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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Ukiyo-e is Japanese for “pictures of the floating world.” It usually refers to scenes from everyday life, and was an art movement that inspired the early Impressionists. Imagine those prints of ocean waves, islands and cranes you once saw hanging in your grandmother’s home. Not this nana though; I’m more of an early 20th Century French advertising print sort of girl.

Still, with this torrent of spring rain, I’m beginning to feel as if I’ll be floating down to the Cumberland River any day now. Last night, during a rain-free respite, Bob and I visited our local Art Crawl – less a walk-about town and more an old factory brimming with live music, food trucks and artists of all media! We were especially taken with the paintings by Shane Miller. I asked if he works from a photograph or does he haul his easel outside? He said the photographs are all in his mind. https://www.shaneartistry.com/

He layers oils onto canvas in order to evoke a dreamscape. I could envision an expansiveness, a floating vista that spoke to a primordial self. I know, it sounds weird. But think about your happy place – the beach? The mountains? A long landscape of wheat grass at dawn bordered by a forest? Now stand back and squint your eyes to blur that image down into its essence. There, if you are lucky, you may find his work.

Our cousin, Stevela, is visiting his Aunt Ada (and us) from NY. He is an orthopedic surgeon who is grappling with retirement and recently started painting. What does a doctor do when he or she is no longer doctoring? Some like to pick up garbage in the neighborhood, while others might pick up a paint brush.

This is our second year in Nashville, and it was our very first Art Crawl. We told Steve that a visit to the Frist Museum is well worth it since their Mellon Collection of French Art (Van Gogh, Monet and Degas) just opened. We’ve seen it already with the Grands, where a docent told us that Van Gogh tried out being a missionary for a few years but failed. He was disabused of the notion that everyone has good intentions.

So he went back to France. “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” 

Did you know that Diego Velazquez liked to paint himself into his Baroque paintings of royal families?  In Las Meninas you will find him painting in a corner, like a play within a play.

“…Manet went to Madrid to look at Velazquez’s work and later wrote to his fellow painter, Henri Fantin-Latour: This is the most astonishing piece of painting that has ever been made. The background disappears. It is air that surrounds the fellow.”  https://www.theartstory.org/artist-velazquez-diego.htm

I was lucky enough to hear Edward Friedman, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of the Humanities, speak about analyzing literature to a group of Great Grandma Ada’s friends this week. He compared writers to painters.

He was using Las Meninas and “The Story of the Bad Little Boy,” by Mark Twain, to illustrate his point – the narrator can be reliable or unreliable. Twain is omniscient, his opinions float in the background of his narrative like the Mississippi River, brown and brooding.

I knew that my stories were all different colors swirling around, flowing fiercely sometimes and meandering at others. I knew that my palette was my laptop’s keyboard. But I had never heard the intersection of writing and painting so beautifully expressed before I met Prof Friedman.

Am I dreaming, or did the rain stop?

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“There are people who make an art form out of not being intense. They can remain on an amusing yet completely repetitive level. I can’t operate that way.”

Do you remember when I said I wanted to join a writer’s forum, and the only way to log in was with a twitter account, so I joined the Twit-o-Sphere? Well, it’s through that writer’s website, “Medium,” that I found myself reading an important essay this morning on friendship: “The Games Women Play: Part 2” By Lauren Mechling (author, editor and saint).

The author interviews another author, Susanna Sonnenberg. about the ebb and flow of friendship.  She Matters, is a memoir  of Sonnenberg’s twenty most important female friendships done as a chapter-per-friend. They talk about neediness and intimacy, about expectations and loss. https://medium.com/the-lauren-papers/a30ac0d4b1d0

Sonnenberg asks, “What do you want out of a friend?” Mechling says she wants somebody she can call on the phone any hour of the day or night. Which means she wants her friend to answer her calls, and be there if she

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needs her. I had a different take on that question, although maybe it’s in the same general category.

I want a friend who knows where the spoons are in my kitchen.

For me it’s about the comfort of showing up and listening. My BFF Lee from MA showed up at the Rocker’s bris with armloads of flowers from her garden. No one asked her, she just knew what I needed and she always knew the right thing to say, to bring me back to myself. To help me see my best self, and even coax me toward grace when I was listing away. Here is Lee to the left at the Bride’s wedding; and the Bride’s Duke roomie Sally on the right, who just had a baby last week!

