Yearning for Wonderland

There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it...until they have grown so old that they forget the way. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again...The world calls them singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland. ~ L.M Montgomery

Absence of My Muse

Honestly, I didn’t think I was doing so little on my blog until I looked at the post listings and realized I had -one- post for August so far, on the 6th. At my best, I was averaging a post every day and a half. To go a week with only one…

There’s a multitude of reasons, but they may all point to the same thing. My darn Muse has departed for climes less balmy. (It has been agitatingly, soul-sucking hot for the last few weeks: the kind of heat that leaves you languidly lolling about on the veranda, fanning yourself limpidly as the linen sticks to your back.) So my Muse has left for a quick jaunt around the countryside and I am left here staring at my computer screen with the following options: 1) watch an episode of The Tudors, 2) read any of the stack of lovely new books on my bedside table, 3) play Plants vs. Zombies, that blessed time-suck.


It isn’t from lack of time off (just finished 3 days off, which may be one culprit). I have lots of projects vying for my attention: Super Secret Spy Girl, rehearsals for The Laramie Project, Blogcritic reviews, etc, etc.

My brain is a bit parched and it has nothing to do with the heat. It’s rather too many wonderful ideas crowding in, trying to fight their way to the fore; it’s not so much time management as it is time muddlement.

Thalia, Muse of Comedy

So today I present the Muses, since mine is not present: Clio (History), Calliope (Epic Poetry), Urania (Astronomy), Euterpe (Song & Elegiac Poetry), Erato (Love Poetry), Melpomene (Tragedy), Thalia (Comedy), Terpsichore (Dance), Polyhymnia (Hymns). Not to be confused with the Graces, the Muses were a little more workaday and useful. Nine muses, nine arts, all the root of the word “museum” and “amuse” and “musing” and other muse-like words.

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.” – Homer
Oliver Rhys, A Seated Muse

Ever noticed that Muses tend to be young, beautiful ladies? Fickle as well, apparently. That comes with Muse-hood. I’m fairly certain that my Muse tends to the plainer side, with milkish skin, but can look otherworldly at the right angle. She definitely has freckles and likely a penchant for ribbons.

Jan Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting (Detail – Clio)

Muses are generally invoked at the beginning of epic poetry, a convention followed by writers for centuries:

O lady myn, that called art Cleo,
Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,
To ryme wel this book til I haue do;
Me nedeth here noon othere art to vse.
ffor-whi to euery louere I me excuse
That of no sentement I this endite,
But out of Latyn in my tonge it write. – Chaucer

Muses are also a convenient scapegoat, as I illustrated at the beginning of the post. No writing? No muse. No performing? No muse. No singing? No muse. It’s even more dangerous when flesh and blood women are elevated to Muse status, as in Jane Morris for Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Jane’s marriage to William Morris was jeopardized by her affairs with Rossetti, who married his other muse, Elizabeth Siddal (who later overdosed on laudanum). Read more in Francine Prose’s excellent study of real-life muses: Lives of the Muses.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Blue Silk Dress (Model: Jane Morris)
Jane Morris (photo) and Jane (painting) – Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood

So, Muse, any time you would like to return…you know where my door can be found. What do you do to invoke your muse? And what do you do when she does not appear?

Afternoon on a Hill – Edna St. Vincent Millay

Afternoon on a Hill
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I will be the gladdest thing  
    Under the sun!  
I will touch a hundred flowers  
    And not pick one.  
I will look at cliffs and clouds
    With quiet eyes,  
Watch the wind bow down the grass,  
    And the grass rise.  

And when lights begin to show  
    Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,  
    And then start down!

Maxfield Parrish, Ecstasy

 

A Very Few Moments

I’m sort of a sensitive person (attention: understatement). I cherish the evanescence of beauty – the fragility of a wildflower or the shimmering high note of an aria. I cry easily at happy things and sad things and beautiful things and memorable things. There have been very few moments in my life, however, which have combined all of these things. This post is about one of those moments.

Royo

One of my very favorite (living) artists is Royo, the master Spanish Impressionist. I had collected several of his serigraphs, but was longing to own an original. One day the owner of the gallery where I worked came in with two sketches under his arm, then set them against the far wall. I identified them immediately as Royo original sketches (despite the fact that we carried 40 artists and I was ten feet away) and actually -vaulted- over the massive wooden desk and snatched it up in my hot little hands.

“What is this??” I asked. Actually, I’m pretty sure I screeched.

“New sketches from Royo. They just sent them over from Spain,” he said, “Nice, aren’t they?”

