Ode to Thrust Bearings: getting unstuck

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?

. . . . .

The world needs more thrust bearings. Thrust bearings allow things to be mobile and flexible while remaining stable. They allow large heavy things to turn, move, and realign. They allow juxtaposed things to stay in connection with each other while one – or both – is turning, moving, and realigning.

We need more thrust bearings in world politics, we need them for social mobility, we need them to manage the relationship between finances and education, we need them to unstick prejudices, we need them to navigate clashing attitudes on abortion, same-sex marriage, minimum wages, health care, gun control, immigrants, and housing for everyone. We need them in the U.S. Congress. We need them between religions and cultures. We need them wherever there is war, poverty, destruction, or hate.

What is a thrust bearing? It is a human invention, a thingamajig with only one purpose – to allow objects to turn in relationship to each other on a axis. It is, in effect, a flattened ring of multiple ball bearings that fits between a same-size washer on the top and a same-size washer on the bottom.

Yes, there are tools for almost everything – give me a large enough lever and a place to stand and I can make the earth move – but my heart belongs to thrust bearings.

thrust bearing

The thrust bearing that thrills me most is 15/16” in diameter with a center hole 5/8” in diameter. It is a 304 stainless steel alloy mix of iron, chromium, nickel, and small amounts of other things. (See photo of my actual thrust bearing.)

Thrust bearings are put to use by slathering them in grease between their two washers. Think lox slathered with cream cheese on both sides between two toasted bagel chips.

After this photo was taken my heartthrob was slathered, layered, and placed on a small rod – an axis – atop a stainless steel pole 2” wide by 3’ high. A matching stainless steel “top piece” of pole 3” high was placed on top of the thrust bearing.

close up of wingThis 3″ top piece is attached to a “cradle” with finger-like prongs that hold a 120 lb. angel’s wing of Carrera marble. The wing is 39″ long. The concept, construction, and installation for the support pole and cradle were all done by museum installer par excellence David Graham alongside Patrick Burke.

The thrust bearing allows the wing to turn on a horizontal axial plane 4′ high in my garden. Not like a windmill, it is too heavy for that. But I can turn the wing easily to view it from different angles.

Very few things look the same from difference angles. Very few things are not metaphors for something else.

My thrust bearing has the capability to allow an object of up to 3000 lbs. to rotate on an axial plane at 10,000 revolutions per second. Try that, junior cadets.

DSCN5285A nearly life-size terra cotta woman titled “Waiting for an Angel” sits nearby. She is serene, sure that angels exist and, if she waits long enough, one will walk in to reclaim the wing that fell to the ground and turned to marble. (The wing’s sculptor is Elizabeth Turk. The name of the creator of “Waiting for an Angel” has vanished from my records. There is more about both on my blog Returned: One Angel’s Wing.)

Her dream is ethereal but the thrust bearing that allows the wing to move is concrete. It is not a wish, a notion, or a longing. It is real. We humans need both the dream and the tool.

Humans progressed from sticking twigs into holes in the earth and then licking off the ants to inventing thrust bearings, glorified wheels that opened the way for the industrial revolution, advanced agriculture, and travel in outer space. Can we not find the equivalent to change our human interactions and bring harmony to the world?

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We need interior and exterior tools to bring us into equilibrium with each other so we can be flexible, creative, and work together to overcome inequalities such as food for some and not for others, medicine for some and not for others, education for some and not for others, safety and equal rights for some and not for others.

We are stuck. We confuse our selected morality with absolute truth. We trumpet the mythology of our own religion while mocking that of others. We justify killing as though we have no other option. We give precedence to one sex over the others. We favor some races and cultures over others. We imprison people unequally and label it protection of the rest of us. We think guns make us strong.

We entrench. We find it difficult to change our positions and beliefs. We close our doors and our borders and our minds and our hearts. We build walls against each other and then we bomb our way through them to kill each other. We feed our hate and fear and memory of harm done to us until it turns into harm and horrors we do to others.

We lack the courage and vision – or perhaps only the will? – to reconsider our stuck positions. We like thinking we are right, we like not questioning ourselves. But if we are to live in peace then we need to find and use our inner thrust bearings. We need to change our perspectives on what exists, what is possible, and how to get there. We need to do it individually and collectively.

So what does a thrust bearing look like? They are nouns, verbs, people, states of being, qualities.

For starters: Pope Francis, Jane Goodall, Desmond Tutu, neighborhood soup kitchens, dedicated teachers, fair trade agreements, cat videos, chocolate, inner-city gardens, deep listening to each other, forgiveness, reunions, interfaith outreach, art in our schools, nonviolent protests against injustice and inequality, paid maternity leave, respect for the homeless and poor, neighborhood libraries, smiles, increased minimum wage, diversity.

Love, education, and medicine are thrust bearings. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the Golden Rule thrust bearing.

