Books For Art Lovers

Personal Essays

I just finished, for the second time, Steve Martin’s An Object of Beaty and it inspired me to googel some local art shows. I have one friend, in particular, who is a fellow art lover and I’m hoping I can dangle the offer of lunch and gallery hopping this week. I think she’ll bite.

Not ready to give up this arty feeling, I thought I’d create a short list of books for fellow art lovers. If you don’t have it already, I hope you come down with your own case of art fever. It’s a declicious malady that can never be cured. It can only be fed with more art.

  1. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery – Set between world wars, Avery’s story is of and artist’s obsession with a muse and all the human emotions that go with passion and mania
  2. The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – Most everyone I know read this when it was flying aroud book club circles like wildfire but its worth a re-read. Also, the book is so much better than the movie so don’t cheat on this one
  3. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde –  A classic?, a fable? a decendant of a Greek mythical tale? Yes to all. But also an in-the-face story about how art imitates life. In this case both physically and metaphoically
  4. Seven Days In The Art World by Sarah Thornton – This is a great read to follow An Object of Beauty. It keeps you swadled in the exclusive niche of the New York art scene
  5. Way To Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa – Parallel stories that illuminate the colorful work of Paul Gauguin


Five Books To Revisit This Season

Personal Essays

My husband was gone all weekend. He visited one of our college kids. They planned some hiking advetures that were a little too ambitious for me.

Everyone should spend a weekend alone every once in a while. I made the most of mine by staying snug behind my blue door. I stayed in bed all day Saturday, glued to the coverage of Barbara Pierce Bush’s funeral and all the commentary that followed. She is an aforementioned idol of mine. In all honesty though, had her funeral not been Saturday, its extremely likely I would have stayed in bed watching TV anyway. Today, I gardened a bit and read for several hours in the sun, totally uninterupted, which was decadent since the day was so warm and bright.

As summer approaches, I’ve thought of so many great works worth a reread. I love going back to classics and sometimes books too young to yet be considered classics. Our point of view and the way we interpret an author’s message changes as we age and  gain experiences so although we may be familar with a story, our relationship to the sub-text changes. I invite you to join an experiment to see if you gleen new attitudes and perspectives in your favorite literature.

My Top Five Rereadable Summer Book List:

  1. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1933.  I guess its selfish to list  my favorite book on top. Academics will say when a book’s theme’s stand the test of time, no matter the era, its considered great literature. Fitzgerald’s deep probe into  pure human folly and ego make him forever contemporary since they are fundamental human flaws that invite discourse in any time period.
  2. An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, 2010. I can’t imagine what Steve Martin’s IQ is. It must be staggeringly high. It seems there is nothing he can’t do. His credits include actor, comedian, musician, singer, novelist and playwrite. Showcased in the novel An Object of  Beauty is his real-life knowledge of art history and passion for collecting modern American art.
  3. Anything by Ernest Hemingway. The beauty of Hemingway is his masterful, clean, precise style. If you’re headed to the beach and feel like bringing a Heminway novel is too (thematically) heavy, think of it this way:  His work is always a fast read because of strong, unadorned sentence structure. You can just read a chapter at your leisure but you will be left with food for thought for the rest of the day… and much longer.
  4. On The Road by Jack Kerouc,  Jack Kerouc, 1957 was the type of person my parent’s generatoin called beatniks. If you’ve never read On The Road, its perfect for summer as its all about the spirit of his travels (although fictionalized) through North America. He not only helped define his generation but will give you an enthusiastic summer road trip bug.
  5. Galapogus by Kurt Vonnegut, 1985. What isn’t current about the idea taking the human race back one million years? Science fiction that plays with satire, evolution and survivalism. Galapogus is one of those books, along with Vonnegut’s others, you can never forget due to its totally unique style and character development yet it reveals itslelf in new ways every time you read it.

Enjoy Your Reading. What greater pleasure is there?

Barbara Bush: True Grace

Personal Essays

I can’t let today, the day of Barbara Pierce Bush’s funeral, go by without sharing a few personal words about the enormity of her influence on so many, many people.

During my lifetime, George Bush Sr. has been my favorite president. I was hugely enamored with the family when George Bush served as Vice President and thrilled when President and Mrs. Bush stepped into the White House.

I probably can’t come up with anything that isn’t being said on every American news station, but I can say that, personally, Barbara Bush represented the best of what we hope to be as Americans. Sadly, in today’s White House, decorum, truth, manners and compromise have become extinct which makes me long for the transparency and morality of the Bush White House even more dramatically. I hope, in remembering Mrs. Bush’s grace and strength, current leaders (and citizens alike) will be reminded that life can be led with less pretention and more humility.

