Plants vs. Animals

This week, I've been thinking a bit about the differences between animal people and plant people.

In my family, with the exception of one trial day with a kitten, we didn't have pets.  When on occasion we pet-sat for friends, we invariably ran into tragicomic problems.  My friend Connie's Shih-tzu scampered all the way back to her own home, a third of a mile away, in an unattended moment - we finally found her pawing at her front door, hoping to be let in.  I was surprised to be reproached by another friend for the dirty condition in which we returned his dog  after his family vacation (we didn't understand that bathing was part of our duties!)   

By contrast, everyone in my family loves plants, whether in gardens or out in nature.  Plants are one of the rare things we can all enjoy.  I would venture to say, we're plant people.

For myself, I am baffled to recall that as a child, I would pore over the Breck's bulb catalog, absorbing the photos of varietals and garden layout diagrams with great and entirely hypothetical engagement.  At recess, I would collect wild violets through the chainlink fence day after day, wrapping them in a wet paper towel in the ever-dashed hope that they might stay fresh until I got home.  I remember urging a friend to experiment in chewing the lemon sorrel that grew on the softball field (our distraction from the game was a given).

So, in a move that seems inevitable but thrilling all the same, I've set up really plant-oriented Wednesdays for myself for the next couple of months.  

In the morning, I'll be at Sprout Brooklyn to learn about indoor plants as part of their internship (!) program.  And in the evening, I've enrolled in formal botanical illustration course at the midtown location of the NYBG.  

Across both, I am already teasing out the idea of recognizing the individuality of a plant or a species, whether in learning to care for it or to capture it through art.

Discovered to be Missing

She said, I don't blame people for not being able to see the paintings, goodness knows, i have no idea why I did them myself.  She said I had 10 one-man shows and I was discovered in every one of them.  Finally when I left town I was discovered again - discovered to be missing.  She said she didn't know if she had left the world behind of the world had left her.  She said she left New York because of remorse.  She said that out at the edge of the canyon after we walked out through the sage to see the sunset.

Agnes Martin (Dia Art Foundation)

Milton Glaser at 92Y

Carrying through the line from Morandi, oddly, I went to listen to a conversation between Wendy Goodman and Milton Glaser at the 92Y in the Buttenweiser auditorium (if Buttenweiser isn't enough, Mr. Buttenweiser's first name was Laemmlein).  

Glaser studied with Morandi on a Fulbright scholarship in 1952 to "learn how to draw", which seems highly miraculous to me, especially when compared to what I spent my time doing on my Fulbright (rewarding Korean high school students with candy for coming to my English class and counting down to my return to New York).

Milton was attired elegantly and comfortably, wearing a silky looking cravat and logo-less dark sneakers.  Other than being faintly irritated that many of his explanatory slides had been omitted from the presentation (most notably those expanding on his children's book with his wife, The Alphazeds), he was gracious in explaining how he had learned certain principles he has come to live by.  Being above all a thoughtful person, everything he said seemed both considered and obvious, much like his essay Ten Things I Have Learned, which Wendy referenced in her introduction.  

When they wrapped up promptly after an hour, he came to the edge of the stage and cheerfully shook hands with all the young people that clustered there to tell them a bit about themselves.

One of my favorite things he talked about (and alludes to in #7 of the essay): 

Drawing also makes you attentive.  It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.




See, Do

Speaking of correspondence I just read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet for the first time a few weeks ago.  In my usual non-understanding way, or over-complicating way, I never imagined the book would actually be a series of letters written to a young poet.  But, they are.

In one of the later letters, he writes (to Mr. Kappus, the young and assiduous poet):

You see - I have copied your sonnet, because I found that it is lovely and simple and born in the form in which it moves with such quiet decorum.  It is the best of those of your poems that you have let me read.  And now I give you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to come upon a work of one's own again written in a strange hand.  Read the lines as though they were someone else's, and you will feel deep within you how much they are your own.

Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

There is something so generous and insightful about this gesture of sending back a poem in a form that would strike its writer differently, especially as Rilke has gracefully declined to critique earlier poems by saying, "Gehen Sie in sich", or "Go into yourself." 

The Morandi show did open at David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea, and the early etchings and drawings, especially, made me remember how much I love works that show the working of the artist's eye.  Being able to discern the form of things, the light and dark that underpins reality, is sometimes easier done through someone else's eyes.

Giorgio Morandi, Natura Morta / 1932

Giorgio Morandi, Natura Morta / 1932


Correspondence

Just cleaned out reams and reams of old Gmails that were causing me to bump against the ceiling of my Google storage limit, causing me a strange anxiety about how much digital space I was occupying in the world, although more descriptively (and less materially) in "the cloud".

I first tried to go for the largest messages, but saw that they were things like mp3s (!) and huge photo files attached to long, richly rambly emails from now ex-boyfriends and faraway friends circa 2011-2012.  

Deleting these was not an option, not so much for the heavy files but for the text.  

When I first got Gmail right after college, I was an English teacher in Korea, far away from everyone but two friends and fellow teachers in the same city.  Keeping in touch meant spending nearly an hour every day in between classes, reading and carefully crafting responses to emails that were full of local details, and ponderings about the direction our lives seemed to be going.  

The NYTimes recently published a writer's article - well, a eulogy - for the death of the long email, citing today's environment of a multiplicity of quicker and less demanding social media outlets and an attenuation of attention spans as marking the death knell for those long, blog-like mails.  

This seems almost indisputable at the macro level.  An interesting project at the individual level might be to chart the # of words in emails from 100 friends, and see when the implied relationships started to flag in terms of volubility.  Who knows who is the first to respond with a slightly shorter email, or more likely, a quick one-line response that promises more later?  But, I think, once the flagging begins, the decline happens very quickly after that.

What I ended up doing was excising 2+ GBs worth of all promotional and social emails from before 2015.  It felt ruthless and empowering, just as any Marie Kondo-ish exercise of rules-based, paring down ought.  And probably just like any Marie Kondo exercise, it's almost impossible to comply 100% to her rules of discarding content from a human you know.  In her book, she recommends discarding most photos and love letters, as you've already internalized the meaning that they had once they were read and consumed.  Now, they are a shell that can be dumped into the bin without any loss of value.

But, and perhaps this is more relevant for digital material that can be searched with a couple of keystrokes - I see a value to saving old emails as a private archive of communication.  Without the physicality of letters and cards that could be expected to retain a tang of emotion in the paper, old emails seem now like more of a time capsule.  One that you can dip into on a grey morning while deleting 20% discount mailers from 2013.  Remembering the way that people, and your relationships with them, used to be, how confessional and thoughtfully constructed.