Many NGO’s are thrust bearings. Top of my list are Search for Common Ground, Doctors Without Borders, Bereaved Parents – Family Forum, Women for Women International, Chime for Change, and World Pulse.

Countless thousands of women in Africa are thrust bearings. UN resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace, and Security” to get women at negotiation tables and in the enactment of peace accords is a thrust bearing. Any book by Jean Shinoda Bolen is a thrust bearing, including the just-released “Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.”

We need countless more. But to have more thrust bearings in our individual and collective lives we must first believe in goodness and possibility. We must hold tenaciously to the vision of living together in generous harmony.

We must accept we can be kind and still be safe, we can reach out and not be harmed, we can give and not be destitute, and we can listen to those we think are our enemies until they become our friends. If we do not, we will continue to grind against each other. There will only be friction between us. We will continue to be afraid in a fracturing world.

DSCN5270The woman in my garden has waited for an angel for nearly two decades. She is patient, loving, and kind. When we humans become more adept at using the thrust bearings inside us – love, patience, and kindness – heaven has a chance.

If a thingamajig 15/16″ across can hold something 3000 lbs while it rotates 10,000 revolutions per second, shouldn’t we as flesh and blood and passion and visionaries be able to find our way out of this stuck place?

I think we can. I believe it is possible.

 

 

 

Fighting with Perfection in Paris

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(Hang in there, this blog all comes together eventually. Plus there are photos of lovers, redheads, and dogs at the end. See example to left.)

 

Fighting with Perfection in Paris

Perfection does a hatchet job on Good. She’s a diva that tolerates no supporting cast, and She has been riding roughshod over my ability to write a blog since I arrived in Paris 12 days ago.

In addition to not writing blogs, I have not been to two of my neighborhood restaurants, Laduree and Mariage Freres. They are my usual haunts and I believed they were essential to my settling into the City of Lights.

I have been taking long walks and hundreds of photographs with a focus on lovers, redheads, dogs, children, art, and the homeless that I post on Facebook every day, but no writing.

What is going on?

Let me tell you as best I understand.

For one thing the Israeli killing of 2100 Gazans and then claiming more land in the West Bank ad nauseum not only depressed me but has shown me definitively that there are people who are not only far more expert on the subject than I am but who write much better. (Un-huh, I know Israelis were targeted by Gazans firing missiles and that 50 some Israelis were killed – all except six in the military – but this blog is not about politics and I’m not in the mood to equate 50 some Israelis to 2100 Gazans and call it a draw.)

For another, I have been taken over by an internal son et lumiere show in which a cacophony of characters bide with each other for the spotlight. Inside me is a mélange of languid sexy women wearing silk lavender, clowns in cone hats with red pom-poms on top, the child I was on the farm in Iowa, an overly-sensitive female who is subject to Stendhal Syndrome, and a hawk-eyed hunter-photographer who preys on and captures the innards of innocent people.

Over it all sits the Perfectionist Judge (she’s a female, dammit!) who says that if I write something it has to have a deep and meaningful impact in addition to good grammar. Otherwise, it isn’t worth bothering with and clutters the landscape.

Also, I’m in an apartment I once co-owned with a husband we don’t need to mention except that I don’t want you to think I could ever have bought an apartment in Paris on my own. The apartment is exactly as I left it except the floor-to-ceiling silk curtains are shredding on the window side and there is a humidor on the desk and new sheets on the bed – oh, and an updated master bathroom. This is a special kind of déjà vu made possible by the new owner.

Thus, a sonne et lumiere and cast of characters goes with me through the streets, into the cafes, across Luxembourg Gardens, and into the Louvre to view 17th and 18th century French paintings. It is a pleasant but timeless experience that is not very solid, wobbly even. Writing a blog requires concrete sentences in real time.

However a deep and impactful truth (at least for me) has finally taken form. I believe that having our moorings loosened and our time sense scrambled – and losing people, gaining people, and experiencing our self as multiple people is imperative to becoming more aware of the miracle that we are here at all. We cannot know more until we give up old beliefs that we know what is what. We need to be tumbled.

Often this happens by trauma. Breakage and loss undo our world, and in undoing our world they make us look again, experience again, change. We are forced to be flexible.

We are forced to be flexible in what we thought was existence – large and small – and who we are in it. It is easiest to do this if we accept the unmooring and the cast of interior personalities and float.

The Perfection Judge says, “This is not adequate. It’s too airy-fairy. You need to say something helpful when our world is in such crisis.”

You see, the Perfection Judge tolerates that I post photographs of redheads and lovers on Facebook, but she wants my blogs to have more depth, which means the only way I can write is to stand up to Her and say, “Half-ass and mediocre are just fine, thank you, anyway.”

Even so, I will now make an attempt at depth, or perhaps just at loosening your moorings: There are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on planet earth. Odds are beyond all reckoning that we are not the only thinking creatures in infinity.

