Here’s the Thing

Still life is not just flora and fauna. So, hands down to artist Robert Cottingham for curating the “Here’s The Thing: Single Object Still Life” spring exhibition at the Katonah Museum of Art, where everyday objects are the new still life.

On Wednesday, May 21, I joined 50 fifth-graders for a breathtaking, attention-grabbing tour of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints. Some pieces were created to fool the eye, while others were maquettes and Herculean-size.

We were all fooled by a brick, 1890 $20 dollar bill, and a dirty beaten packing box.

To jump start the tour the docent asked the students if they could take home one piece what would it be. The girls said the oversize chocolate kiss oil on canvas, one student said he’d place the enormous domino on his wall. I couldn’t decide between the framed airmail envelope or the flatten black telephone.

Although the docent told the students not to touch, it was hard not rubbing your hands across the ginormous Excedrin box made from 121 Excedrin boxes as well as the bronze sculpture money bag.

More than finding the beauty in everyday objects and the artist also depicted supersized consumerism in our country with various oversized paintings such as a cinema speaker, a sandal, and a sugar shaker.

Here’s the Thing is worth the trip, the exhibition continues until June 29.

Wearing a red cape

On Thursday, May 15, I awoke at 6 a.m. to complete a deadline and then drove my eldest daughter to school. Upon my return home, I woke up my youngest daughter, not an easy task, then piled lunch food on the counter and returned to my laptop to polish one last article and email it to the editor. My daughter made us lunch for the school field trip, while I dressed. Yes, earlier I drove my teenager to school wearing my pajamas.

Well, I was ready to sit on the bus with 50 fifth-graders and read. I was looking forward to just sitting, after a week of no more than five hours sleep. I entered the classroom, the teacher said, “There’s no room on the bus, parents will have to drive.”

I asked the other parents would they like to carpool. The men said no the women said yes. And guess who was designated driver. I’ve had the book, Fryer Street and Environs, by Marita Bonner, on my desk for almost two months, I was sure today I would read one of her short stories.

In the car we go, off to Esopus River, behind a bus driver who does not stop at yellow lights. I decided this was a good thing, at least I would get home in time to change my clothes and catch the 2:43 Metro North train.

At the river, I learned about beach combing, how to fish with a net, why catfish have whiskers, how to identify pond insects and just because the water is clear doesn’t mean its clean, just because the water is dirty doesn’t mean its polluted. And of course, the session was running into overtime 1:15 p.m. and it was a 30 minute ride home.

In the car, I call my two traveling partners, for estimated time of arrival. 1:50p.m. My phone beeped. “Angela I just can’t go tonight I have a spitting headache,” my friends said. I had expected her to drive, so I could look over my essay for the reading.

In the my house I flat ironed my hair and changed my clothes. I called my other friend and said, “let’s drive.” Again, I am behind the wheel. D and I always have fun together and there are two things we can look forward to: a)getting lost; b)me scaring the pants off her with my erratic driving skills.

“Have you ever had a day, where you know you’re wearing a red cape,” I said to D. “I have mine on.”

She laughed.

Well, with a GPS we did not get lost, but D held her breath several times. We arrived at our designation at 4:30 p.m. One hour before the event. “Let’s go in” I said. “The early bird catches the worm.”

Living the writer’s life

We entered Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and were the first to arrive for the literary reading. The silver journal, “The Truth about the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction” sat along the ledge of the wall. My essay, “The Last Eight Months,” had been included in the Spring 08 issue and D came as a supporter.

A black man with long dreads, silver rimmed glasses and a black hat greeted us. “I’m Michael Datcher, youRaising Fences know like Michael Jordan only cuter.” I introduced myself and my friend and remember my piece, as well as the editor who accompanied us on the elevator ride. “Page 26, take your three copies from the wall.”

He disappeared. The room began to buzz with music and loud chatter. I realized Michael is the author of Raising Fences. ( I read that book last year, I am honored to be at this event.) Chicken, salad, wine and beer are served. Circles of writers, agents and editors stand around. I talk with writers from Chicago, L.A. Turkey Vermont and NYC. Michael doesn’t hesitate to be my evening mentor, pointing out the people I should talk to including his agent and an editor for Simon and Schuster. I had a blast and of course showed off, (only writer wearing a two-piece pin striped suit with white collar) at the reading as they say “I popped a collar.” Yes, I pitched my book.

At evenings end, I soared home red cap and all.

Midday inspiration

Wednesday afternoon juggling too many projects and answering too many interruptions. My fingers click across keyboard and cell phone keys, my head booms and my body stiffens. “I must get out of this chair,” is what I think, but do not do. I swapped my morning walk for an hour of research for a newly assigned article, due in less than 24 hours. Happy for the work; angry for missing my walk and skipping my 15 minute journal entry I continue to surf the internet.

An email fades into the corner of the screen. I hesitate. I click. I’m invited to explore South Bay Community Church audio files. (I’ve been corresponding with the director of the marketing department on a project.) I visit the website and click on media and then choose an audio file. “Why am I here?” Sure I can listen while I work.

The next 30 minutes, I’m mesmerized and awed as Rev. Long begins in a calm teachable tone, “Look beyond yourself. You can’t understand your purpose in life by starting with you.” I turn from the keyboard to my journal; I can feel seeds of tidbits coming my way.

Planting my pen to paper, “A creator creates things for her pleasure.” I think a chef cooks a meal to please a foodie’s palate; a novelist creates a story to entertain her audience. Rev. Long continues. “If God made us for His pleasure, what must we do to bring Him pleasure.? Establish a meaningful relationship with Him. Make an energetic use of your talents, gifts and skills for the best interest of the world.”

