DC Artist Anne Truitt

Ok. I hadn’t actually heard of her until I read a (positive) review of the exhibit in the Washington Post. But I did go see her in the tower gallery at the East Wing of the National of Art. And I liked her.

It helps that she was a DC artist. Not just someone from DC (and technically, she was born in Baltimore) who then moved away, but someone who lived and worked in DC for most of her career. Thank you. We are an artsy city and unless your name is New York or Paris, we can probably kick your butt, arts-wise.

Her minimalist work, spaced out in the large, high ceilinged, and vaguely trapezoidal gallery, gave the space the feeling of a secular temple (maybe like the Rothko Chapel, to which I’ve never been). Which made it so disappointing that there was only one small bench, set off to the side were you really couldn’t see much of the art very well. This exhibit was just begging for a couple of rows of pews, where people could pray or meditate in a setting that really called for an appreciation of art as a spiritual practice.


Egg Temple

We were obliged to come here because we had promised five hundred eggs if our prayers were answered. Actually, I think my mother-in-law promised. Or my better half. Clearly, I’m not sure. But someone promised in such a way that also sort of obliged me, so we all went.

I didn’t take pictures because this was not a tourist location, but a place for legitimate Thai supplicants and for people like my in-laws, who were fulfilling their end of an asked for boon.

You got flowers and incense and a candle and lit the latter two and place the incense in a sand filled brazier and the candles seemed variously left around. The flowers were placed in a large clay jar.

Wrapped around them when you purchased the flower/incense/candle package was a paper prayer and square of thin gold foil. The foil was pressed onto a Buddha covered in them in a room just beyond the incense and candle room.

The eggs were placed on a shelf when you did all this and when we were done, my mother-in-law instructed me to get them again. She left one behind and we took the rest, which were now blessed.

I Am Not Paying Attention

Someone at my work died. Unexpectedly. She was younger than me, I told someone. But I know that. I know that I thought that she looked younger than me, but I didn’t know her at all. She’d worked at my office before. Maybe it was before I came here. Maybe it was only for a short time when I first started here and I just don’t remember her.

This doesn’t make me a bad person, a colleague pointed out. It doesn’t make me anything except uninterested or inattentive.

I have been thinking about religious matters. Both about my own faith (and my poor keeping of the basic minimum expected of me from it) and about the Buddhist faith. I have been reading a little about it and have gone to a Wat Thai (a Thai Buddhist temple; they are Theravāda, if you’re interested, but with a lot of syncretic features from Hinduism and a powerful monastic tradition that is intertwined with the government) twice in recent weeks and contemplating what it would mean if my child chose Buddhism over my Catholicism.

But we’ve gotten far away from the person who died, haven’t we. Not ‘we.’ Me.

My religious point was my failure to be attentive in my compassion. I know what she looked like. I remember that, like me, she was a bit in her own world when the building’s fire alarm drove us all outside. I remember that I only pieced together by deduction that she was the same person as the email address in the ‘all staff’ list. I had to ask if she was married. If she had children. I still don’t know how she died. A human being grew up, lived, and then died early and unexpectedly and though I was in a position to know her, I did not and the fact that I did not was, in the end, a choice.

The Grand Re-Opening Of The Freer/Sackler Galleries; Or ‘Illuminasia’

The Smithsonian Museum of Asian Art, also know as the Freer/Sackler, is one of my favorite museums. Not only is it directly by the Smithsonian metro station, but it is less crowded than many other museums on the National Mall and has some of the best spots for quiet contemplation you are likely to find.

After almost two years closed for renovations, the galleries are finally open. The grand celebration was called Illuminasia. Lots of cool stuff for the kids and some lovely music and some frustratingly long lines for food (the bao was excellent, but not worth the thirty minute wait).

There’s a nice exhibit on cats in ancient Egypt and a genuinely inspiring exhibit called ‘Encountering the Buddha’ that I can’t wait to see again.

