Friday, August 18, 2023




Sitting at my desk this morning I wondered how I would decorate my cake today. Allow me an explanation.


Since late adolescence I have always known what I wanted to accomplish in life, and followed that path with a sense of purpose and meaning. It wasn’t difficult to do until my familiar and comfortable path began to severely change direction. I maintained my footing and went on to navigate three major changes in my lifetime. I am not telling you this to pat myself on the back, but to set the stage for what happened to me when I turned seventy years old.


Changes in my attitude and self-confidence, questions about my work, and a loss of purpose began to gradually make their way into my thinking soon after entering the eighth decade. From time to time they would demand my full attention, making it clear they would not leave until I dealt with them. One of my ways of doing this is to write about them in my journal, and occasionally, when I feel I have comfortably managed the questions, I write about them publically in my blog or in these columns. The responses I receive from readers confirm my belief that these “stuff of life” issues are universal, and shared by others, each in their own unique way.


So what does cake decorating have to do with any of this? Well, thanks to my wife, I’ve seen dozens of episodes of the Great British Baking Show, which has given me a new way to look at these questions. We are all bakers, and life is the cake we bake. First we try to understand what we want for ourselves and go about acquiring the training and tools to accomplish our goals. Obviously the time and effort needed for this depends upon what it is we hope to do. When we feel we’re ready, we begin working, alone, or in the company of others. We may spend a lifetime in one place devoted to one chosen task, or we may move on to other work in a different setting. For many, this lifetime of work is marked by various combinations of successes and failures, hopefully more of the former than the latter. At some point, our working days come to an end, either slowly or abruptly, and we have nothing else to put in the oven. Our baking days are over.


As a baker, I can look back on my life’s work as a series of cakes freshly removed from the oven. With the exception of an occasional cookie or small bun, my baking days are over.  At least the oven work is. Now its time to focus my attention on the fun part -decorating the cakes I’ve created. There are thousands of written words, essays, manuscripts, and assorted notes and comments to be reviewed, revised, and edited, and above all – organized, in addition to all the unfinished material to be completed. For the past several years I’ve fantasized about having some of my work published, and if I want that to happen, now is the time to act.


In the studio, where most of the work has been completed, the decorating is approached differently. Although it involves new work, I see it more as a refinement of the past. The intent is to raise the quality of my work, building on what I’ve already done. For 35 years I’ve been learning and practicing. Now it is time to do what I’ve always wanted – to create the best art I am capable of doing – with no excuses, ifs, ands, or buts. Making those paintings I’ve been imagining in my head for years a reality will be the icing on the cake.


It is also the time to think about cleaning up any mess I’ve left in the kitchen. This means reaching out to family and friends, especially those that have been partially displaced by time and distance. It’s the time to mend those injured relationships, as well as establishing new ones and re-establishing old ones.


This has been a fun way of interpreting the final chapter of my life’s journey, and I look forward to at least 10 more years of “decorating”. It is one more new beginning.


Note...That is not my cake.









Saturday, July 2, 2022




I saw the light

Seven years ago I wrote in my journal,

"Now, resting between yesterday and tomorrow, I realize time has blurred my understanding of myself. I have a reasonably good idea of who I have been, and what I have, and have not accomplished during my lifetime. The goals and desires that have guided me through the years continue to roam about in my head, albeit with a little less noise. However, they have difficulty getting traction because time has worn away some of the fearless and unbridled ambition and enthusiasm that allowed me to believe I was in charge of my future. Now, after a lifetime of pursuing a life of my own design, and well into the 8th decade, I find myself disoriented, unable to clearly define what I want for myself in my remaining years."


I was 74 years old and struggling with the notion that all of those “Somedays” (Someday I will travel to Italy. Someday I will begin working on that book. Someday I’ll do Pilates.)  that I’ve leaned on so heavily in my lifetime were rapidly diminishing with each passing year. Of course it didn’t help that the passing of each year had become incrementally faster with each birthday. As a result, I felt increasing pressure – all self-imposed – to know what I wanted to accomplish in the years ahead and pursue it vigorously, not necessarily the best way to approach creative and imaginative work. In retrospect  my work suffered for several years while I battled with myself. It was only when I realized the true nature of the problem that work and life both returned to a healthier normal.


