26 January 2010

The World Wide Wail

(If you're just checking in, I'm in process of moving I Call It My Art to http://theh2obaby.wordpress.com/  For a bit, I will continue to post in both places.  Wordpress isn't all brownies and hot fudge either, but they're both free, so I'll settle down again with whichever is less crazy-making.)

Is it a wonder we aren't all of us head-in-the-oven, falling apart, heart-broken zombies?  As if into each of our own lives enough sorrow does not fall, there is hardly a tragedy in the world to which we might not be privy.  The most recent globally mourned devastation, the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, is certainly a catastrophe and it is right to reach out from our wealth to their poverty.  The web and other modern technology make it not just possible, but easy and immediate.  Any one of us can spare what it takes to save a life there right now.  Hundreds of thousands have died, uncounted more are without a roof, food, water.

Sure, I've sent money to the Salvation Army (who are doing great work there in Christ's name), but I've shed no tears for those pitiful people who have just lost everything when they had nothing before.  Do you know what pulls at my heartstrings this week?  A cat.  A cat I don't know who belongs to someone I've never met.  I follow the owner's Twitter feed because it's interesting to window-shop the life of a successful author, whose work I generally enjoy.  So I, a complete stranger, am watching Neil Gaiman lose the sweetest cat ever.  Her name is Zoe.  She is fourteen years old, blind, was given a hip replacement because of her arthritis, and now is being taken by an inoperable tumor.  She will cross the Rainbow Bridge tomorrow.  But not before her human soul-mate, a girl called Olga, took a red-eye from the west coast to Minnesota to say goodbye.

Is it the details, the cat, or the scale of the drama which jerks tear?  The population of a sizable city is crushed beneath its own dwellings, but that is so far removed from one's own experience that the news reels look like just another movie.  But a sweet little old cat walking feebly out of this world?  I've been in that movie.  I empathize.

empathy |ˈempəθē|
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy has been a buzzword in recent years for the media and others.  They insist we empathize with all the victims in the world.  Who can understand what it feels like have loved ones flattened under cinder block?  Let alone share that feeling.

sympathy |ˈsimpəθē|
noun ( pl. -thies)
1 feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune

Sympathy is the word they're looking for.  I would never presume to share the grief and horror of people who are injured, dying of thirst, and mourning the sudden deaths of so many.

So, while I sympathize with those Haitians, I empathize with Neil and Olga.  And still I miss desperately a little old frail cat called Wordsworth-Fireproof-Chutney-BulletTrain-SignorBisogno-InternationalIncident.

A Brief Trip Through Time

(Due to new "improvements" in Blogger's interface ~see From Mind to Matter~ I've lost the ability to put together a decent-looking post with photos.  So, at least for now, I'm migrating over to Wordpress.  You can find me there at http://theh2obaby.wordpress.com/ )

For a few minutes, I was 15 years old again.  The girls who would become lifelong friends were there.  We all had the same boots, L.L.Bean duck boots.  The moment happened when I, at 40-something, put on a brand new pair of those old boots.  It had been 20 years since I’d seen them.  It was like in Being John Malkovich, shooting through the tunnel into… myself, my silly 15-year-old self at Jones Junior High.  I felt the promise, insecurity, and camaraderie of adolescence.  As I leaned back and kicked with joy, memories flooded over me; duck boots and ski club, duck boots and grey days walking around Arlington, duck boots rushing to Lane Avenue for lunch.  Through snow and more often slush, those formative years flew through my mind on duck-booted feet in a giggle of girls with others of their kind.  When I ordered the new pair, it was because they had been warm and dry and practical and I had need for just such a thing.  Never did I imagine how they would transport me back, remind me of who we were then, at the beginning of the path to who we would become.

Decades down the road, we have followed our dreams and chosen forks in that road, passed through points of no return.  If we saw at 15 what we would do with our lives, would those teenagers scoff or be amazed?  Can we in middle-age retrieve that sense of open doors, options, and opportunity?  Can a new pair of boots walk my spirit back to the time when it might do anything and had yet to fail?

30 December 2009

From Mind to Matter

Is it still homesickness missing places, times, and people who simply aren't anymore?  Isn't that just living in the past?  My mind has been playing a slide show at light speed, split-second images and impressions of pure joy, inspiration, beauty, contentment:  flashes of golden green summer days, times laughing with my mother, glimpses of holiday dinners with loved ones.  But what about when it isn't even my past?  Scenes I've only imagined splash over my mind's eye like longing:  a room full of warm sunlight, shag carpet, and macrame plant hangers; plush couches, fire roaring in the grate, and velvet drapes; clean, sleek, Swedish living-spaces.  Every one of these images barely registers before it has passed, to leave a yearning for something precious… just out of reach.  I want to plaster these scenes on the walls of my life, to pour them into the grey and empty spaces, to connect them one to the next until they propel me into making art and substance and deep satisfaction.  If I could just hold them a little longer, long enough to recognize what is there that speaks so eloquently to my heart and spirit, perhaps then I could fashion even a reflection of it here in the real world.

