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Birthing Art

 

In order to be an artist, one must feel things. Not just certain things. Maybe everything. Maybe stuff you wish you didn’t feel. And from the craft and sorrow and pain, at times joy, the artist creates. Then, the end result is shared. Most artists want to be understood, need to be heard, therefore, sharing the work is a scary and integral part of the process. But you do it. And you brace yourself, hopeful that others feel what you feel. That they are moved. When that happens, it’s extraordinary. When it doesn’t, you scrape together enough confidence to tell yourself it’s ok. Sometimes, you never want to leave the house again. But then, that thing inside you which drives you to create, express, produce, shows up again with a new idea or direction. Or perhaps, a new dedication to that thing you’ve been at all your life. Making you feel and feel and feel…

We as an audience, come to take what we paid for and go. That is our role. But, consider how this may effect the artist. Imagine writing a song at your lowest point, then having to sing it over and over, because that is all we, “the audience” want. Not your new stuff. God forbid you become less fucked up than you were. Or go getting all married and having kids and think you might keep this as your “job”. Then, your “art” is produced for pay and everyone says you sold out. Makes you think you’d been better to die pretty and dramatic at 27. Die young and leave a beautiful corpse. Unless you blow your brains out like Kurt. That wasn’t pretty.

Addiction seems to follow artistic types. We work so hard to express ourselves in the most pure way. It is like always being on your tiptoes, constantly reaching for a bright light to burst forth with ideas and colors and stories. Sometimes things don’t work out that way. Sometimes, you’re so close that if only you could expand your mind further, you would create the perfect (insert your selection). So, you might try different things. Sometimes, you get peace and satisfaction. Sometimes, you don’t and that one is a big, dirty hole to crawl out of. Not getting it perfect. Not feeling the glow.

And so we keep trying. Left with little choice than to continue slogging it out. Failing just when you thought were brilliant, then, succeeding with something you didn’t even think was that good. Pursuing, stopping, starting, striving to find the balance of what your soul demands and what pays the bills. Sometimes, you feel like a cheap hack. Sometimes, you’re just happy someone said, “I like what you do.” Those easy, little words, “I like what you do”, is enough for you to feel the bloom, like the sun on your face and the warm arms of the goddesses and gods surrounding you, embracing, propping you up for another day as an artist.

Photo: Kim Hageman

Wings: Meg Reichenberger-www.sequinedgem.com

 

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Truman

NYC

As he approached my table, I’d look up and my eyes would say, “Well, there you are!” and his face would say, “Can you believe we’ve never met?!” Laughing loud and hugging hard, we’d sit, tucked away at the edge of the Ritz’s Palm Court, digging into everyone’s business as well as our own. We’d both be small and blonde. My voice too big, his-too high. We’d finish each other’s sentences and start new ones at the exact same instant. He’d love my writing, I’d love his and we’d languish all afternoon over a lunch of Screwdrivers and dish.

I have been a Truman fan even before I knew what he wrote. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was one of my favorite movies. Who didn’t love Audrey Hepburn, her cool cigarette holder, LBD (little black dress) and cat? When I was young, I always knew there was a part of the movie just outside my reach and distinctly remember the year I actually “got it”. How sad and fabulous Holly’s life seemed.  Growing up in the 1970s, it still seemed possible to live a hand to mouth existence in New York City. I was pretty sure I’d have my Holly moment eventually.

I saw pictures of Truman at Studio 54 with Liza and Halston. As one of those pitiful, chubby, suburban girls, I devoured Vogue and Glamour every month. At that time, he seemed a strange little man, wearing colored glasses and a fedora hat. Still, I didn’t know of his genius, just his renown. I recall seeing him on talk shows, where he didn’t make much sense at all. Worse yet, I remember going to see “Murder By Death” and thinking that the tiny man in the hat and trench coat was very odd. Still, I had no idea how great he once was.

In the 1990s, I read an article by Dominick Dunne about Truman Capote’s “Black and White Ball”. This event goes down in history as the most important party ever. The article was featured in Vanity Fair and was filled with amazing black and white photographs of the revelers and their gorgeous outfits. Everyone wore a mask. The evening was scandalous because of the pain and suffering caused by the guest list. If you were on it, wonderful, if not, you were mortified and incensed. Truman wielded this much power over the rich and famous of NYC. At the time of the article, I didn’t realize he had died years before as a lonely outcast.

I loved the movie, “Capote”, which rightfully garnered Phillip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar award. As the story unfolds about Truman and his friend, Nell, venturing across Kansas in search of a story about a murder in a farmhouse, I remembered seeing the movie, “In Cold Blood” when I was younger. How funny it was that Robert Blake from “Baretta” had actually been a movie star before his television show. It was then I learned that “Nell” was Harper Lee, writer of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and that Truman was the inspiration for the character of Dill. Of course, I had seen that movie too, my mother being a huge fan of Gregory Peck. The scene with Scout trick or treating in a ham costume had always terrified me. When I finally read the book in high school, it was hard to get the movie out of my head.

Years later, in a favorite bookshop in Door County, I came across a biography about Truman, written by George Plimpton. I knew of Plimpton, but doubt I had read anything he had written. The book was marked down to $9.00. Between the price and the fetching photo of a young Truman on the cover, I was game. He really did look a lot like Phillip Seymour Hoffman. When I started to read it, I couldn’t put it down. The Truman I didn’t know was much more interesting than all the Truman I knew up to that point.

