Blown Away...By Kusama

Two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., thanks to a good friend, I got tickets to the sold-out Kusama exhibit at the Hirschhorn Museum.  I'm back home in Southern California, but Kusama's powerfully seductive colorful images linger and beckon.  Last night when I couldn't sleep (again), I wandered downstairs, sipped hot tea and looked through the pages of her book  Give Me Love .  I wish everyone could read her introduction where this artist writes...And I want to tell people across the earth: Stop nuclear bombs and wars, now see your shining life With my longing for eternity.  Having lived in a psychiatric institute for some 40 plus years, Kusama speaks freely about abusive childhood, her mental illness, and her suicide-prone life.  After I googled her and learned that her art explodes from the depths of her mental illness, this new understanding couldn't help but color how I felt about The Obliteration Room, for example.

Two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., thanks to a good friend, I got tickets to the sold-out Kusama exhibit at the Hirschhorn Museum.

I'm back home in Southern California, but Kusama's powerfully seductive colorful images linger and beckon.  Last night when I couldn't sleep (again), I wandered downstairs, sipped hot tea and looked through the pages of her book Give Me Love.  I wish everyone could read her introduction where this artist writes...And I want to tell people across the earth: Stop nuclear bombs and wars, now see your shining life With my longing for eternity.

Having lived in a psychiatric institute for some 40 plus years, Kusama speaks freely about abusive childhood, her mental illness, and her suicide-prone life.  After I googled her and learned that her art explodes from the depths of her mental illness, this new understanding couldn't help but color how I felt about The Obliteration Room, for example.

At the Hirschhorn Museum, we were each handed a small sheet of colorful stickers to apply wherever we wanted to what had once been an all-white room. It felt playful, happy, colorful, and participatory.   We were  helping the artist "obliterate" the white room.  I mean, when is any museum-goer ever asked to add their two cents, or colorful stickers, in this instance?  Most of the time we're told, Do Not Touch The Objects.  But here we were enthusiastically encouraged to slap on our stickers wherever we wanted.  It was fun.  And Ed even sat down and played at the colorful Kusama piano.  But after I learned that Kusama's mental illness had led her to want to be obliterated, to obliterate herself, my reaction to this exhibit is more complex and nuanced.  And I suspect yours would be, too.

Infinity Mirrors at the same exhibit.  So mesmerizing I didn't want to leave after the guard told me my 20 seconds in the room was up.  

19th century (female) doilies turned into 21st century (male) art?

I was dumbstruck today at the Renswick Gallery in Washington, D.C., when I came across a larger than life-size "figure" by Rick Cave called Soundsuit.   The art is made of numerous, colorful doilies of all sizes and shapes sewed onto a life-like shape.

My grandmother, Josie, a woman born in the 19th century, used to crochet doilies exactly like the ones the artist used.  I wondered how she'd feel if she were still alive and she came upon this work of art?  Would she be proud or puzzled, ashamed or flattered?

And I also wondered from where did the artist get his hands on this treasure trove of handmade lacey doilies?  From the older women in his family? 

And I bristled a bit at the idea of what was always a woman's hand work turned into a man's art?   I don't want to be part of the gender wars, but I would probably have embraced this work of art more warmly if it had been done by a woman.

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Crossword Puzzles

I was telling a friend about my crossword puzzle work.  

I don't do crossword puzzles.  I don't understand them, all their obtuse clues--Bestselling Michale Buble album--make my eyes glaze over, and all those blank squares waiting-to-be-filled-in make me tense.  So why every morning am I cutting these puzzles out of the newspapers we get delivered--The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times--and  decorating them with stickers?  I wait until I have a pretty big pile and I stuff the whole bunch into a colorful envelope--turquoise, pink, orange--and send it to my niece in El Paso. 

"That's a random act of kindness," said Johnnie, bequeathing unto me a huge, unexpected compliment out of the blue.

I hadn't thought much about my crossword puzzle "work;"  and I hadn't labeled it one way or other.  About a year ago, my husband and I were visiting Chris, my nephew, and his wife, Jennifer, and somehow she mentioned about loving to do crossword puzzles.  She said they help her relax.  As the 30-something mother of two young boys, I could see how some relaxation, just for her, could be helpful.  She also said that she never gets any mail in her mailbox.  It would be fun for a change to get some mail.  

I had been so uninterested in crossword puzzles that I'd been oblivious to their existence.  I hadn't realized most newspapers carry them regularly, daily.   As soon as we got back home, I noticed crossword puzzles everywhere.  In the second section of the Wall Street Journal, the Arts section of the New York Times, even the sub-par Los Angeles Times has a crossword puzzle. 

Every morning I started tearing out the puzzles, and because I wanted Jennifer to remember me,  just a little, as she was solving the puzzles, I decorated them.  Depending on the season, and what stickers I had on hand, I glued on stars, pumpkins or Christmas trees.  I was careful only to put on the stickers where they wouldn't interfere with the puzzle.  

Jennifer said getting my colorful envelope was the highlight of her week.  That might be hyperbole.  But still nice.  She said that when she went away, she'd take the envelope on the plane and it was her way to relax.

