Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Welcome to Fridaland

This week I started a class on Frida Kahlo. It's taught by my friend Roslye as part of the U of MN compleat scholar program. Perfect timing since it also coincides with the Walker exhibition that is opening on Friday. Frida's exhibit is the most expensive exhibit they've had ever - even more than the latest Picassos.

Frida painted her reality. She doeosn't call it fantasy - she literally paints her reality. One fact I didn't know was that she changed her birth year to 1910 - the same year as the Mexican Revolution because she identified so strongly with it (she was actually born in 1907 and died in 1954 at the age of 47). Her dream was to become a medical doctor - which gives some insight into her paintings. She was an 'untrained' artist; her father was a photographer. She was at times adrogonous, bisexual, met Georgia O'Keeffe in the 30's at the New York gallery scene, and also loved to write poetry and love letters to her husband Diego Rivera. She lived an authentic life - ironic, funny, rebellious. I love this photo of her - she is winking at me, reminding me to always be true to myself in the way I live my life, in my art.

A toast to Tex - at peace

Last week, I had to put Tex to sleep. He now has his freedom in a place not bound by bodies and all things physical. I miss him terribly and I wanted to reminisce a bit about him:

Tex was in a pet store near Dallas, Texas (hence his name!) I bought him on April 28, 1992. The day before I flew standby on American Airlines to Dallas (first class, back when a hot breakfast was served enroute) for a flight attendant interview. At that time in my life I was a travel consultant and thought I wanted to be a flight attendant, or at least interview for one. After the interviews that day, I stayed the night and flew back the next morning. I had some free time in the morning and took the hotel shuttle bus to the nearby mall. I wanted an orange kitten and hadn't been able to find one yet. There was a pet store in the mall, and I met Tex and his brother. The woman owner put me in a room with them (she knows how to sell!) and of course it was love at first sight. I told her I'd keep him if I could fly back with him, so I called the airline and they said yes, I could bring him on board. So, we boxed him up in his cardboard carry on and I had him with me in the cabin under the seat. He was very good, and settled down once we were in the air. Then he had to come home and meet Cleo - my other 6 month old kitten. But he stood his ground and with one swap on Cleo's face with his claws they had their pecking order established.

Tex was fond of chasing rubber balls - he played 'fetch' and would return them (when he wanted to). He also knew his name and would come when called. He slept with me on the bed, and has been there for me since before I was married and longer than most relationships. He survived a hyperthyroid, a stroke - where he miracously recovered after three days when I didn't think he was going to make it - and then high blood pressure, and finally, blindness. He taught me patience - and to never give up. He loved unconditionally. Tex, I will remember you. I still have his photo as my computer screen saver at work. Sometimes people and animals are connected in special ways, I know that is true with Tex. He was 15.

It was hard for me to put him to sleep but the vet was very nice and I had the support of a close friend to drive me around since my car was in the shop. Sometimes I think my car went out on purpose that week because I needed the support of others that I wouldn't have seeked out on my own. We buried him in his backyard near the trees where he will be at peace. Afterwards, we went out to eat and had a toast to Tex - remembering the good times he brought me, along with the other cats in our lives.
(I wish I could scan his kitten photo in here, but alas I don't have a color scanner).

I still have Cleo - she is mellowing out a bit and is more affectionate. She is usually very jealous but I think she misses Tex too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Teaching me to see

This is what a cat sees - a lot of blues and greens, and grays.

Tex, my 15 year old kitty - is blind as of last week.

I'm trying to figure out what to learn from all this. He has a hyper thyroid (for a couple of years at least), and some high blood pressure which probably caused the loss of vision. He is managing okay - better than I thought he would. He's on another one of his many lives, overcoming obstacles, living in the moment. He dreams a lot - moving and twitching - and then wakes up. What is it like to wake up to darkness? He knows his way around the apartment - he has that memorized. He's learned how to jump up on the couch and the bed - amazing. He's on a new diet for kidney regulation, along with saline injections because he was dehydrated. He still has his thyroid medication. All of this is worth it, hopefully. I'm not going to go to any extra-ordinary measures to save him, I'll let him decide how active he wants to be. These first few days have been hard on me - taking him to the vet when my car also broke down posed a challenge and a friend has been very generous in getting us where we needed to go. I'm wishing my other vet would have been more pro-active in telling me what to do to get some of this under control earlier, now it is too late.