Obviously, no one person can fulfill every longing we may have for a friend or a mate for that matter. Is she intellectually curious; fun to be around; supportive in a good way; adventurous? We all know the sunny-day vs rainy-day friends paradigm. It’s a rare and wonderful thing when that type combines – it’s the lottery of friendship! And yes, things do change once our identity shifts into motherhood. There can be rifts, and ruptures, not all friends can stand the ebb and flow, the test of time.

Like a good marriage, a good friend will still love you with all your faults. “If I show you this, will you still love me? If I show you this, will you still be with me?”

Honesty and loyalty, pretty much says it all. Like the authors, I need to have a certain intensity in order to fuel a friendship, we need to go deep sometimes, soul-baringly deep. I feel lucky to have found a few good friends at this stage of my life, in my empty nest. ps The spoons are to the left of the kitchen sink.

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The word for today on Dictionary.com is “Quacksalver.” I love it when I’m unfamiliar with a word so I eagerly clicked on its meaning:

Noun  1. a charlatan. 2. a quack doctor.
Origin: 
1570–80;  < early Dutch  (now kwakzalver )
Of course, quacksalver is onomatopoeic. Someone who is hawking his snake oil cure-all from the back of a pioneer wagon, someone who’s home made salve promises to do everything. Someone who is not who he appears to be, like Jay Gatsby.
Bob scooped me up on Mother’s Day from my self-induced TCM mom/alone/coma, and deposited me in our town’s newest movie theatre symposium. We didn’t see Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D version of The Great Gatsby, which was screening later in the evening, but we sat through 20 minutes of previews until F Scott Fitzgerald’s characters materialized onscreen in all their digitized glory. I’m so glad I waited until the next day, on the bike at the gym, to read one critic’s take on this classic American novel turned screenplay.
Fitzgerald coined the phrase, “The rich are very different from you and me,” and this was his most subtle way of proving the point. It was the Jazz Age, skirt lengths were going up while the price of bootleg liquor was going down. The reason the love story of Daisy and Jay has lasted so long is because it’s a pretty universal one. Boy meets girl, boy can’t have girl for a myriad of reasons (like class or clan differences) and chaos ensues. But more than a romance, it’s a morality play. Fitzgerald’s genius is in his elegiac prose:
“It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Gatsby creates an empire and holds lavish parties at his Long Island mansion with one thing in mind, winning Daisy back. But he didn’t go to Yale with Nick and Tom, and he didn’t graduate from Oxford or Cambridge. He will never fit in with this polo-playing crowd; Gatsby created an image of himself built on his shadow world of respectability – a precursor to the celebrity culture of today. Old money vs new money. Like Juliet or Zelda or Anna Karenina, Daisy Buchanan could never be his happy ending.
I was 23 in 1972, attending SUNY College at Purchase when I drove to one of those “cottages” in Rhode Island with a friend from the Dance Department to audition for the ballroom scene in The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. My friend Nadjia made the cut, they told me I “…didn’t look the part.” Little did they know that I was the daughter of a real Flapper, a Dime a Dance girl, who shimmied with Cab Calloway at a speakeasy. But then again, I didn’t know that either. My Mother kept a few secrets too.
When the Flapper was in her 80s, my brother Michael arranged for Cab Calloway to surprise her at a party on Lake Minnetonka. And I realized that my Mother must have felt very much the same way I did my whole life, the way Fitzgerald felt:
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“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

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On my long drive home this past weekend, I listened on and off, between mountain ranges shrouded in fog, to an interview on NPR with New York’s Poet Laureate, Marie Howe. It turns out April is Poetry month and this was a repeat of Terry Gross’ Fresh Air program from last year. Somehow I knew she was a kindred spirit. Howe grew up in a large Irish Catholic family, and attended the Convent of the Sacred of the Heart. As my BFF Lee from the Berkshires likes to say, we went to different schools together.

“Poetry holds the knowledge that we are alive and that we know we’re going to die,” says Howe. “The most mysterious aspect of being alive might be that — and poetry knows that.”

Howe has written 3 books of poetry: What the Living Do, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time and The Good Thief. She talked about teaching poetry, about describing the way water looks in a glass that has filtered sunlight streaming through it. About getting her students to bring their focus into the world of everyday things without using metaphor. Saving metaphor for much later, like a gift left under the Christmas tree. Yes, I realize I didn’t wait.