We don’t know much of anything but we experience that we exist. That is a place to start.

Two days ago I bought a work of art titled “Paradise Lost.” (See photo. Xavier Somers, Flemish, is the artist.)

In the beginning were Adam and Eve and they discovered the pleasurable things that men and women can do together. Behold, Eve laid an egg in the nest of temporal life and free Paradise lost 010 (2)will. Alongside it in the nest is the devoured apple of self-knowledge. The beginning was the awareness that we existed. It might not be much, but it is a start.

Everything my knowledge and experience tell me is that bliss is the natural state and it is humans who f**k it up. We all know the second part of that sentence. I believe the first part is true also. We “fell” out of grace into self-knowledge. It was the only way to know we are here. Now the task is to climb back up and join self-awareness with bliss. (. . . which raises all sort of questions such as which came first the bird or the egg.)

In “Paradise Lost” the golden male has a large key that inserts in the keyhole of the golden female. It joins them into one creature, a larger egg with legs. I’m just letting you know that without further comment.

And this Adam and Eve devoured the apple. Of course! If we’re going for self-awareness, we need to get as much as possible.

And the nest is made of barbed wire. And so it is. Look around.

And because our self-awareness is still so miniscule, such a grain of sand in infinity, we harm each other and call it justified and self-protection and rational.

And I look around this apartment where loss has occurred and where beauty and blessing pour in the windows, and I cart my mélange of characters around with me and tell the Perfection Judge, “Bugger off.”

I say, “Bugger off. You, Perfection, are the scourge, thinking you know what is right or good. You, who wants life in perfect grammar and manners and brilliance. Look around, Perfection, next to the lovers are the homeless. Look, Perfection, look well, and tell me that you have a right to judge. We rejected you when we began to become aware and to care for all that fails your false standards. Bugger off.”

Photos of Parisians below, being their essential selves, even when dogs:

kiss 20 kiss11 dog19 dog18 dog15 cafe1 red head8 red hair3 homeless8 homeless3 cafe2

 

 

 

Slaughter, beauty, art, and obligation

In the fall of 1950 I arrived to school upset and angry. My parents had not told me we were at war and had been for months. They had treated me like a child, not bothering to tell me the horrendous news of people killing each other. What could possibly be larger or worse than war? How dare they.

I went immediately to the cloakroom where I asked Rosie, Jerry, David, and Tony if they knew we were at war. They did not. I told them it was with Korea, around the world.

Jerry said, “I’m going to be a soldier and I’ll fight and I’ll kill all the bad men.” He was punching his fists in the air. At that moment I realized he was a little boy with no understanding of what war was, that he didn’t even understand what death was. Existential isolation first hit me in the cloakroom of the second grade.

This memory has returned as people kill each other and allow others to kill. We in the U.S. blithely supply weapons for the killing. Death tolls are rounded to the nearest hundred or thousand and the accounting cannot keep up with reality.

But I am not feeling existential isolation. I, like most of us, feel the suffering that permeates our existential commonality. We live together in a world of blood, screams, decimation, death by weapons, hubris, callousness, arrogant self-justification, death close up, death by remote control, convenient self-delusion, and men who fight wars as though they were video games.*

We look for ways to cope, to put slaughter into a context that gives a modicum of relief. We protest, we give money, we write legislators, and we bombard Facebook. We use activism as an antidote to despair.* (I receive more or less 30 posts, videos, photos from Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel each day.)

This onslaught has brought me to a rare place – writer’s block – something I have seldom if ever experienced. This is my sixth attempt to write in over a week. The block does not come from nothing to say, but from too much to say, and that many brilliant writers and analysts are saying it far better than I could.

So what is my part? I cannot bear not helping, but what have I uniquely to give? And if I have nothing uniquely to add, should I simply wait, breath, cry, and pray in the quiet breathing sort of way that I do? It seems impossible to write blogs that are simply amusing.

An answer of sorts has come – a work in progress certainly – that I have only the personal to give. This feels, in one way, like a travesty, an indulgence, an eating of a fruit tart on the edge of a room with body parts in the middle. Do we eat it looking to the floor, to the corner, or to the middle?

Do I exaggerate? No, it feels that strange.

Am I too in-your-face? Perhaps, but at least I am writing again.

And what grants this writing is that I know I am not alone in the agitated distress of those of us who are witnesses. Because we care, we, too, are injured. We hurt.

I have come to that among the things we can do – in addition to protesting, giving money, writing, and other forms of activism – is to remember, even latch onto, beauty and to fiercely participate in creations that transcend devastation.

To state: This is not a time to shop – an obscenity coming out of materialistic responses to slaughter – but a time to embrace, rediscover, and express our creative “better angels” in order to heal and strengthen ourselves and to hold possibility for those who suffer. This is not a time to whimper.

