Saturday, February 11, 2012
One of my shoulders has been hurting since Christmas. My sister in law Clare bought me some hot patches at the CVS, and those helped for a while. But I should probably visit the doctor, and I haven’t done that yet. My husband Ben thinks it’s a problem of strained connective tissue – the result of being pulled by Basil the dog when I walk him on the leash.
I’ve also noticed a strain in my neck on that side when I sculpt. My mother in law Alice says, “Darling! Just you wait til you get a little older.” Alice is visiting this weekend and we went to the Phillips Collection this afternoon because she hadn’t seen Renoir’s Luncheon Of The Boating Party in years. Strangely enough, I was only at the Phillips a few nights ago with my friend Ananya.
We’d gone to hear Yusef Komunyakaa read his poems inspired by a current exhibit “Bonnard to Vuillard" photographs and paintings by post impressionists. Afterwards Ananya and I sat in the reception room talking about writing. Ananya is deep in revision of her novel, while I am feeling a little fed up with writing. It’s the connective tissue that always gives me problems. The connective tissue in my work.
And it’s the connective tissue that leads to my experience at the Phillips Collection today, looking at the beautiful photographs by Maurice Denis and the paintings inspired by them. A tiny photo of Matisse in his studio captivated me. I thought to myself – that’s him – and when that picture was taken he was the man, rather than the name. A painter in progress, not the final verdict.
When we gazed at Renoir’s Boating Party –Alice, Ben and I – we saw those luscious figures in the prime of their lives, not a single hard line in the painting. Alice recently gave me a copy of The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. We were both amused and delighted to understand the background of The Boating Party painting, explained in that book– the fact that the man in the background wearing a top hat was the author's ancestor Charles Ephrussi from whom he inherited a netsuke collection that included a delicate ivory hare with amber eyes.
Back to connective tissue. The hardest thing to write. This evening, my friend Robyn, a writer, read me one of her chapters over the phone. It was funny and rambling, charming and honest, and then pulled all together with something profound. In addition to this, she told me her agent says that what her book needs is more connective tissue.
“And that’s so hard to write,” I said. I know this from writing my own book. Easy enough to write the sections that have to be there – dramatic moments and major scenes between characters – but to make those scenes connect, to pace the book, so that important scenes appear when the reader is ready for them – this requires art. To make connective tissue link the parts we want them to link – so that they don't sag or feel like stuffing. Or worst of all, feel painful.
Connective tissue has made the movement of my arm seem effortless up until now. It is also what makes a simple comment profound - standing with Alice, who I’ve known and loved for almost half my life, looking at Paul Klee's The Arrival of the Jugglers: "Ellie would love this,” she said, speaking of my youngest son, her grandson.
“I was thinking the same,” I said.
Connective tissue is the art behind family life. It’s the weave behind a strong marriage too. It isn’t big dramatic moments that make a marriage work. It’s the parts in between that link them – the ones you disregard.
How for instance, we rely on Ben to go off and get the car, leaving us warm in the gallery, watching snowflakes fall in huge great chunks of white. Alice has come to see the Renoir, and now I remember another Renoir exhibit twenty five years before with her own mother – Ben’s grandmother, a painter in her own right. We used to call her Grandmere, because she came from New Orleans. She was old when I met her – but not much older than Alice is today. “This is where the color begins…” she said as we entered the final gallery of that Renoir exhibit, twenty five years ago.
But all this is background. It isn’t the main narrative. It’s just connective tissue. What we forged without thinking, to make up the story of our lives.