Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanks Hotel Chelsea

Be afraid for your children is the title of an article on the Hotel Chelsea's blog. They picked up on my story of our last visit. I assure you, Conor will be back before he's an adult. In fact, I think I'll make reservations for the last week of December. Love them.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Salon on the Leibovitz Show

I don't think two people could have walked away from the same show with opinions that are as far apart as mine and Sarah Karnasiewicz's, as expressed in a review in Salon this weekend.

Where I saw courage, Karnasiewicz saw reckless candor and that is a telling testament to the risk of misinterpretation. I have a tendency to applaud candor in all of its forms. I think we get so little honesty in our lives. Certainly people are exploiting their family secrets all the time, I realize that's happening, but we don't often get the pus-filled peek at feelings that I got from the Leibovitz show.

I walk away from so many exhibits without feeling anything at all, nevermind thinking anything at all. I want to connect to something outside of myself to know that I'm not alone in my mental wanderings. So Karnasiewicz didn't connect and I did. She was looking for an aesthetic continuity between Leibovitz's professional work and her personal work. I saw a forms that fit the content.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Art for Love

The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others
-Vincent Van Gogh

We spent our second day in NYC at the Brooklyn Museum. I had heard that was where the Annie Leibovitz exhibit--A Photographer's Life--was being shown. We must have spent a good hour and a half in the exhibit. The final room had two large beds in the middle of the floor and Chloe and Conor crashed on those with their books leaving me all the time I wanted to study the pictures.

The exhibit merged together Annie's two outputs, her professional and personal photographs, in forms that suited the material. Celebrity shots are slick, large format, flattering pieces, work that Annie is famous for. Her personal snapshots are shown en masse, much smaller individually, but as a collection powerful in scope. This is where you can see the pictures of Susan Sontag in her hospital bed, Annie's children, and the Leibovitz family portraits taken over several Thanksgivings down the road from here at her country house in Rhinebeck.

I had a crush on Susan Sontag for years. Her combination of piercing brilliance and courage, and her dark, soulful eyes was alluring. It's no wonder that Leibovitz fell in love with her, when you also consider the attention she paid to the art of photography. What moved me the most though in the show was the demonstration of that love throughout the course of illness and eventual death. I think it was more poignant for me against the beauty and vitality that Leibovitz herself had during this time and the beauty she was surrounded with in her work. What I wondered did she hold onto in Susan that kept her love alive all this time? Was she responding to her memories, or does Leibovitz have the muscle (and I think she must) to conjure up an active love, giving it away and creating a lasting beauty in her work. Descriptions of several of the photos (family portraits and the Cash family photos for instance), which quoted the subjects, say that Annie could be seen crying behind the lens while composing a shot.

This is an emotional exhibit, but not because you see a strong beautiful woman decline in health and looks. It's because you can see evidence of a love that few of us will ever feel and not having it, maybe we've convinced ourselves that it doesn't exist. The shock of discovering that it does can create an immeasurable sense of loss. We often think of art as coming out of unrequited love. As I read today in Nina's blog, The Lazy Geisha, her husband Jeff says that

“Desire is born in the gap between what we have and what we want, and it is in this gap where all art is made.”

I had believed that myself. I thought that love sickness was good for my poetry and that so much wonderful art has been born of this pain. But now, I wonder if this this isn't an adolescent idea and one that can be treacherous too. Think Oscar Wilde. Looking at Leibovitz's work, I now believe that true art, mature, lasting work can come from deep long-lasting love. The kind that produces individual growth, the kind that forces you to the point of enlightenment, because you stick with it until you're transformed. There's no flitting around here. This is hard work, heart-wrenching in its immoveable devotion to connections between people and their meaning to our lives and work.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Too Much in NYC

The kids and I saw Death Cab for Cutie Thursday night at the Theater in Madison Square Garden. Ben Gibbard the lead guitarist and singer couldn't contain his joy over the election results. He made a couple of remarks about living in rosier days and predicted that in a couple of years the troops would be home and Barak Obama would be president.

I was blown away by Ben's drumming in the middle of We Looked Like Giants. He put down his guitar and walked over to a second drum set that they brought out for him. Bright white lights filled the stage and he let go, shining as if that were his one moment to be totally on.

I missed Transatlanticism--I need you so much closer. Maybe they played it for the encore, but I couldn't stay for that. Conor had fallen asleep and I knew I had to get them back to the hotel.

