The eyes follow you no matter where you are

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Mordecai Myers by John Wesley Jarvis, 1814, Toledo Museum of Art

My mother’s favorite painting in the Toledo Museum of Art is of Mordecai Myers, painted by John Wesley Jarvis in 1814. She has always been fascinated by the man in this painting, always wondering who he was. She always pointed out that his eyes seemed to follow her no matter where she stood. We used to always tease her when we were young, when we would go to the museum. “Oh, mom wants to see her boyfriend.” She thought he looked Jewish and because he was in uniform thought he was alive during the time of George Washington.

For the very first time, as we were sitting together yesterday, I googled his name. We learned that Mordecai Myers (1776-1871) was, in fact, Jewish. He witnessed George Washington taking the oath of office as President of the United States. He originally joined the military company under the command of Col. John Marshall, who later became the first Supreme Court Justice. Myers was a hero in the War of 1812, personally saving the lives of 200 soldiers. He became the only Jewish mayor of Kinderhook in 1838 and later Schenectady NY in 1851. He ran for Congress when he was 84 and died at the age of 95, 100 years before my father died, my mother pointed out. He was the great-great-grandfather of the Pullitzer Prize-winning poet, Robert Lowell. My mother was rapt in attention. She asked me to send her all the information. She wanted to take the time to learn as much as she could about him. There was something very sobering about her response to his biography.

On my last visit she said she was getting a little bored and it was difficult for her to read. I thought that looking at pictures was something she might be able to do. I brought her a book of 500 self-portraits. I also brought post it notes and asked her to mark the portraits that she thought were the best and the most meaningful using her own criteria. With careful scrutiny, she scanned a few pages of the book. “I never knew they made books like this.” A strange comment from a woman whose husband and all three children were/are artists. This is what art books look like. Pictures on every page. “I might meet these people one day,” she said. She very seriously committed to marking her favorite portraits. On my next visit we will have an opportunity to talk about why she chose the ones she did.

Later she, my sister, my sister’s partner, and I went out to eat to celebrate her 87th birthday. One of my mother’s gifts was a dark chocolate high heel shoe, which we devoured for dessert. My mother took the first bite from the heel, after slowly turning the shoe around and over several times deciding where she wanted to destroy its wholeness. Then we passed the shoe around the table again and again, each of us taking a bite, until the shoe was nearly consumed.

In resolving one’s portrait of self, especially when you are 87, it is critically important to be certain what to bite off. The eyes follow you no matter where you are.

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“Alchemy” by Stephen Sandy

IMG_5819(published in The New Yorker, October 29 and November 5, 2002)

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Calligraphy at Anderson Gardens

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Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s “Summer”

arcimboldo02Presently in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, this painting of “Summer” is from Arcimboldo’s original Four Seasons, painted in 1563. This is the only version with both the artist’s name and the date “woven” into the collar and shoulder of the figure. Filled with visual puns (love the ear of corn as “ear” and that artichoke with its “heart” bursting forth from summer’s chest, the cherry lips and pickle nose, for starters), Arcimboldo’s amusing take on summer’s bounty is still fresh and fascinating some 451 years since it was first painted.

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“Truth Difficulty” by The Roving Typist

IMG_5802Back in February, I wrote about The Roving Typist, a writer who spontaneously creates stories on the streets for people, “stories composed for you while you wait.” He doesn’t keep copies of his stories, he doesn’t keep track of who buys them. He just writes them and then lets them go.  His work began as a way to make some money, but has evolved into a kind of performance. I have reposted the video about him at the end of this post.

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The reason that I am writing about Christopher Hermelin is that I ordered a story online from him and it just came today! He had asked if I wanted the story to be about anything in particular and I gave him free rein. With great anticipation, I opened the envelope. Inside the larger envelope was a card-sized envelope stamped with his insignia (typewriter-above left) and the title of the story at its bottom. Inside was a folded cream-colored sheet of paper, carefully torn in half (from an 8 1/2 x 11) accompanied with his business card. I slowly unfolded the story. The story is typed on his manual typewriter, with its quirks and dying ribbon, so it feels very personal, almost from another era. I do believe my heart was racing a bit as the story unfolded itself to me.

The story, posted below, is called, “Truth Difficulty.” It has already become a cherished treasure.

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“maggy and milly and molly and may” by e. e. cummings

maggy and milly and molly and may

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maggy and milly and molly and may 
went down to the beach(to play one day) 

and maggie discovered a shell that sang 
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and 

milly befriended a stranded star 
whose rays five languid fingers were; 

and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and 

may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone. 

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) 
its always ourselves we find in the sea 

e. e. cummings
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Stretching

IMG_5727At T’ai chi overlooking the lake very, very early this morning (hence the very long shadow above), I wondered how one could ever master this intricate and precise form of exercise. Indeed, it is stretching the core of my very being, being able to move in a graceful fashion with my right arm making one movement, my left arm another, and then coordinating it all with specific movements of my feet, not to mention the proper breathing connected to the different components of the specific forms. It’s like tapping your head, rubbing your belly, and circling the foot, while whistling a tune and reading a book, all at the same time.

This being said, not only is T’ai chi a coordination challenge, but it is spiritually challenging as well, demanding an extremely slow pace, deep concentration, and riveting focus. It’s not about breaking a sweat as in doing push-ups or lifting weights, but it is about all the parts of the body working carefully together in an ancient choreography to stimulate the chi in the body to flow smoothly without obstructions. It is about stretching oneself in the profoundest of ways.

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