Friday, February 23, 2007

living on the ledge

My friend Tara had to twist my arm to get me to the Phoenix Art Museum. How crazy is that? Of course I wanted to go, but I was worried about the kids and worried about Ken trying to keep track of all four of them in a strange big city without me, and worried about the cost of the tickets, and worried about dragging poor Tara with me through a museum at the speed to which I am accustomed, which is only slightly faster than it took for the artworks to be painted in the first place.

As it turned out, Tara talked me into it, bought the tickets, never complained once about my torturous pace, and added her own insightful comments as we went along. Ken had a good time with the kids in the Science Center and they never missed me. It’s nice to know that I can indulge in doing something entirely selfish once in a while and get away with it.

I also now have stored up in my head at least a year’s worth of art to write blog entries about, so I have Tara and Ken to thank for that as well.

I’ll start with my favorite painting in the museum – Girl at the Window by Nicolaes Maes – from the "Rembrandt and the golden age of Dutch art" exhibit. The placard next to the painting described it as a critique against the sin of laziness. I disagree. If the artist meant the scene to criticize laziness, why would he have made it look so appealing? The gorgeous colors, the lush fruit, the beautiful girl set in a beautiful space – I could not get enough of this painting. I stood in front of it for several minutes and soaked it in. I even had to come back and look at it again after leaving the exhibit. (It’s also one of those cases where the reproduction literally pales in comparison to the real thing. The colors were so much richer than they look now. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Or maybe you could buy a plane ticket to Phoenix and see for yourself. I’m sure you can stay with Tara. She won’t mind – as long as you leave a few bucks behind to replace the plunger you broke while you were there.)

I don’t think the girl in the painting is lazy. She is just thinking. She thinks a lot. And in her thoughts as with her body, she inhabits ledges – she stands at a windowsill, the border between the inside and the out, between the shadows and the light, between contemplation and action. Her age also puts her on the ledge – she is young enough to resemble, with her flushed cheeks and apricot-colored headband, the sweet fruits that frame her window. But she is old enough to know what comes next, and here the clich├ęs of “ripening” and “fruitfulness” threaten to take the metaphor too far. But she is not there yet. She is only leaning into maturation. She has opened the window but she remains safely inside.

And there’s the critical difference between a window and a door. The girl may be at the ledge, but she can only lean so far. If it were a door, the next step would be implied. But with a window, there may be observing and contemplation and planning, but no stepping. Only thinking. Which is not a bad thing, or even a lazy thing. Unless you stay at the window for too long. And if, like the girl in the painting, you’ve brought a pillow along to make the ledge more comfortable, perhaps that’s a bad sign.

There’s a moment at the beginning of Hamlet where Hamlet promises his dead father that he will sweep to avenge his murder “with wings as swift as meditation.” The irony, as it turns out, is that Hamlet’s meditation is anything but swift. It takes five Acts for him to act. He wastes a good deal of precious stage time meditating and holding up skulls and talking to himself and thinking up future movie titles like “What dreams may come” and “The undiscovered country.” And in the meantime, the bodies begin to pile up around him.

If you’re still with me, and I’m not sure why, my point in all this is that I think I think too much. I need to do less living on the ledge and more living on the edge as in doing brave things and acting on my good intentions. While in Arizona, I visited one friend who is about to turn 40 and has decided it’s time to quit her comfortable job and go into business for herself. On the way home, we stopped to visit two more friends who are about to put their home and savings on the line to buy 10 acres of land so they can board horses. I admire the heck out of my gutsy friends. In their honor I would like to do something daring.

But what to do?

I would suggest shaving my head, but Britney beat me to it. I can’t sign up for a marathon right now thanks to the sore foot. I’m not too fond of horses. My teaching job isn’t all that comfortable to begin with and my other job – my full-time mothering job – well I don’t think my kids would appreciate it if I quit that one. So that leaves me with the one thing I’ve always thought about doing and talked about doing and daydreamed about doing but have never taken past the “wouldn’t it be loverly” stage: writing a book.

It’s all there inside my head but I have to spend the time to coax it out and write it down. This will take some sacrifices because I already feel like I have no time to spare. But I think, if it’s important enough (and it is) that I can find 30 minutes a day to commit to it. I plan to keep up on my blog because it’s good therapy for me (plus Gabie thinks it’s HIS blog and would be greatly concerned if I neglected it.) But if you notice that I’m not commenting as much on your blogs, please don’t hold it against me. Call me a lurker, call me selfish, call me crazy, but please don’t call me lazy.


