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I Am in Need of Music

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

–Elizabeth Bishop

a snippet of Tara Donovan at the ICA Boston, bathed in green


In a remembrance of the writer Harold Pinter that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (and posted on Slow Painting), Charles McNulty included a memorable quote by D. W. Winnicott:

But for all his vehemence and posturing, Pinter was too gifted with words and too astute a critic to be dismissed as an ideological crank. He was also too deft a psychologist, understanding what the British psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott meant when he wrote that “being weak is as aggressive as the attack of the strong on the weak” and that the repressive denial of personal aggressiveness is perhaps even more dangerous than ranting and raving. (All that stiff-upper-lip business can be murderous.)

D. W. Winnicott

Ah, that Winnicott wisdom. I’m not a student of his psychological theories, so many of you know his oeuvre much better than I do. But I am always provoked when I run into references to his work because of his ability to hit the deep spots where truth rings and you can feel it in your body.

Here’s another quote by him, one that I have referenced and thought about many, many times. This is one of the most apt and succinct descriptions of the quixotic quality of the artistic nature I have ever read:

Artists are continually torn between the urgent need to communicate, and the still more urgent need not to be found.

I spent some time this morning searching for more Winnicottisms. Among other references, I found a lengthy essay called Pictorial Space throughout Art History: Cézanne and Hofmann, by Maxson J. McDowell. This piece has more to offer than a few pithy provocations from Winnicott, so I’ve included a few apropos excerpts here. The author’s correlation of the visual model for individuation with Jung’s hero’s journey has had me thinking all morning about what that idea could mean. Worth sharing here, to be sure.

Pictorial space represents a visual model of individuation. While the myth of the journey models the process of individuation, pictorial space models the structural changes which are the results of individuation. We are more accustomed to describing individuation as a process, perhaps because our thinking is informed by the myth of the journey. When we look for structural changes in the personality, however, we find some that are characteristic.

Winnicott has described similar structural changes though he emphasized that, under favorable conditions, these changes begin in childhood. Like Jung, Winnicott linked these changes to originality and creativity. As mentioned earlier, Winnicott said that an [individuating] personality acquires ‘depth’, ‘an interior space to put beliefs in’, ‘an inside, a space where things can be held’, ‘the capacity to accept paradox’ (to contain opposites), ‘both room and strength’, and both ‘originality and the acceptance of tradition as the basis for invention’…

A person becomes more individual when he or she forms an individual relationship with the unconscious. He or she organizes more around inner reality and less around learned attitudes. Winnicott said that depth includes a ‘respect for … the substance of illusion’ by which he meant inner reality.

The parallels between Winnicott’s interior space, Jung’s individuation and pictorial space are too deep to be mere analogies. An evolving personality and an evolving plastic painting are apparently homologous systems organized according to a common set of principles. A plastic painting makes tangible a process which, in the personality, is slow and obscure: it models or symbolizes the structure towards which individuation tends. In part, this is why it moves us so deeply. Plastic art was first created more than 35,000 years ago. Just as we have always used myth to represent the inner life, so we have always used plastic art for the same purpose.

so you want to be a writer?

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

–Charles Bukowski

This poem feels like that call to action during a season when the hungry soul’s cry isn’t quite as clear and crystalline. My time in the studio has been trimmed, that’s true. But it is still there, that stark yelp that Bukowski captures so so well. This poem makes me want to go out and howl at the moon.

I’m still recovering. Yesterday was probably the most memorable Christmas of my life. I take it back, all those bad things I’ve been saying about the holiday season. This was fabulous, utterly.

For the last 28 years I’ve been the Christmas engine in this house, overseeing the gifting and feasting for the five of us. It is exhausting and stressful. But this year it was completely different. I was the one who was gifted and feasted, almost embarrassingly so.

Earlier this year we decided as a family to follow the lead of our good friends Kathryn and Andrew Kimball and their six adult children. For some time now they have been celebrating Christmas in a simple fashion, with family members gifting one book or one CD/DVD to each other. This tradition is appealing on so many levels, not the least of which is its elegant leveling and admirable thrift. So like a lot of other “don’t call it a Depression, it’s only a Recession” Americans, we opted to spend our money on groceries rather than gifts.