If humans are both savage and divine, we must “activate” our impulses to create harmony and embrace light. We must not be afraid of the startling and cleansing power of light (ours from inside and that that feels as though it comes from outside of ourselves), and we must not feel it is shallow of us to create art or go to a concert when our friends are being killed. Our job is remain conscious of the suffering of others as we tether that suffering to creations offered to us by others or from us to others.

This is a time to write poetry, to create songs, and to paint. This is a time to listen to poetry, to listen to music, to go to galleries. It is a time to make delicate meals, create labyrinths for your children, carry and distribute chocolates, look deeply into flowers, and to dance. These actions may lift us into tears or laughter, but they will help us heal and they will spread. This, in the hands of a master, produces Guernica. This, in the hands of the rest of us, is a power that can change the world.

My grandson told me that humans are the weirdest animals because we talk and we create things. He turned seven two days ago, he is the age Jerry was when he going to kill the bad men. He is smarter than Jerry was, but I do not want him to know people are killing other people. I, like my parents, like all parents, want to protect the children.

Ah, the children. Ah, the children.

We are savages and we allow savagery, but we are also the vessels that divinity has to work with to bring joy and peace.

An Israeli on my Facebook, one of numerous new “friends,” occasionally posts a photo of an Israeli being arrested for protesting against the destruction of Gaza, but more often he posts incongruent beauty – a curve of a violin, a song, the inlaid decoration of a harpsichord. I have come to understand why. Each posting is a candle of beauty that has been, beauty that is, and beauty that will be.

To “never forget” horror is one thing, but to “always remember” our divinity – our better angels – is imperative. It is the stuff of personal and global salvation. We must take it out of the realm of possibility and into the world of reality. We must create beauty, harmony, acknowledgment, love, and forgiveness that can be touched, felt, heard, and seen. We must remind ourselves and others that transcending is something people do. It came in our package. We weirdest of animals can re-create the world for the better.

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* “men playing video games” and “activism as antidote” are credited to Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD, author, and Jungian analyst, who called during the writing of this post.

 

Delirium: a man, a dog, a girl, opera, food poisoning, and me

 

We will start this recitative with a link to “Wysteria” (Dan Fogelberg) sung by singer-songwriter Joshua Payne, my houseguest this past week, because the word “delirium” is going through my head to the tune of his “Wysteria.” It occupies my mind so thoroughly that other words fling around it like confetti. I am recovering from food poisoning. Calamari.

I told Joshua at the time, “These aren’t as good as usual.” I weigh five pounds less than I did three days ago. I will try to write clearly if not coherently.

He and I continued our intense discussion over that fated dinner – at a favorite restaurant, alas – about the musical (opera, perhaps?) he is writing and that we had worked on together throughout the day. He called our conversation “sparring.” I felt it as a battle of voices trying to trump one another where I was the guaranteed loser – he is a trained opera baritone. I tried to convince myself that I might learn a new skill in counterpoint to the “deep listening” we advocated at the non-profit I founded. I didn’t succeed in either convincing myself or gaining the skill though the final result of my internal debate remains to be seen. I can imagine situations where sheer timbre force could have value.

When the conversation changed direction – a maneuver of mine – he quoted Bible verses from Corinthians and Samuels about, yes, the Jews were promised Israel, but God reversed that because the Jews weren’t being good enough. So the promise of land had been valid only for a certain time. Joshua would supply me with as many verses as I wanted.

However, the mere mention of Corinthians made my stomach start to turn and I asked him to stop. He looked baffled.

Finally I took his hand and said, “Really, you must stop now,” which he did with a surprised look while I launched into the closest thing to a rant I’ve done in years. It was on how much I dislike religions – ALL religions – and Bible-driven mentalities, and the damage done by people who think they are superior and chosen and right, and how religion stopped people from thinking clearly about reality and goodness and humanity right in front of them in real time. I had no idea I felt quite that strongly about it.

Joshua was brought up under fundamentalist Christianity, brutal and violent on the one hand and redemptive and beautiful on the other. He is the child of pastors (albeit musical ones) in Arkansas and has come to some kind of terms with it, even really likes the Old Testament.

I, however, when trying to initiate upchucking around 2:00 am, only had to think “Corinthians” for the “upchuck” button to be pushed.

[Please continue to listen to “delirium” sung so sweetly in the way Joshua sings “Wysteria.”]

My anti-religion rant wasn’t my first outburst. Mid-week, exhausted and taut, I snapped at the person dearest to me, shocking us both. I snapped about something I had planned for years to explain gently, carefully, as a trait that hurt me. So much for gentleness! (We have worked our way through this and she is stocking me with Gingerale and some godawful thing called “vitamin water” that comes in magenta and cobalt blue.)

I also contacted a former lover about seeing him finally, but reneged it perfunctorily and abruptly a day or two later in a flash of hurt and pique.

