Always have an artist at your table

Blue with the azaleas.
The Walker's hens.

This weekend, we visited the Walker’s mini-menagerie to walk their dogs, Ginger and Blue. (It was so green and peaceful and provincial–even though we were still in the city.)

And then, Saturday night, I was privileged enough to attend the banquet for the New City Arts Forum. As you can see–even from my blurry photos–it was a magical night.

Meade Hall, beautifully transformed for the dinner.
At the table.

Mallory was the creative genius behind the event’s design. Everything looked just perfect; I was so amazed at the scope of her imagination. I never could have done it. A Pimento very generously donated and made the feast and desserts were contributed by our very own Maddy, of Sweet Madeline, among others. And of course, the whole event and conference was the brain child of the perpetually humble, gracious, and accomplished Maureen Lovett, who is perfect in every way.

Designer Mallory and baker Maddy, with Michael lurking.

Even more blurry photos of the beautiful weekend on my Flickr.

Gay Beery, one of the women behind A Pimento Catering, closed her brief speech about the (incredible) menu with this exhortation: “Always have an artist at your table.” What lovely advice. I think we will always be so blessed.

Things I would spend an embarrassingly large amount of money on if I were rich

Me, in an alternate universe, with my Afghan. Click for source.

Things I would spend an embarrassingly large amount of money on if I were rich:

  • Fresh-cut flowers! In every room!
  • My (hypothetical pack of) dogs.
  • Expensive sight hound puppies, like Afghans and borzois, from top-notch breeders.
  • Books. I would buy a million books. And put them in my house.
  • Makeup. Secret: I actually really like makeup, even though I don’t wear much of it. I think I just like to play with it.
  • Stationery. I would send everyone, even people I didn’t like that much, $6 letterpress birthday cards.
  • Bunnies. I would get a lot of bunnies.
  • Art. I would have a painting in every room, too.
  • Dresses. I would buy all the dresses.
  • Adorable little notebooks that I would probably never use but keep in my purse, “just in case.”
  • Tickets to the ballet.
  • Japanese pens. They make the best pens.
  • Antique furniture.

Inordinate wealth is not in the cards for us, so Guion doesn’t really have to worry about this list. But daydreams are a great zero-cal snack.

Living alone with Jesus

Jesus, if you are in all thirty-seven churches,
are you not also here with me
making it alone in my back rooms like a flagpole sitter
slipping my peanut shells and prune pits into the Kelvinator?
Are you not here at nightfall
ticking in the box of the electric blanket?
Lamb, lamb, let me give you honey on your grapefruit
and toast for the birds to eat
out of your damaged hands.

From “Living Alone with Jesus,” by Maxine Kumin.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

SIDE NOTE: NEW CITY ARTS FORUM

You know that I care about art. I am lucky to live in a town that also really, really cares about art. Little Charlottesville has more arts organizations than you can count and one of the very best is New City Arts Initiative, headed by Maureen Lovett. Maureen and her team are organizing a wonderful event April 20-22, 2012: New City Arts Forum. This conference pools together artists, presenters, musicians, and even brewers (like my husband) to discuss the big questions: What is good art? Why does art matter? How do artists get money to live? If you’re in town–or even if you’re not!–come check it out.

And happy Friday.

Monday Snax

Quiet Sunday
Sunday at home, with all the new books on the shelves.

SUCH a peaceful and pleasant weekend! On Saturday, I went to the annual library book sale at Gordon Avenue and was soon joined by Celeste, Sarah, and Laura. I’ve been to a lot of book sales in my day, but let me tell you: This one takes the cake. High-quality, just about brand new books in every imaginable genre for a few dollars? This is my version of heaven. I walked away with 32 beautiful new books and paid a mere $30 for all of them. Sunday morning at the SPCA and then an afternoon lazing around the house due to a pulled hamstring from overly rambunctious pups. We watched The Fellowship of the Ring and we are not going to apologize for it. (I forgot how LONG that movie is…)

Snax:

My Parents Were Home Schooling Anarchists. A piece in the New York Times by Margaret Heidenry about what it was like to grow up as a homeschooler before it was legal. It’s like The Glass Castle from a homeschooling-centric perspective. Extremely fascinating! It’s so interesting how much the homeschooling movement has changed. When my parents decided to homeschool in 1988, it still wasn’t legal in many states, but in 1993, it was legal in all 50. Since then, it’s a rising trend, although the dominion has shifted from free-thinking bohemians to very conservative evangelicals. (New York Times)

The Piano Lesson. A memory from Jared Nigro about his piano teacher and an unexpected gift of mercy. (The Hairpin)

Women in War, Women in Peace. A plea to stop thinking about war as a male-only circumstance. Men start wars and men fight them, but we never think about the women left at home to pick up the pieces. (The Atlantic)

Democrats, Republicans Have Mirror-Image Views. Just more proof that politics are pointless. (The Atlantic)

Black Cat Auditions in Hollywood, 1961. There were a lot of eager women trying to make their black cats into movie stars in 1961, apparently. Very entertaining series of photos. I feel like training a cat to act would be akin to training a fish to sing. (Retronaut)

How To Name Your First Novel. A helpful series of formulas for naming that novel you’ve been working on. (NPR)

Collection of Rejected Titles for Classic Books. Would you have read The Great Gatsby if it had been titled Trimalchio in West Egg? Yeah. I didn’t think so. Good saves from editors and publishers alike, who usually picked the better title for the soon-to-be classic. (Flavorwire)

The Pleasures and Perils of Re-Reading. These days, I don’t make time for re-reading anything, which is something of a shame. I’ll probably start re-reading in my middle age. Right now, there’s too much still to be read. I do miss the distinct pleasure of returning to a beloved book, however. I bought the lovely and widely acclaimed Pevear/Volonkhosky translation of Anna Karenina at the aforementioned book sale, however, and I may have to return to that soon… (The Millions)

Great Painter: Elizabeth Peyton. Cate reviews Peyton’s work, which I really love. Had never heard of her before, but I’m glad I have now! (The Charlotte)

An Afternoon with Theresa di Scianni. This looks like such a peaceful, pleasant place to live. (Petits Papiers)

Says the Hummer in the Land of the Hybrid. A mother’s reflection on having four kids when having four kids is not especially chic or socially acceptable. I thought of this in relation to my own mother, toting the four of us around in “inconvenient” places. (Girl’s Gone Child)

Misty Manley: Fake Anything Designs. Hot ham water! Night cheese! (Design Work Life)

Beat the Winter Hair Blues. My hair gets kind of gross and limp in the winter. Good tips, especially if you’re prone to splurging on hair care products (which I’m not). (She Lets Her Hair Down)

What Do French Women Have That We Don’t? A lot, apparently. When it comes to fashion, style, and beauty, don’t we all just want to be French deep down? (HiP Paris)

Monday Snax

Shaun and Ann-Marie came to stay with us this weekend to celebrate Ann-Marie’s birthday and we had such a wonderful time with them: Great discussions, lots of food, a trip to Carter Mountain (Ann-Marie has a lovely set of photos from the excursion). We’re huge fans of them both and can’t wait to see them again soon.

Lunch at The Nook
Lunch at the Nook with Ann-Marie and Shaun.

We also got to see St. Vincent in concert at The Jefferson last night and she was incredible. She made me proud to be a woman. (Stephanie ran into her on the Downtown Mall yesterday. That makes me super-jealous.)

Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent. Marry me! Source: jessintheround

Snax, with handfuls of candy corn, which I unabashedly love:

Liz + Matt Married! A few photos of the wonderful bride and groom. We miss them and want them to come back from Italy soon! [You can totally spot the top of mine and Lulu’s heads in one shot… Score.] (Cramer Photo)

The Invisible Mother. Here’s something creepy for Halloween: The practice of covering up moms with oriental rugs and draperies while photographing children. (Retronaut)

Hitoshi Uchida, owner of J’Antiques Tokyo, and His Family Home in Kamakura, Japan. A gorgeous house of hodgepodge curious in the countryside of Japan. Don’t they all look so happy? (The Selby)

London Apartment: Converted School Gym. This looks like a totally awesome place to live, even if it looks like it’d be impossible to heat in the winter. Maybe they run gym classes to stay warm… (Paper Tastebuds)

You’ve Never Seen Book Art Like This Before. No joke! This is incredible. I don’t have the faintest idea where you’d begin with this kind of installation. (Lit Drift)

Is Your Link Old News? But if I ran everything on Snax through this application, I wouldn’t have any Snax to share… (How About Orange?)

DIY Tutorial: Moving Announcement Bookmarks. So classy! I don’t think I’d have the patience or wherewithal for this project (or any DIY projects, really. Not into that), but it’s great, all the same. (Oh, So Beautiful Paper)

Paper Dolls by Kyle Hilton. Would definitely play with these. (The Bluth Company)

Baby Goat Dances and Plays. Because we all need a little more happy baby goat in our lives. This will warm your heart on this cold October day. (Paw Nation)

Art and universal appeal

Michelangelo's "Pieta."

Something I’ve been thinking about lately:

If presented with a Michelangelo or a symphony by Mozart or a passage from In Search of Lost Time, would an educated person and an uneducated person be equally drawn to it? Or, lacking the language by which to communicate about a great work of art, would the uneducated person brush it off as confusing, dull, uninteresting? Is there any kind of universal response to art? Or is it all just about education?

Monday Snax

General rule: If I don’t have any photos from the weekend, it means that we had a very peaceful, uneventful one, which, in this case, was true. Except for the mice infestation, which is something I am not brave enough to discuss right now.

Snax:

Formerly Known As. A thoughtful and great article by a Christian man on why he decided to take his wife’s name when they married. (The Curator)

Kyoko Hamada: Letter to Fukushima. A poignant photo essay and journal of a photographer’s journey back to Fukushima. As the media frenzy dies down, the residents of Fukushima still carry on their extremely difficult lives in a barren town. (The New Yorker)

Veiled. Unbelievable Italian sculptures of veiled women. I remember my mother talking about the incredible beauty of these in an art book when I was young. Since then, I’ve always been mesmerized by them. (Even Cleveland)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write The Marriage Plot. Jeffrey Eugenides reflects on writing his long-awaited second third (edit: Thanks, Jonathan) novel, which appears this month, nearly nine years after Middlesex. (The Millions)

Ten Types of Writer’s Block (and How to Overcome Them). A practical list for stuck writers. Eugenides himself might have appreciated this. (io9)

Flick Chicks. Mindy Kaling reflects on the absurd and limited number of women that are permitted to appear in romantic comedies. My favorite tropes: “The Klutz” and “The Forty-Two-Year-Old Mother of the Thirty-Year-Old Male Lead.” (The New Yorker)

All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed. Now this is truly sad. (The Atlantic)

Alyson Fox. Fox shoots a series of very different women, all wearing the same shade of Revlon lipstick. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

Tom Boy. A serious shoot for serious women. I like it. (Wolf Eyebrows)

Gun Safety Class at an Indiana School, 1956. Their faces in that first frame! This is so classic BOY. (Retronaut)

Suspended Greenhouse Lamp. Want! Although I get this feeling that the plants would start to singe over time… (Unruly Things)

Ask an Orthodox Christian. Orthodox Christianity is also incredibly fascinating to me, and it seems that way for all of the people who asked questions here, because they all sound like they want to convert. Interesting answers, though! (Rachel Held Evans)

It’s Nearly Halloween. Yet another reason why I have always deeply disliked Halloween. (Gemma Correll)

Does art matter? A letter for Grace

"Slown Down Freight Train," by Rose Piper, 1946-7. A painting from the Ackland that stuck with me.