The problem was not the diminishing future and the loss of basking in glorious Somedays. It was the pathetic way I responded to being seventy-something years old, using age to define myself. I saw everything I did or planned within the framework of my age. I was no longer William Renzulli planning a new series of paintings, but Seventy-five year old William Renzulli. This mindset artificially distorts reality, and I was beginning to screen all future work and plans by asking if I was too old to consider, let alone act on them. I know; it is a ridiculous way to think, and fortunately, as soon as I recognized that I put an end to it. Now, early in the ninth decade, I view my future as endless and my potential unlimited. Liberated from a totally needless burden, my life and my work has once again become a source of pleasure and satisfaction. 


Another life's lesson learned, and like all the others, destined to be re-learned again and again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Notes From the Ninth Decade


It's 4 AM and I find myself thinking about the timeline of my life. How over the years my personal world would suddenly expand in incremental bursts. The first 18 years were spent getting ready for whatever would follow. Suddenly my world expands with college and medical school, and I find myself more than I was before, living in a new community. Before I can get fully settled, it falls apart and I am thrust into another life enlarging my personal world once again and revealing another aspect of the person that I am. Years later my life makes one more major change and I’m living in still another world. Each move, each change over the 82 years has grown the circle of my personal world. Those that have passed are still here in memories and long-standing personal remnants. Today my world is and once again changing, only now it seems to be receding, contracting under the weight of 82 years. Probably a natural course of events and not necessarily a bad thing. It allows me to focus my attention on what is important, discarding so many unnecessary distractions.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

You're Not Safe Anywhere


You’re Not Safe Anyywhere


It began innocently enough. A few mild lower abdominal cramps and a sense of pelvic fullness, familiar feelings we’ve all experienced, but generally find no reason to discuss publicly. There was no sense of urgency, so 15 -20 minutes later I made my way to the bathroom in the studio to take care of the issue at hand. You will understand if I avoid a detailed description of the following events, carefully selecting those that I will share with you, dear readers.


As many of you know, I am 82 years old, and I have learned to respect the limits that age has imposed on my sense of balance. So, I approach everything with some degree of caution, especially in the bathroom. But this was a simple matter of sitting down, something I do countless times every day. What can go wrong with that? And indeed, I safely accomplished the maneuver. However, within a few seconds after sitting I found myself moving swiftly toward the door in front of me. I don’t mean getting up and walking hastily out of the room. I was still seated while in motion!  Actually not just me, but the entire toilet! My swift, precision like mind told me that unless I acted quickly, not only would I find myself in a pile on the bathroom floor, but could possibly sustain some serious hurt that I would eventually have to explain to my wife. Ignoring the fact that most of the lower half of my body was exposed to the local environment, and with my trousers down around my ankles, I desperately grabbed onto the sink with one hand and pushed against the wall with the other, successfully bringing everything to a standstill. Well, perhaps more like a sit-still. It was then I realized the toilet seat had become separated from its moorings, and as soon as I sat down it slid forward and would have deposited me on the floor except for my quick cat-like instincts. As a result, I found myself sitting on a toilet seat precariously balance on the front rim of the toilet bowl, afraid to move for fear of upsetting the balance.


I will leave it to your imagination to figure out how I extricated myself from this ridiculous position. I do have some pride!

Friday, September 10, 2021






Some loves never die, even when the object of desire is a model train. Ever since Santa gave me a Lionel train set when I was 9, I have been fascinated with model trains. Over the years I’ve started several layouts, each one far too elaborate for me to complete. I came close when we lived on the farm in Maryland, but that ended when we to moved to Paducah 19 years ago. Over the years  I flirted with the idea of building a small layyout in the studio but dismissed the idea as foolish. Then Covid arrived - and everything changed. It was not a burden being sequestered at home since I work in a studio in our home. Life continued as usual, or so I thought. until the sudden decision to build that layout.

I began construction of my layout in March, transforming half of the gallery into a train room/workshop, and totally disrupting the studio, and I have never been happier. I take some time to work on several commissions in progress, and find that far from being a chore, painting is fun once again. I’m still painting buildings and barns, but with a new perspective, and dimension.

There is an art to model railroading, as there is in any enterprise, and it is this art that has always attracted me. The basic element in all my paintings has been the intent to create a sense of place for the viewer, despite the 2-dimensional limitation. Model railroading provides that 3rd dimension to create a place of my own design employing the same fundamentals of painting – composition, color, light, and design. In essence I am constructing a 14-foot diorama in the gallery.



