Where it Hurts

dp266473 When I heard him say what he said, I physically felt it.  “Grab her.”  Years ago, I had laser surgery on my cervix.  If you’re a man and you don’t have a cervix, a woman can’t exactly feel her cervix, just that it’s up in there somewhere, not with super nerve endings like your fingers, but some nerve endings, you know it’s you.

It was the only time I’ve felt pain inside that was really inside, in a place I couldn’t touch.  Not like stomach cramps, or a headache, that you can soothe from the outside, you naturally want to touch or grip that place, it’s some comfort to tense up and lay your own hands on it.  You can’t do that with pain inside.

It was a few short minutes, that pain, and not severe, and the procedure was over, a few precancerous cells burned away, they had to go.  They never came back.

I was having dinner with a friend and she said, “Did you see the latest Tr*mp thing?”  “No,” I said.  She summed it up.  Eh, more of the same, I thought.

I got home and watched the video.  It wasn’t the same.

There was another time I felt internal pain, specific, internal, when students called me a cunt, when they talked about my body, if I had sex, or how I had sex.

Some places I worked the kids wouldn’t dare say things like that to me, because our community was strong, because I had colleagues who would suspend them if they talked that way, and because I had plenty of other students, particularly male students, who were protective of me.

Other places I’ve taught, if I wrote these things down, they would be completely ignored.

If I went to an administrator office to pursue it, they would tell me to call the kid’s parents.

Or that they would have a meeting with the kid, when they could schedule one.

Or they might tell me that I needed to handle classroom problems in the classroom on my own.

I had to go back in the next day and let the kid say the exact same stuff as much as he wanted to.

Sometimes another student would come up to me and say, “He shouldn’t be allowed to say that stuff to you.”

“I know,” I would say.  “But I can handle it.  It’s all right.”  That’s what I had to say.

What’s hardest for me is to know that millions, millions of my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters on the planet, voted for That Guy.  That’s why he’s up there.  They did this on purpose.

What do we do as Christians?  We pray hardest for That Guy, because he’s obviously messed up real bad.  We pray for our sisters and brothers, that is, everyone, who is angry, for all of us frightened, that is also all of us.  When we are frightened we stay still, so we can stay ourselves.  Run in place if you must.

Mary and her precious body, Christianity saved from Greek ghostliness by leaders who held us in our bodies, Mary’s precious body, Jesus’, which was real, which hurt and bled, Mary, who was held and kissed, a real woman,  Jesus, who ate bread and fish and made wine and drank wine at weddings, just like we do, exactly, exactly like that.  No different.  Bread like I had bread with my friend at our dinner, with our soup.  Bread you need for your real body, your real belly and arms and all the cells, down to your lovely cervix, if you happen to have one.

That’s why we have real wine and real bread.  Not ghosts.  Not talk.  Not theory.

I’m just as much a sinner as That Guy.  That’s the only way out.  That Guy’s ways out don’t go out, they go in circles.  I am he, he is me, we’ve all fucked up, we all suffer, we all will die.  And our tradition is that we’re all absolutely, equally redeemable, every minute of every day.

What we do as citizens, I can’t get there yet.  This is how they got Hitler, I’ve thought again and again, horrified, we almost elected Hitler and our economy isn’t even awful, our country isn’t even humiliated and broken like Germany’s, it isn’t anything like that.  We’re actually doing all right.  And this happened.  Maybe we stopped it.  Maybe.

The other front page stories in the Times today are about the after effects of torture (shit, there are some, officials conclude), the destruction in Haiti (Jesus, things can get worse for them).  Then there’s one about how guys are brought in from far away to help slice lox at Zabar’s for Yom Kippur.

Lox is gross.

I wish my tradition was having our big festival of quiet and fasting this week, sitting around saying to ourselves, What the hell?  How can we possibly fix this?

Christians will get to that in the spring, when we have new mistakes and aches and pains.  What the hell?  I don’t know.  How can we possibly fix this?  I don’t know, but I’m trying to figure out how, from right where it hurts.