Or so I thought. But I was trumped royally come Christmas morning. My children and husband all pitched in and broke the book/CD rule to buy me the object of my long time technolust (repressed though I thought my longing was)–a brand new spanking fabulous much needed since I’m ready to kill my piece of shit PC elegant iMac. I was completely surprised, surprised and stunned. Once the wrapping was off and I realized the box was not a vehicle to harbor some smaller gift, I broke out in tears. This was as close to magical wish fulfillment as I’ve ever known.


And then came the 11 (yes, that’s 10 plus one, eleven) course meal all prepared by my children. I am in awe of what they pulled off. It was spectacular, one dish after another. We started this marathon feast around 2 and it was still going strong at 8pm. I didn’t want the evening to end.

Christmas feast 2008

If you are a foodie, read on.

Here’s their menu, verbatim (they’re funny as well as great cooks):

Season’s Eatings
Christmas Feast

Oyster Trifecta
On the half shell with shallot mignonette, Butter Braised on crostini, and tempura fried with tangerine tartar sauce

Tuna Ballin’
Croquettes of oil poached tuna, whole milk ricotta, and organic russets on a bed of hydroponic watercress

Roccolo, Istaru Ossau-Iraty, Briscole al Barbera, Barchetto al Stagniato, paired with candied walnuts, truffle honey, Linden flower honey, shaved pears, and cracker assortment

Country Capa ‘Santa’
Sautéed sea scallop over braised parsnips and herb oil drizzle

Quail Eggs and Ham
Cured Spanish pork loin on baguette with poached quail egg, chipotle cream and melon

Fall of Ceasar
Deconstructed Ceasar salad with white wine boquerones and homemade herbed croutons

Hand shucked littleneck clams in creamy chowder

Butternut in My Pants
Handmade butternut squash ravioli with crispy pancetta and sage butter sauce

Fa la la Loin
Roasted beef tenderloin with horseradish cream, mushroom potato gratin and broccoli rabe

The Re-gifter
Flourless chocolate espresso cake with coffee ice cream

Terra Cotta
Earl gray infused panna cotta with a tangerine twist

Making ravioli

Plate prepping

Oysters trifecta (on the half shell served separately)

Tuna ballin’

Clate flexing some serious cooking guns

They’re home, my three children. And all of them are seriously gastronomicized. They spent the last two days coming up with the 9 course menu for our Christmas feast which will include three styles of oysters from Island Creek, home made ravioli filled with butternut squash, seared scallops on a parsnip puree drizzled with parsley oil, beef tenderloin, earl grey infused panne cotta and Michela’s unforgettable chocolate espresso torte. So begins the complete takeover of my kitchen by this small combat unit of Iron Chefs on steroids.

I’m out for the count (blogwise that is) until the 26th. Happy holidays!

A Body Was Given To Me

A body was given to me – what to do with it,
So unique and so much my own?

For the quiet joy of breathing and living,
Who is it, tell me, that I must thank?

I am the gardener, I am the flower as well,
In the dungeon of the world I am not alone.

On the glass of eternity has already settled
My breathing, my warmth.

A pattern prints itself on it,
Unrecognizable of late.

Let the lees of the moment trickle down –
The lovely pattern must not be wiped away.

–Osip Mandelstam

Some background on Mandelstam from Middle Stage:

The Russian poet Osip Mandelstam(1881-1938) was the brightest in a room full of brilliant flares, one of an extraordinary generation of poets that included Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Blok, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Marina Tsvetayeva, who made up what is called the Silver Age of Russian poetry. No writer more than Mandelstam bore the brunt of the political experiment launched by his country in the second decade of the twentieth century. It could be said that he loved and lived for his native Russia, and died at the hands of the Soviet Union.


