Tuesday, October 8, 2019

DIAMONDS ON THE SOLES OF HER SHOES

My daughter just came home from one of those fancy vacation resorts, the kind where people play golf, lay beside a pool and drink exotic concoctions of rum and fruit juice. Then they go shopping for gold, diamonds, expensive watches, tiaras. These things are cheaper there. I don’t know why. 

(They also buy sterling silver bracelets for everybody. The bracelets go into drawers where they remain unworn to this very day — fifteen years later. Don’t ask me how I know.)

Sure enough, her husband loaded her up with gifts enough to cover anniversaries, birthdays, Christmases for the next five years.  No more surprises but plenty of sparkle.  My daughter likes sparkle.

I have new jewelry too, gifts from two friends. One necklace is made from knotted rubber. The other is paper. I really like these necklaces. I’m not a sparkly kind of woman.

Rubber and chain, Boo Poulin
So, you ask, if a diamond necklace costs $1000, how much should one expect to pay for a necklace made of paper? Or plastic? Or rubber? Does the price of any object — wearable or not — depend on the rarity of the material from which it is made? 

(I can see some readers saying “YEAH! WHY?” While you read this, think for a minute. Why is a Tesla 4 times more expensive than a Ford? Both do the same exact thing — takes you down the road on rubber tires inside a metal shell.)

Precious material — gold, diamonds — is valued on the basis of an international standard based (in theory at least) on its rarity. This rarity is overlaid by a system of measurements: clarity of stones, purity of metal, weights and color. 

The rarity thing is manipulated by international decisions not entirely clear to me. But historically and even today, the scheme smacks a lot of a patriarchal system of values. If rarity is the only yardstick, then why isn’t a recently discovered mushroom — the only one ever found — the most valuable thing on the planet? (Here’s more food for thought: if suddenly people discover 8 of such mushrooms, will they immediately begin establishing value by some standard of size, or color, or solidity? My guess is: yes, we humans like profiling; we invent all kinds of “categories.”)

Back to jewelry. After you get past the materials thing, what you have left is design and that’s where the rubber meets…well, you know.

"Jealous Husband" by Alexander Calder, 1976
The sculptor Alexander Calder was one of the first ARTISTS (capital letters) to fuse fashion (wearable) with Art (sculpture, painting). He apparently made wire jewelry for his sister’s dolls when he was a mere child of 8. During his lifetime (1898 - 1976), he designed some 1800 documented pieces of jewelry — mostly made of twisted scraps of copper and brass. Today, these pieces sell for many tens of thousands of dollars, certainly not because of the value of the material but because they are significant pieces of sculpture.

Good designers turn the wearers of their jewelry — whether the art is mainstream or radical — into pedestals. 

Early (1971) brooch by Albert Paley
Albert Paley’s formal training was as a jewelry maker. He incorporated gemstones and sometimes, precious metal. But the true hallmark of Paley jewelry — aside from those amazing designs — was scale: pieces kept growing until they became gates! Compare photographs of his early jewelry with those of his gates, and pedestals. (Or the Strong Museum sculpture! Shrink it and it could be a kilt clasp.)

(His early art was very ‘art nouveau’ but muscular. Curiously, many of those pieces would look totally at home on “Game of Thrones.”)

In his 1976 book THE NEW JEWELRY, writer Peter Dormer says “Jewelry is a decorative art and what matters is…whether or not it gives pleasure to the wearer and spectator.”  

Paul Simon’s song “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” is one of my favorites. And I’m delighted with my new necklaces. 

Thanks, Alex. Thanks, Boo.








Monday, September 16, 2019

THE ARTFUL HABIT

I bought this wood lath sculpture Saturday at a barn sale. The artist is Jim Morris. 
I’m trying to write a story — it’s called flash fiction — for a competition. 1000 words max. I am struggling. I have a hard time writing fiction. I “see” the character in my mind (In this case, her name is Maxine.) In fact, I can scrutinize the bejesus out of her. But as I get down the road with Maxine (approx. 500 words) BOOM! No clue what she does next. As in life, too many choices. Poor Maxine!  Poor me!

Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece for a similar competition and used all 700 words describing the fictional library (presumably where something happens.) But I never got to the place where the “something” happened.  Or who did the “happening?” Or why? Major failure. (I thought it was rather “Mrs. Dalloway-ish.” Obviously, the judge missed that point. “The Library” didn’t get in.)

I sent the library piece to a friend who’s a great reader. She said “I can see every detail of that room.” That’s good, right? Judy was too kind to say “but what happens?” (Judy should be an art critic. She’s very diplomatic.)

A good friend once painted rather well. She stopped in 1985: life stuff took her in another direction. She’s retired now and I asked her why she isn’t painting again. She said “I forgot how.” 

I wonder if it’s possible to forget how to write? 

Books about creativity all have similar advice: 
No matter that you have nothing to say — or nothing to paint or draw — do it anyway!  (Keep showing up in acting lingo.)
Face up to the blank canvas/page/laptop screen. 
Make that first mark/ brush stroke. Type out a first sentence.
Don’t revise or edit — just do it. Make the mistakes. Sometimes they’re the best part.

Anne Lamott in her book “Bird By Bird” says to hold your fingers together to form a small open square and write about whatever is framed inside that square. Don’t worry about anything outside. I think that works for drawing or painting too.

These are exercises. The big clue: form the habit of creative work. If I’ve learned one thing in my years is that I am a creature of habit. I need to form the habit of writing every day — same place, same time. But will a story plot open up? Will tension appear as in some vision? Will Maxine suddenly shout “What the hell? I would never wear that dress! Put me on the train and for god’s sake, get out of my way!” 

(Maxine had better watch it! Linda is right around the corner.)

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

GRACE and THE TALKING HEADS

Baby bird fell out of the nest. Mom and Dad to the rescue. Photographer unknown.
Wild thistles are in bloom in my naturalized back yard. Each evening, tiny goldfinches arrive to dine on the seeds. The tall skinny thistle plants wave around in the wind but those little yellow birds hang tight. Not even the circling hawk disturbs their dinner.  

Some of the purple thistle blooms have already ripened into cottony heads; the air nearby is full of weightless flying bits of fluffs. I assume these seeds predict an even bigger thistle crop next year — good news for finches.

Meanwhile, along the side border, other birds focus on more civilized flowers. My theory is that the gardening practice of “dead heading” (trimming off and discarding spent blooms) originated from a pre-Martha Stewart neat freak who didn’t want browning plants to disrupt the perfection of her perennial garden.

But dead heading removes a winter food source for little feathered co-habitants — the snow birds. I don’t cut back and this is not merely a sign of my admitted laziness. It’s also an aesthetic decision. I like the visual of standing browned stems and shriveled flower heads in winter. Nature draws strong graphic contrasts if left alone.

I was asked to define “grace” yesterday. It should be an easy question! Grace was the theme of Chautauqua lectures for five days. I was there and I listened to every one. But like Chinese food, two weeks later, I’m running on empty.  So the question jolted me into focus. I reviewed some notes.

First: FIERCE INTROSPECTION (the preliminary to “Grace”)
What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? How do we want to live together? (BIG QUESTION!)  “A “wise life” is one that leaves a positive imprint on lives around it.” Is that the same as attaining grace?

Basically, yes. That’s all there is. Leave a positive imprint — as much as possible — on lives that you touch — oh, and on the earth — and on people not like you — and animals.

So why should this flight of philosophy matter to me and this blog whose title promises discussion of art? Because I believe that art (in all its renditions and definitions) serves as a bridge to shared common humanity — fear, love, loss, loneliness, awe. The poet Richard Blanco said “art begins as a self-centered urgency to understand and react.” (He also said  “My poems are smarter than me.” I love Richard Blanco!) 

