More about sacrifice: my friend Coke interviewed me for an art project in September. I talked about sacrifice and said that I hadn't made many. I was thinking of Muriel Rukeyser's quote about being an artist where she said that it is all a matter of choice. Don't second guess your choices and don't talk about sacrifices. Just make them and go on. (I'm paraphrasing badly here.)
Did I sacrifice having a family for the freedom to live and write the way that I do? Or would I have been badly cut out for domestic life anyway, and instinctively avoided it?
I don't know. The honest answer is, I don't know.
I guess the more important questions are: Is it too late to choose again? Do I try to get a second chance/second act, make enormous changes at the last minute, as Grace Paley wrote so presciently, or do I stick with what I have now, a full artist's life, bursting at the seams already?
Sacrifice means "to make sacred"--to give something, not just to give it up for the sake of being a martyr, but to give it to life. When dancers dance, they make a living sacrifice of their bodies, their energy. They spend themselves in the dance, holding nothing back. There must be a difference between sacrifice and self-denial, although the two often get blurred...
I had delicious times this weekend with C, lots of holding, laughing, teasing, eating, an epically sweaty Bikram yoga class, great reading ("Perfection" an amazing story by Mark Helprin from his collection The Pacific--read it!!!) and a mediocre movie ("Freedomland" with Samuel Jackson and Julianna Moore.)
And then C went off on his own musical adventures, and I went to the MOMA to see a photography exhibit with G. The featured photographer, whose name I can't remember, liked to photograph ordinary things, as G does--city buildings, bridges, lampposts.
For the past year, G has been making his own wonderful cityscapes of architectural details and then when I praise them, he typically responds, "Yeah, but is anyone going to want to look at a photo of a corner of a building?" So it was wonderful to be with him in an exhibit full of corners of buildings, parking lots, phone booths, telephone wires strung out on empty highways. Emptiness was a big part of this artist's theme--the emptiness of America, the vast spaces in the middle of the country, sagebrush and clipped anonymous lawns in front of shabby tract houses.
I could see the lightbulb go on in G's head; he got it--what he does is art, it counts, and here were people paying good money to stand and gaze at photos that were not unlike his own (and I know I'm biased, but the best of his work is as good as anything I saw in the museum.) It was like that great moment when students read W.C. Williams and understand that they can make poems out of paper bags and plums, and they don't have to speak in an elevated faux-Wordsworth or Shakespeare voice to make good art.
We also looked in at the Picasso exhibit that's up now, which wasn't as satisfying, partly because there were a million people wandering around with ipods stuck in their ears, diligently learning about Picasso from the audio tour, partly because there weren't that many actual Picassos, more artists whom he had influenced, and the ones there were seemed to be culled from his ugly period.
I know this will make me sound like a total yahoo and I don't even care, but I couldn't help comparing him with the Impressionists whom I liked so much better. When E and I went to see the Monets at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, we were both transfixed. We could have stayed there all day, eyeball to eyeball with the luscious glowing canvasses. And when I saw the Van Goghs at the Met last year I wanted to put my nose into the paintings and just inhale them. But these particular Picassos--jumbled abstracts in repellent colors--left me cold.
"Call me old-fashioned, "I whispered to G, "but I like beauty."
I don't know what elevated the photos of cityscapes and empty freeways into beauty for me, or why the paintings in mustardy yellows and snot-greens refused to rise, but there you have it. The mystery of art.
After G left to have dinner with his ex-wife, I stayed in the museum bookstore and picked up a small book of selected erotic paintings and drawings by Picasso. Here were the pictures I wanted to see--warm, alive, kicking. Given the weekend's activities I could relate to them strongly--feel the weight of the women's thighs, the feeling of the bodies rolling against each other. There was one which depicted a man going down on a woman that gave me shudders of pleasure.
Then I went on to New College, did some last final edits on a student paper, then met Olga for flamenco. We shared a glass of red wine and a great appreciation for one of the dancers whom she dubbed "snake woman," for her writhing upper body. The dance is imperious, even a little bit SM or dominatrix-like. Proud, fierce, angry. Olga said it has gypsy origins and recounted how she was almost stolen by gypsies when she was a child in her grandmother's village in Russia. No joke.
Now to work on entries for the Nimrod prize...