Thursday, April 5, 2018

Upside Down Cake: What Maya was Making the Day King Died

Upside Down Cake: What Maya was Making the Day King Died

April 4, 1968, Dr. Maya Angelou's 40th birthday, was also the day of MLK Jr'.s assassination.  Maya was cooking dinner for friends.  She had promised to support King in his fundraising for the Poor People's march, but said it would have to wait until after her birthday.  

Her NYC apartment was saturating with smells: Texas chili sans beans, baked ham, candied yams, pineapple upside down cake.  She left the dishes to walk to Harlem when she heard the news.

For years afterward, rather than celebrate her birthday, Maya would send flowers to King's widow.

Hear her voice: "On the Pulse of Morning:"

"Couldn't I have done better somewhere?  I wish I'd known better so I could have done better." - M.A.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

sane and ebullient

I spent Saturday at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat center, for an Art & Spirituality retreat.  The hill was home to a private mansion in the late 1700s and in the wake of the Civil War was claimed by 6 Sisters of the Visitation, whose mission was to pray for healing over the city of Richmond.  The sisters established a school but later closed it with the decision to embrace a contemplative life, producing communion hosts for the diocese and running a print shop.  When the Sisters moved out in the 1980s, an ecumenical group assumed the Sisters' mission, and in 2004 Richmond Hill opened its doors once again to pray for the city below.

The day had a schedule but we were encouraged to wander the gardens 
and visit the chapel and library.

A grandmother-mom-daughter trio participated.  
The mom's artwork represents the 3 generations plus her grandmother, 
whom she has never met, but whose attributes she feels are represented in the other 2.  

This woman was inspired by the chapel's stained glass.  
She is deciding whether to place a silhouette of her friend holding the phone taking a photo of the window.

I was curious to explore the library, where I came across The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery, by Henri J.M. Nouwen.  The book read as a journal and seemed appropriate given the setting.

Here is an entry.  It reminds me of the response attributed to famed mountaineer George Mallory to, "Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?": "Because it's there."

'If I see three oranges, I have to juggle.  And if I see two towers, I have to walk.'  These remarkable words were spoken by the tightrope-walker, Philippe Petit, in answer to the question of the police as to why he had walked (at 7:50 A.M.) on a rope shot with a crossbow from one tower of the New York Trade Center to the other.  When Phillipe had seen the two spires of Notre Dame in Paris, he had done the same.  'L'art pour l'art' is this highwire artist's philosophy.

I have been thinking today, off and on, about this beautiful man Philippe Petit.  His answer to the police is priceless and deserves long meditation.  We always want answers to impossible questions.  Why do you love her?  Any answer to such a question is usually ridiculous.  Because she is beautiful?  Because she is intelligent?  Because she has a funny pimple on her nose?  Nothing much makes sense.  Why did you become a priest?  Because you love God?  Because you like to preach?  Because you don't like women?  Why did you become a monk?  Because you like to pray?  Because you like silence?  Because you like to bake bread without being bothered?  There are no answers to those questions.

When they asked Philippe Petit why he wanted to walk on a slender wire strung between the two tallest towers of New York City, everyone thought he did it for money, for publicity, for fame.  But he said, 'If I see three oranges, I have to juggle.  And if I see two towers, I have to walk.'

We don't believe the most meaningful answer.  We think that this man must be insane.  In fact, they took Philippe to a city hospital for psychiatric examination but soon found out that Philippe was as healthy as could be.  'Sane and ebullient,' says the newspaper.

His is the true answer.  Why do you love her?  When I saw her, I loved her.  Why are you a priest?  Because I must be a priest.  Why do you pray?  Because when I see God, I must pray.  There is an inner must, an inner urge, or inner call that answers all those questions which are beyond explanation.  Never does anyone who asks a monk why he became a monk receive a satisfying answer.  Nor do children give us an explanation when we ask them, 'Why do you play ball?'  They know that there is no answer except, 'When I see a ball, I have to play with it.'

The police who arrested Philippe Petit seemed to understand this because they dropped the original charge of trespassing and disorderly conduct in exchange for Philippe's promise to perform his aerial feats for the children in Central Park.  That at least brought some real humanity back into the picture. Meanwhile, I keep saying to myself, 'If I see three oranges, I have to juggle.  And if I see two towers, I have to walk.'

I loved these oil colors.  
This woman works in an office, finds time for art precious, and has a goal of painting a portrait of each of her grandchildren.  

My product.  Tuscany, not Ireland, though it was St. Patrick's Day.  But the top 1/3 is reminiscent of the Irish flag, eh?  And it's done on cardboard backing so you could say it's green. :)

I wonder how it was that each of the participants found solace in art to the extent that they would treasure setting apart a day to fully engage with it.  I imagine some of the answer may be that unknowable response to the supplies and blank canvas that, like a tightrope or a mountain, beckoned. And that may be all the answer needed.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

16x20", acrylic

I hadn't done any acrylic painting in a while, but was inspired to take to the canvas after my coworker introduced me via instagram to Paolo (, a woman who lives life with flair.  From Haiti originally, she catalogues life in NYC and a recent move to Austin.

Paolo's work (her husband's photography of her) most often features herself in bold colors.  One of her mantras is "Be the Color You Wish to See in the World." 

This painting is the combination of 2: the first an ocean view in Maine (see the remains of red boats?), which I liked parts of but not the whole, with an overlay of Radio City Music Hall featuring Paolo.  Laziness won out in recovering the entire canvas, so behold, you might call it artistic

Thursday, March 8, 2018

in time to plant radishes

"...The spring of 1928, Dorothy and Tamar returned to the beach from yet another dismal apartment in the city in time to plant radishes on Tamar's second birthday."

Planting radishes is one of the thing Dorothy Day does, as described by her granddaughter in Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty.  

"Love, motherhood, religion--how many of us on finding ourselves embraced by any one of these would have stopped, rested, and remained?  But this is the mystery of those forces that led her to go one step further, and another step, and another...

Isn't this that in-between time, that liminal space cherished by the Irish, that mysterious time of waiting and wandering?

...In coming to this part of the story, I feel I'm holding in my hands my mother's most treasured memories and her most vulnerable self."

I'm into Part 1 of the memoir, but Hennessy does a superb job describing the winding path of Dorothy's growing years, her loves, her struggles, her hopes, her starts and false starts, her uprooting and new planting.