This video doesn’t exist

Verses From The Center

This was all the DC Public Library system had, in the way of Nagarjuna, the great Buddhist theologian (and founding figure of one of the largest rivers of Buddhist thought and also the origin of Thai Buddhist theology; Mahayana Buddhism – look it up).

The translator, Stephen Batchelor, openly acknowledges that this is not an academic work and I find it a shame that the library does not have a such a translation (this is not a criticism of the DCPL; it’s an awesome library system and I can’t honestly say that such a book should be a burning priority for them; it’s more of a personal disappointment).

I don’t know much about Mr. Batchelor, but if I were to guess, I would say that he does ‘pop’ Buddhism for well-to-do white people.

Knowing a smidgen about the subject, I was able to interpret how these verses relate to the so-called tetralemma (a kind of logic or form of logic or aspect of logic associated with Nagarjuna with four predicates: x is; x is not; x both is and is not; x neither is nor is not). You can also see Buddhist ideas of time and how they relate to the absence of a self.

You can see a lot of stuff. Kind of. Partly, I know, it’s because these works were not written for me, were not written in a style nor a language nor form intended to help me understand.

Partly, though, I can’t help but think that this was intended as a sort of self help book for people who wear Lululemon to yoga classes.

‘Leisure: The Basis of Culture’ By Josef Pieper

Pieper begins the book as almost a marxian (though also anti-communist and anti-totalitarian) tract and ends as an apologist for Christian philosophy (though not, necessarily, for Christianity the religion).

Part of this is that he writes as a German in the years immediately following World War II. Neither Stalin nor Hitler nor the devastation of war can be ignored. Leisure, he notes, seems a luxury in such times, when so much rebuilding is necessary. And, though he doesn’t explicitly say it (though I think it implied in the book), when so much recompense is necessary.

He rejects the idea of intellectual ‘work’ in favor of less loaded words. How is ‘work’ loaded? It is for him because he wants something that does not demand an outcome, as in the product of work. He wants something that reflects contemplation and wonder (and revelation? It naturally follows, though he eschews such gnostic language).

The obvious comparison is between ‘pure’ scientific research and ‘practical’ scientific research (which, as Pieper would no doubt be quick to point out, had he made the comparison, is founded upon the results of pure scientific research).

Ultimately, though, the title is really misleading. He is not advocating, in the end, for leisure, but for philosophizing as a vital part of life.

He most frequently cites Plato and Aquinas (which made me wish I knew more than broad strokes about his philosophy), but it is Heidegger who most clearly haunts him. He mentions him, but tries to avoid mentioning him (not unsurprising, considering the time when he was writing). Like Heidegger, he seeks a way of being in the world and this leisure, which is really philosophical contemplation and study, is his solution. But while Heidegger’s is nearly theological, Pieper’s is, in the final analysis, explicitly theological. Sort of. He doesn’t argue that Christianity is necessary for man, only existentially profitable, arguing, as it were, but not proselytizing.

‘Confucius: A Throneless King’ By Meher McArthur

This brief book is an interesting, but ultimately disappointing ‘biography’ of Confucius. I say ‘biography’ because, as the author admits, it is almost impossible to put together an accurate bio of the man, because so much of what is known is not able to be disentangled from myth. While he admits the problem, it’s not clear from the book itself how he went about it. How much can we trust the incidents described? I certainly don’t know. And the ending is downright confusing, because it’s a series of short narratives about the spread and influence of Confucianism outside of China (Vietnam, Korea, etc). Interesting, but felt like filler because… wasn’t this a bio of the man? And if you were going to do more, why not actually talk more about the philosophy cum religion called Confucianism? There’s a little, but honestly, if I hadn’t read Fung’s A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (also disappointing), I wouldn’t really have known what he was talking about when he says things like ‘Neo-Confucianism.’ Perhaps my main takeaway from this book is that it’s past time for me to read the Analects.