I think about the morning rituals I have - opening the blinds, the curtains, how life must be so different without sight. It's made me pay attention to everything. Tex is aware of sounds and smells, his whiskers tell him where he needs to go, he seldom 'bumps' into anything. I know he's gradually adjusting. I don't think he's in pain unless his eye is bothering him. His one eye is worse than the other, he may have to have it taken out but it's too early to tell. The vet tells me about cats with no eyes who get along fine. The eyes are the window to the soul. It's hard to relate to others without the eyes looking back at you. Now they are a cloudy stare, his pupils are dialated and stay that way.

I'm not ready to give up on him yet. It seems like everyone says, 'he's old, he's not going to last much longer.' True. But cats are there to talk to; it will be lonely without him. I'm the type of person who needs a cat around the house. (Cleo, by the way, my other cat, is the same age and has hardly been sick a day in her life and is doing just fine) Tex may be blind but he is teaching me to see.

A good website on cat vision is:


The MIA at night

(Minneapolis Institute of Arts)

Fri, Oct 5th

My friend Maggie and I went to the MIA to see the O'Keeffe exhibit "Circling Around Abstraction." A small exhibit of her work. This was significant for us - the last time we went to an O'Keeffe opening together was back in 1994 also at the MIA for the "O'Keeffe/Stieglitz" exhibit. We had lost touch as friends for about six or seven years and just this year got back in touch. Some things are like that. Circling.

You can see more on the O'Keeffe exhibit at
You can see my version of red flowers in the photo at left.

I noted some of Georgia O'Keeffe's observations throughout the exhibit:

"nothing is less real than realism"

The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint

The blue that will always be there as it is afar
after man's desctruction is finished.

I decided that I wasn't going to spend my life doing what had already been done. (1976)

Notan - the Japanese word for dark/light
There is no word in English to express the idea contained in the phrase dark-light.
Arthur W Dow, "Composition," (Doubleday, 1914)


Liam Rector Memorial Service
St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, 131 E 10th Street , New York , NY
Saturday, Sept 22, 2007 - 3 pm

The first thing that struck me was the shoes. Liam's shoes, 8 to 10 pairs, maybe, all across the steps of the altar, lit with candles. Would they catch on fire? He was there in that spooky presence of his, but not there. Some of us half-expected him to come in to say this was a cruel joke, but of course it wasn't.

After being forced to wait until 15 minutes before the service to get in, the ushers finally relented. Why they did this I don't know, maybe they were lighting candles. It was raining lightly, there was a bit of a downpour earlier in the day. In line I talked to several classmates and instructors.
Friends and family spoke:

Tree - "It wasn't depression. It wasn't a whim." Liam lived life in quality versus quantity. Poetry was "the third thing" between them. They were married 16 years. The last night of his life he donned a tuxedo with a polo shirt, they had a nice dinner, he asked her to dance. Did she know he was planning this? She didn't say. She seemed composed. I'm wondering how she will be a few months from now.

Virginia Rector - Liam's daughter from another marriage, age 23. She also looked composed and read from a prepared script. She says she never got to say goodbye. She quoted a line Liam always said (and that I remember from Bennington as well) "Life's not fair."

Tree and Liam were married in Donald Hall's backyard, before Jane Kenyon was sick. Black ties and red sneakers.

Donald Hall spoke, sitting in a chair instead of the podium. He couldn't read anything prepared, he just talked, he sounded upset. He and Liam wrote letters back and forth via mail. Three of them came after his death. Movies, clothes, shoes. One time Liam made a list for Donald of "85 suggestions of the duties of Poet Laureate."

Jerry Winestone - Liam lived his life his way. (Did suicide give him control? Probably.)

Ed Ochester was stuck in the Pittsburgh airport. I found out later there was a bomb threat and the whole airport was closed down. Some kid with a circuit board around his neck as an art statement?