Yup, it’s been quite a week. The cost of being surrounded by genius and beauty and harshness? The cost of having my lovely controlled life disturbed? Disturbed?!! Hell!!

photo 10It began with my dog Phoenix, a standard poodle. In addition to having an opera-trained voice of a baritone angel, Joshua is a dog whisperer – though I never actually saw him whisper – and Phoenix needed training.

Phoenix jumped on people, Phoenix went ballistic over deliverymen and  trucks driven by deliverymen or garbagemen, Phoenix became crazed around leaf blowers, Phoenix barked at other dogs, and in my neighborhood there are a lot of deliveries, a lot of dogs, and a lot of leaf blowers.

photo 3Besides, Joshua was charming when I met him in NYC six weeks ago, so I invited him to my home to take care of the dog situation and we would work on his musical in the process. (I was once a playwright. Joshua likes my work.) What could go wrong?

Well, first off, Joshua couldn’t figure out the deal with Phoenix, couldn’t decode him. Why wasn’t he packing with us/him/me? It is one thing to know your dog is disobedient. It is another to know he prefers other people to you and that what affection he has for you is as a free agent. We now know Phoenix’s chosen pack – his hierarchical ranking, and affection, order – is 1) the man he stays with when I’m away, 2) the man who did construction in my house the first two years of his life, 3) my 4-year-old granddaughter, and then probably me. Joshua came to occupy a unique separate place.

Before we finished, eight different people were here for training with “my” dog and Joshua had to “take down” Phoenix twice. The first time wasn’t too bad and I saw it. (On the second day of training, Phoenix skulked under the piano and growled and showed teeth when I tried to get him out.)

Joshua said from the beginning there would be a rebellion around day 4, and there was. This second and final “take down,” which I luckily did not see, was the real deal and ended with the two bonded as spent fighters in each other’s clutches on the grass in nearby woods. After that, my dog began to sleep with Joshua who called him “my warrior brother” and wanted to take him back to Nashville with him.

Phoenix no longer jumps on people and does not bark at deliverymen, their trucks, other dogs, or leaf blowers. He walks in perfect “heel” and “stays” where he is supposed to, though he cheats a little on “stay” with me. We’re working on it.

My dog, who prefers others more than me (yes, I’m still adjusting to this truth I already knew, hence the repetition), seems both relieved of his self-imposed job description of Protector Against All Things, i.e. some things are our friends – and bored from the new quiet in the house. (I am grieved and guilty at not being strong enough to walk him and so wish Joshua were still here for him. The sight of Joshua walking long-haired and barefoot through my fancy area of DC with Phoenix on a loose leash prancing at his side was a sight to behold. He even walked in peace between two leaf blowers like they were playing a duet just for him.)

So, in a week’s time I faced the truth of my dog’s allegiance, had a non-stop revolving door of people and training, affronted people I love, was sleep deprived, drank too much wine, offered food continuously, and had a musical genius either caressing me 24/7 with his music (piano, guitar, voice) and/or poetry, or challenging me front on, or embracing with glee (and our mutual goosebumps) my ideas for his musical – or regaling me with his childhood which reinforced any stereotype I’ve ever had about the South. In sum, I lost control of my life as I gained control of my dog. And then I got food poisoning.

Just one snippet: Past midnight once again. Mucho wine. I’m immobile, and can only watch as he meticulously cleans up the dinner dishes, scrubs my stove, triple-wipes the countertops with Windex while telling me how the junior high school principal broke his vertebrae with a canoe (?) paddle for chewing gum in school. What does one do with this?

My 4 1/2-year-old granddaughter in all her sweetness was the contretemps, determined to learn how to control Phoenix through simple commands and hugs. He wants to obey her. You see his heart expand. You see him listen and wait.

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When Joshua left two days ago, Phoenix was reluctant to watch. But it’s important as part of the pack to explain to your animal that you are leaving but that you will return. You can’t just disappear.

So Joshua spoke to Phoenix, and then he spoke to Josie. I watched, sick and in pajamas, knowing that I too was part of the pack, even if not the preferred leader.

photo 6

 

After Joshua left, Josie sat with Phoenix for a long time, petting him and explaining that Joshua would be back. When a visitor came later, Phoenix did not jump on her. Well, he considered it and I gave the “NIE” command and he sat and waited to be petted. If not his #1, I did get his willing cooperation.

I wouldn’t have missed this week for anything, . . .

. . . and now the musical includes a key character based on Josie’s great great great (more?) grandfather, sheriff of Dodge City. How good is this?

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Re-seeing Masterpieces: Chicago Art Institute

On my first day to the Art Institute of Chicago last week I was waylaid and overwhelmed by the talking heads in their great Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Byzantium rooms. We had great conversations. They had much to say. (See blog “The Eyes Have It” from six days ago.)

On my second visit, I focused on paintings by the greatest in more recent history, and I formed two tenets.