But the real world is constrained by my own inability to bring to form the images in my mind, not to mention already filled with dark, shabby antique decor which is not mine to replace.  How do I begin to create these marvelous scenes when I can barely remember them?  One image at a time: for every splash of inspiration, I must cling to one thing in it, draw it into existence, enough for memory to sustain it into being.  Then I will call it my art.

08 October 2009

NextCat: ThisCat

NextCat(tm) has arrived and become ThisCat(tm), whom we are calling, for the time being until she reveals another name, Kiwi. She was born July 17th, making her 12 weeks old Friday. The adoption didn't go quite as I had imagined. The woman has a cat she won't spay because she "doesn't like to," so she quite often has kittens in need of homes. She lets them all live out in the garden, so while not feral, they are poorly socialized with people. None of them cared a whit for me, let alone decided to choose me to take one of them away. Two the woman had never caught at all. I watched them play and sat on the terrace until they'd all gone off into the hedge. No, not the scenario I had in mind at all. So, of the ones she could catch, I chose the friendliest and away we went.

It is unsettlin
g to have a stranger move in to our home. It's been so long since Mango and Wordsworth were new that they were part of me, I knew and loved them so well. Now I've chosen to love a bouncy, silly kitten who doesn't have an indoor voice. But she seems to be a quick learner, from needing and accepting further instruction on the uses of sandbox to picking up Craig's games with her to extracting herself from places she shouldn't have gone to begin with; I have great confidence in her.

Kiwi's first visit to the doctor went just fine last week. She is in good shape and behaved quite well. For her age, she has very long legs. We may be raising a panther. I've o
ften bemoaned the size range available in dogs but not in cats. Of course, we can only "domesticate" the cat up to the point where he can stop us. Dogs want to be part of a pack. As long as it's clear who is alpha, they are happy. Cats don't care. If there is disagreement, there is no submission because they believe we are equals. It is with careful thought to that future panther that I am cultivating relationship with Kiwi. Kitten teeth never belong on human flesh, all the more so when the 3 month old kitten is proportioned like a cat already. I forget that she truly is still an itteh bitteh kitteh until I look at her face, see her tiny nose and over-large ears.

For now, she is little Kiwi, dual-phase kitten: on/off. "On" demands constant play, having grown accustomed to siblings and outdoors. "Off" relishes a warm lap. There is no intermediate state. She is either shouting for attention or purring as though life has never been this warm and dry and full-belly.

03 October 2009

Nuit Blanche 2009

It is a joy to return to the City of Light, to the home of good friends, in anticipation of a full night of art, the Sleepless Night: Nuit Blanche. The English language Press Kit was a welcome resource, preparing me for the strong presence of video installations. I like video. As with all art, some is fantastic, some is rubbish. But for me, it is just not as engaging in a setting where the audience is moving, wandering, as other more sculptural media are. But video is the modern form. It can speak with greater breadth and depth than can oil on canvas. I am the first to admit I've had my fill of dark old Dutch Masters, rooms of prosperous men in fabulous hats. But Nuit Blanche lays a lot of ground to cover, stylistically and, more pragmatically, geographically. So I peruse the Press Kit, read the descriptions of the major artists and their works, and do a little planning for the night.

Now, after a decadent meal of crepes and cider (we watched a mountain of butter disappear onto the griddle even as a good and tasty portion of it was disappearing down our gullets), we head off into the night.

We find, by plan, an interesting melange of sound, motion, light, and color. Giant glowing multicolor crystals had grown up inside Notre Dame. A monstrous UFO-like disco ball hovered over the Senate and Luxembourg Gardens, spinning and dancing its lights across the grounds, the pond, the low-hanging clouds. A 40 voice motet was played through 40 speakers in a circle, giving the effect of being in an incredible choir.

Shadows of sweetly frightening figures played across a screen in the park. Imagine the music from The Nightmare Before Christmas. A hillside covered in red umbrellas looked down on a lake, glowing with blue, white, and red lights beneath its surface. These are but a few of the wonderful artworks Paris put out for free, for the night, for the people. If I were Parisienne, I would take that Press Kit well before, find the most auspicious bit of sidewalk or square, and put up my own art. It's quite possible that some of what we saw was exactly that. The whole scene would be enriched by greater density of art, one night of Burning Man distilled, more participants encouraged amongst the audience. And of course, more fire is always good. Like many of the pieces themselves, the Sleepless Nights are growing works in process around the world. Find one near you! Take it it, mull it around, see what comes out, and call it your art. (all photos: cvl)

17 September 2009

NextCat: the prequel

It has been nearly the year of freedom which I promised the Man. He has graciously given me early release for insane behavior. Time to pick up the harness and leash and tie myself down to a cat once more. NextCat(tm): we've been talking about NextCat for ages. I'm hoping for someone affectionate, dainty, clever. The Man says s/he will be antisocial, clumsy, and stoopid. And I will love NextCat because of and despite everything s/he is. A neighbor knows of several piles of gattini. It doesn't have quite the same ominous ring, but wise ones know to beware the dangers: "Thar be kittens."