One of my favorite photographs of the Bush’s  ran in Life Magazine. I saw it flashed on this morning’s news. Apparently Mrs. Bush asked  photographer David Valdez, who documented many of their family memories, to stop by some morning around 6:00 AM.  The photo captures The Bush’s, clad in pajamas, in their king-sized bed along with six of their young grandchildren. Apparently, this was a typical morning as they often had their grandchildren with them whether in their home in Midland, Texas, The Vice-Presidential mansion or the White House itself.

Among many attributes, Mrs. Bush’s  fierce dedication to famiy will live on in my heart. She was wholly supportive of her husband, investing herself in his career and happiness which is a quality we need to revere in today’s society that can be critical of wives who choose to build homes and families rather than careers.

Mrs. Bush gave countless hours to her personal missions of service. Her lifetime was filled with energetic, compassionate giving. She will be remembered for her on-going foundation for family literacy but their are countless stories of quiet, heartfelt acts of kindness as well. She often supported populations in this country who were met with discrimination. She supported philanthropic groups who delt with homelessness and AIDS patients in the 1980’s, a time when both social problems were largely misunderstood.

Mrs. Bush’s family, friends and the country have suffered a  great loss. To a beautiful lady, completely authenic  – Thank you for your discretion, kindness, humor, values and inspiratioin. I hope every Amerian takes a moment to celebrate her life’s work.

Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat others.      – Barbara Pierce Bush

Lost In Las Vegas

Personal Essays

Have you been to Las Vegas lately?

I have.

I recently found myself in Las Vegas for a couple of days. The most noteworthy thing that happened to me is…I got lost. Really confused and lost.

I got lost in my own hotel and what ensued was a moderate/severe panic attack. The panic attack was on-par with Jack Nicholson’s famed panic attacks as Henry Sanborn in the movie Something’s Gottta Give. If this had been my first, I would have sworn I was dying. Even recounting it now gives me need to pause, look away from the screen and breath deeply.

My husband had to be in Las Vegas on business. He invited me to join him en route to meeting our kids for spring break. It’s fair to say, we’re not Vegas-ey people. Two homebodies, we don’t gamble, don’t drink much, don’t enjoy crowds or lots of noise. So, by definition, we are not Vegas-ey people. I will also mention that I lack an adequete sense of direction which will make my story believable.

My husband asked me to pick the hotel. Based on both the world-famous reputation of Canyon Ranch Spa plus its impressive website, I chose The Venetian because it houses the Las Vegas branch of Canyon Ranch Spa.

I booked myself an entire day of what sounded like scrumptious spa treatments. My review on the spa is lack-luster, Its dated. It’s too spread out – connected by a series of long, maze-like hallways which in no way feel oasis like which is what I was looking for. Half my treatments were nice, the other half below average but I’ll save that full analysis for a future post.

My room was on the 16th floor of The Venetian while the spa was on floor 3. Knowing I had left my and taken an elevator to  floor 3, you can follow my logic in assuming I could reverse the process and retire from the spa directly back to my floor.

I think I went wrong when I, unknowingly, exited to the wrong elevator bank. I had no idea the massive Ventian was conected to yet another massive hotel, The Palazzo. The Twilight Zone-esque experience that followed made me feel like I was in some kind of Hell comprised of long, long hallways and banks of elevators that led to floors and rooms that were not mine.

I will say, the employees were all very well-trained. Every time I encountered someone with a name badge on, I was promptly directed to  “go down to the casino level and follow the signs”. It’s obvious where they want you spending your time.

A few nights later I was explaining my story of woe at a group dinner. My eighteen year-old grabbed my phone and read the text l conversation I had with my husband to the entire table which proved histerical (as many panic-inducing situations do, after-the-fact).  I think the conversation probably best illustrates my anxiety-ridden misadventure.

5:15 PM – husband to me: going back to hotel

6:01 PM – me to husband: Coming. lost in palazzo. what is palazzo?

6:01 – husband: connecting hotel

6:02 – me:  connecting? its not big enough?

6:02 -husband: where r u?

6:02 – me: ???. anxiety growing

6:02- husband:  yr ok

6:11 – me:  not one fu*@*** person will tell me how to get back thru spa. only directed to go thru casino. need other portal.  shinny collegen mask on face.

6:12 – husband: what?? Look for Venetian signs

6:15 – husband: do u want me to find u?

6:17 – me: anxiety attack. ready to murder myself or other

6:18 – me:  Scary Mormon Hell Dream (note: we had just seen Book of Mormon two night’s earlier)

6:19 – me: is there oxegen in here? Also. so hungry.