Image: Shrine of the Virgin, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Very Small Things

As the lesson said, “mustard seed,” I thought there must be smaller things than that, things so small that is the size of the faith that I have, like, perhaps a speck of dust.  Last night I was taking the train home and suddenly realized that I had no money, and would never have any money again.

Then I played this game I like, which is, I need something/what do you need?  Feeling poor (as opposed to actually being poor, which I am not) is about thinking there is something that would make you happy, you just can’t afford it.

This game worked well, as the 4 train stopped and went and stopped and went along back to Brooklyn.  I couldn’t figure out what I wanted that I couldn’t have it seemed like I actually had what I wanted.

I had spent the evening watching a documentary about the New York pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair.  Many people have tried to protect and preserve the flying saucers on sticks that sit in Queens, patiently rotting.

The documentary was shown at City Reliquary, a place that was on my list of spots to visit in the city.  When I walked in, a woman with nicely curled hair said, “Welcome, admission is free,” and I walked through a turnstile for no apparent reason but the love of turnstiles.

Among the incredibly adorable things they have are:

  • a dancing mannequin in tribute to Little Egypt, the famous burlesque dancer, and a (formerly) nearby theater founded by Fanny Brice
  • samples of soil from each of the five boroughs
  • a pretend wedding cake from a beloved Mexican bakery now out of business
  • rocks collected at Rockaway Beach
  • a listening station to hear “The Bridge” by Sonny Rollins, surrounded by information about the Williamsburg Bridge, which inspired the piece
  • pieces of stone from famous building of New York: the Waldorf Astoria, the Guggenheim
  • a hammer labeled “very old hammer”

The hammer was my favorite.

Earlier in the week, I had been to the Met’s exhibit about Jerusalem.  (For the bargain price of $1.)  They had stained glass windows, marble carvings, gold trays, Bibles and prayer books and Korans, it was all beautifully done.  It didn’t move me nearly as much as the grubby City Reliquary, though.

They did have two manuscripts written in Maimonedes’s own hand, as the label said, and that blew my mind.  In one of them, he is raising money to ransom people who have been kidnapped.  In his own hand.

Six years ago, I went into a junk shop in Iowa City and found this little bronze Arab-looking guy sitting cross-legged, and I loved him, and bought him, and took him home, and then I figured out he was Maimonides.  Maimonides is a strange person for me to love, since he is most known for his interest in the law and science, two areas which aren’t exactly my greatest passions.

After church I took the train to coffee, and on the way, I, and many of my fellow New Yorkers, had to walk a million miles under the Fulton Street station because  not only is the 3 train not running today, the A and the C and the 1 are not running, either.

When I finally got on a train, there was this foursome standing next to me, four adults and a baby I was making eyes at, they were trying to figure out how to get to 96th Street, they had taken the train downtown to get uptown, which is the worst thing in the world except taking it from Brooklyn to Manhattan to get to Brooklyn again.  “The weekend train is so awful, especially today,” I said, and then I chatted with one of the ladies.  “You just gotta have patience, what else can you do?”

We chatted a while until the guy with her tried to interrupt, and she said, “Excuse me, I’m talking to this nice lady.”

Then I told her to have a nice afternoon, and I got off at 14th Street, and I felt like I had what I needed.


Lefferts House

img_2224There was storytelling when I got to the Lefferts house, which was appropriate.  PJ was quite the storyteller.

At first I couldn’t find the damn place because New York City doesn’t like to reveal the locations of anything in its parks.  Just go in and relax!  This attitude is guaranteed not to relax me, but I did accidentally run into a rock with a marker about the Revolutionary War, you know, cool.

img_2214And finally I saw the house.  I came in via the backyard, which was full of kids playing with hoops and sticks like they didn’t know that isn’t fun anymore, and kids listening to a storyteller wrap up a story.
In the backyard, they had a “plank sidewalk,” which they used to have bunches of in Brooklyn.  Toll sidewalks.  They had lots of plants labeled: flax, berry bushes.  I rounded the building to go in the front door.  The side was peeling.  The place looked like it had seen better days, but in a nice, kid-friendly Brooklyn shabbiness.

