This Makes Me Feel Human

You’ve heard or said it before. “This” is a constituent of the things you value most. It’s an essential aspect of living and I hope we all know it well.

We have common humanness check points. I think this is the beauty of us—shared humanity—we have something in common with everyone we meet.

Keep people away from boxes and labels. We like labeling (at a certain point it’s unavoidable), but when we do it constantly, we’re inadvertently doing it to ourselves. Once we say, “That person is [x] because of [y],” we’ve created an opposite. Assumedly, we are the opposite, the “non-[x]” person, and we’ve created a barrier. It’s isolating for ourselves and others.

What if we saw people as variations of ourselves? What does it really mean to feel human? What does the [x] person have in common with you, anyway?

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

Mother Teresa

People do not seem to realise that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.

Anne Frank

The Art of Solitude

One’s inner voices become audible [and] in consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. – Wendell Berry

Psychologists can confirm that “fertile solitude” is the basic unit of a full and content life. It’s rejuvenating to slow things down, reflect inward, imagine, and create on our own terms. Solitude elicits original thought. It opens other corridors for our minds to wonder without interruption. It is clarity and emotion and simplicity on an undefinable, incommunicable plane.

If solitude is a natural state of being, it is one we must remember to revisit often. Loneliness is not defined by being alone. It is defined by feeling isolated and sad without friends or company. Yet sometimes being by ourselves is company enough, especially when the world feels too crowded already. Often the people we feel closest to are those that offer us the feeling of being by ourselves, because we have discovered a similar self in someone else.

L O S A N G E L E S

Even new beginnings take time. We tend to gravitate toward the familiar and the comfortable and the known, but we also crave change. What you will discover when you break away is that you cannot escape your past, but the distance makes it more malleable. It’s easier to rewrite the past when it’s far away in terms of time and geography.

You’ll see life in a different way. Reality alters with every transplant. You’ll realize you no longer feel like the person you were when you are in a new place, without the same people or surroundings. This is remarkably freeing. Don’t let yourself become trapped. There is always a way out. There is always a solution, but it often involves patience and perseverance and a ridiculous level of optimism.

Moral Arc of Justice

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Theodore Parker

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by global devastation and fall into pessimism. This is not an uncommon reaction to everything that’s going on in the world, especially right now.

I’m trying to wrap my head around our capacity for human compassion. Compassion is a universal value. There is an Ancient African philosophy called Ubuntu that is defined, according to Desmond Tutu (Archbishop of South Africa), as: a person is a person through other persons, that our humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with others’.

“How do we help people who really want to be joyful, who really want to see the world a better place? They look at the world and see the horrendous problems there are. And they face quite extraordinary adversity in their own lives. Why are you joyful even when you see these problems and have faced these challenges? …I mean, how do they have this calm in the midst of it all?”

Suffering. It’s a sensitive topic. The Dali Lama explains that so much of what causes heartache is our desire for things to be different than what they are. We have perceptions about our reality, and we judge them. For those who are suffering, forgive our happiness.

“Something is lacking. As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.”
― Dalai Lama XIVThe Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

Feature: The G E T T Y

The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts

History (taken from www.getty.edu/about/whoweare/history)

The Getty is the legacy of the businessman and art collector J. Paul Getty, and his view that art is a civilizing influence in society. Throughout his adult life, he took greater and greater steps to make art available for the public’s education and enjoyment. In 1953, he established the J. Paul Getty Museum Trust. The following year the J. Paul Getty Museum opened in his ranch house in Malibu (today, Pacific Palisades).

Mr. Getty died in 1976, with most of his personal estate passing to the Trust in 1982. Drawing upon the vision Mr. Getty articulated in the Trust Indenture, the Trustees sought to make a greater contribution to the visual arts by expanding the Museum and its collections, and creating a range of new programs to serve the world of art. Reflecting this expanded mission, the Trust’s name was legally changed to the J. Paul Getty Trust in 1983.

Mr. Getty’s philanthropy enabled the construction of the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades and the Getty Center in Brentwood, the expansion of the collections of the Museum, and the creation of the four programs, which constitute “the Getty.”

Four Programs

The Getty is composed of four programs offering resources and expertise within research, conservation, education, and digital innovation.

The Getty Conservation Institute: “advances the practice of art and cultural heritage conservation worldwide.”

The Getty Foundation: “supports the understanding and preservation of the visual arts through strategic grant initiatives around the world.”

The J. Paul Getty Museum: “collects, presents, conserves, and interprets great works of art.”

*The Getty Research Institute: “conducts pioneering research in art history and the humanities.”

GRI Mission Statement

The Getty Research Institute is dedicated to furthering knowledge and advancing understanding of the visual arts and their various histories through its expertise, active collecting program, public programs, institutional collaborations, exhibitions, publications, digital services, and residential scholars programs. Its Research Library and Special Collections of rare materials and digital resources serve an international community of scholars and the interested public. The Institute’s activities and scholarly resources guide and sustain each other and together provide a unique environment for research, critical inquiry, and scholarly exchange.
. .

