January 21: Because I believe procrastination adds a little frisson to life, I dashed to the Phillips Collection in the closing minutes of Everything is Beautiful, its dazzling exhibit of the works of Alma Thomas. The first Black woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum, she hit her stride at the age of 75. Thomas was inspired by sunlight passing through the holly tree at her window and her own small bloom-filled garden to paint abstractions of vivid, pulsing beauty in a style profoundly her own.
She said, “I knew starting at the age I did I couldn’t do a whole lot of things. I needed to do one thing.” Oh, to my eyes, that one thing is magnificent.
Alma Thomas also challenges us to see life as she did: “Everything is beautiful (in its own way),” she said.
January 22: Is trash ever beautiful, especially when dumped amid the tangled vines hiding an abandoned train track? No. But beautiful were all the people who converged on a cold, sunny afternoon to pick, bag and sort three tons of debris near Pope Branch Park, including literally a wall of car tires six feet high and thirty (!) feet long.
Beautiful, also, was dinner that night. After six hours supervising the clean-up, Nate and his friend Trey loaded surfboards into a car and headed for the ocean. I met them at Nate’s favorite Italian restaurant, where we sampled cocktails, entrees and desserts well into the night. A delightful surprise, they said. For me as well. The “surf house” is now open for the winter season.
January 23: The surfers were heading to the beach, and Nate invited me to come watch. I declined (34 degrees?!). But when he texted me their exact location, I sighed. What’s a mother to do? I grabbed my coat and car keys.
The sun was indeed lovely, and Phil Collins was on the radio singing “Me looking at you, you looking at me. That’s all.” I got to the beach. The surf was firing and, standing between patches of snow, I watched them catch some good rides. Nate waved a greeting. But it was cold. With numbing fingers and a sustained lull in the waves, I decided I’d had enough and trudged back to the car. But first I peered through a boardwalk telescope. I trained the lens on Nate, just as he pivoted his head to look for me on the shore. He then turned directly to face the telescope. “Me looking at you, you looking at me” echoed in my head. What’s a mother to do?
I went back to the shoreline to shiver and enjoy the show.
January 24: As I look again at my photographs from the Alma Thomas exhibit, I am filled with joy and awe. She composed my favorite piece, playfully named Red Azaleas Singing and Dancing Rock and Roll Music less than two years before her death at 86. Beset by painful arthritis and the repercussions of a broken hip, Thomas, who measured just over five feet tall, used pillows, books and even mattresses to steady her hand and body. The final work, painted on three canvases, is 6 feet high and 13 feet wide.
Thomas said, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be caged in a 78-year-old body and to have the mind and energy of a 25-year old?”
In Red Azaleas, I just love how the community of curves and dashes, dense and vibrating on the left, ultimately explode to freedom on the right. Perhaps this painting could be her autobiography — and a loving prayer for all of us.
p.s. This reminds me of confetti! Thank you, commenters, for enjoying the metaphor I flung into the air in my last post.
January 25: The heron stood quietly in the marsh grass, facing the sunset. Meanwhile, more than two dozen ducks swarmed along a channel at the heron’s feet, paddling fast in the opposite direction like a classroom of rascally children. When I walked past again a few minutes later, most of the ducks had returned — and the heron was looking toward them, as though taking attendance.
January 26: Well, the long-awaited machine arrived today. I read the manuals, arranged the pieces, and initialed away all of my rights (but none of my responsibilities). “You’ll sleep better,” Kevin assured me.
I groused and stomped around: We will trip over the cord. It won’t fit on my bedside table. I can’t even smile wearing this darn thing.
Then my friend Jennifer encouraged me. Kevin fixed the hardware issues. And best of all, when I turned to look at him with straps and tubes dangling from my face, he teased out a smile. “You are already full of energy,” he said. “Think how you’ll be with a good night’s sleep!”
If he’s right, look out, world!
January 27: At the Alma Thomas exhibition, I purchased a canvas bag depicting Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers (the second image from the top, above). I decided to hang it from a doorknob in my bedroom, to hold my new mask and tube. I will look at it everyday, and it will remind me, as Thomas said, that “Everything is Beautiful (in its own way).”
Bonus: Several commenters enjoyed the squiggly-piece puzzle I featured last week. The image was based on a painting called “Regatta,” by P.J. Crook. The puzzle made me smile to see it again; I know it brought back many happy memories for my friend, who was a very devoted and enthusiastic crew mom!
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