Monthly Archives: July 2015

THE HAIRBALL OF AGONY

July 25, 2015

gathering storm

Not since the days of sitting down to school homework, have I felt such dread of writing. In both instances it has to do with feeling not up to the task and of being, in some way, un-teachable. Then, it had to do with an inability to comprehend math and the sciences not to mention the horror of history and all those dates! Now, it has more to do with feeling unable to learn whatever it is I need to learn in order not to succumb to feelings of worthlessness and the cycle of depression followed by the same old pain. And to think I believed that at a certain age one would no longer suffer from either acne or the past! Not for nothing then that I also have a pimple on my face this week.

The weather here has been oppressive for nearly a month. Stultifying heat with temperatures of 110°F (40°C) which blasts you when you open the door so that to step outside feels disorientingly like stepping inside….a furnace. I’m sure my being English doesn’t help; I really do prefer the feel of drizzle on my skin to ozone-free rays beating me into submission.

When I used to snort coke, I used to stay up all night painting, balancing a few lines of coke with a few sips of cognac, my fucked-up theory being that if I got the recipe right I could actually stay up all night for the rest of my life without blowing out my heart or my liver. A life spent in one eternal night was what I craved. As if only alone in the night could I hear myself and in so doing, find my voice; a voice not in the least interested in communicating verbally with others, but deeply with myself and the painting I was working on. It felt as though if I could just commune deeply enough with the paint and the canvas that I could break through to the other side, where the muse resided. I was, still am, all about becoming one with the muse.

Inevitably, around 4:30 in the morning I would feel the light begin to shift and with the coming of the day dread would arrive; a problem I would solve by making myself a hearty breakfast in the futile attempt to avoid hangover, before popping 10mgs., of Valium to ward off the day.

These days, because of the heat, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 and going out into the cool, sweet dawn to water the garden, listen to the joyous music of the birds and just generally revel in the beauty and tranquility of the landscape. Then around 7:30, the air still cool, Joel and I breakfast outside, maybe read a little, and for a while I pretend that we can hold time still, stop the clock at 8 o’clock and stand peacefully on the threshold of another day, instead of actually having to live it.

Yet live it I do. And sometimes the living ain’t easy, as my dear friend Scout wrote in response to my email to her yesterday, in which I only partially admitted to what I was feeling; telling her I’m a bit of grumpy bitch these days when really, the truth is I’ve been barking mad trying to avoid the hairball of agony that, like the weather, had been gathering pressure as it headed toward the storm.

storm

And what, you ask, exactly is the hairball of agony? Funny you should ask; I’ve been asking the same question, thereby adding to the agony by coming up with the same tired answer:  agony is the old feeling of worthlessness, of having no purpose, nothing of value to offer, and worse, nobody wanting what it is I have to offer.

So yes, I suppose I am un-teachable, because I don’t seem to want to learn that I set myself up, over and over again. Yup, did it again. Let myself be seduced into giving the manuscript to “just one more person” who promised to send it out to 2 big agents he’s buddies with…blah, blah, blah. Of course, he hasn’t. But damn it, I believe in this book. Of course I want someone to publish it. Why wouldn’t I? Isn’t one supposed to stand by one’s work, like the captain of a sinking ship? The real question is: am I courageous, or stupid? Or just a human combination of both?

My friend Scout says she tells her children it ain’t easy being her because she, like me, is one of those sensitive souls. There’s a word for you: sensitive. A word that has unfortunately, in our era, taken on a judgmental tone as in, “The problem is you’re too sensitive.” For which I now reply, “And what’s wrong with that?” Well, nothing is wrong with that except that it comes with a shit-load of pain sometimes. And this is what I have dreaded putting into writing, the very thing we sensitive souls don’t want to be true, but which is: pain does not get better with age. It neither diminishes or becomes easier to bear. Whoever says different is still taking Valium.

Finally, yesterday, as the outdoor furnace stoked itself, turning up the thermostat to near combustion point, I began to rant and rave and bawl and shake and despair and plead until I lay spent. And then the wind came, hurling itself at everything, bent on self-destruction as much as destroying nature’s beauty; whipping the electric line like a skipping rope and ripping branches off trees. Up next, heat lightening followed by thunder roaring overhead and howling into the distance and finally, mercifully, the rain; sheets and squalls and lashings of it.

rain

For the first hour the sunbaked earth refused to accept it, sending rivers of water gushing into ditches and gullies. Then, in the second hour, as if understanding that such an outburst is hard to take, the rain softened to a steady, straight-down rhythm and we watched as the earth softened; watched as the rain reached the roots of suffering trees and plants; the roots soaking up the heavens, the foliage becoming plump and upright, the air cool and kind again, the house breathing in the sweetness through the pores of opened doors and windows. And so evening arrived, cleansed and calm.

