Small Miracles

Daphne Confar, Vivian thinks it's not gossip, it's background information, 2012, courtesy of William Scott Gallery

Daphne Confar, Vivian thinks it’s not gossip, it’s background information, 2012, courtesy of William Scott Gallery

Vivian is Averly Township’s secret miracle-worker. She doesn’t  trumpet her talent to the whole community of course, just to her close friends. You see Vivian thinks it’s not gossip, its background information.

You’ll meet her at the front desk of Sage Creek Middle School –  she’s been the secretary there for 23 years. “You’d be amazed at the things kids say.”  Occasionally, she adds them to the “prayer chain,” so everyone in town knows “to pray” for Jenny Randall’s (Junie Randall’s older sister) underage drinking or Sam Caldwin’s shoplifting habit.

She’s the first to put two and two together. Which makes her quite the miracle worker.

Like the time when casseroles started appearing unannounced at Lynn Weir’s home. She hadn’t told anyone she’d been diagnosed with cancer, but Vivian knew. Through Alice Beth who found out from little Beth (her niece at the pharmacy) when Lynn filled a prescription for a cancer medicine. This new texting has been a godsend.

Vivian remembered the school nurse giving Bradley Weir new pills – probably antidepressants. Vivian’s husband, (also church finance committee member) told her over oatmeal that the Weir’s had recently stopped their tithing.

It turns out that Lynn picked up the medicine for her mother-in-law (Gwendolyn but also goes by Lynn) to treat her degenerative arthritis, Lynn’s  husband’s recently laid off and Bradley’s freshly diagnosed with ADHD. No cancer. But I’m sure they appreciated the casseroles.

Or the time she conspired to match-make Jane Gregg and Rick Basutos. When they started dating, Vivian prodded the fledgling love at every turn and on the wedding day she congratulated herself with a second slice of cake. They moved away two years ago and Vivian got a Christmas card from Jane mentioning she was now divorced from Rick.

Vivian didn’t tell anyone that.

Sh*t Happens

Pablo Picasso, Le Rêve, 1932

Pablo Picasso, Le Rêve, 1932

Nora Ephron, writer, film-maker and humorist, passed away last week. This deliciously witty excerpt comes from her 2006 Vegas vacation, where she details Steve Wynn’s ill-fated encounter with this Picasso. I’ll bet this happened on a Monday.

The next day, after an excellent lunch at Chinois in the Forum Mall, which is the eighth wonder of the world, we all trooped back to our hotel to see the painting. We went into Wynn’s office, which is just off the casino, past a waiting area with a group of fantastic Warhols, past a secretary’s desk with a Matisse over it (a Matisse over a secretary’s desk!) (and by the way a Renoir over another secretary’s desk!) and into Wynn’s office. There, on the wall, were two large Picassos, one of them Le Reve. Steve Wynn launched into a long story about the painting — he told us that it was a painting of Picasso’s mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, that it was extremely erotic, and that if you looked at it carefully (which I did, for the first time, although I’d seen it before at the Bellagio) you could see that the head of Marie-Therese was divided in two sections and that one of them was a penis. This was not a good moment for me vis a vis the painting. In fact, I would have to say that it made me pretty much think I wouldn’t pay five dollars for it. Wynn went on to tell us about the provenance of the painting – who’d first bought it and who’d then bought it. This brought us to the famous Victor and Sally Ganz, a New York couple who are a sort of ongoing caution to the sorts of people who currently populate the art world, because the Ganzes managed to accumulate a spectacular art collection in a small New York apartment with no money at all. The Ganz collection went up for auction in 1997, Wynn was saying — he was standing in front of the painting at this point, facing us. He raised his hand to show us something about the painting — and at that moment, his elbow crashed backwards right through the canvas.

There was a terrible noise.

Wynn stepped away from the painting, and there, smack in the middle of Marie-Therese Walter’s plump and allegedly-erotic forearm, was a black hole the size of a silver dollar – or, to be more exactly, the size of the tip of Steve Wynn’s elbow — with two three-inch long rips coming off it in either direction. Steve Wynn has retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease that damages peripheral vision, but he could see quite clearly what had happened.

“Oh shit,” he said. “Look what I’ve done.”

The rest of us were speechless.

“Thank God it was me,” he said.

For sure.

Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

It was a $139 million dollar mistake. Read the full story here

Haystacks for the gold

Claude Monet, Grainstack at Sunset near Giverny, 1891, Museum of Fine Art Boston

Claude Monet, Grainstack at Sunset near Giverny, 1891, Museum of Fine Art Boston

Today I made a collection of oh-so-delightful chubby haystacks.