Inside they had just one room set up with period furnishings, where I demanded a helpless volunteer take my picture.

In the hall were plaques explaining the Lefferts family got their land from the Dutch, and they proceeded to run the biggest farm in Brooklyn.  I’m sorry, Flatbush.  Brooklyn began with a bunch of small towns that grew together, and Flatbush was one of them.

While slavery was legal in New York, there were some big farms on Long Island, and they grew wheat and other crops that required big parcels of land.  Brooklyn went from forested to bare, as people cut down trees to create farms and to burn in their fireplaces.

When slavery became illegal in New York, the Lefferts and other owners of big farms started leasing their land in small parcels, to white people, who grew smaller crops (say, potatoes) to sell in the city.

Today, the neighborhood is called Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.  I lived there for a month when I was looking for a job out here.  It’s a nice, relatively affordable area, mostly African-American.  Ta-Nahisi Coates bought a place there, but then he changed his mind.  The neighborhood responded to this with understanding at his interest in privacy, and disdain that he thought people cared where he lived.  Or so it seemed from my reading of the neighborhood Facebook group.  (The neighborhood is close enough to where I live that I read it still.)

img_2231When I went back outside, the storyteller was warming back up for her closing story.  She asked people to come up and take instruments from her stash, and it sounded like she meant kids, but anyway I took a shaker thing and she told me it was from Botswana.
Some kids went up to stand next to her while she told this last story about a gourd that didn’t want to become an instrument but got over it.  One girl was dancing like a nut, and her mom looked both amused and embarrassed.

img_2232We shook our shakers during the story, a piano player was playing all behind this, like we were in church, and around the time I thought she couldn’t thank anyone else for being there, she was done, and someone else gave her an orchid for her twenty years of storytelling, which was real sweet.




pj-photoWe are currently at $210 in the scholarship fund, and with only $90 more, I’ll get to drink where Lincoln and Grant and Teddy Roosevelt drank, without even wearing a fake mustache.  They let ladies in now.  You can make this happen!


Swann’s Way

img_2186I picked eleven dresses from the racks that followed the whole, long storefront. Some of them it was difficult to see in the full harsh sun, the black ones were reverse ghosts, what were their necklines, their patterns?  My arm hurt with their weight by the time I carried them to the dressing room.  Latch them on a bar, the young man counts ad gives me a circle of plastic that says “10.”

Dresses black, pink, gold, whorled, blobby, black and loose in the bust, heavy damask, one won’t go over my hips, one gapes around my waist.

This shop, in Greenpoint, I knew because Greenpoint is where I used to work, when I had the worst job in the world.  I took a roundabout course from the subway to the shop, just to not see someone, I’m not sure who, or something, I don’t know what, just not the course I took from subway to work.

I pulled my own grey dress over my head, zipped it easily, old friend, and handed back all 10 dresses that were never mine.  They were recounted, like prisoners are.

What I need is the dress which balances my sadness at having half my life gone, with being still tender to taps on the shoulder or the heart, a person living more and more all the time.  This is difficult but not impossible to find in a dress.

I took the train way up to the cathedral the next day.  I ought to be preparing for a job interview for a job I didn’t want.  To be fair, I did not want any job.

I walked the long body of the church, and at the front I saw a giraffe of a crane extended all the way to the top of that arch in this biggest cathedral (in the world, by some measures).  Two men, tiny to my eyes, were in the cherry picker up there, examining the stones.

When I walked into the chapel, the gospel was being read, it was the gospel of Herod wanting to find and kill Jesus.

A friend had asked me, of my last job, “Did you think it was you?”

I said, “Oh, of course not,” realizing as I said it that I meant, “Every day.”  Every day I knew it was me, I knew I could have made everything right, if I were smart enough, insistent enough, I could have saved us all including myself.

