I’ve been thinking a lot about the arts and creativity again this week as I began to reread my memoir yet again. I hadn’t meant to reread it, but I had asked Ronald to read it again. After all, it is his story, too. When I printed it out to give to him, it felt and looked so inviting. Even as an avid Nook user, I find I still like to hold a physical book, feel the paper, and run my eyes over the words as they make patterns on the page.
As a child I loved the smell of libraries and the touch of books. Here’s a little reminiscence I wrote about one of my visits there when I was around four years of age:
A couple Saturdays a month Peggy (my big sister) walked me to the city bus stop. When the bus rolled to a stop in front of us, we climbed on board. Peggy dropped coins into the coin slot, we took seats side by side, and we rode into downtown Albany. We got off at State and Pearl Streets. Then we crossed State Street and climbed the concrete steps of the massive brick building fronted with Greek-styled columns that housed the New York State Museum of Natural History and the New York State Public Library.
Once in a while we would turn away from the library and go into the museum. A life size model of a sperm whale skeleton hung above the entrance high in the air. We wandered through the circular paths from one exhibit to another. There were taxidermy animals set in natural habitats and wax figures of Indians sitting in long houses around campfires. One room was called the Gem Room, and each case held samples of sapphires, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. An Ellis Island exhibit portrayed immigrants arriving on US shores for the first time as my grandparents had arrived from Montemurro, Potenza, Italy: wax mannequins crowded around steamer trunks, valises, and duffle bags that fit everything they owned, awaiting check-in.
Round and round we went, stopping to look at each exhibit while Peggy read the placard describing it, lost in the enormity of time and place. Soon the gift shop would be ahead of us, and sometimes Peggy would let me pick out a tiny museum memento, maybe a tiny plastic whale or wooly mammoth or a coin purse decorated with Indian beads, to take home with us.
Most Saturdays we did not go to the museum but to the NYS Public Library. The smell of musty books overwhelmed and the quiet enveloped me. On this day Peggy left me in the children’s section while she went searching for books to please her tastes. “Stay right here and don’t move,” she whispered. But there was no way I was going to go anywhere.
The library floor was cold dark tile. I sat cross-legged on it in the middle of the aisle, my dress pulled over my knees in a triangle, with books on either side of me in long wooden four-level shelves. I smelled the books, the pungent mustiness burning my nostrils; I touched their plastic jackets, and ran my fingernails over them, scratching the surface.
The pictures held me spellbound. Some were just line drawings; others were in color; and still others seemed to jump off the page. They spilled over into the words I could not yet read, and their colors and lines were textured with movement. Make Way for Ducklings, Madeline’s Rescue, Ten Apples Up On Top, Are You My Mother?, Curious George, Happy Birthday Moon – I knew them by the pictures on their covers. I scrambled on my knees up and down the aisle, pulling books off the shelf, and looking for ones I hadn’t taken out before and whose covers and pages attracted me in some way.
Peggy wandered back with a few books in the crook of her arm. “Let’s pick some books to take home, just four,” she said. I knew Peggy would read to me whatever books I chose. I picked just four because I knew she would take me to the library again when the books were due and let me take out more.
We checked the books out and walked back to the bus stop on the opposite side of the street from where we had gotten off. On the bus, Peggy dropped more coins into the slot and we took our seats for the ride home. Often a visit to the library exhausted me as no other play could, and I slept with my head on Peggy’s shoulder for the duration of the ride until she roused me at our stop on Central Avenue and Locust Park. “Come on, we have to get off now, “ she coaxed.
The walk home always seemed longer than the walk to the bus stop, and my feet felt heavy as bricks. I held my books against my chest, my arms tightly wrapped around them, lest I drop one in the road. They were my treasures found.
This week Cara astounded me with a beautiful short memoir film, a memoir in motion. It aroused and recalled my emotions and what it was like to let my seventeen-year-old twins Cara and Mackenzie move twelve hours away to pursue intensive dance training at a conservatory. The memory elicited tears as I recalled how, that first year, Ronald and I repeatedly wondered if we had done the right thing by sending them there. I cried that first year almost as much as they did. But the film was joyful as I witnessed Cara’s exploration of how she grew to love and emulate the very teacher she had at first questioned and for whom she felt anger, distrust and dislike. The dance duet between teacher and student, and then teacher peers, is evocative and moving. I showed it to Ronald and he said simply, “It’s beautiful.” Cara intuits her way through her artistic pursuits and through life, a whimsical, beautiful, artistic being.
Here’s the link, if you’d like to watch it: http://vimeo.com/36345833.
I wanted to share a photo of Mackenzie doing the very thing I shied her away from as a child when she begged to take gymnastics – “you’ll get hurt,” I admonished each time she brought it up. But I cannot figure out the technology to include it, so I will include a short piece from my memoir describing the circus arts she now performs in addition to dance:
(From Chapter 8, Watch Our Show – possible new book title: Salt and Pepper: A Memoir about Interracial Love – let me know your thoughts on it)
We would sit through many performances over the years: piano recitals, dance recitals, dance performances at the conservatory, and then their own productions and dance films. We went to New York City to watch Mackenzie fly on fabric that was suspended from the ceiling, secured with giant carabiners. She spun in graceful circles. Then she scaled the fabric twenty feet up, twisting and turning it around her body, the long fabric tails flipping through the air. Near the top she released her hold and spiraled downward, the fabric unwinding as if she were a spool and it the thread. Just as it looked as if she might not stop, she did, the fabric flexing bungee-like, her back arched, her legs and arms hanging backward toward the floor, looking like a spider in a web.
Ronald and I had no map to follow when we grew up as artistic people. We had no mentors. We did not know about nor have access to special schools or conservatories that can immerse one in art and where one can meet other artists. We lacked drive perhaps, to push ahead anyway, as many, many artists did and continue to do. Maybe we were too sensitive and worried too much about the response to our creative endeavors. I still worry and feel disappointment. Maybe we needed stability more than the satisfaction one gets from creating. Or maybe we were too afraid of failure or what might lie ahead. No matter though, we still live artistic lives, now maybe a little more comfortable with our artistic endeavors than we were as young adults. And we raised two artists who forge ahead, not always sure of where they are going, but who are committed to living creatively and artistically.