6:19- me: mite stage heart attack for paramedic escort. but no one around

6:19 – husband: STAY where u r

6:20 – me: in front of bar – sugarcane

Upon looking up I simultaneously saw my husband approaching me with a pensive, concerned look AND caught a glimps of myself in a mirror which revealed, in addition to still having the shiny collegen face mask smeared all over my face, I had inadverdently pulled my yoga pants quite high on my waist leaving me with a hideous lower body profile. At that moment I burst into tears probalby leaving pssers-by thinking I had gambled away all my money.

Bright side of this story –  no stranger to panic attacks, I was able to breath and settle myself over the follwoing thirty minutes. After a shower, vodka soda and a steak, I even felt pretty human. Unfortunately, it really shot any gleaned relaxation from the spa day all to heck. But, leaving off back on the bright side, it gave me something to write about.





10 Movies For A Rainy Day

Personal Essays

It’s been rainy here. When bad weather comes along, I turn to books, magazines and great movies. For me, there is something about staying in and enjoying a film – especialy if it brushes with tragdy, that fits moody weather. My top ten favorites will validate your sullen mood and remind you that in every life, a little rain must fall:

  1. Ordinary People – Glowing performances by all but Mary Tyler Moore’s flawless version of the rigid Beth is perfectly chilling
  2. Edward Scissorhands – Always a go to when that inevitable feeling of failing to fit in comes knocking
  3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Francis McDormand has the ultimate touch for playing sad with such earnest, believable grit
  4. The Godfather, Part II – Considered by most the best of the trilogy, it puts every human flaw and folly, unapolgetically, right out there
  5. The Talented Mr. Ripley – Breathtakingly beautiful to watch! Deliciously morbid and one of the most cleverly crafted movies ever made
  6. Terms of Endearment – It’s impossible to chose a favorite character from the star-studded cast but Jeff Daniel’s performance as the pathetic husband/dead beat dad, Flap Horton, is quietly brilliant
  7. Kramer vs. Kramer – It’s difficult for me to enjoy this movie as much as I used to after allegations of Dustin’s Hoffman’s sexual bullying, but Meryl Streep’s frail, confused Joanna is nuanced and heartbreaking
  8. Love Story – One dimensional and legendary for some really cringe-worthy bad lines, it makes the list because it’s also desperately romantic and a legitimate weep-fest
  9. Punch-Drunk Love – A shockingly unexpected starring role for Adam Sandler but he nails it. The growing frustration and anxiety is palpable
  10. A Single Man – Visually gorgeous. Relatable for anyone who has ever experienced depression. Colin Firth’s George will decimate your heart

Empty Nest Unrest

Personal Essays

Any empty nester will tell you that a home sans offspring brings both joy and pain. Today my little house behind the blue door feels especially lifeless. It might have something to do with the grey weather outside or my husband’s late hours at work.  My dogs, Georgia and Ivy,  give me great company but still, I’m missing my kids and their friends and the constant animation they have created in our home since 1996.

We have been empty nesters since September.  Some days I remember (with confidence) my children are both at good schools that fit them well and I am buoyed through sadness.  Other days feel listless and, well….empty, indeed.

Lots has been written about Empty Nest Syndrom, which is not a clinical condition in itself. Of course, it can lead to feelings of lonliness and depression and that should not be overlooked (although someone like Tom Cruise would probalby dispute it).

When I miss my kids horribly, I tend to walk through their rooms. Some experts warn against keeping kid’s rooms as shrines but, we want our kids who are almost 19 and almost 22 to make the first move.

I made the mistake of re-decorating my youngest daughter’s room once while she was on a summer trip. It wasn’t a successful surprise. At this point, I feel like sterilizing their spaces into mere guest rooms would feel like pulling the proverbial rug out from under them. At least it would feel that way for my freshman.

One thing I did accomplish when they left last Fall was thorough closet cleanings. They both had all kinds of little bags and purses filled with trinkets and coins and little treasures they had collected on vacations. After wading through both rooms, I ended up with bags of change that rendered over $400 when dumped into the Coinstar machine at the local grocery store. I’m still not sure whether I consider the money theirs or mine.

So, feeling a bit sullen, I’m going to reflect upon the upsides of the empty nest:

  1. extra closet space for the coats that have always been unnaturally jammed into mine
  2. a really clean house. other than washing the pan my husband makes eggs in every morning, many days I have almost no clean-up work. we often order dinner so the pesky nighttime dishes ordeal is eliminated
  3. no need to nag. my kids might be dressing in wrinkled-up clothing and t-shirts that look ready for the rag bag-, but, out of sight, out of mind
  4. hopefully they are taking full advantage of their classes, questioning, probing, exploring and learning things that will lead to a fulfilling life and the ability to earn healthy paychecks. After all, my husband and I  won’t be able to retire on that $400 closet-bounty alone

Nursing Home Blues

Personal Essays

I’m having coffee and mentally gearing myself up to return to the nursing home where my mother-in-law is currently stationed. In my last post, I flat-out butchered both the overall quality of what we call skilled nursing and my personal disdain for the place she is staying.