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Durer’s Eve knees

Tenet #1 is on beauty: paintings that are masterpieces can be apportioned into sections of themselves that are small masterpieces that retain the ability to wow your socks off. The strokes, colors, and lines that make up the whole can be “reframed,” say by a camera, into miniatures that are in themselves transcending.

I am not sure this applies to minimalist paintings but I have convinced myself that it applies to representational and abstract paintings. It certainly held true for the best works of Durer, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, and – interestingly – Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove. Are there any works by Durer or Cezanne that are not “best works”? Surely, the artists among my readers can add more painters who never fail.

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Eve’s leaves

Tenet #2 is on how to best navigate galleries not filled with masterpieces: when in a room of paintings that are not masterpieces you have two ways to bring more life and joy to the experience – study the evolution of a painter, marveling that they too could have a bad day, OR find sections of, ah, “lesser” paintings that are nonetheless thrilling. It’s usually in there somewhere.

Best is to look through your camera so that you see only what the camera sees, move it about, and wait for that moment when you feel a little brain “ping.” That’s it! You will have participated in the creative process by framing (finding) the marvelous something that exists inside the larger something that is less than transcending. You have become your own artist. (Think of it as a form of “cut and paste.”)

Below are moments, dim sum of pleasure, facets that I captured. To identify them all is tedious on WordPress, and really I just want you to look, to see, to feel without thinking about the where and when and by whom they were painted. Some you will recognize. Others perhaps not. Relish!

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The Eyes Have It: Chicago’s Art Institute

First time in Chicago in four decades. It was too cold and windy to land in after graduation, so I went further east, suitcase and borrowed money in hand, to Washington, DC. The first days there, in what I mistakenly thought would be an international city but was still a sleepy southern town when I was 21, I went to the National Gallery of Art and gawked. Yesterday, having just arrived, I went to the the Art Institute of Chicago. I was not alone.

image You would have thought I was alone but I was not, and it wasn’t because of pods of high school students or tourists with museum maps. I was surrounded by 1500- to 2500-year-old people who overwhelmed me by their humanity – Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, and Tibetans. Statesmen, philosophers, fighters, conquerors, ordinary people, and gods. Mostly male, some female.

Why now so strongly? It’s not that I’ve never seen a marble bust before, I’ve seen plenty. It’s that I’ve never “felt” a marble bust – or stone or terra cotta or cast bust or bas relief or, yes, Carrara torso – so alive. They were cold, they were separate before.

imageNow they told me their story, how they carried themselves in the agora, their sense of responsibility or defeat, their innocent inability to explain that they didn’t know they were still innocent, their bafflement, their serenity inside the temple.

They told me through the turn of their head or the jut of their jaw, but they told me mainly through their eyes. We held conversations of a phrase here and a phrase there. My job was to listen, just that.

 

 

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There was a painting of a man taken from his (Egyptian) tomb that I’d first seen in a compendium of art in a book I bought with that borrowed money so many years ago. I was struck by it then for its realism, I was almost mowed down yesterday by its eyes. This was a human being! He lived! He walked, talked, wore a wreath at least for his funeral but surely for other occasions also. Bet he was married and had children, maybe a business, or . . . what? What, dear human male, did you do when you had a viable body and mind? You had, I believe, a sense of wonder tempered by caution. I saw it in your eyes.

 

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Why now? Perhaps because I am of an age where more people are dying around me than are being born. Of an age when people who have died are still real to me. Of an age where I not only understand the shortness of life but the aliveness of life. Of an age where nothing, nothing, nothing matters so much as caring and loving and holding, and beauty. Beauty as both treasure and key to treasure. Of an age where callousness is fatal.

It was not only the people who revealed themselves to me, but the sculptors, unknown and nameless, who created each work, and I use the word “work” here as a precious thing, for the physicality of stone, marble, and paint require muscle in the duty of message and transference. It also requires intelligence of execution (training and skill) and emotional elasticity and, ultimately, wisdom.

image One cannot expose the eyes of resignation of the philosopher without understanding that understanding being human is to know resignation.

imageOne cannot make the eyes of a fallen warrior “dead” without knowing what leaves the body at the moment of death. imageimageimage

One cannot reveal innocence without knowing innocence in relationship to experience.

So the people revealed, and their revealing artists, surrounded me on the Chicago Art Institute and it was crowded, not by people with museum maps but by tangible presences that had navigated vast distances to say “I am because I was. Feel me, companion.”   imageimageimage

Returned: one angel’s wing

[This blog, be forewarned, speaks of hope. It was written, unabashedly, in the face of the harm, cruelty, and violence humans do to each other.]

IMG_3536Five and a half years ago I lost an angel’s wing. I also lost a husband, a house, and my trust in the bulk of humanity. 

I stopped grieving the husband two or three years after he told me of his separate parallel life.