In Monet’s vision, the haystack stands to the side, giving full deference to the atmosphere. And the sunset in turn, halos the hay in gold. We watch light’s magic, glorifying, coloring and blanching things. And though the colors sizzle, the haystack casts a prosperous cool shadow, holding down the foreground with calm aplomb.  Prepared.

Roy Lichtenstein,  Haystack, 1969, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, Haystack, 1969, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Haystack pops front and center in Lichtenstein’s study of pattern creating form.  A braille stack redux.  I want to reach out and touch the dots, to push them together so they don’t hurt my eyeballs, which constantly try to connect and reconnect them. I give up and decide to study their shape and configuration. Like a nervous-tic they continue to addle my eyes, needling my subconscious. Scatterbrained haystack please stand still, please.

Will Klemm, October, 8x8 inches, pastel on paper, courtesy Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX

Will Klemm, October, 8×8 inches, pastel on paper, courtesy Wally Workman Gallery, Austin, TX

Ahhh, now my favorite, Will Klemm’s hay bale. Here we return to an atmospheric piece like Monet’s. And though reposed in stillness, there’s a tremendous amount of emotion rolling around. I want to give this hay bale a big squish hug and tell it everything’s going to be all right. But maybe it’s not lonely. A buddha bale that has reached peace, stopped rolling. With compassion it listens to my tales of woe. The shadow stretches impossibly long from a bright light source at an extremely low angle.  Is it physically possible? And then you realize he’s painting some hidden soul-field in your mind.

Or today your noggin (like mine) is the Lichtenstein.


You will be tossed. Which way would you like it?

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa from "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji"; 1823-29, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa from “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”; 1823-29, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Hmmm. . . big fan of the Japanese version, tense. Heroic. But my vote’s for Hambling’s fearsome sensuality. No explanation needed on this one friends – you are on your own.

Maggi Hambling, Rising wave, 2009 © Maggi Hambling

Maggi Hambling, Rising wave, 2009 © Maggi Hambling

I am the shifting shingle you approach with stealth

then in the dark moons of you curves I am tossed, lost, displaced with greedy lover’s tongues and lips

You suck me in and in again we rise together, we rise together, then float safe on liquid breasts until the dance begins again and you thrust deep and my resistance is low

dissolve, dissolve

no defence against your relentless advance

I am but a ghost of the shore disappeared in you

Hambling, 2008


These days I swim in a jellyfish bloom. Quite graceful from an aquarium standpoint, rather hazardous if you’re the one splashing.

People have tentacles and you never know when you’re going to meet one unexpectedly. We float through life, trailing long legs of personal history, swirling them about. Some people call this baggage, but baggage doesn’t twist you around and deliver a red whelping sting if you rub it the wrong way.

I’d be just fine if people lugged around suitcases. Bags would fly free with me too.  I could pile them up in a corner and look through a valise or two when I needed an explanation for a person’s odd behavior.

But no, most people are jellyfish-y.

And when they swear, “That’s impossible,” it’s usually a long tendril of memories past, wrapping around your neck, giving your lips a clamp. You reply, “In your experience, you’ve never seen this happen.” Of course there are obstacles to the “impossible.” Could be the wisened voice of reason; could be hoarse fear. Or both. Untangle yourself from the jelly barb and move on.

I’m rooting for these soaring ones above. They’ve broken the surface of the sea and taken off. Jellyfish rockets. Going for something I can’t see yet. Maybe the “impossible.” Their past history tendrils fly behind them banner-like, in possible propulsion. Foolhardy. Brave.

The sun’s pierced through and the clouds drip, drip, drip. Not ideal conditions for a launch. But I forecast luck and a favorable wind for these few. Cutting the sky with their rising hue.  They have decided to take up flying, a thing once pronounced most definitely impossible. I’m doing a Monday morning cheer (also once thought impossible)

For these wild, color-drenched people. I certainly forgive a sting or two.

Fisherman’s Cottage

Harald Sohlberg, Fisherman's Cottage, 1907, Art Institute of Chicago

Harald Sohlberg, Fisherman’s Cottage, 1907, Art Institute of Chicago

He sat solid, on a stump near the porch. Bare-hand paws tugging at fishing line. Restringing a pole, the net at his feet collapsed in a gnarled rope heap. A cable sweater, slightly yellow, stretched over his shoulders, wide hunched. His mother’s hands knitted the sweater for him last year, the same year he laid her to rest on the upper hill. On the ridge where the pines laced the sky through their fingers.

The rough planes of his face fell placid as he worked. The sweet-brine smell of the morning water pressed his lips. Now soundless, a wash of waves pulled and pushed at the gravel shore.