After the service I went back to the cathedral garden.  The entrance is narrow, appropriately, it is around a corner.  A white pointy-topped pergola lets you in, and two others anchor the other corners.  I took one.  Grape vines with used stems like finished spiders, dried, the places where grapes had been, grape vines like the vines my friend grows in Kansas, like my vines my friends who had to stop drinking no longer touch, grapes like I had drunk an hour before from the chalice.

I sat, protected by the back, the lattice, with the view of the ship-sized cathedral and one flying buttress.  I learned those doing some report in school, I colored a photocopied photo of Notre Dame, I colored the buttresses yellow to highlight them.

I sat and did nothing.  Though I have no paying job, no 8-to-5, I still crave rest, and rest is still, somehow, elusive.

I got up and headed back to the street, and I saw a peacock.  Three peacocks live on the cathedral grounds.  This one was rounding a corner, and I followed him.  He did not have his full tail, nothing dragged.  He had the glittering neck, of turquoise and beryl, of Egyptian lapis lazuli, of Indian silk, and the peacock hat, four feather tiny mohawk, and his back had both a slush of brown and white feathers that seemed cut short, or perhaps were molting, and a small patch of regulation peacock feathers, with the all-knowing emerald eyes.  I leaned over a black chain-link fence and watched him snip bugs from the ground, from the faces and underfaces of leaves.  Such a stunning body, engaged in such underworld work, well, aren’t we all.

I went downtown to buy a copy of Swann’s Way.  I had an impulse to buy it last week, but decided embarking on a big book was dumb.

I went into the Strand, looked at the shelf where they had all the volumes of Proust, except for the first one.  I cursed, I walked away, and I accidentally stood next to the information desk for a second (I would never, voluntarily, ask for help finding anything) and the man at Information said, “Can I help you?” and I said he could, explaining that I was afraid if I didn’t buy the Proust today, I was going to lose my nerve.

“I had a customer in Melbourne, the last place I worked at, and he loved Proust so much, he had read all the different translations.”

“Well,” I said.  “It’s ambitious.  That’s why I haven’t done it yet.”

He showed me to the “Bucket List Books” table.  Stupid.  “That guy said Proust is the kind of thing you can’t get until you are older, you can’t really understand it until you are maybe 40.  He also said he couldn’t appreciate Beethoven until he was 40.”

“Well,” I said, “That sounds perfect.”  He looked about 40 himself, and I was only slightly disappointed he was Australian instead of British, he had a job at the Strand, he was an English major without a proper job, also, well, I don’t have one, either, hooray.

I lined up to pay for the Proust, tapping on it, worrying it was not going to work out between us, it would just be a slog.  I’ve read War and Peace.  That was both a slog and a great, buckle your seatbelt and settle in Russian novel.  It wasn’t just a stunt.

I went further downtown for one more errand, and Proust stayed in my bag.

Before I went home, I walked past Trinity Church, the  same spire Herman Melville saw, the clock he looked at to see the time, I was it was 9:30, the spire that was the tallest point in New York until 1890, and it’s not very tall, the place where people ran into when the tallest spires in New York fell and lost their whole selves to a wind blowing up Manhattan.

I descended to the subway, sat, opened Swann’s Way, and felt quickly that I had a face, lips, fingers, and I knew many things were gone, that I would never see or touch again, my grandparents’ house, my bed there with cocoa-colored sheets with mathy thin red stripes, particularly, I wouldn’t be able to find it.  I could ask someone what the address was, I could rent a car, I could drive there, and that house would be there only in a way that made no difference, with a porch we never sat on, but strangers, now, might, woods that were enormous to me might now be lots, into houses, the clock that chimed had not been on the walls for more than twenty years, and I would lie there, not able to sleep, not wanting to kiss my mother, or have her kiss me, but wanting to sleep and not able to, trying counting down, and counting up, and hearing the clock chime.

