Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hillary, Vincent, and casting things into the sea

It's been bitterly cold this weekend, but a glorious sun shines. What a ridiculously appropriate analogy that is and, I might add, such an obvious one that I'm sure any creative writing professor worth his or her salt would give me a D if I tried to wax poetic about it. "Get original," s/he would scrawl across the top of the poem. And speaking of grades, my grades are in fact part of the reason I feel so glorious right now. At long last, Hofstra has posted our first semester grades and mine don't suck.

Here I pause to recall an editor I used to work with at public radio's Marketplace, a man who is totally in my "Where are they now?" file but who made a lasting impression on me. One particularly amusing moment was an all-staff editorial meeting, which included far-flung bureau chiefs convened for a few days at headquarters in L.A., in which said editor went through the large list of commentators who appeared on the program and the staff came to a consensus about whether each should stay or go. Editor Guy would say the name and everyone would vote either "Fantastic, must keep her" or "Terrible. Get rid of him." He was trying to create a category for mediocrity, commentators that hadn't really shone so brightly but might still have some potential, and at last he settled on the label "Doesn't suck." That has amused me for years since. At that time I was the lowly editorial assistant to the executive producer, and I was basically at the meeting to take notes for three days, so I got to watch, amused, as these brilliant journalist minds would chorus, "Doesn't suck!" Love it.

Speaking of brilliant journalistic minds and not sucking (I realize I've gone astray from the subject of grades, but it'll come back around, fear not) another reason I am SO EXCITED this weekend is that Hillary is in! In fact, Saturday morning, I went online to get my grades from Hofstra's web site (gone are the days of having grades mailed to you...gone the Paper Chase-esque moments of throwing the paper into the sea when you come to realize what truly matters...) I was in a bit of a hurry, so I gave my email no more than a passing glance, and there atop my inbox was an email from Hillary Rodham Clinton to me (and, well, yeah, to thousands of her faithful supporters and newsletter subscribers) and it went like this: "Dear Linda, I'm in." Hurrah! (There's more of course, so feel free to visit her site to get in on the action, or watch the video of her announcement.)

I was already riding high on the first part of my amazing weekend. Friday night I went out in Manhattan and had a jolly good time. The evening began with the Museum of Modern Art, where as you may know one can see the actual Starry Night, painted by my new beloved artist friend epiphany hero, Vincent Van Gogh.

Yes, I admit, it was my first visit to MoMA. There's just so much to do in New York, one can hardly hope to do it all in one's first semester of law school, especially when one is on Long Island and does not get into The City every day. Readers of my blogs will recall that a series of fortuitous events last fall led me to read Irving Stone's Lust for Life, a biographical novel about Van Gogh. It not only awakened me to the brilliance of his art, creativity, talent, genius, madness, desire to save the world, desire to connect with other humans, desire to escape his demons, and more, but it also made me feel a connection-through-time kind of adoration of him, such as I've rarely felt before. I get him so much. I just -- get him. I spent my life being thorougly blase about painting, until quite recently in the scheme of things, and that made me miss out on the sheer creative brilliance of the man. What he did was a veritable revolution in terms of color and artistic frenzy. And other kinds of frenzy.

Much of this was chronicled here and on my so-called literary blog, particularly the day I read the most striking of all of the Lust for Life striking passages, when Vincent tells his doctor friend he had wanted to become a doctor and do some good with his life, and Dr. Gachet responds:

If I had painted just one canvas like this, Vincent, I would consider my life justified. I spent the years curing people's pain -- but they died in the end, anyway -- so what did it matter? These sunflowers of yours -- they will cure the pain in people's hearts -- they will bring people joy for centuries and centuries -- that s why your life is successful -- that is why you should be a happy man.

That passage blew me away. There I was, innocently going to law school, with notions of combining my desire to get an advanced degree with my desire to change the world in the international human rights realm, all the while fretting about my writing and my creative self ... and then I read that. It's beautiful.

In MoMA on Friday night, here's what happened. I strolled through a few fourth floor galleries and then headed to the fifth floor, where I knew The Starry Night was waiting. The minute I stepped into this particular room, greeted by a wall of Cezannes and Gauguins and Seurats and all of Vincent's peeps that he hung out with and argued with and painted with in Paris and sometimes other places, I knew I was in the room where I would see it. And as I walked along, I saw the biggest crowd of people gathered staring at one particular spot on the wall, and I knew that had to be it. The Starry Night. Sure enough, I beheld, at long last, and made all the more profound to my heart by my recent epiphany, this famous Van Gogh painting.

People were taking pictures. (Most respect the rules, but the MoMA staff have to constantly remind others, "No flash. No flash." Sigh.) One guy called someone on his cell phone and said, "What are you doing? Really? Well, tell your husband I'm standing in front of his favorite painting. Yup, right now. I'm in New York..." I was surrounded by conversations in various languages. It was like a little celebrity. The Starry Night.