And then I smiled when he said, “God doesn’t care what I do but how I do what I do”…that brings God pleasure. To be fair, honest, have integrity for human kindness.

My midday inspiration helped me put a nagging question on the shelf, “What does God want from me?”

I don’t know about you, but there are times in the midst of all the busyness, I just want to stop. There are times in the midst of the chaos, I wonder “God are you watching me, do you see what’s happening here.” Yes He does, He created me for His pleasure not mine.

Community theater makes a connection

From book to stage and screen that’s what has been capturing me in the artful world of literature. When “Color Purple” hit Broadway I was determined to see the show, before it ended like a “Raisin in the Sun” and I had to revel in other people’s reviews. During the last week of “the purple” production, I was fascinated and captivated. Brilliant scenery, excellent vocals and dazzling dances. I loved it! Of course, without the original ending when Shugs makes amends with her father — earthly and heavenly the spiritual context of the color purple was lost.

Although I missed Lorraine Hansberry’s original 1958 production of “A Raisin in the Sun” and the BroadwayLorraine Hansberry show featuring Phylisha Rashad, I did read the book in high school and watch PBS adaption of the play starring Danny Glover and the 1961film starring Sidney Poitier. However, the most recent theater debut, produced by Passing the Torch Through the Arts and performed at Dutchess Community College in celebration of Black History Month, added depth and meaning to Hansberry’s Tony-award winning play that I had not garnered from my high school reading or the film adaption.

Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred” inspired Hansberry to write “A Raisin in the Sun.”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Hansberry also wrote this play, then, so white America could see blacks in other roles besides housekeepers and minstrels. After connecting the play to the poem, now, as a black woman, mother, parent, wife, and daughter I see people of all races, creeds and colors, who have experienced their dreams dry up in the sun as they make a decision to run or despite the sagging load carry on.

A Day of Reflection

Turn broken into beautiful. That’s the message Girlfriends in God brought to the Fishkill Baptist Annual Women’s Conference. Author Sharon Jaynes, bible study leader Mary Southerland and worship leader Gwen Smith shared their tales of brokenness, grace, forgiveness and joy with the multitude of women on May 3 through song, bible study and humor. Mothers, grandmothers, widowed and divorced, and single and married women, took time to spend Saturday worshiping and praising God; instead of busying themselves with weekend chores: chauffeuring children from baseball to soccer to dance, hustling in and out of grocery stores or malls, to name a few. As the conference chair said, “It is rare to find a woman resting on a Saturday morning.”

Gwen ignited the conference with poetic and heartfelt songs encouraging women of various denominations to raise hands, clap, or sway. I did all three; that’s the way the Spirit moves me. In between sessions Gwen, a songwriter, crooned her original songs with either guitar in hand, or piano tunes as well as a musical video. During her afternoon concert, like the psalmist cried to the Lord, so did Gwen. The mother of three created a prosaic poem about watching the Creator show off before dawn with an awe-inspiring sunrise while she sipped a cup of joe at Seattle’s Best. She also sang about the storm when God turns worthlessness into preciousness and guilt into forgiveness. What I enjoyed most about Gwen was her honesty.

“I didn’t come here to entertain you but to worship the Lord, so worship with me as I close my eyes and look to him.” And after I checked out her new cute shoes, I did.

Sharon Jaynes, soft spoken and humble, reminded us that as believers our victory comes in knowing who we are in Christ, what we have in Christ and where we are in Christ. She read affirmations from her book Experience the Ultimate Makeover: God’s Transforming Power. I am a saint. I am God’s a temple of God. I am sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit Who has been given as a pledge of my inheritance. I’m reconciled to God and am a minister of reconciliation. I am a child of God. In other words now your personage, possessions and your position.

Mary Southerland, a proud grandmother of twins, held nothing back as she stood on the platform and bluntly said, “Some things cannot be learned in the light. In the darkness and tough times God has gone before us and buried a treasure for us to find.” Why? So that we may know who God is (Isaiah 45:3). That’s the key to discovering the power of God’s grace. With that comes joy ‑ being deeply rooted in confidence that God is in control and realizing that we were created to praise God. Joy and praise are a choice, not a promise. However when we choose to praise God, we are choosing to trust Him.

In another session, Sharon talked about walking in total freedom by forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward (Philippians 3:13). Ouch. I’d been struggling with this verse for months. In October 2007, I resigned from my full-time post as a newspaper editor to teach as an adjunct professor in the English department and although I enjoyed both positions, I was alive and excited when it came to sharing my passion of writing with young adults and encouraging their lack of passion. (I have to admit, the spring semester was overwhelming when one student walked into class and said I hate writing. On the last week, before finals, he said “I forgot just how much I enjoyed writing.”)

Then the ouch, turned into an oozing soar, when she said to find the hidden treasure you have to share your scars with someone else to be a comfort for them as God has been a comfort to you. A bam she said the word “forgiveness.” Forgive yourself. That’s what I had to do. And it was the second time is less than a week that forgiveness had been placed on my heart.

Mary closed the conference with three simple steps to walking in joy: Realize we were made for joy, recognize the value of joy, and learn to be joyful. What a comfort and confirmation. A few weeks ago as I was riding through a storm, I could only say and pray “If it was not for the joy of Jesus, I would have slit my wrist. If it were not for the joy of Jesus I would bury myself in a ditch.” And his joy did just what Mary said, healed me, made me strong and eliminated my tension.

In the words of Gwen, when things do not turn out the way you planned remember to pray “grace,” “grace”, “grace” for the person, situation and circumstance.