Kellin at the Certosa Monastery (with a light and tonality that reminds me of a Giotto fresco)

I’m back from Italy, and the intoxicating colors of that landscape are still projected on the back wall of my mind. That palette has been commented on ad infinitum, ad nauseam, but for good reason. No one can do those colors the way Tuscany does them—the warm golds and ochres, the rainbow of hunter greens, the terra cottas, the sunny warm reds. Even in the angled light of December when many of the days are overcast and rainy, those colors are a saturated underpainting for every vista.

View of the Tuscan landscape from San Miniato

Persimmon trees, everywhere

Florence in December has some unique attractions. The persimmon trees drop their leaves but hold their fruit, suggesting Christmas ornaments. Strings of lights hang from nearly every street, giving a tasteful and festive nod to Natale. The gaggles of tourists choking every piazza in the warmer months are gratefully not there.

And there are no lines outside the Uffizi. Once inside I can stand for hours undisturbed in the two rooms that hold three of my favorite paintings: Cimabue’s Madonna Enthroned with Angels, Giotto’s Madonna and Child Enthroned, and Simone Martini’s The Annunciation and Two Saints.

Cimabue, Madonna Enthroned with Angels

Giotto, Madonna and Child Enthroned

Simone Martini, The Annunciation and Two Saints

Having now lived in Florence for two years, Kellin has cracked many of that city’s secrets and is willing to share her spoils with us. Who else knows that you have to ask to gain entry to the sacristy at Brunelleschi’s San Spirito in order to view a spellbinding crucifix attributed to Michelangelo? Who else could get the church warden’s keys to go right inside Brunelleschi’s Capponi Chapel at Santa Felicità and see the Pontormo frescoes up close and personal? Who else knows their way to the Chiostro dello Scalzo where Andrea del Sarto’s gray and brown grisaille frescoes can still be seen? Who else would know the way to the exquisite Certosa Monastery outside Florence to see the Pontormo frescoes that have now been moved inside for safe keeping? She’s the best art resource I’ve ever had.

Crucifix at San Spirito, attributed to early Michelangelo

Andrea del Sarto at Chiostro dello Scalzo

Pontormo fresco at Certosa Monastery

In a city whose many stories include rampant abuse of power, ruthless self interest and a repetitive proclivity to war, there is also the undeniable evidence of those moments when the political and the artistic come together like a perfect storm to create a culture of extraordinary brilliance. Isn’t that a little like us? We’ve all had seasons when our lives come together miraculously, bringing an unexpected harmony and confluence of good. We also have those seasons when the familiar soundtrack of our lives suddenly goes atonal, when we are off balance and not operating from our best selves.

Florence holds remnants of her many former lives, and being there in that multi-dimensional palimpsest reminds me of my own ups and downs. So this was a fitting locale from which to begin my 30th year of marriage. I never would have guessed that I would begin this year of my partnership with David feeling more connected, intimate and satisfied than at any other time in our life together. Rather than dissipating with the entropy of time, we are in a perfect storm confluence that is taking us in the other direction. All I can say is, wow.

Outside Kellin’s school in Florence

Kellin at Galgano

I will be off line (off blog?) for a week. We are in Italy celebrating our daughter Kellin’s completion of her Master’s Degree in Art History. On Friday she’ll put down her umbrella and will shoehorn all that wild passion into presenting her paper at a Symposium, The Speaking Hand: Gesture in Italian Art. Her paper is titled, “The Gesture of Finger Counting: Depicting Disputation in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.” Having read several drafts, I can assure you (without bias of course) that it is a work of sheer brilliance!

So we’re delivering our parental high fives in person, a serious perk for having procreated such a remarkable person. And we’ll be joined for a few days by Lesli, as close to a godmother to Kellin as you can get and still be Jewish. We are planning a few side trips as well, particularly to beautiful Volterra to see the Rosso Deposition.

Rosso’s Deposition, Volterra

And while we are there feasting on all things Tuscan, David and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. I feel like I am barely 22, so there must be some miscalculation somewhere. Ah, time. It feels like it can bend and go rogue, something the watchmaker didn’t take into consideration.

I’ll be back and posting on December 18th.