Before s/he is real and here and getting into everything and shattering my illusions (along with stemware and stuff you'd never think of), I have a few fantasies. NextCat is going to make the passeggiata with me in her own special cat pram. We will scandalize the grandmothers, desperate for bambini in a country with one of the lowest birthrates in Europe. NextCat will ride on my shoulder, travel by train, and stay in hotels. NextCat will learn to use toilets.

The Man will be endlessly amused as I attempt, and fail, to teach NextCat any and all of these things. He will be amused right up to the point where a big, fat, uncoordinated tail clears his desk of all delicate electronics. I am sanguine with the fact that when she is entertaining and sweet, she may be our cat, but when she is the other thing, she most definitely will be my cat.

I still miss my Two Cats. We were together for so long, their whole long lives, and through so much. What little troopers they were. My one-woman cat, cantankerous Mango, and my sweet little man, Wordsworth. No one could replace them, and I'd never want to try. But there are always the poor homeless, needing what I can provide. So, it is time to start it all over again, to give my heart to a little ball of fluff and pointy bits. Weak as I am for marmalade tabbies, I've had my femmina rossa. So even though there is one of those rare beauties available, I'm drawn towards someone different, someone who won't make me see ghosts, maybe a nice black cat just in time for Halloween.

In one week, I will accompany Federica to meet some of the kittens she knows. Right now, she knows at least a baker's dozen looking for their forever homes. I would love to have a gamboling flock, but now isn't the time. I've prayed so fervently to find NextCat and to know, without doubt, that this is the right cat. It is my intention to sit down amongst those mewlers and have one, just one, crawl up into my lap, and find love at first sight. Knowing that there are always more homeless cats and hoping to bond especially well with NextCat, it is my intention to walk out of that house next Wednesday with only one. We'll see. Once she is settled, in a year or so, perhaps she'll like to train up CatAfterThat. . .

26 August 2009


Another church, museum, castle, ruin, plaza/meydan/piazza/trg/Platz/place/nàmèsti/square, nearly every Old Town blurs into every other through cobbled streets and labyrinthine back allies. Window shopping stuff I don't need which would only clutter the flat and become one more thing for some future someone to wonder over and eventually discard, I realize that my prize today would be to feed a stray cat, perhaps be allowed a pat down its back.

I began traveling to see how other groups of humans make their way in the world, to see for myself what works and what doesn't, attempt to understand why. This traipsing through other people's lands and lives does move me to learn more of history, how each group has come to be who they are. Clichè or not, those who fail to learn from it are doomed to repeat it; human nature does not change. But now, maybe only just for now, I am jaded. Ancient cities are just accumulations of people and their stuff. Old is only there because no one bothered to tear it down. It's all just what people going about the business of living have left behind. The mystery and the magic have gone out of it for me, for now. I am tired of kings and conquest, the fighting to and fro to gain and lose another hill. War, then and now, is adolescent and a wicked waste. Yet, mankind seems never to tire of it. I see little evidence that we, as a species, will ever understand that enough is enough. We have one planet to live on, a finite piece of real estate. It would take far too much agreement among essentially egotistical, self-serving humans to share it responsibly.

Not that the curiosity has abated, but my focus is shifting. Individuals are still working it all out for themselves. That is where I stand, in the middle of one life, trying to make the best choices every day. What people do with their own private corners of the world, the daily rhythms and rituals to keep body and soul together and head out of the oven, remains fascinating. Dougie MacLean's Scythe Song has the line, "This is not a thing to learn inside a day." It put me to thinking about these discreet boxes of time, between waking and sleeping again, when so many things do come to pass. There are happenings in life that seem too wonderful or too horrible, simply too big to fit inside a day; a birth, a death, walking out, jumping in. I try to remember that I can't know what of these things may have already happened inside this day to anyone I meet on the street. I fault people for being wrapped up in themselves, oblivious to everyone and everything around them. But, perhaps, if I took a greater interest in their lives, understanding would spread, human connection would be strengthened. Maybe, just maybe, one day at a time, we could go from fighting The Other to lifting up each other. And some day, historians and tourists might look back and talk about the era when humanity began to grow up.

For now, I'm ready to let the old stones lie under their dust, step off the tourist road, and appreciate life and lives where they appear and move through their days in this age.

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