Saturday, January 29, 2005

Can one create a tsunami as sculpture?

Of course not. Any fool knows that. But Dorian didn't, fortunately. Her mental deficits do not allow her the power of reason or judgement. It's in the arts that such deficits may become assets instead of handicaps. There are lots of "cannot do" areas in her life, but not within the walls of NIAD, where with clay, paint, glue, fabric, etc., all things are possible. The rules that govern so much of the rest of the world stop at the front door, and dream life becomes easily accessible, and a group of great teachers stand ready to help artists to see the possibilities in any chosen medium. It's a truly magical place.

We weren't prepared for the power of the exhibit on Thursday evening. Dorrie's wood sculpture was fantastic! Have no way to describe it except to say that it probably measured about 40 inches in length and stood perhaps 18-20 inches high and was composed of brightly-painted small bits of wood shaped into indescribable abstract suggestions of chairs and tables and other artifacts of life. There were no people (presumably post-wave). One end consisted of a single sheet of down-sloping wood painted in blues and greens and stopped by a wall she'd created to hold back the "water". She explained that the higher elevations were to give people a place to be where the waves wouldn't get them. It was all there. It was chaotic in feeling in almost florescent oranges, reds, yellows, and blues with shapes going in every direction as if wave-tossed. It was a tremendous work, and probably all inspired from the endless repetitious news coverage of the historic tragedy. It was a stunning piece of work that surprised everyone who stopped to visit her exhibit.

I felt so grateful that an imaginative instructor had chosen to not dissuade her from tackling something so abstract and impossible to create as her first attempt at sculpture. I can just imagine Dorrie saying, "I'm going to make a tsunami," and a less wise teacher saying, "no, dear. We should first try making something more familiar -- maybe a snake or an ashtray, or something ...". Instead this young woman said, "sure, go for it!" And she did. There's a message here about the danger of lowered expectations, a problem that's all too common these days.

There's that quality that Dorian enjoys that I often envy. Like the bumble bee who is not aero-dynamic and doesn't know that it can't fly -- does it anyway. Dorian has no way to know that one simply cannot capture the power of a tsunami in bits of wood and glue, so has the freedom to "soar" artistically.

There was more magic in the faces of the guests at the reception who stared with wonder as they viewed her creation. Maybe she freed us all just a bit, at least enough to get us through the weekend, and another round of horrors from the war zones.

Her Tsunami will be featured in NIAD's summer show in June, and she's now officially assuming the title of "Artist."

Makes me wonder how one measures talent and ability as expressed by people like Dorian Reid and her 22 year-old friend, Ingrid, who suffers from cerebral palsy and paints wonderful landscapes from her wheel chair -- holding her paint brush between her teeth ... .

And, no, the work at the S.F. MOMA was not better, only different.

There are more dimensions to the arts than many of us can perceive, I think.

Photo: Dorian Leon Reid, Artist studying at NIAD (National Institute for Artists with Disabilities) in Richmond, California.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I'm more and more wary of the new rhetoric --

hearing words differently, with suspicion and fear. This morning I read my email copy of AlterNet and was struck by the new jargon that places emphasis on "The Ownership Society." For all intents and purposes it brought forth the image of slavery. Not sure the capital wordsmiths thought of that, or, if the words strike fear in anyone else as they do in me ... .

Maybe the slippage in Ohio that disenfranchised so many darkskinned voters has reawakened those feelings. The fact that the voters rights legislation is up for renewal and that I'm actually fearful that what is now accomplished by diversion and chicanery will be formally achieved by law. It's possible to simply allow the law to lapse, I believe, or to get caught up in committee never to see the light of day. Feels like treading water in 30 foot depth of the ocean of life, without an oxygen tank ... and this time political expediency has allowed black conservatives to be co-opted into a corrupt system headed by those who can only maintain power to controlling the large blocs of black voters -- all for a price or political gain.

It seems unlikely that liberals will be able to sustain enough clout to undo the damage being done to the body politic over the next two years -- before another election can alter the balance of power between parties. It will take a lot of crossing over the aisle by conservatives of conscience to get us there. Olympia Dukakis and the other moderate Republicans will have to join forces with like-minded Democrats if we're to work our way back to some reasonable semblance of constitutional order. The only thing sustaining me is the feeling that this is already happening in the back halls of Congress, and that the pendulum is already beginning its swing toward equity in governance and a balance of power. Otherwise ... .

New Yorker columnist, Seymour Hersch, has been giving stinging interviews over the tube -- and the fact that his charges in re an invasion of Iran are not being denied by the administration. If there is any hope to be gained from these disturbing developments it is that he is being fed critical information by fearful and powerful staffers in high places -- or he wouldn't be able to release such information with impunity.

Fear for their lives has practically eliminated any direct news reports from Iraq so we're now totally dependent upon independent freelancers, Al Jazeera and other Mideast media, and Seymour Hersch. Our kids are out there on their own -- killing and being killed with few on site to observe the conditions under which these lives are being lost. My granddaughter will soon be among them. Jessica has enlisted -- fresh out of highschool with no prospects for employment and no way to move out to live on her own without marrying someone she's not yet met.

...a day of confusion and fear.

...tonight I'll view the innocent artwork of my daughter and her disabled classmates.