When I write, there’s a tiny voice whispering “is that what you really want to say? is that true?” I wish I was better but I’m pretty clear about my objective — add something positive to the human conversation. 

Painters — dancers — guitar players — lucky you guys! You are more than half way to Graceland.

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David Byrne of The Talking Heads has begun a web site/online magazine called “Reasons to be Cheerful.”  I wonder if he watches chickadees eating flower seeds in his garden? Maybe I’ll send along that suggestion.




Thursday, August 8, 2019

SEX OVER SEVENTY

How do people deal with sex after 70? 
I’d like to hear from you.
How do you separate the mythology from the reality? 

We know the myth about “dirty old men” — “it’s the last thing to go” —(snicker, snicker.) I suspect men delight in this fantasy. Somehow they got the message early on that its “manly” to brag about the old pecker. And when that ends, KATIE BAR THE DOOR! Life is over. Worse than turning in your Xerox pass or keys to the corporate restroom.

 On Netflix, two women — Frankie and Grace — both near 80, take lovers, invent dildos and talk to each other and friends openly and often about “serving themselves comfortably.” Then they wave around their invention that looks like a gigantic purple pickle.  

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why this invention of theirs is so groundbreaking. But there they are. The script has them selling hundreds of these things to women in the “bloom of their years” with the promise that old age will be a million times improved with a little grind, a little yabba-dabba-do!  I don’t know a woman on this planet who has ever said “Gosh, my problems will be over if I just had a new vibrator in a perky color.” 

My life will be better when somebody invents a cure for flatulence!

My women friends and I used to talk about sex. One morning at coffee, one of my besties said “I’m exhausted. He nailed me at 3 a.m.!” Now she’s 72. She has chronic insomnia and listens to her radio until 3 am. Paul falls asleep in front of the t.v. at 8:30. They had sex once in 1998. 

I’ve been married to the same man for over fifty years! We have always “enjoyed each others’ bodies.” Once upon a time, when we traveled, we made room for the “fun stuff.” We are on a week’s vacation. One entire travel bag is full of pills, three pairs of glasses each (sun, computer, reading), and thirty pairs of shoes  — hoping to stave off back aches and bunion pain. We are still attracted physically to one another. Knee squeezes, pats on the bum, and spontaneous back rubs take the place of the frantic groping we once excelled at. 

Intimacy now is being the “plus one” at all doctor’s visits — asking questions and taking notes. Or discussing the day’s events while on the toilet, or checking his body for ticks! He helps me into my bras now instead of pushing them aside. I know when he calls “will you take a look at this?”, it inevitably will involve blood in one orifice or another.

Sometimes I think about yabba-dabba-do. When the opportunity arrives , he’s asleep, I have indigestion, he’s really tired, I need to walk the dogs, he’s chasing deer out of the garden, I need to “finish this one page.”

Maurice Chevalier: “Ah yes, I remember it well!” 

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(PS...I'M STRAYING FURTHER AWAY FROM MY ORIGINAL INTENT: TO WRITE ABOUT ART. I'M HOPING YOU STICK WITH ME ANYWAY...WE'RE TALKING MORE ABOUT 'ARTFUL AGING." I'M CONSIDERING RE-NAMING MY BLOG. WHAT DO YOU THINK?)

  

Monday, July 29, 2019

OUTSIDERS

My daughter dances to the beat of a different drummer...her husband is the drummer.
Lisa is over six feet tall. I met her in 1984. She was Bill’s date. I think they arrived to the party in a coach with footmen. They exuded the stench of royalty.

Lisa had on a white pantsuit, one that said “I require my wearer to be super tall, super thin and above all, super confident.” Lisa was all that.  Silver earrings. No other jewelry. Chin length, straight hair, naturally blond. Scandinavian to the core.

Lisa and I became friends. I learned that she earned money doing a little photo modeling, but she was actually a talented artist. Many years later I talked to Lisa about her height. My granddaughter, a teen, had passed 5’10” with no stopping in sight. Instead of being happy that she was tall, she was blitzed. 

