Category Archives: life

#Art as Life: On Arts Education & Smelly Markers #MondayBlogs

6357284009014178731841321868_art-therapy-career2.imgopt1000x70

Imagine, if you will, a baby crawling up a mountainous flight of steps, one little knee at a time, slapping the surface of each stair in announcement of his progress. His ascent is inspired not by the promise of toy or treat, but by a desire to view up close the spectrum of colors and shapes beckoning from above.

I was that baby, and the stairs belonged to some famous New York City art museum, the Guggenheim perhaps, to which my mother had taken me during one of our visits to the Big Apple. It seems I was drawn to art (pun intended), so the story goes, since before I could walk, willing to brave even the most arduous climb simply for the sake of a layered canvas. Growing older, and more mobile, I could often be found reaching for a pencil, or crayon, with which I would fill countless sheets of paper; first with scribbles, and then, as my hand grew more confident, superheroes and monsters. My favorite tools of the trade were those gold and silver markers that emit the smelliest fumes via which I would grow intoxicated and then preform “drunken” dinner songs for family. Ah, but that’s another story.

polos_theodore_c_-mari_anthi~OMbe3300~10160_20130616_SE10WXT8ZU_2212

A painting by maternal grandfather, Theodore C. Polos.

Mom, no doubt, was an big inspiration for this early creative streak. Aside from taking me to see the framed creations of the masters, she provided visions of an artist at work as she spent countless hours at her drawing table laboring at her craft. Art was, and is, integral to our family experience, woven like tapestry into the texture of our everyday life. My mother is a painter and sculptor, and her father, my papou, earned quite a name for himself in the art world despite his feeble beginnings as a Greek immigrant. My dad, who while in America earned a living through his electrician business, has since, in moving back to his native Greece, dedicated himself to his own artistic talents.

A good portion of my childhood was spent in the company of artists, attending gallery openings and exhibitions–many of them my mother’s–wandering among the paintings in search of both inspiration and a makeshift play space. Now, as an adult, attending galleries and museums is still a favor pastime. When Mom is town from Monterey, it’s a joy to trek out to San Francisco and take in an art exhibit. Each painting, every sculpture, tells its own story. I’ve learned that the point of viewing art is not always to glean “meaning” from a piece (“What is this artist trying to say? What does it mean?”, you often hear people remark), but rather to observe how it makes you feel.

I’m grateful that my family has gifted me with a life abundant in art. Just as I was exposed to paintings, so was I entrenched in the world of stories and poems as our home was one full of books. An artist’s life isn’t always easy, but it is ever vivid, consistently rich. When I was growing up, Mom taught art at my elementary school. I often heard classmates–the children of “square” families–say things like, “Art isn’t important becomes it doesn’t make money.” Well, sometimes it does, and it will, if nothing else, expose one to a spectrum of colors beyond the banality of dollar-bill green.

This post is inspired by the recent news that the Senate has passed an act making arts education part of the Common Core curriculum. Now, I believe Common Core is problematic in of itself for a variety of reasons that I won’t expound upon here, but this is a good thing for all. There surely is a place for art in schools. Today, more than ever, we need people who are unafraid to color outside the lines.

Advertisements

In Praise of #Gratitude: 4 Things I’m Grateful For. #MondayBlogs

th-1

A heart full of gratitude

“In ancient Greek, gratitude was expressed in terms of praising. When Greeks wanted to say ‘thank you,’ they said: ‘That is excellent, I praise you,’ καλλιστ, επαινω.’ [This] brings us to the observation that in the Archaic and Classical period many hymnic texts of the Greeks did express ‘thanksgiving.’ The praise of a god, the narration of her or his birth, famous deeds and gifts to mankind, all this functions as thanksgiving.” — Jan-Maarten Bremer from the book Reciprocity in Ancient Greece; Oxford University Press, 1998.

This ancient Hellenic interpretation of gratitude as a form of praise–not simply an expression of thanks, but rather a paying of homage to pedestal-worthy recipients–inspires this week’s blog post as I reflect on four things I’m grateful for this holiday season. I had plenty time to consider the topic while celebrating Thanksgiving with Mom and extended family down in Monterey, California. I took a break from the usual writing routine to stroll the seaside trails with Mom and her pair of greyhounds, my thoughts churning amid the continual rise and fall of ocean waves. Here, in no particular order, are four things to which I’m offering praise as November makes way for December.

