Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Permanent Collection

The fourth floor of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a busy place this time of year. The period rooms are all done up for the holidays, and families and school groups wander through to see the glitter. Anyone who has ever had a doll house knows the fascination of the period rooms. We long to rearrange the furniture, we imagine dramatic domestic scenes around the fireplace, and we picture the people readying themselves for the night in that tiny colonial bed. I have a special fascination for the period rooms, because all the years I was a child I didn't even know they existed (did they exist then?), and it wasn't until one Christmas that my step-mother took me to see them in their full splendor that I discovered a whole wing of the MIA my usual tour guides (Jimmy, Claire, my dad) must have avoided on purpose. Still, as I've gotten older I've realized that the period rooms never change. Even the holiday dazzle is the same year after year. The sameness of the rooms makes them uninteresting. I've seen them. Done that.

Meanwhile, the rest of the art on the fourth floor is the same as it always was, but it just gets better every time I go. There's the stunning one of woman lying in the grass eating an apple with her baby (Cassatt, I think. I'm not very good at remembering to read the tags). There's a nude painted by a man who has never seen a naked woman. There's a baby painted by a man who has never seen a baby. And then stop! Here's that breathtaking scene of Lucretia with the knife. Rooms of angels and religious paintings lull me back into my museum stupor, and then she catches my eye again, the woman with the candle, the flame of it covered by some man's arm, but the glow of it perfectly reflected on each of the faces huddled urgently around her. There's the couple in the moonlight. I'm not sure I love Gauguin, with his bold swatches of color, but used to have a puzzle of one of his paintings, and so I spend some time reuniting with it in the museum. And of course, I have to pause each time at the bust of the Algerian, stark contrast of bronze and stone.

Around me, on the fourth floor of the museum, the ones who make it past the period rooms to look at the permanent collection gasp along with me. I think they must gasp each time at the same place in the room. I know I do. The best paintings are old friends that still catch me by the shirtsleeves each time I see them.

"Look!" says a man to his son, "If you stand close, it's just dots. If you back up you can see the picture. He did it all with dots. Can you believe it? Just dots."

"Oh no!" shouts a woman to her out-of-town companion. "They moved it. Where is it? Oh! Oh! Here it is. Isn't it breathtaking? Isn't it wonderful?"

"It's perfect," says the man of the elderly couple to his wife. She agrees, and they stand silently in front of the Carpet Vendor for a minute, just looking.

I wonder if the way we enjoy art is Minnesotan. If we lived in Manhattan, we'd have so many more paintings to see that it would take longer to make friends with our favorites. We'd have traveling shows come and visit us, and we'd be able to make new acquaintances so easily that we might not cling so steadfastly to what we know and like. We might not notice if they move one of our favorites to a different wall. We might go to the museum not to see the dozen paintings we already love, but to meet new ones and allow them to impress us. We might not spend our entire play-going budget each year on the same old "Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie.

I don't know, but I do know that I can't wait to go back again so I can see Lucretia without the tour of catholic school tenth graders blocking my view.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Those Crazy Japanese

I wasn't blogging, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been any action on this site.

I have mixed feelings about people reading this blog lately. Part of me wants to be famous with legions of fans. I want to use my blog fame to make friends and influence people. I want to flash my fame when I enter a restaurant so I can get a better table. But another, equally real, part of me, feels a little bit naked on the Internet, and I think about closing this site down so that I can get dressed and stop over-sharing with the whole wide world. That part of me kind of hopes that no one is reading these words, and figures that long periods of silence are a good thing because they drive down my readership.

So, I haven't written anything or checked this blog for comments for about a month. But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been any action on this site.

When I logged in recently, I noticed that one of my posts had eighty-four comments! Oh, the mixed feelings began to crowd out all other thoughts when I saw that number. Eighty-four people care what I have to say! I'm famous! Oh, crap. That means that eighty-four people read my post. Damn it. Did my students find me? What did I write? Crap. Crap. Crap.

So, I was filled with eagerness and dread when I clicked on this post to discover that in my absence, it has become some sort of Japanese sex chat room. At least, I assume it's Japanese. I use Firefox, and I've noticed before that Japanese characters display as a block of four numbers for Firefox users who don't bother to get the Japanese plug-in. I assume it's about sex because every once in while, embedded between the non-English characters, are words that hint at sex. Words like "sex", for example.

I deleted a ton of the comments, but there isn't an easy way to delete mass amounts of comments on Blogger, so I got lazy and decided to be content with zapping all of the ones that had English-character email addresses in them. I've also disallowed anonymous comments on this blog.

Anyway, I guess I got exactly what I wanted. I got legions of people to come to my blog. Fans, if you will. Chances are, they don't really read English, though, so I got the other thing I wanted: None of them is reading what I wrote. Perfect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The One Without a Title

You know what, you guys? I cried. Pretty much all of November, I cried. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I can make a lot of tears when I get going.

When you start crying like that, you don't really need a reason to keep crying. It just does itself. Tears upon tears. Thinking about all the people who saw you cry, or suspect you cried, or might just think you are crying without having seen you in years can be enough to bring more tears. Writing the words "I cried" was enough to bring some more, even though today's tears are stoppable, which is the difference.

All through November, it was a torrent of heart-crushing grief. There were phone messages from my mother I couldn't play, because they were going to make it start again. There was incredible guilt whenever I did talk to her, because every conversation ended with me unable to speak past the lump in my throat and the ache in my heart, and I know that she worries and it's not fair to still do that to her after thirty-six years. There were car rides to and from the Suburb throughout which I was so wracked by sobs, I could barely see the road.

Some of it was logical. I got dumped in November, twice, including once by a guy so unworthy of me, he ignored me for a week, and then finally (and only after I asked him to explain himself) wrote me an email explaining that he wasn't ready for a relationship. I gave him three months of precious teacher-weekends, and he couldn't take the time to dial the phone to say "no thank you" in person or at least in voice.

You know it's a bad month when you end it by thanking a guy for taking the time to dump you in person. I thought I met someone really, really good in November. His emails said all of the right things. He was charming and cute in person. Our one and only date went so well I felt something I haven't felt in a long time (something like lust. Desire maybe.). Maybe if I weren't so very ready to find someone charming and cute, and if he weren't so very not, this story would have ended happily. It didn't. It ended familiarly, at least. One good date, followed by silence. And then that final conversation.

The problem is that logical or not, crying over break-ups does you no good. No one wants to hear about it when you're 36 anyway. They would have been more sympathetic when you were seventeen (not that you dated, then, because of the whole thing where you never talked in high school). Nowadays, the world likes to tell you that you can be happy by yourself. The world likes to tell you that you'll find your match when you're least looking for it (Is this the advice you give to your unemployed friends? You'll find your job when you stop wanting a job?), and you should get busy living your life alone. I do live alone. Every day. I've lived alone for more years than most of the world ever does.

So, you have a choice, ultimately. You can choose to think about how much you hurt or you can choose to not. It ends when you find the strength to choose the latter. Then the tears stop. You find your humor again. You can talk to your mother and neither of you has to end up in tears. You can go to school and you can even come home and grade homework. It doesn't hurt so very much because you decided not to let it hurt so much.

Thank you, you say, with real grace. Thank you, for taking the time to meet with me in person, to have this real conversation with me. Thank you for saying what you think will help me. Thank you for being my sweet mother who doesn't deserve to have to worry. Thank you for being my friend with an extra N who will feed me soup and listen to me cry. I live alone. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me in person. I'm worth it.