Monday, November 26, 2018

A Letter To My Hips

Recently you’ve been screaming in pain when I get out of the car, or hoist myself up from the sofa.  I’ve tried everything to shut you up--ibuprophen, a chiropractor, acupuncture. I may have reminded you that nobody else complains--my back, neck, knees, hands and feet, shoulders--everybody’s doing fine.  Now I’m working with a trainer to build up your strength and flexibility.

He said, “When you feel no pain, remember to be grateful.”

I think of all the miles we’ve walked,  on city streets, often in high heels. That couldn’t have been fun for you. All the soccer games, the field hockey. We had so much fun with the Hula Hoop and the Twist.

Please forgive me. I’m sorry I said you were too wide. I should have thanked you for all those soft landings on the ski slopes  Oh, and how could I forget; thank you for the easy delivery of two beautiful babies.

I look forward to many more years with you, and I promise to be kinder.

My hip trouble has made me think of this piece by Katy Lyness, my classmate at the Art Students League.   The pencil drawing on the left is the preliminary sketch for the etching on the right. I love the way the two images face each other,  echoing the way the rib cage and the pelvis face each other.
At the League, everything begins with drawing, drawing begins with the human figure, and that begins with the bones. In life class as you stare at the naked person in front of you, you realize that she’s not naked enough.  You’re trying to see through skin, muscle and sinew to the bones.

Katy’s focus on the rib cage and the pelvis, as opposed to the skull, which always creeps me out, illustrates how supportive and protecting our bones are.  The rib cage holds the lungs and heart, the pelvis cradles the belly and womb.

I find this so moving; these sheltering loving shapes are like a mother’s arms.  

Who designed this miracle?  How long did that take?

I believe in God, the  creator of the universe, and I believe in Darwin and the theory of evolution.   Psalm 90 says in verse 4, and we sing it all the time, “A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone.”  Seven days, a billion years. They’re both a blink of God’s eye.

All we have to do is remember to be grateful.

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Day

    Thank you for all the nice responses to my Thanksgiving in New York City.  Here are some thoughts I had as I drew it, and as I look back at it.

    This is the south facing side of the American Museum of Natural History on 77th Street Between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. I took some liberties here; you can’t actually look in the windows and see the great herd of elephants.  They stand in all their glory in the Hall of African Mammals.  While I’m grateful that they are preserved for posterity I can’t help knowing that those beautiful creatures would have much preferred to live out their lives.   I imagine the terror they, especially the baby, felt as the guns roared—maybe his mother died first and he was left alone. I’m appalled at pictures of hunters gloating over dead animals.  I often say, “Couldn’t you just look at the animals?  Why do you have to kill them?”  But here I am gazing in wonder at the results of that carnage, so grateful that they’re standing still so I can draw them.

   Then there’s the statue of Teddy Rosevelt standing in the center of his memorial on the Eastern facing side of the Museum. His figure, heroic on horseback, is flanked by two men on foot, an African and a Native American.  They were intended by the artist to be allegorical figures of Africa and North America, expressing TR’s love for the two great continents and his friendliness toward all races.  Today they make us cringe at the implicit racism. The same work of art seen in two different times evokes very different responses. I decided not to draw the two men.  Was that the right choice?  Should I have honored them by not ignoring them or would I be seen as racist as well?

    Many of the exhibits inside are the result of TR’s hunting trips. He was responsible for the death of thousands of animals but as president he preserved thousands of acres of wilderness as National Parks, including Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Again, I’m torn. Ambivalence is hard to live with. I try to accept that most people do the best they can with what they have within their own time and place.  

    My drawing is all about Thanksgiving Day and the great parade.  Again I took liberties; there’s no actual turkey balloon but it was right for the picture. I wanted to honor this day, this event and the thousands of people who work all year to make it happen. How does it all come about? Who thinks up new characters for the balloons? Whoever thought of giant balloons in the first place? What are those great workshops like? How do you make a giant Charlie Brown?

    I think of the ones staying up all night to inflate those balloons and then keep them safe ’til morning, the marchers who hold the balloons tethered to earth. Then there are the high school bands who come from all over the country—how do you play the trumpet in 30 degree weather? Or march and twirl a baton in a skimpy but not too skimpy costume?

     And who keeps us all safe?  Last year only a few weeks before Thanksgiving there was an attack by a van driven into bicyclists in lower Manhattan.  We felt tense but the city workers, the police, sanitation, and fire departments were all on hand to keep traffic and the parade moving.  Garbage trucks were parked at all the cross streets like giant guard dogs so no vehicles could spoil the fun.

    I can get a little teary thinking about all the thought and work and expertise dedicated to make this wonderful and slightly silly event happen.   Maybe not so silly.  It’s a celebration of the day we set aside to give thanks and what’s more important than that? I’m grateful for a great deal, including how complicated life can be.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Writing The Baseball Queen

The Evolution of Inspiration

I showed this drawing to my second grade students and one girl said, “She’s the Baseball Queen, and she saves all the home run balls.”