There was another painting of his next to it, to which I eventually moved on. The Olive Trees. It, too, has beautiful blue. What Vincent did with color was amazing, and this has been duly recognized by the Baby Einstein people. I did not used to pay all that much attention to the Baby Einstein people, other than shelving a great deal of the product at Borders, but now that my sister has two children I'm getting more familiar. My three-year-old nephew loves it, and I just spent three glorious weeks hanging out in Phoenix with my nephew. The second day I was there, we were all at a Mexican restaurant (hello) and I was prattling on about something to do with law school, the fall, my realizations, Vincent Van Gogh. Suddenly my nephew, who had started getting restless in the face of boring adult conversation, sat up and cried, "Vincent Van Goat!" I was like, What? You like him, too? And then I recalled the little Baby Van Gogh character who paints and teaches youngsters about colors and even wears a bandage on his ear. It's totally brilliant. I made my nephew watch it with me at my sister's house -- well, not like he really minded -- but I think I was more excited than he was. I love that he can identify Van Gogh paintings that he's learned from yellow sunflowers and blue skies and so on. I love that he had that excited reaction. I love it I love it I love it.

Anyway, there I was at MoMA on Friday and after walking around the adjoining room for a bit I was headed back to look at The Starry Night again. As I approached from behind the gathered crowd, in its easily formed semi-circle in which everyone had a place to stand and enjoy the painting before moving on, and as I watched the conversations and the smiles and the cell phones and the digital cameras and the couples holding hands and gazing I thought, "Just one canvas, Vincent...bring people joy for centuries...this is why your life is successful..."

Chills rocked my body but my eyes brimmed with hot tears. It was true. There it was, in front of my eyes: just one canvas, and the attendant joy. Furthermore, Dr. Gachet's sunflowers were undoubtedly doing the same thing that day, along with other canvases of Vincent's, in their various places around the world.

So, MoMA, and then some good times with good folks at the Pig n' Whistle on 47th Street, and then coming home at 3 a.m. to encounter in my building lobby euphoric law school classmates who had seen their grades and not failed out of school.

Wow, thought my sated and exhausted 3 a.m. self, grades. Earlier in the day I'd wanted to see them. We've been waiting and waiting and waiting and they were to be posted Friday, but of course in Friday morning's class the rumor went around that they wouldn't be posted until Saturday, and when I'd left campus that afternoon they still hadn't been revealed....and suddenly it was the middle of the night and my friend was hugging me in her "I'm average! I didn't fail!" ecstasy and I clearly had the option to either see what my first semester of law school had wrought, or to go to sleep.

I went to sleep.

It's not quite like throwing the envelope, unopened, into the sea, as Hart does in The Paper Chase. But it is what it is. And then on Saturday after finally persuading myself to cast off the remnants of the Pig n' Whistle and get out of bed, and after a morning run and a big greasy breakfast, I signed on to the computer, and there was Hillary's triumphant "I'm in!" and there were my grades, which don't suck. It was clearly going to be a beautiful Saturday. For the first time in a while I felt a great deal of joy. Just - joy. I love joy.

Hillary went to law school, you know. Yale. (It is in fact where she met Bill.) OK, I am so excited for her presidential run. Those of you who know me already know that; after all, I've been promising for years to work on her 2008 presidential campaign, even when some of you didn't believe it would exist. I wonder what she did when she got her first semester grades. You know, she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life either. In fact, when I read her book, Living History, I was sort of reassured by that, and that is what I told her when I stood in line to shake her hand and have her sign the book. She said, "Absolutely, we just take it one day at a time."

And Vincent didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, and he tried and tried to do "do-gooder" things, but while he was probably meant to show the kindnesses he showed and to try to help the coal miners in ways no one else ever had, he wasn't meant to shirk his art.

Vincent was at best gravely misunderstood and at worst cursed and mocked and hated in his lifetime. It would seem to be in human nature over the centuries, hating what we don't understand but later collectively realizing it was good, and good for us.

Many "pundits" and a whole lot of jackasses have a tendency to present Hillary as "hated." In reality this is a media myth, although a lot of jealous and insecure and far less compassionate public figures would like to make you think that you hate her. She has traveled the world with diplomatic success, befriended people across class boundaries, and been an excellent senator. She's also rather smart and she's going to be a fantastic president. She's already done a great deal with her life, but maybe the White House will be yet another blank canvas, presented to her on which she may leave her mark for centuries.

"Now the paralyzing cold tells her, 'This is it.' But she can't go down on a sinking ship. Now the wind, it's out of breath and the northern gales subside. She gets her first sleep in days under starry skies..." -- Patrick Park, 'Silver Girl'


jnap said...

There are a lot of reasons to support Hillary Rhodam Clinton for President. But, wouldn't it be so cool, that the first female President of the United States was once a First Lady, and the First Gentleman(?) of the United States was once a President?

Yes, I can support her candidacy, and for reasons other than those listed above..

petroz said...

Vincent van Gogh self portrait found at Geneva flea market by Jules Petroz
watch the video on