Heth said...

Wow. How do you do that? How do you put all of that together and it makes perfect sense? Amazing. I love the way you write and I think a book is a fabulous idea. And also, you are excused from commenting.

An Ordinary Mom said...

Welcome home! You were well missed.

Who has the job of writing the placards that sit next to the paintings? Whoever it is needs to be fired ... or at least they need to take lessons from the master, which is you of course! Or maybe they are too busy being lazy and perching over ledges themselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed your insights on this piece of art which is magnificently gorgeous! I love the colors and the ambiance it creates. And the fruit, I love the fruit ... I can smell the sweetness by just looking at it. I do believe you have awakened an art gene in me that has lied dormant my whole life. I want this painting ... it just speaks to me.

I, too, am a thinker, a ponderer, a ledge lurker. I always need to mentally organize my thoughts before I take the plunge into unchartered territory.

Good luck on your book writing endeavors! You already have someone lined up to buy it … as long as I get your autograph as well !

And c’est la vie when it comes to commenting on our blogs right now. You have more important things you are attending to. But if the guilt starts to kick in, just leave a single letter as a comment and we will know that you have been there!

One last thing before I entirely hog up all the space in your comment section (can you tell your readers missed their daily dosage of Mental Tesserae?), I think it is darling that Gabie thinks this blog is his … he dreams big.

eve said...

I'm with ordinary mom, we missed you! I love my new found art lessons! And I am so excited you're going to write a book. Go for it! I've already told you I'd buy it in a heartbeat!

Lynn said...

I have walked (as quickly as I could get away with) through many art museums and have always found myself bored to tears. If I had had someone like you explaining the paintings to me, with words that wrapped themselves around me and made the painting come alive, I know that I would have had a far greater appreciation for art.

Em said...

I call you brave. Good for you!

scribbit said...

Sore foot? More problems? So that's why you were going through the museum so slowly Hop-a-long.

So sorry. And I agree, it's too beautiful to be a criticism. And sorry this comment is so superficial, it's rather late and I keep promising Andrew only "5 more minutes"

meno said...

Sometimes bravery is for those who can afford to take chances. With 4 kids, i don't know how you find time to write at all.

I'll bet there is a book in your head that will come out someday. I look forward to it.

GRodenberg said...

Hi Julie- You probably don't remember me...Gloria Reneer/Rodenberg...Kathy's miss comp and roommate. But she hooked me into your blog and I love it! It's fun to see you as a happy intelligent Mom...and I should write a book!

Kimberly said...

Beautifully written post...I've missed you so much! No more harking off to see the world, no matter how fabulous a time you have, got it?

I just got an idea for a children's book and was feverishly jotting it down before I lost it. I've got to do some research and make sure it hasn't been written yet. There's children's books out there covering just about every possible scenario.

Anyway, hope you find your muse and enjoy the process!

compulsive writer said...

I'm so glad you saw the exhibit, too! That one was one of my favorites as well, and I thought the same thing. She looks pensive not lazy.

Good luck with whatever's next for you!

Goslyn said...

Good for you, miss Jules. Good luck with the book. I, for one, will be first in line to read it when it is swept up by the publishing world and trumpeted as the greatest work since ... well, whoever's really popular right then.

Lovely post, by the way. I like your take on the painting a lot. You always give me something to think about.

ruth said...

Good luck with the book. If it's written as well as your blog posts I'll buy it.

Mary-LUE said...

I had the chance to see that exhibit while it was in Dayton and I just loved it. In fact, I'm half-planning a trip to see it while it is still in Phoenix.

How exciting for you to start out on the adventure of book writing. I look forward to hearing more about it.

Kaye for Zing Pictures said...

Another lovely, thought-provoking post. You make it seem like falling off a log - but I know it isn't and appreciate the time you give to this. Good luck with the writing, but don't neglect to take your cushion to the ledge from time to time.

freeflycoco said...

I will take you skydiving anytime you want to be brave. And don't give me the it's too dangerous excuse. You just drove to Arizona -much more dangerous. I don't think leaning out windows is all that safe either.