That precious and fragile kiss that Mama usually entrusted to me in my bed when I was going to sleep I would have to convey from the dining room to my bedroom and protect during the whole time I undressed, so that its sweetness would not shatter, so that its volatile essence would not disperse and evaporate, and on precisely those evenings when I needed to receive it with more care, I had to take it, I had to snatch it brusquely, publicly, without even having the time and freedom of mind necessary to bring to what I was doing the attention of those individuals controlled by some mania, who do their utmost not to think of anything else while they are shutting a door, so as to be able, when the morbid uncertainty returns to them, to confront it vicariously with the memory of the moment when they did shut the door.

There was no kiss I had, and no kiss which was the kiss I could imagine, or find, and no dress, either, so when I was home I undressed and lay with Proust just at my ribs, he went on, the breeze was then, from the window, just what made me feel what breezes are, and that I had a skin, and having toes and ankles and calves and knees and thighs was also precious, in a night.

Proust excerpt from Lydia Davis’ translation.

Image: detail from Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Poetry and Devotion in Indian Painting” show.

From the Chair

img_2200“This will hurt some, but it would hurt a lot more if I give you a shot in your gums,” the nice bald Russian man said.

I nodded.  I’d had someone push and trim along my gum line with a hideous instrument before, it had gone fine.  Nerve pain in a tooth is the worst, and my tooth is dead, R.I.P., left lateral incisor.  “Uh-huh-huh,” I said, and gave him the thumbs-up.

In Kansas City, I had a dentist who never gave me a filling, he “helped” me out.  The Russian man, here, is not much on following the spittle on the sides of my mouth.  He’s not much on having an assistant.  He’s done almost everything all by his lonesome.  He does cock his head and look at my tooth like it’s a haute couture piece, though, and I like that.

Two days before, I was sitting with a martini at gold-dipped Bemelman’s bar in the Carlyle Hotel, being served by a man in a white jacket.  We sat behind the piano, where the piano’s glossy back arched away from us, as if it were going to dive back in.  Every song you could call a “standard,” the man played, one by one by one, Old New York, he was hidden behind the piano, by its top up, we were shielded by the piano from the doorway to the lobby, the airlock to the world, if you could call Madison Avenue “the world.”

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  I had lots of time, ideas, a million adventures at my fingertips; I am unemployed and have the money I have to look at and watch trickle.  I needed a root canal and a crown; I asked for help with this and it was kindly granted.  Financial help, that is, in the chair, with my mouthful of drills, I have only the alphabet to imagine places I’m glad I’m not trapped:  A, an attic  B, a basement.  C, a cliff dwelling.  D, a death chamber.  I wasn’t great at this game.

It was the next day that the Bemelman’s day ended– I was with a visiting friend and we, as usual, took everything way too far– I stepped into a train car which had four men in it.  Two of them were passed out, and the other two looked about to pass out.  It was two a.m.  I take the subway whenever I want.  I have never had a bad experience.  As with walking barefoot, I’ll have to have a bad experience to stop doing it, and I’m still walking barefoot all kinds of filthy places.

When I got close to home, I bought chocolate chip cookies and water from the newsstand.  Had to walk a ways.  Down our boulevard, which always has cars.  Which at three a.m., has another couple of guys sleeping on park benches.  I tiptoed past them.

The very next day I walked the same street in the daylight.  Instead of a big moon, the trees were presiding.  Instead of being heavy shadow clouds protecting us, the trees were out and explained by day.

I passed a cardboard box of books on someone’s stoop.  There was a children’s book titled, Squids Will Be Squids.  I took it.

I got to my writing space, and I found a book about an aircraft carrier.  I left the squid book and took the aircraft carrier book.  I think it’s okay to take books from there.  What writer wouldn’t want a book borrowed, to be read?

In the ladies’ room at the Carlyle, I washed my hands and put on lotion because it was fancy Carlyle lotion, and it did smell like rich people.

“Do you have a ponytail holder?” this woman asked me.  I was fumbling through my bag looking for my lipstick.  Having had a martini prevented me from finding the lipstick.

“I don’t, I’m sorry.  They should have a vending machine for those.  I always need one, too.”