The real lesson to be learned? Pain is unavoidable in a life fully-lived, but pain, like a storm, passes.

This morning I slept until 8 o’clock and over breakfast did the NY Times crossword. The clue of the day: 38 Across: “Experience catharsis, in a way.” The answer: “Bawl.” Amen to that.

maggie after storm

                   photos by Joel Meyerowitz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OVERLAPPING RIPPLES

18th July 2015

vienna wall

We were in Vienna for three days this week for the opening of Joel’s retrospective, which is traveling Europe. During the days, while he was busy with interviews and press conferences, I wandered the streets in search of a city I’d wanted to see for decades. I had missed it in my teens when, running out of money while hitching around the continent, I settled for Saltzburg, a summer down bed in a pen pal’s home and hot chocolate and a pastry which, while flaky and tasty was, I was sure, inferior to those made in Vienna.

Fifty years later, I find myself sitting in a taxi on my way to what I assume will be the Vienna of my dreams. To the right, the Stadtpark, voluptuous in summer greens and cool shadows. To my left, a poster for a dance performance; the date, 16th July, leaps off the poster and sets my insides aquiver; an unexpected, close to uncontrollable, reaction; a fluttering that starts in my belly and threatens to engulf the rest of me.

Numbers and letters when arranged in a particular gathering can, for all of us, strike a central nerve of memory. 16th July, 1971 was the due date of my firstborn. And as the autopsy would later reveal, was the day she died, my body holding onto her for another 2 days before induced labor expelled her into another realm.

The light turns green, the taxi moves on, and I calm my grieving body. Yet in some eerie sense Vienna echoes that experience; another expectation come to naught. A city strangely devoid of people and pastries.

But I must here tip my cap to the entire staff of the Kunsthaus Museum, https://www.kunsthauswien.com/en/museum comprised mainly of women who were kindness and generosity itself, not only to Joel but also to me. How heartening it is to find women in positions traditionally owned by men; women who have managed to retain their compassion and humor and sisterly respect while tapping into the more masculine drive of ambition and assertiveness, holding their own without aggression. To Bettina, Verena, Eva, Sabine and Sophie my admiration and thanks.

The museum itself, originally a chair factory, was bought and transformed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist and free spirit who knew a thing or two about the snatch of death having lost some 60 plus family members in the Holocaust. www.hundertwasser.com/ He believed that a straight line was ungodly and immoral and certainly his life was anything but a straight line. His paintings reflect the color the glory, the madness and the joy of life’s spiraling, unfathomable mystery. He gave political speeches in the nude, travelled the world, married twice and birthed a daughter. He also built many buildings and a boat he named The Rainy Day in which he travelled to New Zealand over the course of 3 years and where he now lies, as was his wish, buried naked below a Tulip tree.

His rendering of the building which houses his art as well as Photography exhibitions, literally keeps you on your toes and in the moment; the floors and stairs undulating beneath one’s feet so that one must continually take stock of where one is and rebalance accordingly. What a great metaphor for life, for aren’t we all, in spite of our efforts to control, always at sea?

I didn’t find my Vienna and after hours of searching would return to our hotel room where I found pleasure in light and shadow and slivers of reality susceptible to abstraction.

hotel room

 

floating space

 

hotel interior

Yet, Vienna was rich with people. 800 of them attended Joel’s opening and stayed until midnight. And many people travelled great distance, among them Ralph Goertz, the curator of Joel’s show at the NRW Forum in Dusseldorf; Joshua, a young friend who travelled 12 hours by bus from Heidelburg where he is working in a factory this summer in order to fund his 2nd year at Studio Marangoni in Florence. And another man, Fate Velaj, who drove 15 hours from Albania.

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This kind of energy and spirit, much like Hundertwasser’s is an inspiration. The instinct to say, “yes” to adventure and serendipity, to follow the winding road and avoid the straight-of-way. Even if it means sometimes being trapped in a metal tube, winging its way from Vienna to Florence and in which we are surrounded by Austrian toddlers with man-sized voices, their plump, gleeful faces playing peek-a-boo with us between the seats; a near euphoric experience until one of them dumps a load of Teutonic shit in its diaper, a powerful aroma that brought tears to my eyes. So yes, shit happens, there are no straight lines, and there a not guarantees of finding one’s Vienna.

But what joy to come in the garden gate, to unpack, to make a light dinner and sit under the shade of the trees.