He caught women like he caught fish although he wouldn’t admit to such.  He put on his charm like he strung a night-crawler. They saw the power in his body, even now at sixty-two. His fourth wife left several months ago, and the calendar on a nail was just passing pictures. She wasn’t a sailor and he was too like this sea, same tides, both changeable and stubborn-constant. Whittling her away a little at a time. She tired of tacking back and forth through each bluster gust.

His fingers knotted the way his mind used to. But lately his thoughts lay blank as his fingers worked. He liked that, not thinking much. He feared getting stuck down at the dead-end of his reason. Alone.

He turned, the whisper ping of his cell phone surprising the silence. Only lately did he remember to plug it in when the battery died. Probably his daughter texting to wish him a ” Happy Father’s Day.”

“I don’t text,” he scolds the brightening sky. He couldn’t be bothered now. Not till this was finished at least.


Slava Tch, Missing Cloud, Lanning Gallery, Sedona, Arizona

Yes, I am missing a cloud today. I’ve looked for it in several places, the usual ones. But not to be found.

Like I look for my life on a Monday morning, in all the usual places, sometimes not to be found. And I’m jealous of these white houses standing so upright and sure. Confident in themselves and their plans. Smug-happy they made the right decisions. Strutting out red-roofed optimism.

They do not lean in, searching. To find that thing they are missing, the white cloud. But the rest of the painting does. The lake and the horizon pinch together in the middle, pull the hills and trees inward, a landscape search party. Bowed around the center.

Ah here it is. The cloud, blithe floating on the convex lake, off-center. Taking a break. Tired of holding up the sky. Gonna leave that job to the others. Maybe it should have been fog in the first place.

But the land does not release its searching tension. The charcoal sailboat still tilts. Maybe we have found what we were looking for, maybe we haven’t. Here the joy is in the looking.


Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape with Philosopher, 1996

Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape with Philosopher, 1996

Surprise! Near the end of his career, Lichtenstein turned his dots to breathtaking use in a series inspired by works from the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  Several are on display now at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of a sweeping retrospective.

He abandons his traditional primary colors in favor of a sky blue palette. Transforms his flat graphic style to meditate on depth, distance and the illusion of spaciousness. Eternity floating before our eyes.

Stripped down, the tight pixel pattern harmonizes with the spare eastern aesthetic. The graduated dots, fifteen different sizes, create scale and distance. With the tiny orange philosopher as the only figure to give us a non-dot reference.

Clouds, mountains and plunging gorges implied with staccato points. Forces your eye to connect them, read in between them. Merge the black space; eliminate the white space. Feel the tension between form and formlessness.

I enjoy the knurling tree, floating rootless, just as much as the orange seed speck of a philosopher. I wonder if together we contemplate his smallness and impermanence in the face of epic mother nature. Maybe that craggy mountain holds both our fates.

The eyes have it

 Kiyoshi Kobayakawa, Expression of Eyes, 1931

Kiyoshi Kobayakawa, Expression of Eyes, 1931

I used up this body


for one who does not come

A deep valley, now,

what once was my heart

Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)

It seemed the plum trees

were already in bloom

but when I picked a branch

what fell – so much like flowers –

was snow.

Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)


Judy Paul, Twins 1 © Judy Paul

Judy Paul, Twins 1 © Judy Paul

Today’s not a day for arm-chair metaphysics. It’s a Monday. Let’s not contemplate the imminent demise of abstract art’s possibilities. “Happy” is a fine and dandy reason for a brush to tickle a canvas too. So I dub Judy Paul Queen Monday because of slinkies, hula hoops and spiral thinking.

I spent a heated Saturday unraveling a ten-inch rainbow slinky my son bought with tickets from Chuck-E-Cheese’s. Like the excruciating division of Siamese twins. I overtook shambles of cork-screwy plastic with only the panic in his eyes to keep me going.  In the end, the tangles surrendered, but the slinky now slinks a wonky lop-sided gait. A sproingy architecture piece twisted on my desk. So I get nervous for this painting. I want to tell it not to get uptight, ’cause if it gets tangled, well it won’t be pretty.

I’ve told you before that I yearly panic because I missed the 60’s in America. Free love, bra burning and Bob Dylan–teenage troubadour. But I found peace, love and happiness in a handmade hula hoop I bought at the local farmers market as Booker T & the MG’s spun the turntable. You catch a freewheelin’ fun vibe when you’re hoopin’. And you can catch it from these loop-d-loops too.

And the joy of chasing your mental tail. The going round and round the same synaptic cycles in your mind. The same triggers, the same feedback loops.  A hypnotic ever-circling. I want to tell this painting to snap out of it and move on. But it is moving isn’t it ? Not sure which direction.

Maybe it’ll take a lop-sided slinking or a hula-hoop shimmy, but I trust you’ll get where you’re going. Rock the round robin as you find your way.