moma astronautsMagritte made me think about vocabulary.

Magritte works in trunks (the human kind), tubes, clouds, wood, ball bearings, music, chess pieces, rocks.  Blues and browns and blacks and greys.

I work in animals, stained glass, shoulders and brown hair, houses, and glasses (the kind you drink out of).  I work in fairy tales and Bible stories.  There’s sparkle and glow and never a pastel in sight.

What you say is maybe less interesting than what you use to say it.

Once I got a rejection letter that read, “I think I know what you are trying to say, but I have no idea why you’re trying to say it that way.”  That’s right up there with, “Why don’t you tell us a story?”  I hated that teacher, cried twice a week after his class, and proceeded to spend the next twenty years following his advice.

My imagination is too active to like surrealism.  I have to work to get into this world, to touch real things.  I don’t need to be pulled out of my body, except for comfort.  Surrealism is supposed to be jarring.

Magritte paints a neck as a leg, a neck as a concrete pipe, and rearranges limbs in a way that reminds me: this is not inevitable.  The integrity of the body is delicate, always delicate in a way we don’t want to admit.  The hands of the little boy are growing, and the shoulder will bend forward, down.

What does he mean about trees, though, trees being made out of music?  How does he get away with superimposing his music trees in front of regular old painted trees?  With a shoe filled with hair instead of a woman?

Just playing with his vocabulary, perhaps.

The vocabulary becomes the precious thing, too.  Emily Dickinson’s garden, her flowers and bees and grasses.  John Irving’s bears and condoms.

Hard to know, though, when you are trapped in your usual materials, when they are crutches, when you have to go looking for new ones.

I went to St. Patrick’s after seeing the Magritte show.  It is nearby.  St. Patrick’s is choked with scaffolding right now.  When I walked in, a man handed me a bulletin and I found a plastic chair behind the wooden pews that hadn’t yet been removed.

Once I sat, I saw that I had chosen the same row as St. John’s altar.  I was going to go by there anyway.

About twenty years ago, I was in Manhattan, and my shoes started to give me a blister.  Oxford kind of shoes, black ones.  I bought some espadrilles, because they were cheap.  When I got up to leave, I accidentally left my old shoes.  I always wished someone was sitting there praying for size 8 shoes.

Image from MoMA lobby on that same visit.  The Magritte show doesn’t allow photos.  Link below to images of show.

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