J outback

 

And into the ever-widening circles of life, pebbles of possibility are continually tossed, so that the next ripple arrives before the last disappears. This morning, the date of Amy’s arrival into and departure from this earthly plane, a text arrives telling us that my nephew, Simon, and Sarah, his lady-love, have delivered a baby boy into this world. An overlapping ripple that from now on will grace this sorrowful date with joy.

 

 

POCKETS OF MEMORY

 

 

11 July 2015

Today I’m entering the 16th journal of this blog. These journals, as mentioned once before, are of recycled paper with expansive blank pages, a supple spine that allows the book to lay flat when open and a pocket in the inside back cover which gets filled with memorabilia collected during the journey. Many of these remain in that pocket, but there are some that get transferred to the next and the next.

In front of each journal I place a Xerox of a photo of my daughter, then 3, and I outside our welfare subsidized home. This photo is up front because I want always to remember from whence I came and how far I’ve travelled. It is also a beautiful echo of the loving relationship we share today, after a couple of decades in the middle that were painful for us both.

Maggie and Isabel house

Cradled in the back pocket, Isabel as an infant:

Maggie and Baby Isabel

In my hair Salon with assistants, me extreme right:

Maggie and salon

Newly sober lying on the floor of my then studio, joyously covered in paint and oblivious to the fact that within weeks I would meet my soul-mate and break my neck, rendering me unable to paint for years to come:

Maggie floor

Other photos nestling in the pocket are: Joel and me from 10 years ago, looking impossibly young compared to today’s reflected images:

Maggie and Joel

Me as the bride at wedding to husband # 3:

Maggie wedding

My adoptive parents at my father’s 1968 retirement ceremony:

Maggie's Father

Me as a butterfly in the garden of my childhood:

Maggie as Angel

My daughter, back in the 80’s as a Halloween Boy George:

Halloween

A large pastel drawing from my Vessel series:

Vessel

My stepdaughter and her now husband some 12 years ago:

Ariel and david

My stepson and his now wife and their 2 day-old son, our grandson now 12:

Sasha Tat Anton

This motley mix of photos spanning 60 years of my life is an incomplete record, large chunks missing courtesy of a boyfriend who in 1980 not only consistently beat me up, but when I finally managed to escape from him, fleeing his house with only the clothes on my back, burned boxes of my photos: decades of my life as a an 18 year-old hitchhiker in Europe, a teenage mod in London, a runway and print ad model in Vancouver, a professional dancer, my gypsy period in Mexico, not to mention my daughter’s baby pictures and photos of my life with husbands 1 through 3. Husband #4 managed to disappear all photos of our life together shortly after the marriage ended.

Images. Illusion. Memory. Evolution. We are all invested in these things. Some deep need to prove that we did this or that, went here and there, loved him and her; that we started there and have traveled to here.

We recently had a relative staying with us for a week; a relative to whom I am deeply connected, albeit not through blood as I am adopted, but who represents the only link of value to the family in which I grew up. Life didn’t deal her a kind hand parent-wise and there were many times during the week when I wished I had a photo of the vivid image I have of her as a one-year old, looking up at me from the floor with exuberant joy and wide eyed curiosity. I wanted to show her her true nature, to help her peel off the layers of repression that the cruelty of childhood have inveighed upon her.A photo sometimes really is worth a 1000 words. Like the one I took of her last week in which her innate beauty comes shining through because she is being seen by the only person with whom she feels safe.

The mysteries of life. Perhaps one of the biggest being how any of us survive childhood and, sadly, how few of us overcome it. Are there guardian angels? Is there a reason why some of us are born into slavery or poverty, starvation, disease, while others of us are graced with the proverbial silver spoon?

And how come some of us are able to escape what some call destiny while others settle for the lies they were told as children until the lies become a hardened, self-perpetuating reality? Is there such a thing as good luck? I say not. But I cannot answer the question as to why some of us are able to take responsibility for our lives while others hide in the shadow of their discontent.

Each time I come the end of one of these journals I gently take my daughter and me one step further from our past and place us in the preface to the next stage of life. And then, from the back pocket I take the random sampling of my life as a butterfly, as a young mother and on, through the dashed dreams, from poverty to abundance, from addiction to sobriety, injury to rehabilitation and from England to Tuscany via America and from husband #1 to my dear husband # 5 who, apart from loving me, has the good sense to be a photographer! Someone who not only would never throw my past onto the flames but who consistently records our fleeting time on earth, capturing the best of it, as is his nature. A man who literally sees the beauty in everything and everyone.

It doesn’t matter that we’ve never made albums, or that I have only a few photos of my past. One only needs a few images, burned onto paper or onto the retina; small dots along the way, which we join up by filling in the blanks with memory; a sliding screen of chosen moments. How we fill in those blanks is the story we create.

me rockery