Welcome. This blog site places before you a remarkable man, Charles Beck, an artist and teacher. This monthly series of stories begins by describing Charlie’s ways of being in the world, through my encounters with Charlie in the last decade of his life first as my colleague, then mentor and finally or rather for ever as my dearest friend. Year two of this blog expands to include my own hopefully and enduringly perspectives on art, on teaching and of a certain slant on life inflected by Charlie. ~ Peter London

Charlie and Jodi: A Dog and his Man

"Experiencing our Selves as possessing unique qualities from any one else sometimes makes us reluctant to employ these same aspects of our Selves in the world even though they may be of substantial worth." ~ Peter London

Part One.

Charlie’s dog was a longhaired                                                                Charlie & Jodi
golden cocker spaniel named Jodi.  Charlie was the apple of Jodi’s rheumy eyes. When I met Jodi, he was already quite old and was hard of hearing and poor sighted. Jodi wheezed and tired easily. When Charlie was in the same vicinity as Jodi, Jodi was always at his side, often looking up to see how Charlie was faring. When my wife and I would have dinner at Charlie and Helen’s, often also attended by his two daughters, then later, their boyfriends, then husbands and later still their grandchildren, Jodi was also present. Right by Charlie’s chair. The following conversation was typical of a dinner with Charlie and his family.

Helen: Charles, please put Jodi in the other room while we have dinner.

Charlie: He’s all right, he’s lying down, sleeping I think.

Helen: He’s not sleeping; he’s just waiting for you to feed him.

Charlie: He’s fine, he won’t make a peep.

Helen: Please don’t feed him from your plate again tonight, Charles, he’s getting fat and it’s not good for him.

Charlie: Don’t worry, I won’t.

The rest of the family is smiling, looking at one another knowingly, raising eyebrows, 

looking lovingly at both Helen and Charlie.

Soon into the meal.

Helen: Charles, are you feeding Jodi?

Charlie: Just a bit of the extra stuff in the soup, I can’t eat it all.

Helen: Dogs don’t like soup, they can’t digest those things. Soon Jodi will be hacking and coughing again like last night. Charles, please no more.

Charlie: OK.

The next course.

Jodi has been given a piece of meat by Charlie and has crawled under the table to 

gnaw at it and is growling as he does so.

Helen: Charles, Jodi is eating under the table and is growling.

Charlie: He is?

Helen: What did you give him?

Charlie: Just a scrap, a tiny thing, he’ll be finished in a moment.

Helen: Why must we do this every time we sit down to eat? You feeding Jodi, Jodi growling under the table, making all sorts of noises? It’s not good for him.

Charlie: He thinks he’s one of us. He likes to eat with us.

Helen looks at her children, looks at my wife and me, raises her eyebrows and eyes 

skyward, sighs, and goes back to eating.


Jodi comes out from under the table having finished his meal and waits by Charlie’s 

side, looking up into Charlie’s eyes, ignoring everyone else around the table. Jodi sighs

often with a little high pitched whine. But it is fairly quiet whine, meant only for 


Helen: Charles we are having ice cream for dessert, please don’t 
give any to Jodi, it’s not good for him.

Charlie: OK.

The dessert is served and Charlie and the rest of us begin to eat and continue our 

conversations. Jodi can be heard to cough and wheeze and whine a bit more loudly. 

Charlie pets his head. Jodi puts his paws on Charlie’s thigh, looks up into Charlie’s 

eyes and his – Jodi’s- tongue sticks way out, drooling.

Helen: See what you have done Charles, that dog is just waiting for you to feed 
him again.

Charlie: I’ll give him just a taste, that’s all he really wants, he just wants to taste what we are eating.

Helen: Charles, Jodi loves ice cream, he loves all our food, but he’s a dog, an old dog, a sick dog and you’re feeding him is not making anything better.

Charlie: Come here, Jodi.