He was an only child, like me. I could relate to many of the problems he suffered at the hands of his parents. Lucky for Truman, he was left to be raised by a loving and colorful household of aunts and uncles in Monroeville, Alabama during the 1920s and 30s. Somehow, Harper Lee was his next door neighbor and they grew up as close friends. The memories of living with a gloriously eccentric family, where he was the center of the universe, produced in Truman a belief that he was a bit untouchable. Those memories were also the fodder for some of his finest writings about his Thanksgiving and Christmas recollections of his Alabama childhood. I read all of these with relish each holiday season along with Dickens and Washington Irving. Truman’s work definitely belongs in the ranks of such greats.

When his mother comes to claim him and heads off to New York, his destiny is changed. Armed with a new husband of some means, his mother has him adopted as a Capote, sends him to a good school where he begins writing for the literary magazine. Upon graduation, he gets a job as a messenger boy at the New Yorker. Very shortly thereafter, he actually gets himself printed in the magazine, and the Truman Capote of fame and fortune begins.  Tiny, with golden blonde hair, a thin, lispy voice and a grand, long scarf that hung down the front of his camel coat, no one knew what to make of him. Armed with all the confidence in the world, Truman starts to become a sensation while barely out of his teens.

When Truman is twenty-three, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” is published. It hits the New York Times best seller list and stays there for nine weeks. The first time I read it, I was impressed by the amount of detail given in a very tight novel. At 231 pages, there is no languishing around page after page of wasted time. I find I can’t write any other way myself, so I have enjoyed all of his writing for this reason.

Sadly, Truman’s fame surpasses his writing. I have read all the major biographies written about him and own a copy of “The Party of the Century”, which tells the tale of the black and white ball. Intentionally, I put that entire experience aside and began reading his writing exclusively. While you cannot completely remove the work from his life, it is important to try. The stories he created are raw, while beautiful; strange urban realities veiled in some fantastic vision. The characters are bold, sometimes mysterious, but always colorful. Among his essays, one finds wonderful travel writing and sketches of famous people written with the glee of a fan. Again, it is hard not to frame it all with the high wire act he lived in New York and the rest of the world, but you must marvel at how inspired he was.

I know if we met, in the Palm Court at the Ritz in the 1950s, I’d be sure to be added as a “swan”. This is what he called his dear female friends, hand-picked for their style, influence or wealth. In the end, they ruined him when he forgot they were human and publicly shamed them in excerpts from “Answered Prayers”, published in Esquire. I suppose I’d need to be rid of him also. I doubt my husband would tolerate his shenanigans for too long. But for a time, I imagine we’d shop, dine, attend theatre, gossip, travel and write together, heads close, whispering and trading nasty comments. We’d be divine, until we had to return to earth as all creatures of humanity must eventually do.

A Taught Image of God

BeFunky_WinterTree2

My grandmother taught me about Jesus. Always Jesus. When she visited us, I would go upstairs to her room before bedtime.  There was a picture of Jesus in the garden with the children. She would talk about Him just like he was a real person. She would tell bible stories from memory and they seemed like actual accounts. Like she had been there. She would hold my hands and we would say the Lord’s Prayer together. Then, she’d kiss me goodnight smelling of powder and love.

I also learned of Jesus before going to a physical church. I didn’t attend a service until kindergarten, but I already knew most of the highlights from books my mother bought me at the Baptist book store. When I was young, no one really seemed to care much about denominations among Christians. We went to the Baptist book store even though we weren’t Baptist. That’s just where you went for things like bibles and Sunday school supplies. When spending the night at a friend’s, I went to whatever church they went to. Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopalian, I never really knew there was a difference. Kids just went to Sunday school with their friends and it was fine. Church was church. If a family didn’t attend church, that was fine too. I don’t remember anyone caring.

My grandmother had friends from all walks of life and went to church wherever she was. Or just read the bible at home and prayed sitting at the kitchen table. I was given the understanding that Jesus was everywhere and with everyone. He certainly was always with her. At our house, my grandmother went to whatever church she felt like walking to. Over the years, all the different parishes knew when she was coming and welcomed her with open arms. She laughingly called herself a church tramp.

She said she liked to visit Jesus in any of his homes, could be a building or a forest. She believed very much in God’s gift of nature and took me on long, detailed walks of my neighborhood. To my amazement, she knew where every wild blackberry bush was. We always visited “the queen” in the center of all the Queen Anne’s Lace flowers near my dentist’s office. I learned the bounty of honeysuckle, milkweed pods and the root beer flavor of a sassafras stem. Considering that my grandmother only visited us for two weeks a year, it was magical to me how much she knew about where I lived.

My grandmother’s Jesus was eternal and anywhere, in her, in me, in the world. We visited with Him all the time. Grandma talked out loud to Him, just like any other conversation. She heard back from Him, too. She read inspiring words daily and put those words into action. She worked among the poor back home in California. She loved riding the bus, so she could talk to other humans. Her faith was easy. Her Jesus was easy, too. He just was…and always shall be.

 

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