She had white grey hair, and a long black dress.  “I just need to pull this up,” she said, and went into a stall.

“Uh,” I said.  “Do you need help?”

“No, no,” she said.  She came out.  “I just think this would be better with hair up.”

“Well, it looks great,” I said.  ‘Those feathers!”  Her necklace was made of feathers and white and grey beads, pointing and fringing away from her face, toward her décolletage.  “They look great with your hair!”

I was free from the worst job I ever had, from the avalanche of need of my students, from the terror of losing my job, from alarm clocks, from what was happening.  I was under the thumb of the calendar, my email inbox, from what I want to write but have to force myself to sit down and write, and from what could happen.

Seasonal Weather

IMG_1970When you can run around half-naked, it’s different.  I think.  Anyway it is different in southern California.  Every time I visit, their lack of giving a shit impresses me.  I read Joan Didion, on California: it has to work there, she says, because there is nowhere else.  You are on the edge there.  Which explains better than anything living on the coast, by which I mean New York or LA (like a New Yorker).  When I am impatient because people here walk too slow, there is nowhere else.  There is nowhere else on our planet I can go and walk faster.  This is absolutely it.  Maybe they are taller in the Netherlands, but I’m sure they don’t walk as fast.

It is Labor Day, when our neighborhood is adjacent to the second largest public celebration in New York, the West Indian Day parade.  In the West Indies, you can run around half-naked all the time.

When I was five, we lived on the street the Prairie Village Fourth of July parade marched down.  My aunts and uncles sat in lawn chairs in our front yard and the cooler was full of watermelon, and I got blue and red yarn on my pigtails.  Here we are four short blocks away, a distance that protects us from the clouds of barbecue smoke, the pounding music from speakers on semi trucks, twelve hours of crowd down two miles of sidewalk.

I took my usual walk, half a mile of parade route.  Feathers are gorgeous, gold fringe, every woman once she has breasts has a fully sparkled bikini top and a feather headdress.  I covet the headdresses so big they are floats, the women walk, they have a man beside them to guard them and, I suppose, to take an arm if they become too weary.  They must be so heavy.

Again I muse on how I’ve been a guest in black communities a long time, and how I am always thankful to be tolerated, and I am honored to be welcomed.

A friend tells me he went to last night’s celebration, which is called J’ouvert.  Four people were shot at that part of the party.  He’s fine.  The daytime scene feels wild but safe.  All the booths selling jewelry, flags, t-shirts, tinfoil vats of food, daiquiris in pineapple halves sold out of a grass hut.

I haven’t been to the Caribbean, partly because I feel awkward about visiting anywhere I’d feel like a fat American overlord.  It’s been such an education for me here, knowing older ladies from the islands who want everything at church just exactly so because it’s always been that way, learning from teenagers there isn’t Game Stop in the DR anymore, but that there are horses, beautiful horses, and the beach, always the beach, and you can drive there at any age, Ms Schurman.  I drove when I was eleven.

Jamaica, Haiti, Tobago, the Dominican Republic.  “L’union fait la force,” says one.  Unity makes strength.

There was talk the parade this year could be interrupted or ruined by the hurricane.  We have seen not a drop of rain.

I feel the admiration of someone who has built costumes, and wishes she could build them better, and loves to romp around painted, masked, glittered.  And the complete outsiderness of someone not from anywhere, at an event for people to actually wear the flags of their homes.  Lots of guys wear their flags as capes.  Ladies wear two stitched together as a dress.

There’s no flag I would wear, I guess, there’s no flag I even would fly.  I’m not the least bit patriotic.  Once when I was about to land back in the United States, I was listening to “Rocket Man,” and I thought, oh, how American, I’m home, and then I remembered Elton John is British.  Whatever.  No: another time I felt patriotic, when I was flying home reading Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, and crying.  But that was feeling love and loyalty to American dissent, to artistic dissent, and the optimism of despair.