...have I told you that her latest piece is a wood sculpture (her first) that is called "Tsunami"? It must have risen from the images she's been exposed to on television. Since she's totally illiterate, it will be interesting to see what she's envisioned and how she translates that vision into an art piece. Only learned about it last night upon overhearing a phone conversation she had with a friend. I was only aware of her 3 paintings hung in the gallery for this show. They are sketches of her cats. She's spoken of her new teacher who's introduced her to sculpture as an art form, but there was no hint that the work was completed and had been named.

Naming the pieces is an important part of the work. I've sometimes sat quietly nearby -- having arrived early to pick her up. The group of artists sit in a circle. The instructor holds up a work in progress while the group reacts to it verbally. The artist is first asked to describe it, and in some cases it's quite clear that there was an intentional image in mind. As often as not, however, an artist will have simply expressed something in color and line without a theme in mind. The group will discuss what it reminds them of, and the artist reacts to what others see. Fascinating process.

Dorian is quite definite about what she's creating. The titles are in most cases intentional, and her sense of whether she's succeeded to produce what her inner eye sees is judged by whether or not others see the image she's trying to project. She has a firm expectation of her ability and is good naturedly critical of her work. Rarely is it totally ill-defined or pointless, waiting for identity from outside herself. I can see her delight when her image is confirmed by the others. I'm anxious to see how on earth she's been able to take on such a devastating event as the tsunami. Watch this space for a report.

Sunday it was the S.F. Museum of Modern Art and the recognized icons of the art world -- tonight it will be the National Institute for Artists with Disabilities (NIAD). It might interest you to know that the differences are minor. There are pieces in both places that one can be certain the artists were lucky to have had a way to express constructively! There are also pieces that express unbridled creativity -- sans rules or roadmaps and daringly capable of exploring the outer edges of who they are. I've been able to hold in my hand a ceramic object created by a young woman who has been blind from birth. To hold it is spellbinding and gives new meaning to the word "wonder". To listen while others in the group react to her projects, giving them titles and meaning within the context of their own limited understanding, and watching her face as she listens to their humbling.

Tonight I'll share this with experience my friend.

Dorian will be our guide.

Monday, January 24, 2005

One would never have guessed that there would be at least one more love story to be lived ... .

About a decade ago I settled for living the rest of time out in interesting vignettes, if luck held out, but never did I dream that there could be more. "Love among the ruins" is more than a great title for a drama about liaisons among the elders. There is a totally different kind of love relationship to be experienced; one not dependent upon those things that justified the investment in the past -- each in the other -- procreation, financial security, social status, etc., but one that stands alone and free of the need for caution and without time considerations. Every day is an eternity. Every day starts with promise and a preciousness now clearer than at any other time in my life. Each day sharpens both the joy and the pain of existence, if only because we're living in such a delicate balance between the two. How we spend this luxury of time has become of critical importance even while we're enjoying the lightness of being created by the knowledge that the world we'll be leaving is no longer able to hold us accountable. Our ability to effect change is now minimal so love can now move back into the foreground and purpose can recede back into negative space.

Time has been so much kinder to me than to him. I'm still active and physically blessed with extraordinarily good health. Because of his physical limitations, I'm required to slow my pace through life and am therefore seeing the world far more sharply than before. It's as though someone has changed the focus on the lens. Strange. I'm aware of every step that I take now. Holding onto his arm as we amble along is now out of pure necessity. When I forget to do so, I find myself ten steps ahead and constantly running back in embarrassment at my insensitivity. But it works for me. Even weeds thrusting violently upward through cracks in the sidewalk now get my attention. I'd forgotten the power in such natural phenomena -- and appreciate again the metaphor such images provide when needed.

Yesterday we returned to the S.F. MOMA and viewed the permanent exhibit of retro photographers, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Richard Avedon, and re-visited the Modernists furniture -- Charles Eames et al with those wonderful chairs.

We're making plans to take a trip to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in April; something I've never done. There we will see Richard III as well as August Wilson's Ma Wilson's Black Bottom, among several plays, both contemporary and medieval.

On Thursday evening of this week he will attend the Artist's Reception at NIAD (National Institute for Artists with Disabilities) where Dorian has 3 paintings on exhibit. She needs to meet him. I've carefully chosen to bring them together for the first time in an environment where she is being celebrated and where she is known as her own person and not as an appendage to me or to anyone else. And in a way that her mental disabilities are not the most important fact about her. That feels important to me. She will surely see more of him in the future but the ground will have been laid in a way that benefits how that plays out, I think.

I've met all of his family now -- he arranged to bring us together at dinner recently. I'd not done that yet. Only told my sons about him over the past ten days or so. Haven't heard from one son, but David's response was "Be happy, Mom. You've earned it. Dorian has been well prepared for living without you over these many years, and she can surely manage to take care of herself in the apartment alone while you're away. And, I'm only ten minutes away and will see that she's safe and well." Our roles are being reversed. I was a permissive and trusting mother and he's now being a permissive and trusting son. Nice.

Maybe now I can give myself over to living more fully another chapter of this extraordinary life of mine. There are some new parts of myself to explore -- bits of me not revealed in earlier relationships. I trip over newness as these moments flash by, and I sense new possibilities still unfolding.

I'm certain that neither of us thinks beyond the next few months. Anything more would be foolish. But for the first time in my life, NOW is more than enough and TOMORROW is simply irrelevant.

He's a very dear man from whom I may be learning to see one more face of love ... .