Jodi reaches up to Charlie’s hand and licks it. Charlie puts some ice cream in his hand 

and lowers his hand beneath the tabletop. Jodi licks the ice cream off Charlie’s hand 

making slurping sounds.

All this while Charlie never looks down at Jodi. He continues to make eye contact with 

everyone at the table keeping up a lively and engaged conversation. Only his hand 

remains beneath the table where he continues to feed Jodi as if no one is aware of

what he is doing.

Having dinned with Charlie and family many times over the years and the same 

scenario repeats itself almost every time, I ask Charlie about his feeding habits of Jodi.

Me: Charlie, you seem to have a different point of view with Helen about the proper feeding of Jodi.

Charlie: I guess I do in a way. Look, you see Jodi as a dog, so does Helen, so does the rest of the family. Most people see Jodi, including me, as a dog. But Jodi doesn’t view himself as a dog, To Jodi; he’s a human just like everybody else in the family. So when dinner comes around, Jodi comes to the table like every one else, preparing to eat. Helen is uncomfortable about having Jodi eat with the rest of us; I understand that, so I share a bit of my meal with him under the table. Plenty to go around. I know it takes a toll on Helen, and that she puts up with a lot, but she can understand these things, Jodi cannot. He’s a dog.

Besides dinning with the family, Jodi enjoys taking large flat rocks in his mouth and bringing them into the house where he gnaws them and growls over them as near to Charlie as he can get. These are large rocks that he barely can get his jaws around and so they are always falling out of his mouth. The rock’s tendency to fall out of his mouth seems to annoy Jodi, and he therefore bats the rocks around and growls at them. Perhaps because he is an older dog, Jodi sometimes forgets where he has left off gnawing a rock and leaves it laying around on the floor somewhere. Although it is a large rock for a small dog, it really is a smallish rock for people, and so not infrequently people stub their foot on the rock. Often. Each time they do so they look darkly at Jodi, and if Charlie is around, darkly at him. For some reason Charlie, although very tall and quite poor sighted, never stubs his foot on a rock. That is why, I am guessing, the dark looks of others directed at him.

There are very few other behaviors of Jodi worth mentioning; maybe the only other telling one is his fondness for licking people’s ankles. Being a cocker spaniel, Jodi is endowed with quite fulsome jowls and quite wet ones. So when he licks your ankles it imparts a very noticeable sensation. Noticeably disgusting. This is not only my opinion; it is everyone’s opinion, except Charlie. Jodi prefers to lick your ankles when you are sitting down to dinner and he is under the table. Having finished the scraps off Charlie’s plate, and gnawing one of his rocks, Jodi finishes off the meal with licking his family’s ankles. Now as devoted to Charlie as you already know Jodi is, Jodi does not begin with Charlie’s ankles but someone else’s in the family, or a guest. You can see immediately whose ankle is being licked by the sudden little jerks of their head and the flying upward then downward beneath the table of their hands. You would hardly know when it becomes Charlie’s turn.

Unlike other dog owners I know who think it is important that I know what their dog is up to, what they like to eat, how well behaved they are when I am not around, and what new tricks they have just been taught, Charlie never speaks about Jodi. I think it is because Charlie knows what a bother Jodi is to everyone else and somehow believes if he just never speaks about Jodi, everyone else will forget that Jodi exists. When in fact the topic of Jodi is raised by other people, Charlie, seemingly confused, says “What?” and goes on to another topic, saving his friend (Jodi) from possible embarrassment.


Part Two.

Meaning of an Encounter (Excerpt from Drawing Closer to Nature.)

I remember having the thought that I was now on

the other side of my life.

That I had walked through a doorway.

(ran, really)

And now I was in another room, and there was no more door --

only a solid glass wall.

On one side was my father, mother, sister, brother,

all my aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, my block,

PS 177, the Dodgers, my clothes, toys, special sticks,


And on the other side -- the side where I was --

was just me.

In gray blue paint.

I was so upset I ran around the apartment.