Two days we had in Huntington Beach, California, and I wore as little as possible, and was free (except sunblock, sunblock), and there it is still summer, will always be, as we here move into other  kinds of skies, without green leaves, without the salvation of sun.


ma1985.63.5I was seated right next to someone, although there were plenty of seats at the counter.

“I taught high school for eleven years,” I said, instead of saying, “I am a teacher,” or, “I am a writer.”

In Kansas City, when I say I am a writer, I think people find me eccentric.  In New York, I’m afraid they think I am a famous or successful writer, and then I have to explain my level.

The man I chatted with was an illustrator, graphic design teacher.  We talked easily about cities, schools.  I ate cold squash soup with toasted lentils on top (very fancy food for me) and had a glass of wine because I always have a glass of wine at MoMA, even when I am unemployed.

The guy talked about having met the wife of one of the artists who was currently showing at the museum.  I told him about meeting someone who knew Rothko, last time I chatted up a stranger at the cafe.

“Rothko is buried right down the street from my house,” he said.

I used to not feel much about Rothko until my ex liked Rothko, and I started paying more attention, and then I saw his paintings in their natural habitat in DC and in London, and I understood they were trying to do something to you.  Reading Kandinsky’s On the Spiritual in Art helped, too.  Colors and how they could, would, do, should affect people.

We paid our bills.

“Let’s just look at one thing together,” the guy said.

“Okay, sure,” I said.

We went around the corner.  We looked up at the title and explanation for the display.  I don’t like to read those, though, so I didn’t.  We went on inside.

“What do you think?” he said.

The room was full of pieces of cardboard you had to walk around, barriers.

“It’s fun,” I said.  “It’s like a maze, sort of.”

On the walls were photos of windows and hands.  “I don’t think the pictures go with the maze, though, the maze is fun, and the pictures are so formal.”

“I don’t feel like I get this high-concept stuff sometimes,” the guy said, which is another way of saying what people often say in art museums: “What the hell is this supposed to be?”

“A lot of modern art is funny,” I said.  “I hate that people don’t smile or laugh more when they look at art.  A lot of it is funny.”

I was remembering a bit from the Met Breuer show, a film that says, “A FILM BY BLAH BLAH WHOEVER” and then the radar-screen swoop countdown: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1… 1/2, 1/4,” it goes on to smaller fractions, I laughed, and I loved watching successive people laugh when the 1/2 showed up.

And it reminded me of all the years I counted down to start class.  I would do the same thing.  1/16.  1/32.

The truth is, I didn’t get to be a real teacher out here, at neither school did I have the discipline support or academic support to do the job the way I know it should be done.  If New York City schools weren’t a monopoly, if I knew more people, if I were better at navigating the thorny brush of the enormous system, I would have left earlier.

Another truth is: knowing I won’t teach this year is freeing, confusing, and scary.  I’m not sure who I am if I’m not a teacher.  My adult life started when I started teaching.  That made me an adult more than anything else I’ve ever done.  It made me feel useful.

“I just don’t get the levels,” the guy said.  “I mean, like being an illustrator, there’s this huge jump to be considered someone who does work that gets in a gallery, and there’s this other huge jump to get in a place like this, and I don’t get it.”

“Oh, I don’t get it, either,” I said.  Who does?  Some artists are praised and paid for their work early and often, some labor along with little stuff as I do, some hit big and then become unfashionable, some make stuff and keep it in a drawer.  All that is hard because it took a lot to make things in the first place, let alone deal with everyone else’s reaction, or lack of reaction.

I wish all of the agents I’ve ever pitched to had all fought to fight for my work, and I wish I had work as a teacher that was comfortable and exciting for me.  But that isn’t about levels, it’s about support and opportunity.

I wish someone thought I was a genius, so I could be lonely like I’m above it all instead of normal lonely.  That must be levels.

“Well.  Nice to meet you.  Enjoy the museum.”

“You, too,” I said.

Image: No. 13, Mark Rothko, Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Aside: the Met owns a bunch of Rothkos they don’t even display.  Including that one.

The show we saw at MoMA, which was much more interesting after I bothered to read the introductory text.