Archive for October, 2011

Bravery

October 13, 2011

My son had to write one page about someone he knows who did something brave that changed things for the good. He asked me for help, which he rarely does since he is fifteen and pretty much knows everything. So, I figured this would be a piece of cake. I come from brave stock. People marching, protesting, fighting, railing, writing, screaming, and generally annoying anyone who gets in the way of progress for the under-served. I also know people right now who are going through treatments for horrible cancers, and people who are dying from cancer but not going through treatment because there is no treatment. Brave, right? But the tricky part was figuring out who did something brave that also changed things for the good. Then I realized how easy it would be if we knew someone who was fighting right now in our military, but we don’t. The teacher who gave this assignment is older than me and I am not especially young. Probably his dad like my dad, my husband’s dad and uncle, and pretty much every dad and uncle and brother I knew fought in a war. Not my brothers. My brothers were draft age during the war in Vietnam, and both managed not to go. And now, well, sadly none of the people that cross my path as friends are in the military. I mean, I am not sad that my friends aren’t in danger, just that it’s a no brainer to say that people who are, are brave, and certainly trying to change things for the good.
I thought of myself, protesting for one long summer in front of my local women’s health center, where three mornings a week a doctor provides abortions. There have been protestors from the right to life side of things who had giant billboard sized signs with every style of bloody human baby parts oozing and dripping. So a group of us effectively got a law passed that forced the other side to at least have smaller signs, and keep them thirty feet apart. It seems like a small thing, but it was difficult and frustrating. To me it changed our neighborhood for the good, and all the neighborhoods in my city because it is a city law. But my son goes to Catholic school so they might see things differently. I’m not sure I would be considered the brave one in this case.
Finally he chose my mom, who beat down a door in NYC, back in the 70’s when there was a city wide public school teacher strike. My parents were long time union supporters but for reasons I don’t know, never knew, this strike placed them on the other side. It was a terrible time in NY. Friendships were permanently severed and there was a lot of fury. So my mom led a group (mob one might say) of angry parents to the Bronx High School of Science and beat on the door, placing her smack dab in a NT Times column calling her the catalyst for this angry outpouring of people. I don’t think it took much bravery but it did take a lot of energy and some bravery and soon after this action the strike was settled.
The point of this is that I realized I lack bravery, or I feel brave if I were needed to be brave, but my particular lifestyle doesn’t seem to call upon that part of my psyche. I take my kid to school and go to openings. I do write to legislators and I go to the occasional protest (occupy Providence, here I come!), but I don’t need to be brave. I feel guilty about that. I am not going to join the army (too old, too much of a wimp, too much of a lefty, too blind). I am not going to Calcutta. I am trying to be more brave with my artwork. Not in a Robert Mapplethorpe kind of way, but just in the context of who I am. I have to push myself because I have a tendency to want everything to be attractive and carefully composed, down to the tiniest line.
Anyway, the paper is done and the next time something happens where I might need to be brave I’ll jump right in. But now, I am off to see the dentist for a cleaning, which if you knew me, takes as much courage as enlisting.

Imagine There’s No . . .

October 2, 2011

I imagine things all the time. I imagine being an amazing housewife…looking like Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven, but being happy like Mrs. C in Happy Days. I imagine conversations with everyone from Rosie O’Donnell, to Patti Smith, to Barack Obama. Conversations where at first I only have a minute to speak, but they are so captivated by my wit, my directness, that a moment turns into five minutes which turns into an hour which turns into a life long friendship. In truth, I did meet Rosie O’Donnell and she barely gave me the minute I asked for, and when it was over she hightailed it out of her studio.
I imagine being a hero of an ordinary kind. Where I am walking down a city street and save someone from a falling brick, a rushing train, an out of control car. Or driving down a highway I spot a burning car and help pull out it’s lone passenger. Then days later, after I am out of the hospital recovering from my burns, gashes, bumps on the head I am feted by Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Ellen, and when I am asked things like do I really think I am a hero (no) or what made me do such a crazy wonderful thing I manage to mention something about the state of the world and the crazy republicans, and then I am a folk hero on David Letterman and giving my two cents on everything from the elections to child rearing to the greatness of Harry Potter vs the trash that is the Twilight series.
But what I have a hard time imagining is any actual success in my life. I can’t imagine going to an opening of my artwork at a big institution, like MOMA or even the ICA Boston. I can’t imagine getting calls from collectors and gallery owners. I can’t imagine going to a big white space in Chelsea wearing some new great outfit and having my picture taken by Bill Cunningham. I can’t even quite imagine having day after day to simply do my artwork. I really can’t imagine making a living from my artwork, or meeting with the head curator at a museum to discuss the installation of my work.
According to Oprah, among other 20th century gurus, the fact that I can’t imagine my success means I will never have it. There must be some part of me that believes I will get there, because I do work on my art each and every day. I sit in a chair and write on gloves and draw small drawings. I go to openings and read about other artists. I guess I believe it is possible, but I am afraid to imagine it because unlike all those other fantasies, this one not coming true is just too painful to imagine.