1. Bi-weekly phone chats with Pops: Dad and I have been talking on the phone quite often, Saturday mornings, usually. It’s a nice way to start off the weekend as I’m able to catch up on the news from Greece–stories of the latest haul from my father’s olive grove, the abundant crop offering a rich oil, luminous liquid gold. We speak of my cousins and their growing families, the delicious meals cooked by thea Anna. These conversations also serve as a way to prevent my Greek from getting rusty. They inevitably end in laughter as Dad shares a joke or too, comical reminiscings from our previous travels together in the Motherland.

2. Conversations with Mom that turn into escavations of family history: Mom and I speak often of her side of the family; my yiayia and her three sisters, that quartet of larger-than-life women who were the subject of an entire blog article a couple weeks back. Their stories are epic, abundant tales of which I have yet to skim the surface, though I’m committed to fictionalizing them in depth at some point.

3. Health: This is an obvious one, but it’s so important. I’m thankful that I’m healthy, and that, for the most part, my friends and family are healthy as well. Those who happen to be battling illness at the moment are often in my thoughts and I wish them a fast, full recovery.

4. Friends and supporters: I’m fortunate to have substantial friendships, tight bonds with people I have known for much of my life. I’m also grateful for the people I haven’t known as long, but who have brought an undeniable richness into my life. I have love in abundance, and to all of you–friends, supporters, faithful readers of this blog and my other writings–I offer praise. I’m grateful for all the people at my publisher for the energy and enthusiasm and tireless work they have contributed to this process of Wings of Wax making its way into print.

Now, what are you grateful for this season?

The #Greek Golden Rule of #Hospitality. #MondayBlogs #booktrope

Live with honor. Philotimo.

Live with honor. Philotimo.

In Greek the word “philo” means friend, though it can also mean to “cherish” or to “love,” as in “philosophy” (the love of wisdom), or “Philadelphia” (love between brothers). Timo or τιμη in Greek, means honor. So, one might assume that the wondrous Greek word φιλοτιμο (philotimo) simply translates to “love of honor.” Ah, but it comprises much more. A person can use philotimo, or someone can possess philotimo, so in a sense it is both a noun and verb, one that has no true counterpart in any other language, though people have long attempted to universally define the term. Articles and documentary films have been dedicated to that noble pursuit. Roughly, the phrase can be defined as “striving for excellence, the innate desire to always do the honorable thing,” or even as “true generosity and hospitality.”

As the ancient Greek philosopher Thales said, philotimo is an inborn trait for us Greeks; and I’m sure all you fellow Hellenes reading this article could share your own experience in exercising philotimo. In fact, it is best to illustrate philotimo rather than try to define it in words.

th

The idea for this post came to me this morning in the wake of reading an article about Zorba’s, a Greek restaurant in Virginia. After spotting someone rummaging through their trash for food scraps, they posted a note by the Dumpster that said, “For your next meal, please come in and let us know you are hungry and unable to pay. You are a human being and worth more than a meal from a Dumpster. No questions asked!”

My initial reaction upon seeing that was to take a deep breath worthy of Thales’ famous quote. My next instinct was to spread word of such a perfect example of philotimo. In creating their sign, the restaurant owners treated a person in need with the respect and dignity deserving of us all. In the face of human tragedy, however ordinary, however small, they exercised compassion. They exercised true philotimo.

When I was a boy, eight or nine years old, I went to the hospital to endure surgery. Post operation, friends and family were at my bedside, showering with me with toys, balloons and treats. I shared a room with another child around the same age, though I noticed he rarely had visitors, apart from his parents, nor did he enjoy a windfall of get-well gifts. Finally, one morning, still weak from the operation, feeble on my feet, I got up and went to his bedside to bestow him with a balloon and toy from my stash. No one suggested I do this, nor did my roommate ask for anything. I simply felt moved to do so, and I believe it was this innate sense of philotimo that motivated me.

But you don’t need a sad occasion to witness philotimo. During holidays such as Christmas and those oh-so-joyous Greek Easters, we open our arms, hearts and homes (not to mention our ovens) to friends and family and ensure good times are had by all.

Seeing happiness in others makes me happy. Philotimo is meant to be shared. Philotimo is an extension of self.

Now, what does philotimo mean to you? I hope you’ll leave some comments below!