The Adirondack Review
The St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book AwardThe St. Lawrence Book AwardThe St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book Award
Notebooks of My Other Selves: Intimate Memoirs of Three Women
Chapter Seven. Modern Life

   The next weeks were a blur. We were traveling through the sixties at such an accelerated pace that it was always invigorating to visit earlier periods, to retrace influences and sensibilities that we treasured, ties most critics overlooked in the rush to be “Modern,” a word that was upstaging “Contemporary” in the hare/turtle jargon wars. The most laughable part was that the artists and the critics seemed to be diverging more and more – what was being created and how it was being discussed had as much (as little) in common as flying a biplane and playing baseball. The major leagues were always sorting themselves out. 

    When I next saw David, our conversation was quite silly. We talked about centers and peripheries:

     You: Starbuck may be ahead of the critics, but, then, a critic discovered him even if old Grendel’s choice of words now seems puerile. Changing the vision of an epoch is radical – he didn’t use words, he used his cigarette-smoking, whiskey-drinking belly. I wonder if inventions, in words, always have nonverbal antecedents. I believe Yeats’ A Vision was based on his dreams.

     Me: So dreams trump words? Does that make language an anachronism? Should we bury it?

     You: Ggrrr, grrrrR, ggrrr-8!

     Me: Raaaaa raaaa, raaahhwwwwww! Grunts are better than flashing one’s eyelashes like Betty Boop.

     You: Not true, dear girl! I’m speechlessly lost in your large brown eyes!

     Me: Hmmhumm. Vision is better than words when it goes deeper than seeing what is before one. But how does one do that? (I didn’t say aloud: I wonder if our eyes are meeting truly?)

     You: You know, you think too much; you’re not quite human.

     Me: Says who?

     You: My dear, please, I’m trying to be of use, as they say.

     Me: Well, what do you mean? What if I said the same thing to you? (Straightening up tall:) My dear, you’re not quite human.

     You: Artists often ask others things they should ask themselves. Your questions are metaphorical but slight. You cannot build a dream without a roadmap.

     Me: Dear sir, where do you see yourself going?

     You: I explore possibilities: manufacturing in China, textiles in Japan, and tea and massage in Thailand, and, of course, real estate in New York. The new empire starts here, of course. This is the city that will never stop growing!

     Me: Is that good? Won’t we all suffocate? And where, dear sir, do you place art? (I did not say: where is your heart?)

     You: I look for people with vision. You must tell me more about yours some time. 

     Empire building is an anachronism, but men will never abandon that dream game in which they control the whole board and all the properties. Even Thoreau had to start a cult. He couldn’t see nature with his naked soul. We never discussed any of this; even though I disagreed, I simply exhaled and dumped the whole conversation like a bag of mental garbage. Justine taught me to do that.

      You were the collector in an age of collectors. About a week later, you called to offer me a commission, a triptych of a rare species of mountain poppy that grew in the Italian Alps near your summer castle. I soon found myself in those mountains, painting glowing ochre, scarlet, and amber petals with their dark, coiled fists of seeds. You were as generous as the cool sunlight on the mountain-- and as distant. The good reviews, perhaps influenced by your recognition, compared my work to Monet and Cezanne. One critic coined the term “Neochromatic Post-Synchronism,” which was too weird to use. Everything got classed as Modernist or Abstract or Minimalist, and my work was off those charts, closer to micro-macro organic/prophetic. I’d rather dig my own grave than get buried under some critic’s ism. I guess every profession gets carried away with itself. 

     You never visited my studio. 

     I heard the sad news that your wife had died of cancer. Every newspaper printed obituary features listing her accomplishments, her awards as Manhattan’s leading woman architect with one museum, one embassy, the opera house, and several mansions to her credit. The Museum of Modern Art mounted a retrospective exhibition of her designs, drawings, and models rather quickly -- about six months after her death.