Bob Shacochis - Bob, thank you for being honest. No sentiment from you, as usual. You are angry he left us, we are all angry and you put it out there to admit what everyone else was avoiding. You wrote a letter to Tree. You always were one of my favorite Bennington instructors, because you have a sarcastic, skeptical, witty view of life, and don't take shit from anyone. And you're not taking it from Liam now, either. Liam had the song "Mashed Potatoes" playing on his computer at his desk when he shot himself. Was that a hint for the poem "Gravy" by Raymond Carver? You talked to Tree about this. A clue left behind. I have trouble believing that Liam would 'stage' something to leave clues as to the motive behind his death, besides his suicide note. I don't know him well enough for that.

The poem "Gravy" was published in the New Yorker three weeks after Raymond Carver's death at 50 in 1988. I see the similarities here, I don't know what Liam thought of Carver but I'm sure he was an influence. Liam survived his 20% chance to live in the battle for colon cancer and added a few more years. That is, until he decided life wasn't worth living due to more health-related issues.


by Raymond Carver

No other word will do. For that's what it was.


Gravy, these past ten years.

Alive, sober, working, loving, and

being loved by a good woman.

Eleven years

ago he was told he had six months to live

at the rate he was going. And he was going

nowhere but down. So he changed his ways

somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?

After that it was all gravy, every minute

of it, up to and including when he was told about,

well, some things that were breaking down and

building up inside his head. "Don't weep for me,"

he said to his friends. "I'm a lucky man.

I've had ten years longer than I or anyone

expected. Pure Gravy. And don't forget it."

Sven Birkets - also addressed the anger. "Friends don't do this." I agree. No goodbyes, no warnings. Sven mentioned James Dickey's poem "Lord let me die, but not die out." I was enamored with Dickey's poetry as an undergraduate student, the way he wrote about nature and memory. Sven, you will carry us on as acting director of the life of letters.

Others spoke. Jill McKorkle, Amyl Hempel, Tom Sleigh, Linda Gregg, Martha Cooley, Jason Shinder, Elizabeth Wray, Matthew Graham, Victoria Clausi, Lucie Brock-Broido, David Fenza. Two hours later, Askold Melnyczuk showed a group of slides on St. Mark's white wall on the altar. Above the shoes. Titled "American Prodigal #6". Liam's baby and childhood photos, his wife, daughter, with Tree. The full frontal nudity shot thrown in for good measure. Liam's birth name was Ron, he changed it to Liam.

David Broza performed "In Snow" (Liam's poem and music by David) on guitar, and sang. A fitting ending.

Afterwards, the church lights stayed dark, we got up, talked, moved to the outside patio area with water (no drinks, no toasting). A Bennington reunion, in a bit, this sad occasion that has brought us here. St. Mark's had a balcony and it reminded me a bit of Tishman, except Sven and Liam weren't in the balcony like the old men in the muppets. Some went to nearby bars. I walked back the few blocks to my hotel (the Carlton Arms) to pick up my bag and head to Penn Station for the train to New Haven , Connecticut to meet another friend and fellow alum.

It had stopped raining. I touched the Buddha at the Carlton Arms entryway for what - luck? wishes? Left a penny for my thoughts - like everyone else.

I decided to bring along Donna Tartt's novel, "The Secret History" to read while on the planes and trains. I finished it the day after I returned to Minneapolis . Tartt models the fictional college of Hampden after Bennington College with references to the Commons, the dorms and other Bennington landmarks. It is a murder mystery, a close knit group of six sequestered undergraduate students studying Greek philosophy. It was a fitting time to read the book, one I had always meant to read but was put on the back burner due to other projects. "We don't like to admit it," said Julian (the Greek instructor in the novel), "but the idea of losing control is one that fascinates controlled people such as ourselves more than almost anything. All truly civilized people - the ancients no less than us -- have civilized themselves through the willful repression of the old, animal self. Are we, in this room, really very different from the Greeks or the Romans? Obsessed with duty, piety, loyalty, sacrifice? All those things which are to modern tastes so chilling?"

No longer a mystery. Those shoes - others will fill them but no one else will walk in them.