Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Hooligan and I spent the day at the Seattle Art Museum, completely immersed in the staggering creativity of others. A 5-year-old is the best of art museum companions. They come with no preconceived notions, no conceit. They just see what they see and talk openly and frankly about it.
Jasper Johns' "Thermometer". It's a
painting AND a thermometer.

That man is so sad.
The title says 'Market', Mama. That looks like a crazy busy street stuffed with people. Where is the food?
Those lines make me jittery and jiggly.
Is this a Christmas painting? They used a lot of red and green.
Look! It's a painting and a thermometer! But the hot and the cold are all mixed up together.
When do we ride the escalators?
That mouse looks like a dream.

It's a cold and cleansing rain outside today, and inside cleansing came through being so small in the face of such a magnitude of art. And cleansing came through the world view of my small companion. As we read the placards and artist bios together, he didn't know the words that appeared in so many of them: refugee, famine, holocaust, depression, extinction, racism. It wasn't just that he couldn't read the words, he had no idea what they meant. All he saw before him was color, movement, materials, shapes, structure - the products of people who took their pain, their circumstance and turned it into art. Art that spans the world, that crosses time, culture, language to reach those small eyes and make a memory that will be jumbled with rain and escalators and the cheeseburger he had for lunch. In his honesty, his immediacy, he reminded me that regardless of its origins, there is beauty to be found.

I think of myself, pounding away at my laptop day after day. Isn't that what I'm after? Isn't that what we're all after? To take our world and turn it into a piece of ourselves that will somehow touch a piece of someone else? I make no pretense of falling in among the greats. I have no delusions of grandeur in that regard. There are days that this all seems such an exercise in vanity. But then I watch my small son absorb a work of art like a letter across time and interpret it into his psyche, I read kind comments "you put into words what I have been thinking", I read the words of dozens of faceless others and think "me too!". I wouldn't know what to do with any degree of fame, I'd spend my fortune on groceries. But the connection, the thread through words that sews us together and reflects ourselves back to us in a way we never thought to put it - there's such a wealth in that it transcends any material explanation.

I came across these words a while back. Three separate quotes, from three distinct voices in different contexts, different times, all saying the same things. And reflecting my thoughts far better than I ever could.

All that he had now was an idea - and it was like a belief in magic - that one day something would happen, an illumination would come to him, and he would be taken by a set of events to the place he should go. What he had to do was to hold himself in readiness, to recognize the moment.
- from Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul

I waited, more than anything else, waited for something momentous to happen. Keeping a firm grip on reality was of immense importance. My vision had to be clear so that when 'it' happened I would know. The momentous event would clear away the trivia and throw my life into proper perspective. As soon as it happened I would understand what was going on, and until then it was useless to try.
- from Stop Time by Frank Conroy

Of the way you did feel? Well, it was very simple. You said you had had from your earliest time, as the deepest thing within you, the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen to you.
- from The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

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