Thursday, April 7, 2016

Emerging from total immersion

I’m home. New York City is now reflection, not possibility. (Oh, no! I’m missing The Crucible!) It did SO MUCH, but what was that exactly? What does it mean for my Third Third?

I absorbed A LOT of culture: art, theater, and the simple culture of being around humans making lives. I was awash with creativity – I had IDEAS and oomph and motivation and plans and energy.

I kept a calendar of my plans for the month. If I heard about an author talk or a free day at one of the museums, a special event in Central Park or a comedy show, it went on the calendar. Sometimes I had three things for the same time period, and then I had to choose. New York is boundless and limitless!

And if, by chance, there wasn’t anything on the calendar, I’d say to myself, “You haven’t explored 23rd Street. Today, walk 23rd Street.” So there I was, walking down 23rd Street and a woman handed me a card and explained it was Holi day and an Indian feast in her restaurant was only $2 today so would I like to eat? So I looked inside, stayed, and had a great meal for $2. Little surprises popped up all over New York, and I had the flexibility and curiosity to follow up.
Just before I chalked Yetta Goldstein’s name on the sidewalk to honor the victims of the Triangle Factory Fire, I got a call from Michele, Yetta’s grandniece, so we did it together. Turns out Yetta was from Bialystok, the same village my grandmother emigrated from! Here I was, an anonymous visitor from Alaska, and I managed to find connections to the inside stories of New York. With 8 million people, there are stories to connect everyone with everyone.

But I have to tell you some of the astonishing artistic creations I discovered. I like museums, but if you give me my choice, my preferred art moves, it performs. So I sort of stumbled into New York’s art museums – mostly because they all have free days so what could I lose?

I saw things that were direct infusions of creativity into my brain! I saw things I couldn’t have imagined, but they were windows into a way of perceiving the world that simply blew my mind. Here is Barbara before – here is Barbara after.

I entered the world of Peter Fischli and David Weiss at the Guggenheim (which I’d never been to before; it’s the round one with ramps). In Suddenly this Overview, they displayed hundreds of funny little clay sculptures – with hilarious titles – that freed my mind.
Anna O. dreaming the first dream interpreted by Freud. 
How different the world is when you see it this way! Everything is so comical, so full of alternative reactions. Later, sitting on the airplane looking through the Safety Information pamphlet at all the graphic instructions for water landing emergencies, I thought, “What if I told a different story with the same graphics?”
Inexpensive cruise line delivers your luggage.
Okay, maybe it’s not art, but it’s a mental shift. I like mental shifts. They’re interesting.

I went to youarenowhere (meant to be confusing: is it “now here” or “nowhere”?) Andrew Schneider’s one-man show. Later in the play, the light shifted on the curtain, making it reflective. Andrew did a batch of gymnastic moves and we saw the audience behind. Eventually I realized I wasn’t in that audience: it was another audience behind the curtain! With another guy mimicking Andrew! Finally, the curtain dropped and a confrontation ensued between the two guys, and we had to stand up and change places with the other audience. I’m still not sure what it says about simultaneity, perspective, or who’s right (I am sort of shallow that way); but I had never seen anything like it before! The reviews – which thankfully kept the secret – said it was “brilliant,” and it was. When I got home, I had an email asking if I wanted to come back, to be in the “other” audience.
I learned the word bricolage, building something from just regular old stuff you gather. Tom Sachs, in his A Space Program film, built a whole space center and Mars landing expedition from junk: cut up FedEx envelopes yielded the Tyvek to make astronaut space suits. It all looked so real-ish, and now I’m looking at my junk differently.
Oh, I can’t even describe Laura Poitras’ installation on surveillance. (She made Snowden’s documentary.) She fueled both my outrage and my awe – how she moved us through an immersion in surveillance and what it feels like.

So many creative people. Hundreds of creative people. Writing about them is so stale compared to the experience of them. For a month – a whole month – I got to steep myself in the worlds they created. I was changed.

Now the question: can I hold onto this “Barbara after”? Can she survive removed from that environment?


  1. The "Barbara after" will always be with you, she may sink in and not look any different and then you will look at something and see it just a little differently than "before" and you will know that she is still there!

  2. Thank you for this! Maybe it's already coming true: check out today's post.


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