Some time in 1972 or 73 I got together with Jan and Sandy to create a show for our mentor and teacher, George Buehr. He seemed so old to me and I wanted to give him this tribute while he was still alive. I’m laughing as I write this. He was 68 and I was 39. From my 82 year old vantage point I realize he was really quite young. While we were working on curating and putting the show together we also got together with other friends and made blank books. I had never done this before.After the show was over we had a party out at Ox-Bow in Michigan and I pasted photos into one of the blank books, my first real book creation.
I am from a crowded place where siren songs
blast holes in the steady drone of traffic.
I see tall buildings and blue water and
smell bread and flowers as I walk
and sometimes unpleasant perfume
on fashionable women who walk past me.
I would like to taste the lilacs and touch
the passing dogs and cats
But never come close to the lovely ladies.
I am rather pleased with this first attempt at poetry. It was inspired by a wonderful Osher class I took last month at Carnegie Mellon. It was called “Artists as Activists Choose Pittsburgh” and facilitated by Leslie Golomb, who presented ideas about activist art and in three subsequent weeks brought in other artists who created activist work. In the final class Amanda Gross, a fiber artist, asked us to tell her something about ourselves using the following:
I am from… sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch
This is only a small part of what I enjoyed in the class. To explain, I have to make a small digression. Some weeks ago I went to the Carnegie Museum of Art to a space they called “The Sandbox” filled with “photo books” that are actually for sale. I looked at all of the books and understood very little of what I was seeing. The curator/salesperson kept asking me if I had questions. I think slowly of late, and couldn’t even begin to frame my questions. The books contained photos that may or may not have been taken by their author/editor/curator and meant nothing to me. She showed me a book she had compiled, telling me the photos were “vernacular.” That meant they were taken from a collection, made by someone else, over a period of 25 years. She got permission from the owner to put them in “her book,” which was bound professionally. I told her I made books and she gave me a look that said ‘aren’t you a sweet, little old lady.’ So, I am an old lady, not necessarily sweet, and I was confused. All of this was absolutely meaningless to me.
Back to the class: four weeks of food for thought about meaningful art, often beautiful, certainly significant. My artist friends are not here in Pittsburgh and I don’t often have a chance to participate in this kind of stimulating conversation. In the first class, Leslie, who is a print maker, talked about artists as acivists and also about her own work, which has dealt with feminism and slavery amongst other themes and ideas.
In the second class, Ben Sota, the founder of the Zany Umbrella Circus, talked about his passion for circus and how his presentations in other countries have generated thoughts about freedom in his audience.
Bec Young, a printmaker and fiber artist, talked to us in the third class. In addition to doing volunteer work in her community her prints deal with activist themes. Quoting from her artist statement: “…seek to give voice to stories that remain unheard with work that is beautiful and powerful.”
Amanda Gross, who inspired my poetry, showed us her beautiful work and talked to us about her huge community organizing project called knit the bridge, which brought people together from all over Pittsburgh. This last class tied together all of the ideas about making meaningful, beautiful art and banished the despair I felt in the Sandbox.
You are so nice to keep looking for me. I am fine; better than I’ve been all year. I’ve just been lazy about writing. Spent much of the last eight months doing leg exercises to counteract my arthritis. I have also lost 27 pounds and am working on losing 10 or 20 more. I am no longer in pain, I can walk normally, and haven’t opened the Tylenol bottle for the last couple of months. I had a wonderful birthday celebration last month. Instead of giving me gifts, I asked my guests to make a donation to the Israeli volunteer organization, Road to Recovery, that helps West Bank Arab children get to hospitals in Israel. Here is a video that tells all about it.
You can learn more about them at http://www.roadtorecovery.org.il/
I’ll tell more about my celebration in my next post, which I promise will be soon. I have to get pictures from Robin and she’s out of town this weekend.
After my 79th birthday last May I started to think about becoming 80 and what it might mean. First, let me say I know a number of people in their 80’s, and older, who are doing just fine. But, in the past, I knew many who weren’t fine, or were already dead, and the prevailing stereotype is 80 is old old. Should I stop traveling? Should I stop driving? What does it mean to be 80?
Added to that my knees have been bothering me for months and the pain makes me feel very old. I had cortisone shots in July that helped enormously–no pain for months. But while I was walking around in the bitter cold in New York City something happened to my right knee and I’m suffering again. I have been going for physical therapy and doing exercises religiously. I joined Weight Watchers just before Christmas and lost 11 pounds, so far. Still suffering. Finally I decided that 80 was just the day after 79 and my real problem was the terrible cold weather and snow and ice in Pittsburgh.
I am writing this from Israel where it is warm and sunny and I’m feeling better–not great, but better. And my friends, Yona and Arik, are treating me like a queen, so this my not count as traveling alone.