Today I’m trying to identify some of the triggers that make it so difficult for me to visit. Here is an honest list:

First, The aforementioned general filthiness of the “5 Star” facility (see prior post for details). It’s Gross!

2. The heartbreak I feel for other patients: Of course, I’m in no way privy to other patient’s illnesses or personal situations but the sheer grief that shower’s over me when I’m there is almost unbearable. There is a man who cries out for his mother’s help  many times an hour. He screams out “Mother, I can’t breath. Help me.” Another woman simply asks for “Help” all day long.

Last weekend,  a man confined to a wheelchair asked if I would write a note for him. He had a tiny scrap of paper and asked if I would find a pen and write the following:  “Hi There. This is Harold. My phone number is…”. Love, Harold”.  I told a staff member at the front desk that he was clearly trying to communicate with a friend or family member. She shrugged and said “Ya, probably his wife who died.”

3. My own mortality: When we are  young,  its possible to visit a nursing home and feel like human rot and decay simply won’t happen to you. We don’t have enough experience with life at early ages to put those pieces together. At least, I never did. But honestly, at 49, I can glimpse my future and its terrifying.

4. Going through this all over again with my mom and dad:  I am lucky that my own parents are active and life seems mostly happy.  They have hobbies,  good friends and neighbors. Together – they attend sailing club events. Individually – they attend coffee clubs. My mom still attends garden and quilting club. They still own a small business  and they do some traveling. The deep connection they feel to their house and town they have lived in for 50 years gives them a sense of continuity and belonging. Still, I recognize they’re slowing down. They are not without health issues and there is nothing I fear more than their death.

Perhaps its not worth a debate but, as an only child, I think loosing my parents will be especially wounding. My husband comes from a family of six kids. I don’t want to diminish the loss and despair he felt when his dad died or what he’s going through now with his mom’s illness, that would be unfair. But, maybe other only children will identify with my plight. When my parents pass on, all our collective family memories go too. I don’t have siblings to reminisce with about family vacations, the time our house burned down, family pets, etc. I will still have the memories but who really wants to hear about all that?

5. Selfishness! I’m obscenely selfish:  My dear friend Gretchen best explained the phenomenon happening to many of our friends. Last year, when her youngest daughter left for college, she said “My kids flew out of the nest and my parents immediately crawled right in and replaced them.”

My husband and I became empty nesters this past fall when our youngest left to begin her freshman year of college. I will admit we had a difficult first semester. Being alone left us sad, missing our kids and their friends a lot.  But when we reflected on things at New Year’s, we realized how liberating the empty nest felt.  It was like George Michael was suddenly in our living room belting out Freedom”. And we liked it.

Six weeks ago both my mom and my husband’s mom took nasty falls on the same weekend. My mother spent the night in the trauma unit but was released with big black eyes and stitches across her forehead where she had hit her head on brick steps leading to her backdoor. My mother-in-law (also nearly ten years older than my mom) was not as lucky and has, thus, broke her leg and is residing in the nursing home.

Like I said, selfishness is the issue here and I recognize how awful I sound (and feel when I admit it.)  My husband and I were both blessed with wonderful parents who provided us loving homes in lovely neighborhoods. We went to safe, highly regarded schools, we were supported in our interests and goals. We were sent to college, etc.

My parents have been thoughtful, helpful and gracious my entire life*.  From babysitting, to volunteering in our kids schools, to hosting us on vacations, to seeing me through several hospital stays, painful surgeries, and depressive episodes, my parent’s have been an exemplary contributive team and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

Having said all that, I still have a tiny flicker of resentment mixed with fear for the day  when they are ill, facing their last days and I will be in charge. It’s both the loss of freedom and the chilling reality they won’t always be here that tumbles through me.

6. Last but in no way least…

Grief: Grief for the inevitability of my mother-in-law never fully recovering and the sadness my husband will go through when the day comes to put her ashes along-side his dad’s. I know he will need extra care and support and I only hope I can do the job well enough for him to feel understood, validated, fortified and loved.

And so it goes. I’m off to the nursing home with a deep breath and an armful of flowers that I can only hope brings a little cheer to an otherwise awful, disheartening place.

*Although the kind words included above about my parents/my husband’s parents are genuinely authentic, please don’t misunderstand. They possess inadequacies too,  just like every other parent. I’m not skimming over that. The idea here is not to present them as perfect human beings but to fully expose them as deeply compassionate individuals who are/were firmly committed to excellence in parenting. Mostly, they hit the mark. (More posts on various aspects of parenting to come….)