Al Aire (In the Air), Royo, Original Colored Pencil on Paper

“Nice”, dear reader, did not even begin to describe the sketch in my hands. I was devastatingly heels-over-head besotted with this gorgeously nuanced sketch done in colored pencils. Only Royo could do such a magnificent scribbling on brown paper and make it look half-Da Vinci. My throat was mostly closed-up at this point, but I managed to croak, “How much?” He named the price and I ruefully hooked the sketch on the wall and stepped away.

I spent the rest of the day casting furtive glances at “my sketch”, as I now considered it. Cleverly, I had positioned it behind a door, so almost none of the foot traffic coming into the gallery could see it, unless the door was closed. When someone did pause to look at it, I hurriedly called their attention elsewhere – to a landscape, a floral, anything to prevent them from glomming on to “my sketch” and realizing they could acquire a Royo original for less than $2,000. Royo’s oils started at $9,750, to give you a sense of the futility of my task.

I made it through the better part of the day and even managed to leave the gallery for a few minutes and head to one of our other locations. When I stepped back in the door, my gallery director said, “Oh, your sketch sold.” My heart plummeted through my pancreas and I stopped dead. It turned out that it was the -other- sketch that sold, but that was all it took.

I practically tackled the owner when he re-entered the building: “I’m buying that sketch.”

He laughed, until he realized I wasn’t joking, “You can’t.” He then explained that new works had a 30 day hold on them before they were available for employee purchase. This was a bogus rule, as I knew I was the first employee threatening to buy an original off the floor.

I didn’t have 30 days. In fact, I knew I likely didn’t have 30 hours. All of my coworkers were merrily emailing the new bargain originals off to their client list. Royo sketches are both rare and in demand, due to their affordability.

So I stormed, I cried, I threatened and charmed and, in the end, I think I just wore him down. I ended up paying wall price, of course, but it felt like the best money I’d spent. Al Aire was mine. The title means In the Air and that’s pretty much where I existed. My little heels weren’t touching the ground, my head was sky-high and I floated about, probably annoying everyone in my vicinity.

Fast forward to the Royo show.

Royo was coming to our gallery. I was going to see him and meet him and maybe, if I was lucky, speak to him. I was in the throes of a giant art-history nerd crush. I felt like I was meeting John William Waterhouse or W.A. Bouguereau.

When Royo entered, he was the personification of the charming, small-boned Spanish gentleman. His charisma was unmistakable. His voice was soft, but everyone hushed when he spoke. He kissed my hand when he met me and I’m pretty sure I tilted.

I wasn’t able to approach him about my sketch until the next day. I was deeply nervous and had over-prepared. I had typed my request in Spanish, because I didn’t trust my nerves or pronunciation. It read like this:

Estimado Señor, estaría muy honrado si podría firmar mi esbozo “Al Aire”. Ella es muy hermosa y me gustaría saber nada que me puede decir acerca de ella. Esta es mi primera original y la quiero mucho. Sinceramente, Anna

Which means, roughly:

Dear sir, I would be very honored if you would sign my sketch, “Al Aire”. She is very beautiful and I would like to know anything you can tell me about her. This is my first original and I love her very much. Sincerely, Anna 

I’m fairly certain that the sheet of paper was damp with palm sweat by the time I was able to hand it to him. He read it and smiled a half-pleased smile. He picked up the sketch and looked at her, made a small noise of recognition, almost an “Ah”. He spoke rapidly in Spanish to his translator, “He remembers this, he says. It is Maria, you know.” Maria is Royo’s daughter’s best friend and one of his favorite subjects, “It was effortless, he says, she is very free.” We then posed for this picture.

Royo, Anna, and Al Aire

He dedicated the back to me with several florid strokes of the marker. When he handed it to me, I was somewhere between bliss and dismay that I was tearing up. A lot. He smiled at me again and gave me a hug. Royo hugged me; that’s something to tell the grandkids, like “Oh, yeah, I bumped elbows with Monet.”

I walked back to the front desk and set the sketch against the wall, working to regain a modicum of composure. My friend and coworker Leslie had the camera in her hands. She impulsively lifted it and snapped off a candid shot. I demurred, “Oh, don’t take a picture; I look a mess.”

She lowered the camera and told me earnestly, “You want a picture of this. You only feel this way a very few moments in life.”

And she was right.

A “Very Few” Moment

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali

This post is the third of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Shaista Tayabali
Writer and Poet,
Lupus in Flight www.lupusinflight.com

Shaista Tayabali

 
Anna:
I’m quite envious of your delicate touch with words. You conjure evocative imagery with just a stanza. What brought you to poetry as a way of expressing yourself? In your writing, how do you feel about the economy of poetry versus the expansiveness of prose?