All available digital images at the Getty—that is, images in the public domain or with rights held by the Getty—can be used for any purpose. No permission is required.

What’s in Open Content?
Currently, there are over 100,000 images from the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute available through the Open Content Program, including more than 72,000 from the Research Institute’s Foto Arte Minore archive, which features photographs of the art and architecture of Italy over 30 years by German photographer and scholar Max Hutzel (1913–1988). Other images include paintings, drawings, manuscripts, photographs, antiquities, sculpture, decorative arts, artists’ sketchbooks, watercolors, rare prints from the 16th through the 18th century, and 19th-century architectural drawings of cultural landmarks. [The Getty is] adding more images as high-quality digital files become available.

Access to Open Content Images
All of the images can be found on Getty Search Gateway, and the J. Paul Getty Museum images can also be accessed on the Museum’s Collection webpages.

*The GRI is where I will be working (12/4/2017 will be my first day). So much needs to be written; consider this your introduction.

Game of Cards // Chapter Excerpt Part 2

A little black squirrel startled me as it suddenly launched itself out of a trashcan. I was walking down a sidewalk on my way to the museum, facing a bunch of rush hour traffic. The squirrel looked really scared as it tore down the street and ducked into some bushes. Readjusting my backpack, I took a deep breath and looked over at the line of cars stalling behind a red light. Some of the drivers glanced up as I passed.

At Warren Avenue, I was kind of disappointed the homeless man wasn’t on the green bench. He usually slept there sitting up, his chin tucked down on his chest. I didn’t know his name, I hadn’t even seen him with his eyes open, but I hoped he was okay.

On a whim, I took a running jump and pulled down a handful of bright yellow leaves that hung over the sidewalk. They were basically neon against the dark color of the bark. I threw most of them into the wind, but decided to keep one. I liked how it could twirl by its stem between my thumb and finger. It smelled good too, I covered my nose with it a few times before tucking it into my backpack. Marcus was at the main entrance.

“Theo! How are ya?”

“Hi, Marcus. Doing good. You?”  

“Can’t complain.” He winked and held the door open. Then his voice got deep, “Be good, son.”

As I walked in, I turned slowly and nodded.

“I have my eye on you.” Marcus pointed to his eyes, then to me. I glanced over again and just barely heard him mutter into his radio, “The ghost is in the house.” I didn’t know what that meant.

I swung into the European galleries–past the ginormous painting of Louis-Philippe saluting his army on a life-size white stallion, then up the marble stairs–to the third floor and the Dutch Golden Age wing. The collection wasn’t very big, mostly plain churches and grey landscapes of old windmills, shipyards, and sleepy cows. When I rounded the corner, I took off my bag and stood in front of my favorite one. It reminded me of Momma. 

The painting’s frame wasn’t big. Inside, a girl sat next to a small white dog laying on one of three dining room chairs. A man wearing a bright red coat and a large black hat (like Captain Hook) sat at a table with the woman. Sunlight from the window lit up the right side of her face. She was looking directly at the man–who seemed to be watching something through the window–and was handing him a playing card. Both of the grown-ups were holding cards. And plus there was the boy standing behind them, “most likely brought to the Dutch Republic from Africa,” the plaque said. He was dressed nicely and pouring from a pitcher, “modeled after Chinese porcelain.”

What I like about the painting, though, was the way the hands were positioned. It looked like the boy was taking the card from the woman, but his hand was actually directly behind hers, holding a glass by its base–an optical illusion. Leaning forward, I read the plaque again. The Game of Cards, oil on canvas, by Hendrik van der Burch—  

“Kinda tells you about the history, don’ it?”

I jumped and spun around to see a big lady, a guard, standing directly behind me with her arms crossed.

“He could be about your age, couldn’t he? Kinda looks like you.” She noded to the painting.

“Oh? Yeah, I–”

“Makes you wonder about the painter, huh?”

“Yeah.”

The lady leaned in to get a better look. “To be honest, I’ve been working here so long I forget these are real paintings. After a while I just kinda stop seeing them, you know?”

“Oh–“

“Well, not really, but you can only look at a bunch of dead white people for so long before you go crazy.” She put a hand on her hip. “See, about eight or nine o’clock at night? I start playing hop scotch with these squares on the floor.” She started hopping on one leg, making the keys on her belt jingle, loud.

I laughed.

“Hey, I was gonna aks you, where d’you live, anyway?”

“Oh, uh, my momma says I can’t tell that to strangers.”

“You live in the city?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“How close to here?”

“Pretty close, I guess.”

“Who’s your momma?” She hoisted her pants higher on her waist, tucking in the back of her shirt.

“Uh, she works–she used to work here.”

“What department?”

I scratched the back of my ear. “I donno. She emptied trashcans in the offices and stuff. Why?”

The lady folded her arms again and stepped closer to me. She lowered her voice, “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way,” she paused and looked over her shoulder, “but a couple of us have noticed you come in here an awful lot by yourself at all hours of the day–even during school hours–but we never see you leave.”