Howe’s father was an alcoholic, which she states as if this is the most common thing for a family, which of course it is. How many fathers in the 50s functioned fine enough by day, only to return home to drink and brutalize their family? There is, “A sense of retroactive dread…so many of us are afflicted with addictions,” she says. One of her brothers, Johnny, died of AIDs in the late 80s, and she memorialized him with this poem:
What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do.

Johnny, who ran away from his father but found his own demons, finally found AA and used to tell her that, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.” She loved him dearly and said sometimes he would just stand in the middle of her kitchen and say, “This is it.” And she would say, “What?” He would just raise his arms, look around with a smile, and say, “This.” I was reminded of my brother Michael, who died last year. Every time I would see him, he would smile and tell me, “This is the good life.”

The Flapper would read poems aloud to my brothers and sisters from an old anthology, “101 Famous Poems.” First written in 1929, I remember its well worn blue binding, and managed to find a revised edition from 1958. Shirley, Brian, Kay, Michael, and Jimmy heard about the sea, and a cautionary tale about a spider and a fly while doing household chores. Poetry was the music that accompanied everyday life while the Flapper could only sit and read, her legs broken in so many places. As Marie Howe said, art allows the heart to break open.
http://www.npr.org/2012/04/13/150495862/poet-marie-howe-reflects-on-the-living-after-loss
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Forget about the asteroid hurtling towards earth today. Or even the discovery of King Richard III’s bones under a car park in Leicester. I’ve been immersed in past royalty of the historical fiction-type. In my zeal to de-clutter all things, Goodwill received a truckload of books from my bedroom. And while donating tomes I’ve read, I managed to uncover those books I’d always planned to read when I got the time. Like the 532 page winner of the Man Booker Prize, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. And of course, I had to start with her second book about Henry VIII, Bring Up the Bodies, written from the POV of his Master Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.

So even though I know how and why the reign of the imposter Queen Anne Boleyn ends, I’m now learning more about her beginnings. How she helped the King to sever his relationship with the Holy Roman Church and its Pope, to start up his own church where the priests could marry. Because in Catholic school I was not taught that priests and popes kept hidden mistresses and children, so the Anglican idea was only legitimizing the culture. And of course, helping Henry to annul his twenty year marriage to his first Queen Katherine.

Chock full of intrigue and political schemes, I was caught up by something the King’s future paramour Queen says while she is still just a lady-in-waiting for Anne. Cromwell asks Jane Seymour 2 questions, “What have you been doing? Where have you been?” A shy woman, she answers the first, “Sewing mostly.” But of the second she says, “Where I’m sent.” And being a sly councillor, he knows she has been sent to court by her father in order to spy on the King.

Going where one is sent was true of women both royal and peasant in Tudor England. Queen Katherine of Aragon was sent to live out her life in a damp manor at Kimbolton, where she dies either of cancer or poisoning. And we all know that Anne is sent to the Tower, where she loses her head. They were guilty of growing old, of flirting and most importantly, not producing a male heir. But not so much of Queens in the Twelfth Century. Last night I happened to watch a PBS show called “She-Wolves, England’s Early Queens.”

I know I’m growing old when I much prefer this type of documentary to say, the Super Bowl. But after reading about the powerlessness of Britain’s Queens, it was remarkable to find that earlier Queens, like Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine, actually raised armies and fought off their Kings, even managing to escape from their prison/castle. One finally being restored to the throne, after her estranged husband dies, by her son, the new King. You see, her son was off fighting the Crusades, so she had to rule the country…in her 70s!
http://www.rmpbs.org/content/index.cfm/show/304740/She_Wolves-__-England’s-Early-Queens

Which makes the current Queen Elizabeth’s proclamation so sweet more than 800 years later. HRH the Queen issued a Letters Patent to make Kate’s baby bump (should it be a girl) a “Princess” and not just a “Lady.” So that whole trouble with Henry VIII should never be a bother again because even if the new royal first born is a girl, she will be next in line, behind William, to the Throne. Can we have an Amen Sister!
http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/kate-middleton-royal-baby-will-be-princess-1526521

“Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, said the alteration was expected, especially in light of moves to pass legislation removing discrimination surrounding women succeeding to the throne.” Now just think, where have we heard of Debrett’s before? http://www.debretts.com/people/essential-guide-to-the-peerage.aspx
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While our extended family ate and laughed away the time in FL, I was on a hunt for the great American, independent bookstore. Lucky for me, I found The Hidden Lantern in Rosemary Beach. http://www.thehiddenlantern.com

Isn’t it funny how once a grandchild arrives, your first thought in the morning is “I wonder what the Love Bug is doing today?” Likewise, my first thought upon entering this little gem of a bookstore/art gallery was “I wonder what books she would like to read?” So I immediately went to the children’s literature section and there I stayed among young people climbing over comfy footstools. I love a bookstore with soft, enveloping couches and stuffed chairs. Libraries never had the same appeal with their hard chairs and tables. Plus, you couldn’t talk. I think things may have changed since the days of Marion the Librarian.

I had just finished Anna Quindlen’s “Every Last One,” which in hindsight, I should have kept at home. The plot twist is rather tragic and not beach reading material. Believe me, if you have teenagers, wait a few years to read this book. So I guess I needed a break from a novel, and turned to ladybugs and lions. I was missing my old Fair Haven bookstore, where the owners knew my name and would recommend great reads every time I dropped in. And this morning, by sheer luck, I found this article on NPR – http://www.npr.org/2012/11/27/165482333/librarian-nancy-pearls-picks-for-the-omnivorous-reader

Here is a librarian willing to share her secrets for picking books, “…without concern for whether they’re fiction or nonfiction, genre or not, or aimed or classified as being for children or teens. Because I am an omnivorous reader, at first glance my choices always seem to me to be completely higgledy-piggledy, with no book bearing any similarity to any other.” You’ve gotta love this in a librarian. You know how they ask celebrities what other job they may choose if (acting/music/sports/Kardashian) didn’t work out? I would be a librarian, a school librarian! Students would actually come to me for advice, imagine that. Oh, and I’d add couches to the library.

But back to devouring books. I’m currently reading “The House of Tyneford” by Natasha Solomons. It’s bridging the gap until Downton Abbey returns in January. And one last thought. All week everyone was saying how much the Love Bug looked like her Mama, including me. Then someone mentioned how much she looked like moi, which led me to dig in the basement for my baby pictures. The Flapper is sitting on a couch, with her broken dancer’s legs straight. Notice the ubiquitous cigarette. This must have been in PA, after she was released from the hospital. I have teeth so I’m a bit older, still. What do you think?

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It’s been a most intriguing weekend so far. Our anthology of stories from bloggers around the country, “Tangerine Tango,” arrived in a sweetly smiling brown box. My essays are sprinkled in among other women who manage to find the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of everyday life. My brother, Dr Lynn, has already downloaded a Kindle version. Thanks Jim!
http://www.amazon.com/Tangerine-Tango-Women-Writers-Slices/dp/1479125318/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1349230395&sr=1-3&keywords=tangerine+tango

And the Bride has been published too. Remember that child she took care of right before the wedding, when she was on a toxicology rotation? Remember the brown recluse spider bite? It was a heartbreaking moment for all of us who knew; wedding shenanigans were immediately put into the proper perspective. I was on another platform back then, but her paper just came out in their professional journal this month, Annals of Emergency Medicine. I am so very proud of her.
http://www.annemergmed.com/article/S0196-0644(11)01926-3/abstract

I wish I knew that the Dalai Lama, who was here visiting Cville, had scheduled a talk with medical professionals at UVA. Bob said the tickets sold out in 2 minutes. I met a woman who heard him speak about being vulnerable, about bringing compassion into their relationships with patients. “His holiness emphasized the importance of paying attention, being mindful, and giving a patient a sense of hope, peace and satisfaction with their life, especially at the moment of death.” http://www.nbc29.com/story/19794898/dalai-lama-charlottesville

Although I missed his lecture, I bought his book “Beyond Religion.” The Dalai Lama writes: “The fundamental problem, I believe, is that at every level we are giving too much attention to the external material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/02/beyond-religion-dalai-lam_n_1125892.html

And I attended a half-day Yoga/Dance Workshop. It was exhilarating to be in the company of women who could create peacefully and nurture our inner artist. We talked about the difference between setting goals and having an “intention” for our time together – one is future-based while the other is grounded in the here and now. How soon we adults forget to play together. And this morning’s Love Bug update? Learning to play!

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