Lisa said “I hated myself during those years. You’ve got to remember that kids - teen agers - never want to stand out. More than anything, they want to “fit in.” In every single class picture, I was always in the back row — the tallest kid in class. How can you fit in when you’re a head taller than all your classmates?”

My daughter’s 35th high school reunion was Saturday. When we talk about her high school years, pain oozes from those memories. I listen to her stories — events that are news to me. Sometimes we laugh. Often we are silent. She was physically and socially awkward and she liked art and experimental music — not exactly popular currency for teens. Now they have more value. She needed a “Special Needs” class — one for kids who are super-sensitive to injustice, and morbidly affected by loneliness. 

I took piano lessons 3rd, 4th, 5th grades and played off and on my entire life. I once practiced with a high school jazz band for about two weeks but when we had our chance to perform “Night Train” on a radio station, my career hopes were dashed. I lost my place and played six bars behind everybody else — live and on air — until the music conductor pushed me off the piano bench and tried to salvage the train wreck. It was too late. I was banished.

Now, more than fifty years later, I’m taking jazz piano lessons. A wonderful trio of generous professional musician friends invited me to sit in with them at a party last night. History — like lightning — can strike twice. I muddled through one song but then I must have had a mini-stroke or something! The notes made no sense, the piano keys were all in the wrong spots, my hands turned into baseball bats, something happened to my ears. It all came rushing back and I was right back in 11th grade with Mrs. McWhiney  pushing me off that bench and every other musician giving me the stink eye.

My friends last night did NOT give me the stink eye. They did give me a glass of wine and assured me that it didn’t matter (a big fat lie!) Later I played some solo stuff and revived my bruised ego just a little. 

I was one of the popular kids throughout school years. Classes were easy. I made friends everywhere. But scars happen to the best of us. At my age, we can’t remember where we were yesterday but ask us about embarrassing experiences from our teen years! Here they come — twice as big and bold as Dallas! 

When do we outgrow that stuff?






Sunday, July 14, 2019

COLLECTING: THE DARK SIDE


I am surrounded by beautiful objects collected throughout my adult lifetime. I have a “good eye.” I combine texture, color and shape in a way that enhances individual pieces and lends an aura of taste and interest to the complete environment.

When I die, the first stop for these treasures? An estate sale. Nobody in my family wants an entire houseful of “things”— they have houses full already.  Increasingly, museums have no use for even good art unless it comes partnered with a sizable donation to store and care for extraneous objects. 

So for a few bucks, you can own my “eye.” But out of context, my valued objects will lose their punch. Against your cabbage rose wallpaper, my pottery will look like crap and my paintings are far too specific for somebody else’s traditional living room.

After the household sale, the dregs and leftovers will be loaded onto a truck and sent off to Goodwill…or Habitat for Humanity… or some church somewhere. All good. I want to help the less privileged even after I’m dead and what better way to cheer up a refugee family than with a 4’ x 6’ painting of smears of gray and black paint! Or a big beautiful ceramic pot tenuously balanced on its 2 inch foot, so fragile that the slightest breath will send it crashing into oblivion?

After tripping over that donated painting for the millionth time, a Habitat supervisor will say “Enough! Send this to…the dumpster, the trash heap.” Nobody will utter the slightest objection because like all things in this world, orphaned art eventually becomes just more disposable clutter.

The bitter truth is that only a tiny fraction of artful objects will find long lasting value…just as high school phenom basketball players will mostly fail to reach the NBA…and odds are that the super talented singer in your choir will NOT become the next Aretha Franklin.  

You doubt me? Then you haven’t gone to estate sales lately. Or visited nursing homes. Or been called to help dispose of abandoned artwork left in a storage facility.

I was bereft after one such incident. My friend Nancy wrote: “You’ve come face to face with the dark side of collecting. And as with everything else, it’s as if a mirror is being held up asking ‘what about you?’”