“Oh.” I nodded my head slowly, suddenly feeling really hot. My thoughts jumped to Marcus. He must’ve said something.

“Like I said, I’m not accusing nobody, but…” She gave me a once-over with her eyes and pressed her lips together tightly before turning away, “you tell your momma hello, whoever she is. Stay out of trouble now.”  

I watched the woman walk down the hallway, keys swinging. My heart was pounding. A picture of a Dutch princess popped out on the wall directly to my left. Her face and neck were really bright and contrasted against the murky background. I noticed for the first time she was staring, frozen, with her lower lip sticking out in a sad way. I backed away, but no matter where I moved, her eyes always followed.

It’s an illusion. I told myself, but I was sure those eyes followed me all the way down the hallway, and I ran.

burch_d.jpg
The Game of Cards | c. 1660
Oil on canvas, Detroit Institute of Arts

Game of Cards // Chapter Excerpt

“It’s basic logic.” Cedric explained. “The key to blackjack is being able to remember.” He was sitting with Adrian at one of the small circular tables in the casino. She was distracted by his white silicone and gold watch, flashing as he shuffled the cards.

Pop music hummed through large speakers in the ceiling and Adrian heard the occasional eruption of excited voices all around her. Cedric wore a ghost white tee. She noticed it fell loosely, yet fitted enough to reveal the clean outline of large rounded shoulders and a defined upper chest.

“After the deal, if the remaining deck has more ten and ace cards, you have a higher statistical advantage of winning,” said Cedric. She half-consciously replayed in her mind the way he said statistical, kind of like—focus, Adrian.

“You gotta count the cards as they’re played.” He continued. Adrian said nothing, only nodding occasionally, careful not to betray her projected confidence. He sat close, she could have easily reached out and touch his extended knee under the table.

“Don’t forget the count value of previous hands, it tells you about the cards that are left in the pile for the next rounds.” Cedric paused to let the information process. He dealt two cards face up to her, a four of diamonds and a six of spades, and then dealt himself a king of spades and another card face down.

“Double down?” Adrian asked after the deal. “If I double my bet I’d have a good chance of getting ten or eleven, right?”

“Well, d’you remember the cards played in our last hand?”

Adrian looked at him coolly, wordlessly shifting the expectation on him to answer his question.

“Remember, all cards below six are worth one positive point and all cards ten and above are worth one negative—”

“Yeah, I know, I know, you said that.”

“Okay, so,” He lifted up his arm to scratch the back of his neck. She could smell his deodorant. “Keep doing the math in your head. It gets easier, I promise. You jus’ need to keep adding, subtracting, or,” he paused, adopting an increasingly instructive tone, “if the card is a seven, eight, or nine—”

“Don’t add or subtract anything.”

“Right. So, when do you have the advantage?”

“When the point count is positive.”

He smiled, “Because…?”

“‘Cause there’s a higher amount of ten or ace cards that could be dealt,” she blinked thoughtfully a few times, “and I’m more likely to win.”

“Oh, you’re good.”

Adrian felt a warm sensation run through her.

“Alright,” Cedric said quickly, filling the silence when she didn’t say anything, “so is your count positive or negative?”

“Definitely positive.”

“Double down.” He said, and handed her another card.

Adrian nodded slowly. “I think I’m getting it.” She rested her elbow on the table and delicately reached over to take the card from Cedric.

She never anticipated enjoying blackjack, or, she had to admit, the time spent with Cedric Davis. He was charming and well kept, always in thick denim jeans and spotless white tees. His coarse hairline was shaved along the edges, accentuating perfectly straight lines against the dark skin. 

They practiced in the casino to simulate the feel of an actual game of blackjack. Cedric began by dealing one card at a time face up on the table, starting the count after each card was dealt for the entire deck. He paused occasionally in the processes to ask Adrain the count. They practiced at different speeds. If she was able to count the entire deck correctly, Cedric dealt the cards a little faster. Eventually, Cedric stopped counting. He’d pause and ask for the count, she’d write it down, note where he stopped, then they’d go through the deck at the end to check her accuracy. Soon she was able to score one hundred percent after every deal, regardless of dealing speed.

A few weeks later, Adrian was increasingly astonished that she was consistently winning hands in the casino. She was meticulous in her strategy: only taking carefully calculated risks and killing the excitement of every win. Where pathological gamblers lost themselves in the hazy whims of luck, she remained unshakable, grounded in the laws of card counting and self-control.

This wasn’t a gambling game, this was a game of logic, this was knowing when to close and how to maintain an extremely high threshold against pressure. She learned the timing of a perfect night: when to bid low or take even money, and when to go home. Onlookers booed her decisions to cash out on a winning streak, but she wasn’t there for fun and taking chances. Luck had never been on her side.

Cedric was right, the key to blackjack was basic logic, but it was also emotional extraction, she realized, which was another well-developed skill. She drained all feeling out of the experience—the lights, the excited voices, the low, omnipresent music—everything was shut out. She made a point not to make friends with anyone who worked there and didn’t accept any favors or incentives, she played the game.

And if I can’t win, she told herself, I won’t play.