The house I never missed. It was a McMansion that fought back hard against my attempts to make it human-friendly. A truckload of furniture would arrive – soft sofas, curved wood rockers, Afghan rugs – and, once they were unloaded, I’d look around to find in which room they had disappeared.

We originally called the house “The Stage,” recognizing it as a phase my husband seemed to need to go through. He never got through it, he loved that house.

As for my trust in humans, it will never return to fuzzy-edged naiveté. I live by: I could be betrayed, heart-broken, forgotten, and cheated on at any moment, but that’s not an adequate reason not to love and embrace joy.

In any case, any bitterness has been replaced by a manageable sadness, patience, and loving acceptance. The book of humans could be titled “Varieties of Foibles.” We don’t even treat ourselves, let alone others, as we would like to be treated.

And poignancy is an okay quality to live with. Its merging of joy and pain is spot on with the truth of life.

While the house was an obdurate beast, the garden we designed together was breathtaking – pockets of restfulness, a (recycling) creek with two dams, koi fish, water lilies, lotus, Siberian irises, a mediation house 9 feet off the ground with glass walls and a steeple of copper, and the green grass circle where we were married standing on rose petals.

The angel’s wing (Carrara marble) was in the garden. When I had the opportunity to claim some furniture and art from the house, I didn’t have the presence of mind to remember the garden. It was a hit and run mission (legal and with written permission) – and it was unbearable to point my finger at items I wanted and needed (I had nothing) while his financial manager took photos and made a list.

Last week, five years overdue, the wing returned to me. The house is being sold. I wrote and asked for the wing. He didn’t say “yes” directly, but copied me on the email asking a friend to pick it up and deliver it to me.

IMG_3520The wing sits close to a statue of a seated woman titled “Waiting for an Angel.” I did manage to get her five years ago. She has waited all this time. Some things meant to be yours return.

They are together in my garden and today my first iris bloomed – an old-fashioned purple bearded iris of the kind my mother grew. It is among allium, and peonies that will bloom soon, and a lilac bush that bloomed  two weeks ago.IMG_3529

 

The foibles of humans make good things more tender than they might otherwise be. Life wants to be wonderful. Or maybe the return of the wing and the hope it embodies – angels do visit earth – is making me a little drunk.

 

 

Foggy Sunday at MoMA

The plan on this foggy day in NYC was to go to MoMA to see the Gauguin and Jasper Johns exhibitions, both new, both nice, both somewhat intellectual. No photography allowed, which was fine with me. I respected both exhibitions but was not hit behind the knees, my criterion for OMG art.

Then I joined the throng of foggy-Sunday people in the galleries of MoMA’s permanent collection, the paintings you see on postcards, calendars, and posters with good reason.

Before we proceed, however, I want to draw your attention to a little Odilon Redon still life hanging quietly in the corner. image

See in this photo of “Wildflowers in a Long Necked Vase” (1912) how no one is looking? Redon may be the best kept open secret in the art world. There used to be a small room devoted to his paintings tucked into the lowest level of Musee d’Orsay in Paris where we few Redonophiles gathered in silence, excepting an occasional gasp or swoon.image

imageRedon is my drug of choice, discovered when I was 21, unemployed, and newly arrived with one suitcase to Washington, DC. For two days I stood in front of his paintings at the National Gallery of Art instead of looking for a job.

I can spot a Redon across a crowded room. He was a real deal mystic not a William Blake angel-oriented one. He contained the ecstasy of mystical vision inside the “real” world of fear and monsters. His prints, unlike his painting, are seriously scary. But that’s what I think it’s like for mystics on earth.

And, living in this world, we are best to keep our eyes open, and embrace it all. I had a great time being infused with art, and embracing the Sunday crowd.

imageSee redhead in front of Frida Kahlo.

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See blue haired girl in front of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” just as the guide told her charges that Van Gogh’s stint in the south of France hadn’t gone so well, and he cut his ear off.

imageSee little Asian girl almost touching a George Seurat before a panicked guard rushed over.

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See couple in front of “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth (discreetly next to the elevators) as the young man asked his young women,”Does it remind you of when you were a girl on the farm in Russia?”

imageSee man in a plaid shirt in front of a minimalist Miro.

imageSee hair-flippity girl next to flippity red Matisse.

imageSee Max Ernst’s “The Blind Swimmer (1934),” and think how explicit is that! Cited as having a subconscious association, it’s perhaps not so subconscious as it once was.

See that humans can transcend, given colors, forms, and lines with which to re-pattern ourselves and to answer questions for which we have no words, subconscious or conscious.

Porcelain Terrors: art reflecting us

Who knew porcelain bleeds and ceramic can be sliced? Reader Alert: this post contains gore.

The recent exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design (NYC at Columbus Circle) was titled “Body and Soul: new international ceramics.” I call it “Porcelain Terrors.”