Yikes! Has my life — my entire career — been misspent? Is collecting merely a nicer word for hoarding? Does the old adage “one man’s treasure is another man’s trash” apply to EVERYTHING, even art? 

Well, yes, but along with all the warts, collecting brings along unexpected positives. 

1) Collecting anything automatically opens doors into history.
2) Chasing down and finding that perfect thing gives structure to free time. 
3) Collecting introduces the collector to people with similar interests. 
4) The search leads to unique vacation locals and out-of-the-way shops, galleries, museums and studios. 
5) Collecting nearly always results in wider hands-on experience and in depth information about the physical characteristics of objects — the method and materials used in manufacturing. 
6) Makers imbue their work always with their individual tales; it’s impossible to own such personal information without broadening your own curiosity about and tolerance for fellow humans. 


And there it is — ultimately, collecting is a case for belonging — community. When we collect objects, we collect the stories too. We weave the thread of our being into the continuing thread of makers and the history of the things they make.  It doesn’t matter what happens to these objects after we’re gone. If they find another home, good! If not, they haven’t been made — nor owned, nor loved — in vain.  They served for awhile. The makers and their objects — the collectors who bought them —continued the evolutionary experience we share. That’s the best any of us can hope for.


Thursday, July 4, 2019

LOFTS

Typical loft - 1990, 2000, 2010
Everything about Beth is way cool.

She looks sexy standing still, fully dressed in jeans with a tucked in white t-shirt. She has a way of gathering up her shoulder length dark curly hair and twisting it at the back of her head to stay off her face and neck that says “now I’m ready.” Without trying, she defines “sultry.” 

Beth is artistic. She makes things that are also way cool — so cool in fact, that they get sold at Barney’s in New York City, maybe the only cool department store left in the world. It’s where the glamour people go to pick up a $500 pair of jeans.  I bought a plate there once. I don’t know why. It didn’t match anything. When I got it home, I wondered where the cool went.

Beth lives in an urban loft with polished cement floors and exposed brick walls. Windows are the size of billboards. Exposed pipes and ducts form veins on the high ceiling. Several columns interrupt the more than two thousand square feet of coolness. Placed throughout the space is the required collection of furniture — modular couch, long harvest dining table with mid-century chairs, a few shabby chic antiques, and of course, great art work. The kitchen is an afterthought and the bathrooms are clinically austere. Even these “negatives” turn out to be cool when you think about it in the context of the space.
People my age connect industrial lofts with a life-style we read about and lusted for during our prime years — the 1980s and 90s. That environment triggers for us images of style and culture, chic-everything! We want to return to those years when we could wear those clothes, go to those parties, be on everybody’s “A list”(even if none of those things existed for us in real life.) We want to not worry about schedules for hip replacements and cataract surgery. We’re sick of chasing down the lawn care man. Don’t get us started about Spectrum!

Beth is moving. Her loft is available. Dreams can come true! 

But just one sec. This dream comes without garage. No extra storage space - anywhere. Water pipes and drains come down from the two floors above through the bare ceiling announcing the neighbor’s baths and toilet habits. Those huge windows? No view of spectacular city rooftops or a nighttime light show. The view is one of paved parking lots and adjacent building windows — when the shades are open. Most of the day, they are closed to keep out heat and bleaching sun. Electrical outlets are few and lighting that works requires a miracle worker. Ikea can only do so much!

The bitter truth: the ideal loft has become a cliche. They come from an era that has passed. They may be perfect for the first-timers and single professional but we have aged out of LOFTS. 

So the question: what is the perfect environment for those of us who no longer want nor need a single 3-4 bedroom house? It isn’t that we can’t deal with the lawn guy and Spectrum — we just don’t want to! Yet, we aren’t ready to turn over our lives to a management company. 

We want a unique and creative living environment but one with full benefits.  


Typical loft, version #2
(Friends, never fear. I am NOT ready to move. So far, the universal ranch style house that Chip and I built 6 years ago still works for us.)