And I said, “Eureka!”

The woman is the sculpture, “Memory”, who sits at Broadway and 106th Street in the memorial to  Isidore and Ida Strauss who went down with the Titanic. The baseball players? For months, vague ideas had been swirling in my head, centered on the great American Pastime.

In my neighborhood there was Dads and Daughters softball.  Several men gathered on Saturday mornings with their daughters to help the girls develop their skills and build confidence on the field.  The girls had other ideas, twirling, looking at the sky, practicing cartwheels--anything but batting and fielding. I thought there was a story there, but I didn’t know what.  Girls and baseball, feeling left out, the sense of longing; a baseball stew bubbled in my head.

ThenI learned Leonardo DaVinci’s last words and I couldn’t get them out of my head; “If I could make...If I...”

Then the Baseball Queen appeared.  I thought about her for some time and then sat down to write.  Anthony Trollope said, “It you want to write, apply cobbler’s wax to the seat of your pants.”  So I promised myself that I would sit with a pen and paper for one hour and I wouldn’t get up, I wouldn’t turn on the radio or pick up a book.  One hour.

Nothing happened for forty minutes and then the Baseball Queen flowed on to the paper.

The Baseball Queen

I am in bed and the sun is still shining.  I have to go to bed when it isn’t even dark.  It isn’t dark. It isn’t night. It isn’t fair. The sun is shining right in my eyes. Who could sleep?  Everyone else is outside playing baseball. 

I can see them. I can hear them. I wish I was with them.

I wish I could get in that game.  They’re not really bigger than me.  I could play with them.

I could say, “Give me a shot.”  Then they’d pitch it to me, and I would belt that ball and it would go flying--sailing--out of the park, over the houses, over the trees, and over the clock tower.  The ladies who hold up the clock would try to catch it but it would be too high for them and much too fast.

It would fly all the way to the Baseball Queen, who catches all the home run balls and keeps them in her Home run Hall of Fame Palace in the sky.

She would say, “Who hit this ball?”

Hank Aaron would say, “It wasn’t me.”

Ted Williams would say, “Not me.”

Mickey Mantle would say, “I didn’t hit it.”

Even Reggie Jackson would say, “Don’t look at me.”

Then the Baseball Queen would say, “ Who is this new Sultan of Swat?”  And she would come all the way down to our field. 

When she found out that it was me, that I was the one who hit that amazing home run, she would look at me and say, “Why are you wearing your pajamas?”

And when the Baseball Queen found out that the greatest home run hitter in the history of baseball had to go to bed before it was even dark, she would march right up to my front door, ring my doorbell, and tell my mother a thing or two.

That’s what would happen, if I could only get on that field.  If I could only get outside. If I could only stay up. If I could only...If I...

Friday, November 9, 2018

Why Baseball?

Why do I draw Baseball?

Why Baseball?  I once said to my brother, Alan, “Did you love baseball for itself or for all the time you spent with Dad?”  His answer was, “It was all so wonderful, why choose?” That’s a typical answer from my family, one that left me wanting. Wanting what?

Baseball infused my life--the constant sound of the game on the radio or TV, the never ending games of catch in our yard and even in the living room. But baseball wasn’t for me. I didn’t like standing in the hot sun with people yelling and throwing things at me.  I have no interest in sitting through a whole game but I do like to watch on TV where I can see a beautiful play again and again on the replay.

It’s not the game itself, it's the mystique.  There’s something about boys. I remember the moment when I was very little and realized I would grow up to be a woman like my mother, not a man like Daddy. I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t thrilled either.  It was more like...well, Ok. I watched my brothers and their friends and wanted to somehow be part of that mysterious fraternity. I admired the intensity of their interest and their mastery.  They’d practice and practice and never get tired or bored. I coveted their passion.

Once at Yankee Stadium I emerged from the dark stands to see the sun shining on the brilliant grass. As nine young men in pinstripes ran onto the field I felt the romance of it all, the history, the timelessness and the grace.  My first thought was, I want to draw that. That was my way to make baseball my own. But how to make it unique?

When my grandmother reached the end of her life and had trouble remembering which story she had already told, she repeated over and over that her favorite Yankee had left the team. Her words were, “Did you hear that Tommy John got traded to the Angels?

It was the perfect metaphor for dying and going to Heaven, merging all the threads of my yearning. And so MomMom inspired me to begin a series of baseball players, primarily Yankees, whose pinstripes make a useful drawing device.  I set them in various classical, baroque and celestial settings. I took to reading the sports pages, not for the scores but for the photos of the graceful movements of elite athletes.

I've had a wonderful time placing the boys in odd but beautiful places.  Here's Mickey Mantle being traded to the Angels.

Christmas in July

I've been feeling a little uninspired and overwhelmed by papers and stuff, torn by needing to clear the decks and get rid of everything ...