Three life-size children, shiny white, greeted me. A boy and a girl appeared to be begging on their knees in front of another girl. Was it a game, a new form of “Mother, May I”? Then  I walked around the standing girl and saw the gun she held behind her back.

IMG_1316The show, which closed a week ago, was a Hall of Mirrors made personal by human figures martyred to cultural violence, anxiety, and fears. The 25 artists show, once again, that art with meaning reveals us to ourselves.

Also, that beauty can be an exquisite door to ugly truths. That’s why I, for one, need it. It is a conversation of deeper measure than politics as usual, reality shows, casual flirtations, fast foods, and implanted prejudices. It talks to me where I live, fret, and need answers.

An artist told me decades ago, if a painting doesn’t come off the wall and hit you behind the knees, it’s not good enough. My definition is gentler: good art either has to hit you behind the knees or play your heart like a stringed instrument. Audible gasps are good.

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In the show porcelain heads were chopped off and ceramic hearts and intestines pulled out. Such fine materials, such lamentations.

China skulls were sliced by fine china plates. Lust and gluttony were glazed. Much piercing was done. See “The Volunteer” (below) for surgical procedures.

The volunteer

 

Another exhibition was on view, and will be until June 1. “Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital” shows objects of various materials made by 3-D printers. To me, the objects lacked heart and soul not to mention blood and guts. They felt like next-generation decoration, furniture, and clothing, which, in fact, they were. Harbingers of our future.

Not incidentally, 3-D printers already manufacture real guns that look like the one behind the girl’s back.

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That is, the first show showed the violent subset of our propensities while the second supports our propensities for pretty things and/or power. That said, a friend of mine adored the 3-D show, and you may, too.

(More 3-D pieces, besides this lace chair, are shown below. Note the black lace dress especially.) 

The thrill, or shiver, for me, however, was “Body and Soul” because it showed who we are, how we kill each other, how we use each other, and how we consume each other, and how we want to be consumed. I was not printed by a 3-D printer. I am flesh.

Titled “Broken,” a collection of delicate English women with names like “Claire,” once exquisitely dressed and coiffed as figurines, held up their slit wrists, offered viewers their heart or head or guts – all with sweet smiles. Always in petticoats, sometimes with hats.

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Claire

Lust and Gluttony

 

A dinner party turned into a bacchanal of sex, food, lust, gluttony. Louis XIV, or your neighbors? A reality show, or secret fantasies? More than indigestion is at stake here.

 

 

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A woman of indeterminate age stood naked and vulnerable with pumped-up lips slavered in lipstick, turning innocent self-conscious beauty into something sexually grotesque, and common place.

One skull was sliced by fine china plates, another woven through the eye sockets by a cheap oversized bead necklace. We live, we decorate,     we die.

Infinity and more The Silence of the Waves

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ceramics of men touched me immensely, wounded as they were, strong men, warriors, fighters made of fragile materials that, like them, could be broken easily. A man hauled his idealized sleeping woman on his back, a boxer was cut, St. Sebastian in a hoodie was tied to a chair surrounded by flattened porcelain penises, a man with a mirror in his face burst his heart.

Drop the bust on the floor and it’s over. IMG_1281 IMG_1274 IMG_1298 St. Sebastian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why is this mesmerizing? Literally, you see, it is beautiful. Exquisite surfaces, delicate colors. And you see through it to what we see on television and in our media of what we do to each other, our collective and individual stupidities that result in inner and outer devastations.

Yet, there are artists in every culture who turn that into something so poignant that our humanity is restored. They return us to feeling and caring. Their art gives us hope by making us honest, by not letting us get away with it.

Three-D pieces below. I’m sure we’ll see more of them. I’m waiting for them to hit me behind the knees or play my heart like a stringed instrument. IMG_1353 IMG_1363 IMG_1350

 

 

 

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LACES OF REMBRANDT

Some things are perfect in themselves, require no explanations. Flower petals, for example, are not metaphors for other things, they are wholly themselves, unexplainable, irreducible. Bird song, the same.

Rembrandt

Laces painted by Rembrandt require no explanations, they are irreducible, they are their own reality, larger somehow than what they represent. (All images in the blog can be enlarged for better viewing.)

The paint of them, the white of them, the brush strokes step outside of time and history and reference, the way feathers are timeless, the way whispers are forever, the way intrigue and make-believe and dress-up travel through time.

Rembrandt, lace

Rembrandt

That’s sort of the way with Rembrandt, though the humanity in his self-portraits shocks you into knowing the man behind the painting, the real human of complexity who understood white and lace, especially against black.

Last Friday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC) the laces stopped me on my way to see the Vermeer paintings a few galleries further on. Surrounded by hundreds of masterpieces, the laces are stunning in their confidence of what they are.

Rembrandt, lace

Rembrandt, laceRembrandt, lace