Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Child's Play: Reflections on Serena Williams and Pablo Picasso

Last week two events happened for me on the same day.  I went to see the Picasso sculpture exhibit that is just opening at MOMA and I watched Serena Williams get throttled on the court.  At the Picasso I was amazed at how much inventiveness and experimentation and truthfully just plain fun Picasso must have been having as he bent sheet metal and carved wood.  I'm not saying that it's not hard work, but I was amazed that he could bend a fork and it becomes the talons of a bird or he takes a child's toy car and turns it into a baboons head.  As I stood staring at this completely ridiculous, and amazing, piece entitled "Little Owl," I thought that here is someone who has a child's imagination and sense of wonder. All of his work to me reflected his child-like nature and in that nature he is completely free.

And then I watched Serene, grunting, shouting, smashing her raqu

ette, never a smile, a look of contentment and certainly not playfulness.  She was not just miserable.  Her ranting and stumbling and failing was almost Biblical.  Of course everyone is calling it the biggest upset in tennis history, but I watched Vinci smiling, shaking her head, steady, enjoying the game.  It didn't surprise me that much in the end that Serena lost.  What surprised me was how miserable she seemed even before she was losing.  How she wasn't playing so much as pummeling.  Whatever she wanted, she wanted it too badly, and that made her lose it.

It was interesting for me to see these two events back to back.  I am reminded of one of my favorite tidbits of knowledge.  I've written about this before but I'll say it again now.  The Tahitians have no word for art in their language.  The closest they have is an expression that translates to, "I'm doing the best I can."  I love the idea of trying, doing your best, but it's not about winning or losing.  And in the end for me it is really about pleasure and pleasure is about freedom.  It's not easy to become children again.  (I think it was Matisse who said that you have to grow up to become a child again).

Sometimes I'll sit down to write or paint and I'll say to myself oh I'm not any good or I don't have any ideas or whatever we say to make ourselves feel lousy and then I'll just start to fool around - in my journal, with my watercolors, on the page.  As artists, performers, even athletes, we have to be able to play and we have to be able to enjoy the game.

I feel badly for Serena because this loss will haunt her her entire life.  But perhaps she will learn something from it.  I'm not sure if she ever really loved the game (I think what she loves is winning), but maybe she can find it in herself to enjoy it.  I remember once when I was in a very bleak place and nothing was working out and my husband told me to write stories again the way I did when I was twenty years old and did it for the love of them.

I go back to Picasso's Little Owl.  Go and take a look.  Here was a great artist.  Perhaps the greatest artist of his time and he made a little owl with screws and bolts for legs, a silly little

glorious object that I fell in love with, and I thought to myself that we all need a little owl in our lives.  If we're trying to write a little poem or win a grand slam, you need your little owl.  A part of creativity and success comes from having a good time.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

Mary in Marseilles

A funny thing happened on our way to Marseilles...but I'll write more about that later...for now just this image of me at the gorgeous waterfront museum. 

Detoured by a Caribbean Band...

Last night we were headed to a movie but on our way stumbled upon these festivities instead.  Got a jump on the West Indian Day celebrations.  Wonderful band at La Caye across the street from BAM. The food looked great too but there was an hour wait!  But the beer was cold and the band very cool.

I don't know their name or their names, but it didn't seem to matter.  The music kept flowing.  The movie will be there tomorrow.  The band said they'd be back soon.  The leader shook my husband's hand as he ran off to a gig in Queens. Just one more reason to love Brooklyn...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Jazz Is Not Dead!

On my vacation recently in Paris I went down to the Metro. A train must have just pulled out because there was no one on the platform except for a man.

He was lanky and tall and seemed to be contemplating the wall.  Suddenly took out a black marker and begin to draw on an advertisement.  It took him perhaps thirty second.

In bold, black strokes he was shaping something.

It took a moment, but soon I could see that it was a trumpet.  When he turned and saw me standing there, he was clearly upset.  He thought his action had gone unseen.  He stared at me with a gaunt face, but there was something playful in his eyes.

I made a motion with my hands. "It's a trumpet?" I asked.

Relieved that he wasn't going to be arrested, he nodded yes.

"Where's it playing?" I asked in French.

"Everywhere," he replied. Then with a shrug of his shoulders and a wry smile he disappeared on to the train that had just appeared.  He took it one station; then I watched him slip away.

But he was right.  I began to see his trumpets everywhere.  And I began documenting them.  Here are all the ones that I found.  I liked the statement he's making on all the subway ads, but mostly I like his trumpet.  It was always the same.

And clearly at least in Paris as another graffiti below says, jazz is not dead!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sleepless Nights

Last night I had a sleepless night.  Not that unusual for me but when it happens I'm always surprised. It is as if my mind can't stop moving though my body has.  Or at least though it tries to do so. I got my novel in yesterday and can't seem to know what to do with all the energy packed up inside of me. As a friend once described it, I'm like an unemployed samuri, searching for my next mission.  I have no idea what to do with my sword.  And at the moment I can't think of much that I want to say or even write.

Given that I was having a sleepless night I decided to read Elizabeth's Hardwick's thinly disguised novel by that same title.  Sleepless Nights.  But I must admit that reading it just made me more awake.  I realize that I was filled with longing.  It is a desire that it is hard to describe.  As I said to Larry this morning, I want to fall in love with life again.  Not that I've fallen out of it, but between the fact that our daughter's dog tried to eat my parrot, my daughter had a bike accident, she had a reading, my back hurts, Larry is at the skin doctor, hoping for a clean bill of health, I can't wash dishes, I'm feeling that all of this is just getting in the way of where it is I want to go.