Shaista:
The art of economy is a discipline I learned at university. Up until then, I had been a fairly indulgent prose and poetry writer. My composition of language was often deeply emotive, highly subjective and heavy with the influence of romance and Keatsian turns of phrase. Often, but not always. There has also been a trend in my writing, since childhood, towards describing a snapshot visual, and towards epiphany. I began university with the shadow of a complex illness already threatening to obscure me, so I was determined to excel. 

This proved difficult for two reasons – I liked to answer questions in my own merry, meandering way, and I did not know how to edit myself. My Professor, Simon Featherstone, taught me this: “The line that you are most attached to, is the line that has to go!”  In learning precision, I learned economy. And I think, perhaps, my poetry has begun to adapt to my rather fragile body. These quick brushstrokes of poems serve me well in and out of hospital.

Delicacy aside, though, sometimes I yearn to write a tome in the style of Tolstoy; an epic blockbuster of a novel packed with 108 Dickensian characters. Yearning is what we artists and writers do best! 

The Names of Things

Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes

gazes out at me
behind the window frame;
Half content to be
in Billy Collins’ world,
half wishing to be me –
Cross legged in the evening sun
drinking rose petal tea.

I can name the Yellow Rose,
the frilly Poppy, the Bee
longing for that same tea;
the half-eaten bruised cherries,
the guzzling, drunken, blackbird feast.

Deep in the shadows,
lazy snakes of ivy curl
and the wind is a Tempest again –

I walk among the unnamed things
the secret, hidden lives,
I pronounce the names of Latinate things
and trip on the words
and smile –

Cerastium tomentosum,
snow in summer,
Galium odoratum,
stars in spring,
Lavandula angustifolia
where the herb garden sings.

 Anna:
When you begin writing a poem, do you focus on an image? A phrase? A song? What inspires the act of picking up the pen?
Shaista:
A line comes to me. I focus on a few words, a phrase, that forms the first line of the poem-to-be. Blog posts require titles, which  I often enjoy for their brevity, but my poems never used to have titles. Do poets think of titles first? When do the titles come? I prefer the idea of that first line being the clue to the poem. My inspiration as a poet is simultaneously influenced by the subtle and the obvious. Hospitals are waiting rooms filled with both. 
Two artists who have influenced my work are my parents; they paint their lives in very different ways. Father’s watercolours are mysterious, floating worlds, echoes of Turner and Monet; impressionistic – my Mother’s work is magnified detail, bright, strong, clear – O’Keefe comes to mind. Father talks in riddles, Mother is incredibly literal – I flit between worlds in my life, and make sense of it all when I write. 
Crocuses
My father knows
when the crocuses 
are out
And when the snowdrops
And when the bluebells
And how to listen, carefully,
to the nesting birds,
trilling
between our rooms.
Daisies will come
And roses will grow
And perhaps we shall walk
And reminisce about the snow
And kick up some leaves
And weave up some dreams
While the world passes by
My father and I.

Anna: 
I love ‘The Year of Yes’; it’s deeply inspirational. It speaks of great positivity, despite the challenges you face with lupus. How has keeping your positive energy and happiness been instrumental to your life and your writing? 

Shaista:

Have you read Victor E. Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’? He says, “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” I marry this idea with the engaged Buddhism teachings of mindfulness, and try to achieve ‘Happen-ness’. Living in the now, the here and now, is not easy with a sneaky systemic illness like Lupus. Lupus is an embodiment of many human fears: the What-Ifs and the If-Onlys. So the secret to happiness is being present for the happen-ness, the saying Yes! in gratitude for our ability as humans to be present. 
My friend Dr. Ho tells me to embrace pain, particularly the physical manifestations of it, because feeling pain means you are alive! And he is right – physical pain does not exclude twinkling eyes, sparkly smiles and the playful impulse to tease and be teased. The act of writing is instant happen-ness for me. Just holding the pen, the feel of my book of poems, the moment of connection between the physical materials and my soul, my thoughts, my sight… yes! yes! yes! It is the best of me. 
  
The Year of Yes
I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
When you asked me out to walk
among the leaves
the turning leaves
You were offering me
the sound of dreams, 
And I turned you down 
politely.
Not today, I smiled
Perhaps,
Maybe, tomorrow?
But I wish I had said Yes!
beloved
I wish we had shared this light.
Next time don’t ask
Just take me!
Order me to dress!
I am going to need your help
beloved
To begin the Year of Yes.
Visit Lupus in Flight, the serene home of Shaista’s writings and poetry: http://www.lupusinflight.com

Witch Wife – Edna St. Vincent Millay

John William Waterhouse, Boreas

She is neither pink nor pale,
   And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
   And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
   In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
   or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can,
   And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
   And she never will be all mine.

Edna St. Vincent Millay