PREFACE

A few weeks ago, I was walking with Grace around the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill. We slipped in right before it closed and it was like stepping into a vault of solemn beauty. We spoke in our best library voices and talked about which paintings we liked the best, which Asian sculptures we’d smuggle home, which artists communicated well.

“I love being here,” Grace said. “It’s so peaceful. It makes me think that this,” she said, gesturing to the art all around the room, “is what I want to do with my life. I wish it mattered, though. I wish art did something for people.”

“But it does!” I exclaimed. “It does so much. Without art… well… people wouldn’t…”

I trailed off. I couldn’t find the right words for what I was trying to tell her. I believed wholly that art mattered and that it matters, but I hadn’t the slightest way to convince her of this. I was sad, scared that she believed that her painting, her photography, her fashion were meaningless–and frustrated by my inability to communicate otherwise. We kept walking around the gallery and the conversation faded, but her question has been ringing in my mind ever since.

I’d like to attempt a better explanation for what I was trying persuade Grace of. I’m fully aware that I’m not saying anything new or refreshing, but I can’t shake the sense that I need to say it. For my benefit, as well as for hers.

____________________________________________________________________

Dear Gracie,

As you well know, we lived in the realm of imagination when we were children. The boundaries between the creativity of the mind and the reality of everyday life were fuzzy for us. Your old trunk of dress-up clothes was a seemingly bottomless repository of new identities, new stories. We made up for our lack of real pets by inventing invisible ones, “spirit animals,” whose appearances were ripped from the animal encyclopedia. We built miniature communities from Playmobil and Brio train tracks and played for hours in these tiny worlds. I think we lived more in our colorful minds than anywhere else.

As we grew up, we gradually shed these imaginary retreats. Kelsey started playing sports; I withdrew into books, to worlds that had already been created for me; but you didn’t relinquish your creativity so easily. In many ways, you’ve maintained it much more carefully than the rest of us have. This is why you are still an artist today.

You asked me in Ackland if art mattered and you seemed to have already reached the conclusion that it didn’t. I didn’t have a good answer for you then, but I wanted to let you know that I profoundly disagree with your conclusion.

This is why I think art–and your art, especially–matters. You asked if art really did anything for people. You’re right that it doesn’t put a roof over people’s heads or give them clean drinking water. Art doesn’t reform women’s rights in the third world or end famines. But it matters because it reaches the soul, a place that no amount of foreign aid or number of peacekeeping troops can reach. Great paintings, songs, poems, films, and novels accomplish a work in the heart and mind that nothing else can accomplish, which is also why art has existed for as long as people have existed.

Most importantly, I believe art communicates the divine. As a Christian, all forms of great art–even if they are not explicitly Christian–point me back to God. I am reminded of the goodness of the created world, the beauty that we have learned to find and express, and the strange mercy of Jesus. Even those who do not believe in a supernatural force find something uniquely spiritual and enduring about the communion between the self and a great work of art. (Just talk to Edmund Burke a little bit about this and you’ll see what I mean.) The next question, then, is what is a “great” work of art, but that’s another pompous, rambling letter for another time.

I just wanted to tell you to keep doing what you’re doing. It matters.

I love you, chicky.

A.

Family love: Grace

I am writing a series of posts about why I love my (immediate) family. This is the seventh installment. You can read the other posts here. All wedding photographs courtesy of the wonderful Meredith Perdue.

Gracie, Petunia, Chicken

Coming third in the family birth order, we have the natural rebel, the original maverick. To some, it may seem a disadvantage to be born after two other sisters, to get proverbially lost in the shuffle. But little Adrianna Grace wasn’t going to be forgotten very easily. She came into the world screaming and, as my parents say, didn’t stop screaming for the first three years of her life.