View of Volterra


More wisdom from Elliott Carter (see posting below for more). This is from an article in the Wall Street Journal and came to me by way of friend and artist George Wingate (thanks George):

If the public doesn’t respond, it matters very little. Think of other complex works that had difficulty finding an audience, he explains, like those of James Joyce. “‘Finnegan’s Wake’ is hard for anybody, I think,” he states. “But if you make an effort you can find places in it that are quite wonderful.” Another factor that shaped his decisions is that the monetary rewards of art music are negligible, whether one finds an audience or not.

‘It’s important to remember that this profession, unlike painting, doesn’t pay very much (although I do get some commissions these days),” he says. “As a result, you’re not encouraged to write for an audience — there’s no financial benefit. So you have to stick to what you believe in. Of course, I’ve written with the idea that there would be people who would want to play my music. Many are friends of mine — Charles Rosen, Ursula Oppens, Daniel Barenboim — musicians who are willing to spend the money to have extra rehearsals because of the level of difficulty.”

Still, I ask, doesn’t a composer have some responsibility, as Mozart seemed to believe, to reach an audience? Consider the case of the late Jacob Druckman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his orchestral composition, “Windows.” He ultimately reached the conclusion that the work had been a failure because there was so much going on in it at one time that listeners couldn’t possibly hear it all.

“There are parts in my pieces where you can’t tell what’s going on,” he says with a glint in his eye. “You also can’t tell what’s going on when a painter makes a big splash on a canvas. It’s just a sound.” One is reminded of a response given by the maverick early-20th-century composer Charles Ives — a mentor to the young Elliott Carter — when someone complained about the cacophony in his work: “What does sound have to do with music?” he asked.

Stuart Isacoff
Wall Street Journal


Interest in the new biography of literary lion V. S. Naipaul continues. Patrick French’s The World Is What It Is was written with full cooperation from Naipaul, and that fact makes the horrific (and, we are led to believe, honest) accounts of his abusive personal relationships even more unsettling.

At one level I am not surprised that Naipaul’s private life is so despicably self-centered and sadistic. He is a masterful writer, to be sure. But there was always an odor lingering just beneath his prose that smelled like a heap of hate. Some have called that bottled up anger “colonial rage.” I’d say it is that plus overlay upon overlay of other issues.

Which brings up that old nagging issue that I have struggled with for years. It’s the Picasso problem: Great art made by people whose personal lives are treacherous, narcissistic and condemnable. And it is becoming even harder to separate the two as our world becomes even more Gawkered and celebrified. A private life? That’s a hard thing to have once you have achieved a certain level of fame.

Besides, isn’t there some snarky, lurking, reptilian comfort in being able to declare that a particular successful writer or artist is an asshole? Julian Schnabel, that master of self promotion, is easy. Just about every artist friend I have dislikes him AND his art. But what about the assholes who produce really great work? Where do you draw the line?

I don’t think I could read a Naipaul book now without having my experience colored by what I now know about his personal life–the heartless self-centeredness, the long standing abuse of his wife, his misuse of almost all the other women in his life. I haven’t read French’s well received book but the accounts described in the reviews are graphic and unforgettably brutal. This man is a cold monster who happens to be a literary genius.

Here are excerpts from two reviewers. First from Pico Iyer in Time:

The central question the book raises is how much inhumanity is justified in the cultivation of a talent–especially in an age when (as Naipaul is shrewd enough to realize) writers are judged on the basis of their personality more than their art. Even as he turned himself into a bespoke English gentleman, after all, while Pat became the obedient and self-denying Indian wife of legend, Naipaul’s strength lay not just in the clarity of his observations but in the passion–the grief and terror and rage–that trembled just beneath them.

This is from George Packer in the New York Times:

Naipaul’s code of accountability lies in facing the truth, but it’s a limited truth, with no sense of agency. He cannot begin to see himself as his biographer or reader sees him, for the pain of others always reverts back to his own. And yet this bottomless narcissism, together with the uncompromising intensity of his vision, holds the key to Naipaul’s literary power. He had the capacity in his writing to project himself into a great variety of people and situations, allowing him to imbue his work with the sympathy and humanity that he failed to extend to those closest to him in life.