The Hotel Chelsea...when we checked in before the concert, we had to wait in the lobby for the bellman to show us to our room. Conor sat on one side, playing his Game-boy and Chloe and I on the opposite side. An older man sat down next to Conor. He had a carved, wooden monkey head in his hands, and he was putting things into the hollow bottom of it. Conor looked over at me with a question of concern. I assured him that he was OK with a hand gesture and he settled into his curious observation mode just in time to catch the story of the head. The man in possession of the monkey head told another resident of the lobby that this head had belonged to him at one time. He had owned it about 15 years ago and then someone stole it from him. He said he found it today in a store and stole it back. The head was from East Africa and was quite attractive, I could see how someone would become attached to something like this.

When we got back to the hotel after the concert and arrived on the 7th floor where our room was, we could see bright lights beyond the door in the direction of our room. We tried going the other way, because we weren't sure exactly which way to go, but then realized we did have to go toward what we then realized was a photo shoot of...a woman wearing a corset. It was about 11 PM. We opened the door and the photographer apologized to us. No, we said, we're sorry to interrupt. Conor claims he didn't see anything other then the leopard print chair that was turned over on its side on the floor.

Our trip the next day to the Brooklyn Museum included a scene with the NYPD. When we sat down in the car, a man lay across from us spread out over 5 or 6 seats. He was passed out and no one paid much attention to him. A man a couple of seats down from me asked us where we were headed, I guess because he saw me looking at the list of stops. I told him the Museum and he said that we should get off the stop after him. We had a long ride ahead of us and I settled back in my seat to relax. At one of the stops, a uniformed policeman got on the car and walked right over to the guy who was passed out. He told him to sit up and nothing happened. Then he grabbed the guy's belt and started shaking his body to wake him up. The guy looked up at the cop and the cop said sit up, you can't lay down on the train like that. The guy said I was looking for something, and the cop said no you weren't, you were passed out. Right, the guy said, I was sleeping, but after you woke me up, I started to look for something.

He sat up and the cop stood there, a big guy with his gun and stick. He put his hat on, down over his eyes the way they do that to look tougher. Then something happened at another stop. The cop yelled something, got off the train, and then back on again. At the next stop, he told the guy who had been passed out, to get off the train. The cop seemed really angry, as if whatever had happened at the last stop now had to discharge and this guy was going to have to pay. He did get off and we saw the cop put handcuffs on him.

The rest of us on the train shook our collective head at the abuse of power. And our friend who was going to get off at the stop ahead of us, grabbed a bottle of whiskey out of his duffel bag, filled his Sprite bottle and then shared it with another guy across the aisle from him.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Paying Attention

I hurt myself a few times in the last couple of months. I fell riding a horse--actually a pony--for the first time in September. I got lucky and didn't do any lasting damage, just a sore shoulder for a couple of days. What was I thinking about? What was distracting me?

I burned my hand making tea. I poured boiling water all over the back of my left hand. I held back tears as I drove my daughter to her dance class soon after the incident. For three weeks I covered it with my other hand when I stood talking to someone. It turned dark brown and peeled. Underneath the raw, red skin looked unready for exposure.

I fell riding again on Friday. This time I did get hurt. My neck and shoulder are sore and I have appointments set up with my physical therapist, massage therapist, and a new chiropractor that a friend strongly recommends. This is probably overkill, but since I've been feeling so great physically, maybe better than ever, I can't accept this setback easily.

One thing I know from riding is that your eye is everything. Where you're looking and what you're thinking about is critical to staying in the saddle. It's not easy to be a daydreamer and ride horses. Until now, I've been lucky, but it looks like I've tempted fate and my daydreaming is beginning to cost me.

Clarity and focus are things that I've learned about in yoga and meditation. I can try to apply some of those skills to the rest of my life. I think I better, before I really get hurt. My new mantra should be "focus on what you are doing now." That would keep me out of a lot of trouble, because so much of what spins me is not paying attention to what I'm doing in the moment. I assume many writers have the habit of living in their heads. It's how we get a lot of our work done, and since we bring our heads with us wherever we go, we often forget that we're doing something other than work and get lost somewhere in between the two activities.

I can't possibly stop thinking, except when I'm sitting at my computer, but I do need to be more aware of how I allocate time for this work and time for the rest of my life. I need to notice if I'm paying attention when I'm cooking, or spending time with my kids, or driving, so that I don't get hurt anymore. But also so that I can live more fully. If I leave this thinking process on all of the time, I think it gets diluted and less effective. It becomes something in the background, too familiar and less engaging. And the activities that I fill my life with become nothing more than unnoticed landmarks whizzed by at 75 mps.