My mother and father were upset too

and ran around after me.

Finally I ran through the foyer again

almost slipping on that goddamn paint

and ran out the door, down the steps,

down the hall, out the front door,

and outside and kept running until I was

way down the street.

I heard my parents screaming my name,

so I ran around the corner.

I ran to the Skell yard in back of the house

where we played punch ball.

Because there were no street lights,

it was mostly fences and garages and some trees,

it was very dark.


Part Three. (Excerpt from "Drawing Closer to Nature".)

Loving Subtle Things

An Encounter with Subtle Qualities in your Self and in the World

Experiencing our Selves as possessing unique qualities from any one else sometimes makes us reluctant to employ these same aspects of our Selves in the world even though they may be of substantial worth. No matter how full of confidence we may be, there often remains a quiet
and unobtrusive dimension to our being. In a culture that values the more conspicuous and noisy such as our own, these vital qualities that provide certain richness, depth and solidity to our person hood often go unnoticed and unemployed. Yet the qualities of humility, of quietude, for example, are of ancient esteem and offer a source of vital balance and resiliency. Seemingly without counterpart, we subdue and conceal them, becoming less than our actual gifts might otherwise allow. This shading of ones Self, in turn makes others dim their lights accordingly, eventuating in an encompassing climate, within which everyone takes a rather unsatisfactory view of themselves and a guarded, jaundiced opinion of one another. Building alliances between our Selves and the more recessive and subtle qualities of the rest of Nature, these same qualities will be emboldened in you, to be more fully expressed, to enter the world, to be a sign to others that it is safe for these same dimensions of their own selves to be expressed. You will Be more, your circle will be enriched, on and on, on and on, on and on. Oh, so will your art.


The objective of this Encounter with Nature is to recognize the positive worth of the more humble dimension of our Selves by noticing that Nature too is made up of quiet things that do not prat and prance upon the surface of the world, but go about their essential business quietly but assuredly. By seeking, finding, investigating, then finally celebrating the same qualities in Nature that also reside within our Selves, we are more apt to recognize the essential self worth of these subtle elements and allow them to be lived out in the world in much the same ways as they are expressed throughout the rest of creation.


In considering the host of attributes that contribute to making up the whole of you, focus on those qualities the are the more subtle rather than the ones that are the more conspicuous, the ones you usually lay claim to and assert. They may be ones you might find of little social or commercial value, ones about which you may feel more tentative, ones that seem holdovers from childhood, qualities that you might have been acquired as a result of injury or insult. In some way these quiet elements impart an essential depth, richness and even strength to the total constellation of attributes that go into the alloy you call your Self, and it would be good to recognize them, embrace their positive attributes and to situate them into your life work and art work in fuller more resolved expression.

Although you may find any time of day amenable to this encounter, I have found traditionally quiet times of day particularly accommodating; mornings and evenings. You may find that times of daylight are not as important for you as some internal energy cycle. The point here and throughout this text, is to be sensitive to the experienced alignment between your self and the rest of Nature, and to conduct yourself accordingly.

The setting in nature most conducive to this Encounter is one in which you can be by your Self and Nature, neat. You will be poking around, looking slow and careful, pausing often, not the usual behaviors of a gainfully employed adult in our society. So you will want to find a place that folks unfamiliar with what you are about are not apt to drop by. Still nothing comes to mind nearby? Remember all Nature is wild and exhibits all the characteristics of any live thing, a pot of chives obeys the great and severe laws of nature that are just as compelling for the oak, butterfly and peach, -shark.