When I started tearing, clipping, decorating, and mailing these puzzles I had no way of knowing that this activity would assume the quality of a daily zen ritual, and also send a message: We may live 1,000 miles apart, but I think of you daily, Jennifer, and I care about you.

I certainly had no way of realizing that once I started, I wouldn't stop.  And I had no way of knowing that my friend, Johnnie, would say, This is a random act of kindness.

Cranberry Bread

This is special and festive enough for the holidays.
I also like to make a special bread with cranberries. Taking advantage of the cranberry’s availability, I’ve made this in the spring. As in my cranberry conserve recipe, this also features cranberries with oranges.

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Seattle Clam Chowder

When I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest, a special family weekend included clamming for goey ducks (a big clam used in chowders) very early in the morning and returning in time for a fried clam breakfast. As little kids, we used to wait until the very last moment to race the tide back in; part of the thrill of clamming was that we sometimes got stranded out too far, up to our waist in water, and had to rescued. On my return visits to Seattle, I try to include a clamming expedition.
My version differs from many traditional recipes in that there is no cream and no bacon. I guarantee this is so delicious these ingredients are not missed.

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Traffic!

Before we left for Montana this June the NYT had an article about the most dangerous things people do around the country.  In Los Angeles the people who were interviewed said that the scariest, most dangerous thing they did was drive.  I agreed completely.  

In LA one has to be super-hypervigilant, always on the look-out for the other driver, who is probably using their cell phone.  These distracted drivers obviously haven't read Matt Richter's brilliant book A Deadly Wandering about the tragic consequences of texting-while-driving, or even using-the-phone-while-driving.

The 405 on a typical day in LA traffic.

The 405 on a typical day in LA traffic.

When you take into account how crowded the roads have become, how much the traffic has increased, how frustrating it is that it takes so much longer to get anywhere, it's not surprising when people are road ragers.

So, it's no wonder after a summer spent driving the tranquil, pastoral, rural roads of Montana, a big sky, wide open place with less than a million people in the entire state, I felt rattled when I returned to LA highways.  I look around me and think:  Where did all these people come from, and all these cars?

I've heard recently about people who have left LA because they can't stand the traffic.  I'm not there.  Yet.   

The road to our home in Montana.  

The road to our home in Montana.  

Poppy seed dressing

This simple, show-stopper is delightful served chilled over fruit salads. The grated onion and mustard combination can fool people’s palates. Some guests have guessed it has coconut in it. The traditional southern recipe calls for so much sugar, it’s like dripping candy over fresh fruit. This version keeps the essence of a good poppy seed dressing, but does away with its excesses.

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Beach-Walking

Last night was a full moon, and so this afternoon was one of those rare extreme low tides.  A -0.5 tide.  It's an invitation beckoning one to take a beach-walk. 

Once I stepped foot on the windy beach, everyone I encountered was happy--happy to be walking on the soft damp sand, way out into the Pacific, happy to be saying hello to our neighbors.  

Lynn, my sister-in-law, suggested it was perfect conditions to find treasures.  Often on this beach I find beautiful stones--a solid stone with an uninterupted band of white encircling it.  A stone a friend has named Lucky Stone because you can make a wish on it and the wish will come true. 

 There were no found treasures today but treasures of another sort found me.   Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From The Sea writes: The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think.  I couldn't agree more.   It is a place to breathe in the kelpy sea air, to marvel at the pelicans flying in perfect formation overhead, to get lazy along with the rolling of the waves.  I end up glowing.

Spiced Crab Apples

This is great for Fall when sweet, pretty, miniature crab apples start showing up in the produce department. From Dr. George York of the University of Southern California at Davis, I got the following advice on how to make spiced crab apples. This has several steps, but it’s mostly passive: you do one step and then wait. Don’t be put off by the multiple steps. It’s worth it.

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Babe’s Clam Dip

Babe’s Clam Dip, makes 2 cups

 

This is a modest, 1950s recipe, which my mother made as long as I can remember. No family reunion was complete unless Babe brought her clam dip. Mom always used cream cheese and probably thought it heresy to make it any other way, but hoop cheese (a West Coast term for Farmer Cheese or soft cottage cheese made with less than 1 percent fat) works too, although the texture is different. WIth cream cheese you get a stiffer dip that goes well with crackers or celery; with hoop cheese it ends up with a softer consistency.

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Role Models--select them carefully

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, so in the afternoon I grabbed Lana's sun parasol and went for a walk.

I sent this message and photo to a few closest friends:

Perfect day for a beach walk.  Wish all the people I loved lived close enough to walk with me.

My brother, who is just one year older than I, responded:

Yup, better together now on the beach rather than waiting until we have attendants wheeling us to karaoke.

I know he was joking, but still.  I wrote him back that he needs better role models.  I told him about my friend, Luchita, a beautiful woman from Venezuela, who is turning 96 in a few weeks.  She's having a one-woman gallery show of her painting in November, is also flying to Hawaii in November, and will be traveling to Milan soon to attend the gallery opening of her son, Matt.  Now that's the kind of role model I want to hold onto.   

Below:  Jo and Luchita Mullican, 2006