a part of society. All his family worked during the day and for a few years he relied on taxis, public transportation and the goodwill of friends to get him around to his various commitments. After his granddaughters got old enough to drive, they became his personal taxi to doctor’s appointments and errands. He was never shy about asking for a ride.


Epilogue to Part 2.

This story has prompted gales of laughter from his family for many years. I have told the story many times, and each time it has been as funny as the first. So, when I saw him a couple of days ago, I asked if he wanted to go for a ride to the store and, despite having one foot firmly across the threshold between life and death, he nodded. His family members who were present, erupted into laughter. It was a fitting way to say good bye to him.


 

Here is a picture of Tatay at my open studio in 2006, just after I finished the lion sculpture. He was 97. He was one of my biggest fans.

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