So, holding the thought in your mind,  

“My quiet,



walk into Nature, and perhaps with a slow, reflective gait, seeking elements of Nature that are quiet and humble in ways that you experience within your Self. You may find that your usual pace of walking is too hurried for this task.  Stand still, sit down. You may find that standing four, five, six feet above the earth is too far a distance from the surface of the earth. Kneel down, sit on the earth, crawl, allowing your hands to touch, caress the earth.  Perhaps seeing itself is too assertive; close your eyes and only listen to the world’s subtle music. Feel your own skin rub across the world’s skin. Don’t be in a rush to immortalize these found affinities right away in some finely made picture or essay.  Wait; allow this new companionship to sink in. Savor nature’s humble elements slowly, lovingly, as you would sample a fine wine, gaze at the face of a loved one, or the way in which you would have a loved one come to know something delicate and precious about you.

Some examples:
On an imperial tree, 
a tiny red mushroom 
bravely perches on a slab of bark 
that in turn casts a faint damp shadow 
where a pale green lichen
hugs its small world with ferocious strength.

Under a half-buried rock, 
a city of ants scatter as unexpected
daylight intrudes on the humorless labors. But one, 
who refuses to
abandon the soft life encased in the transparent egg 
secured in its jaws, 
defies you – or any intruder no matter their monstrosity of size, 
defies you to counterman its ancient orders with the 
price of
its life.

The steaming surf 
has torn the bottom from the ocean’s bed heaping dark mounds of life interrupted. One pink crab with one remaining claw surveys the field of slaughter with one good eye, calmly.

A bird, 
a Junco, 
waits on the fence. 
Night is coming. 
The snow turns
Then indigo. 
The wind picks up cones of twirling snow, 
stream from my eyes and freeze as they coat my beard. 
I turn to go in. 
On the fence, 
the Junco faces into the wind.

A sunrise. 
The reappearance of the source of all life who permits no off-spring to see eye to eye. The true emperor appears quietly before most of its subjects awaken from the sway of their lunar overlord, to
gifting the lucky – or the hard pressed few with a display its rosy

Ice freezing 
late in the afternoon on a shallow puddle on the roof of my porch outside my window, eye level. The little pond served as a watering hole for birds all day. Miniature waves created miniature bays, archipelagoes, and islands. Now with sun gone, ice crystals fan out from unexpected points along the shore, converting the ephemeral
beauty of free water to the fixed beauty of ice crystals. If I turn my head away for even a minute, an entire bay becomes 
an exquisite

A spider 
in the corner of my studio, not five feet from my easel,
impossible not to have observed this wonderful painting in progress,
expresses enthusiasm only for a hapless gnat.

Geranium buds 
waiting their turn to flower.

When you have made your mutual acquaintance, then with appropriate media further explore and celebrate your mutual, subtle elements. You might begin this effort by arraying your materials about you, then pausing for a long moment, seeking a quiet place within your Self. So centered, so quieted, you are ready to select a color or an object whose own inner presence of a more reserved, veiled or subtle nature will lead you into the creative experience. Perhaps you might allow your non-dominant hand to initiate the process; after all it well knows silence and rectitude. Don’t rush into this, but allow the pace to find its own tempo, which might be different than the one in which you ordinarily go about your artistic endeavors.


Before you share the process and the products of its findings, this might be a particularly apt moment to tease out the more subtle qualities of the experience by remaining by your Self, and composing your thoughts on these matters by writing them in a journal devoted to only your own readership.  When this more private reverie has been mined for its worth, this encounter may be further emboldened by a discussion of its process and gained insights with a trusted companion. Their hearing and seeing of your efforts may have the effect of anchoring these gains in the world in which we are all consigned to do business; The World.

Some questions you might ask yourself to take in the full measure of these subtle qualities and reposition them within the domain of your life so that they may better contribute to a fuller and richer expression of that life.
  •  What new vitality, or complexion has this subtle quality begun to add to your art work?  
  •  Who or what incident taught you that this trait was not to be made public? 
  • What price have you paid to keep this trait from finding its expression in your life and in your art? 
  • What benefits have accrued due to your hiding this light? 
  • How interested are you in maintaining a veil over this light, now that you have glimpsed its effects on your Self and your art?
  • Have you now mined all the subtle qualities of your Self. Or perhaps are there more to be explored?

~Peter London

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