My mother likes to say that all of her babies were pretty easy — except Grace. Grace formed her own opinions about reality very early in life and stuck to them with outrageous tenacity for such a tiny human. The famous story about Grace was her self-imposed hunger strike when she was about four years old. We had asparagus that night for dinner and Grace refused to touch it. The family rule was that you had to at least try everything on your plate. Grace insisted she couldn’t even look at it without feeling near death. Mom told her she couldn’t have anything else to eat until she tried the asparagus. Grace refused. Breakfast came. Mom gave her a stalk of asparagus before her cereal and said she had to try it. Grace refused. She did not eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner for two full days, since she was greeted with a tiny stalk of asparagus before each meal. On the second day of the strike, Kelsey, the sweet one, came sobbing to Mom, saying, “Please, Mom! You have to feed her! She’ll STARVE!”

Starve she might have — if only to prove a point. Once Grace’s mind is made, you cannot change it. (As children, we found that reverse psychology worked pretty well on her.) Her natural stubbornness might sound like a fault, but it has served her as a virtue in many ways. Because of her natural independence, this child does not take “no” or “nobody does that” or “that’s weird” as a rejection; rather, as an opportunity to explore, to pioneer new territory. Girls don’t just take off on a six-month trip around the (predominantly) third world? No one gets their yoga teacher’s license at the age of 16? Most humans don’t have that many thrifted clothes in their entire lifetimes? People don’t just visit almost all the continents — and pay for it themselves — before they turn 20? Well, you haven’t met Grace. She lives to push boundaries.dover beach

She was an incomparably beautiful baby: White blond hair, round blue eyes, little doll-like features. (Despite a penchant to look like Jeff Daniels in a strange number of family photographs…) She is still extremely beautiful today, as everyone who knows her can agree. Her impish grin flashes at the most unexpected moments.

In our childhood, I was not a model big sister to her. (Truth be told, I was not a model big sister to anyone, but especially to Grace.) Kelsey and I were close in age and we were natural playmates. When Grace came along, I saw her as a disruption to the family order. Kelsey was my BFF… and this mewling porcelain doll-baby, the natural favorite of my father? What were we to do with her? Torture her, of course. And leave her out of play dates. And begrudge her presence when Dad told us we couldn’t go anywhere unless Grace was invited, too.

Thankfully, this prejudice against Grace tagging along wore off as we both grew up. Interestingly enough, I think we became extremely close once I left for university. We started talking about art and ideas and new music and found that our temperaments had far more in common than we had ever thought before. Grace bathes with elephant in Nepal

Today, I depend on her. My life is far less interesting when she is not around. She makes me laugh and she makes me think. My favorite moments in life are lounging on the couch with her in Davidson, watching trash TV, simultaneously talking about all of the great food we’re going to make and the new ideas we’ve latched onto.

She’s incredibly accomplished. Her photography and her paintings are laudable by any standards. She is as strong as a little sun bear, thanks to her years of yoga practice. She dresses with the structure and flair of a true artist. She writes a blog that’s way better and more popular, for good reason, than mine. If I ever want to impress someone, I just have to start talking about what Grace has done in her short time on Earth. She’s accomplished more in her 19 years than most people accomplish in their entire lifetimes.

IMG_6926

Grace is sensitive and profound and loving. She is my true hero. Among my family members, I think I understand Grace the best — or, at least, that’s my perception. It may very well be true that I haven’t even begun to get to know her. Because let me tell you: There are miles and miles to this girl’s soul.

You write like a girl

I was flattered last week when my friend Natalie, editor of the Curator Magazine, expressed an interest in my post “Are women writers inferior to men?” With her advice and my faithful husband’s edits, I turned the post into a short essay for the Curator. So, if you’re interested in reading the same thing again, you can see “You Write Like a Girl” at the Curator today. (Also check out the holga photo essay and the article on Justin Bieber.)

In other news, I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend at home. This is my weekend of volunteering at the SPCA, so I’ll tough it out with the lovable and exhausting homeless dogs, and we’ll then celebrate Guion’s 24th birthday a few days early by grabbing dinner at the much-lauded Peter Chang’s China Grill. And reading. I need to read some hefty books. Jennifer Egan and Wallace Stegner are waiting at the library for me, but Robert Wright and Muriel Spark are still on the nightstand. Time to get cracking.