It begins with an idea which over time becomes continuously transformed.

Slowly the  bench work makes its mark on the gallery.


Sunday, August 16, 2020





(Studio newsletter – December 19, 2013)


Oh to be young and fearless. Actually just being young again would do, but for the sake of this letter fearless has to be part of the mix. Encouraged by commercial success during my early years as an artist, I harbored ambitious dreams for myself. One of them was to see my art on the cover of the New Yorker magazine. I was so confident I could make that happen that I created a series of paintings, composed to fit the cover of the magazine and accommodate the text. Eventually reality intervened and I never queried the magazine with my cover art. (I learned later that they do not accept un-solicited artwork.) I eventually sold several of the paintings, but a few remain, resting quietly in a file drawer in the gallery – a quiet reminder of what once was.


I am not haunted by the dreams that never made it, because so many did. (I still think they would have made great covers.) If you don’t allow yourself to dream, you can be sure it will never happen.  If you allow yourself to dream, there is always the chance it may happen. The choice is ours, and I choose to dream, even as an old artist.


My daughter Sara responded to the newsletter with this simple line:  I love these dad.  Thank you for teaching me to dream.”


The sentiment expressed in those 7 words – “Thank your for teaching me to dream” - fills me with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment beyond description. Teaching my children to trust and to nurture their dreams has been a high priority goal for me. The message is a simple one: not everyone can be whatever they want to be, or do whatever they want to do, but everyone can try, and dreams are the foundation and the force that sustain these efforts. These are not mindless, pie in the sky dreams, detached from reality. These are the dreams that determine who we are, and how we choose to live our lives, dreams that call on us to use all of our facilities to achieve our goals, dreams that take us from within ourselves into the world around us.


There are no guarantees or promises of success and happiness, and the only reward may be the satisfaction of knowing we made the effort. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020


I love garlic – or more accurately – I love cooking with garlic. I don’t like eating it by itself, raw, or cooked. In fact I distinctly dislike it. But when it is added to other ingredients it enhances the flavor and adds a unique and delightful touch to the dish.  When used properly garlic makes everything better. The same applies to anchovies.  The small fillets packed in oil have a pungent odor and a taste that must be “acquired”, something I have yet to fully accomplish. But like garlic, when used in measured amounts with other ingredients they add another dimension to the flavor without imposing their own. Three or four finely chopped fillets added early in the process of making tomato sauce for “Sunday pasta” enriches the sauce without revealing their presence.

Anxiety and worry are a lot like garlic and anchovies. Their value depends on the circumstances and the amount. Anxiety over something we have no control is wasted energy. When it is excessive it can be debilitating and overwhelming, rendering us helpless and unable to function. So much so that it is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting almost 20% of adults, according to leading specialists in anxiety treatment. (  But in small managable doses, anxiety can behave like garlic and anchovies, and become a useful and helpful tool.

I’m sure I’m not the only artist to hear the comment, “how relaxing it must be to paint”. When asked about this I am quick to point out that painting is definitely not a relaxing exercise for me. In fact it is usually very stressful, especially as the painting progresses, and I invest more and more of myself in the work. I have a tendency – okay, it is more of an unbreakable habit than a tendency – to put off the more difficult parts of the painting for as long as possible. And when I am forced to confront them, I can count on the presence of palpable anxiety. I have learned that this is not only inevitable, but a welcomed part of the creative process. My best work is always accomplished under the duress of varying degrees of anxiety. Its presence tells me that I am moving forward into unfamiliar places where real creative growth is possible.

This is the positive side of anxiety. When we are faced with a need to act, a task at hand, or a decision to be made, it can be helpful rather than incapacitating. It sharpens our minds and increases our awareness of all our options and their potential hazards. It helps us determine whether we should be cautious or aggressive. The right amount of anxiety may urge us to go ahead and push at those boundaries, or it may cause us to pause, and discover previously unknown obstacles lying in wait for us. In its own way, anxiety makes us a little bit wiser. It does not promise success, but encourages the effort. It has taught me to appreciate the difference between stress and distress. In measured and controllable amounts, anxiety is my friend.  There is little question in my mind that my creative efforts need anxiety as much as my cooking needs garlic and an occasional anchovy.