I’ve been to Israel many times in the distant past, but this is the first time in, probably 30 years. I am amazed at how the country has grown and changed. The roads and highways are wonderful and there are cities replacing the sand, shrubs and a few shanties from before.
Yona picked me up at the airport on Monday and I saw only the view from the road, but that was amazing enough. I postponed my collapse from jet lag long enough to play with Yona’s three grandchildren. The youngest seemed to be fascinated with me until I told her, in Hebrew, that I spoke only English. That was the end of our relationship. Actually, I am amazed at how much of my very scant Hebrew has come back to me.
Today we went to Ceaserea where there has been extensive excavation of the port city built by Herod during Roman times and a large, newly constructed, modern city.
From there, we went to Atlit to see the prison camp built by the British to incarcerate the Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust and were trying to enter what was then Palestine. These people, who had no place to go and were welcomed nowhere, went from Nazi concentration camps to remarkably similar British concentration camps. Imagine the terror. Once the state of Israel was proclaimed by the UN, all of the Jewish refugees from Europe were welcomed along with a huge number of Jews from Arab countries who were forced to leave their homes.
We had a late, excellent lunch in a restaurant in the Arab village of Ein Hud and that was the end of my day. Wiped out and jetlagged.
I am taking pictures but I don’t think I will be able to post them until I get home. I replaced the cursed Asus with an iPad mini and I haven’t figured out how to get the photos onto the mini. Nothing like new technology.
It has been a busy month; I just haven’t felt like writing. I’m waiting for that connection between my brain and the computer that Eli says will come, so my hands won’t be involved and the transfer will be instantaneous. Raja and daughters, on their way east to visit battlefields, stopped here last week; probably the best days all month. Two excellent Osher classes occupied my Wednesdays: “Memoir writing,” which I will probably never do but gave a lot of thought, and “The Written Word: The Vanishing Journalist” a kind of oral memoir of a retired journalist. Also took a movement class, Dalcroze Eurhythmics, four sessions at CMU. I can’t explain it, but it was fun.
My sister-in-law died of lung cancer. She looked awful when I saw her last month in Chicago, so I wasn’t surprised. Worse, has been watching my friend of some 50 years. who fell and is having a difficult recovery. Talking to her long distance is more troubling than visiting her. I will see her again in September when I return on my way to Door County.
I finally went to the doctor about my arthritic knees. They took x-rays then gave me a cortisone shot in each knee. I am happy to report I am now walking without pain and have started exercising again. That’s great. I am going to New York early next month and it would have been terrible if I couldn’t walk there.
Funny thing about blog writing. I really sat down to write about books and almost forgot after turning out the previous paragraphs. I’ve read several books this month, some I wanted to read, another forced on me from my funky book club. The best was The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, about the only survivor of a Japanese work camp in Malaysia who feels compelled to make a Japanese garden in memory of her sister. Along with the great story and great characters are wonderfully clear and erudite explanations about Japanese gardens and a clear exposition of both the good and the terrifying in the Japanese character. Having fallen in love with some aspects of Japanese culture I often have trouble looking at their extremes of cruelty, xenophobia and kitsch. I have to keep remembering most of us are guilty of the terrible stuff, but few of us achieve the sublime.
On Friday, when I returned home about 4:30 pm, my neighbor’s newspaper was still in front of her door. My neighbor is in her early eighties, she has balance problems and trouble walking. Worried, I called her and got her voicemail. I called down to the garage and was told her car was in place. Now I was really worried and didn’t know what to do. I called the president of the condo board. His wife said they would go into the apartment when he returns home in about 45 minutes. More than an hour later we finally went into the apartment and, happily, found no one there, dispelling my nightmare vision of finding B on the floor. The newspapers are piling up; B has not returned. The last time she went away she told me beforehand and I took care of the papers. I will do so tonight and leave a note for her. That’s not the problem.
We have a large number of elders in our building reflecting the population of Pittsburgh. There should be some sort of protocol for watching out for each other and not waiting for the condo president. I don’t have the answer; maybe there isn’t a good one, but I keep thinking about it. I don’t want to be the one on the floor waiting to be found.
Five week and two days later I am finally feeling as well as before I fell. No fooling, it takes a long time to heal. I've been to a nurse practitioner at my primary care office and two different eye doctors. I was beginning to think I would never get back to normal, so I'm very pleased with this day. I've also been involved with a lot of financial nonsense. Just when I most needed everything to function without my intervention, it was not to be. The pharmacy department of my health insurance decided I was expired. I don't know if that meant dead, or that I was no longer covered by the policy. The hassle with the pharmacy and then the several calls with the company was annoying in the extreme. I cringe inside every time I have to call a company. That's just one example. So I cleaned up the kitchen, started a crockpot with soup, and got a haircut. Now, if those dark circles under my right eye would go away, everything would be wonderful.