And where is that?  Do I need to make a mileage run to Paris or LA to calm my wandering soul?  I think of the Elizabeth Bishop poem, "Questions of Travel."  Do I need to go there to think of here?  I heard a line from Faulkner last night on, of all places, Criminal Minds (they do good quotes) and it was something like how we don't have to surpass the past or the present.  We have to surpass ourselves.  We have to do better at every moment.

I wrote in my journal last night circa 2:30 a.m. that I am bored.  Bored of all the above.  The dogs, the dishwasher, the meals to prepare and clean up after, the shirts that need mending, the things that need to be thrown out but never are.  The pair of shoes I'll never wear again.  I'm tired of casual hellos and breathless good-byes.  But if depression is anger turned inward, isn't boredom just a form of depression?  Aren't we turning something in instead of turning it out?

My therapist whom I'd been seeing on and off since 1980 died in July.  It was a heart-wrenching grief that grabbed me.  Who would always be at the other end of the phone call now?  Who would explain to me what boredom really meant?  Then I had a dream the other night.  I dreamt that somehow I was at a party on Park Avenue and Jane was there.  I was stunned and told her that I thought she'd died, but she told me she didn't; she'd recovered.  "So why didn't you call me?" I asked her.  "I was waiting for you to call me," she replied.

I went back to reading Hardwick.  The following lines jumped out at me.  "The beginning of June was hot.  I took a journey and, of course, immediately, everything was new.  When you travel your first discovery is that you do not exist."  The phlox bloomed in its faded purples.  On the hillside, phallic pines.  foreigners under the arcades, in basket shops.  A steamy haze blurred the lines of the hills.  A dirty, exhausting sky.  Already the summer seemed to be passing away.  Soon the boats would be gathered in, ferried roped to the dock."

What does she mean?  When you travel...you do not exist.  I feel as if I exist so much more when I travel.  As if I am perhaps alive for the first time.  But I think that what she is saying is different.   It think what she's saying is similar to what Camus meant when
he said when we travel, we are the most afraid because we no longer have all that baggage with us - our job, our social standing, the people who prop us up on a daily basis - indeed we no longer have the props, that make us who are.

I think Hardwick is saying that once we are out in the big world, all those things that we think make us who we are no longer exist and we just become one with the whole roiling mass of life.  It can be terrifying.  And exhilarating.   Once Andre Malraux said words that the effect that it is not so astonishing that we have been thrown at random among the profusion of stars.  It is astonishing that we have been able to fashion images of ourselves sufficient to deny our nothings.

It seems to me that that is what we do in our daily lives with our friends and our dogs and our phones and take-out food and lovers and jobs.  We fashion images that enable us to deny our nothingness.  And it is only in travel - and perhaps I might add in sleepless nights - that we can come to the realization that we do not exist.   Not as these distinct entities we think that we are but rather as a particle, the petal of a flower, a drop of rain within the vastness and endless hours of it all.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Spelunking Into Ourselves

Yesterday I went with a dear friend to see Audra McDonald in Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill and when this amazing show ended my friend turned to me with tears in her eyes.  She said she could not bear the tragedy of Billie Holiday’s life.  And I told her that I could not believe the wonder of her gift.  It was an odd moment.  My friend riddled with sadness and me with admiration and, I’m not going to lie, even a tinge of jealousy. 

Don’t we all – well at least those of us who are artists - in some way want to dig that deeply, but the fact is how many of us can?  To me it is a little like spelunking.  I’ll only go so far and then the darkness, the narrowness makes me stop.  Fear takes over.  This is something I’ve puzzled over for most of my adult life.  There are moments when I have dipped that far down and it has terrified me. 

I recall many years ago seeing Equus on Broadway.  It was one of the first plays I saw when I came to New York and there was one line and one moment that has never left me.  The play, for those who may not know it, is about a boy who blinds six horses with a railroad spike.  Clearly the boy is insane and most of the play takes place in the asylum where he has been sent along with the fleeting images of the horror he has committed.  There is a moment when the psychiatrist says (and forgive me I do not recall the context), “I can cure him of his madness but I will take away his passion.”

Isn’t that the tightrope all artists are walking?  Between our madness and our passion.  It is a delicate balance, to say the least.  While Flaubert told us to be ordinary in our lives so that we may be wild in our imaginations at times I find it difficult to reconcile the two. 

It brings us back to the age-old question.  Do artists have to suffer?  What was it about Billie Holiday, Piaf, and most recently Robin Williams that made them so destructive?  I suppose I’m one of those who always go back to the mother.  That somewhere in our core we are shattered.  

On the other hand Billie Holiday had a loving relationship with her mother and in the play it seems to be the revoking of her cabaret card after she pleaded guilty to a felony she did not commit.  But Billie was already hooked on heroin so again who is to say.  Is it the art that makes us dig deeper until we have perhaps dug our own graves.  Or is it the art that is our rescuer and enables us to climb out of the holes of despair, at least for a time, in which we have found ourselves.

I don’t know.  I have my thoughts, but I cannot know for sure.  Once a read about a Harvard study that showed that creative people remember their childhoods as unhappy, even if they were not.

I still see my friend, her eyes welling with tears over the tragedy of Billie’s life.  And I feel myself in the audience in awe of her gift, and I think that the truth lies somewhere in between in a place few of us can ever really understand.