“David and Left” – Our Day in Florence


“How the hell do we get out of here?” That dilemma evoked our plea to a kind guide at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence – “Where’s the door?”
Her answer: check above.

There are two major parts of the David experience here in Florence: Seeing the amazing creation that emerged from Michelangelo’s imagination when he was just 25 years old, and watching the incredible responses of each individual in the overwhelming sea of visitors who had joined us there.

See for yourself:





Patti Smith, Big Eyes, Mr. Turner and Into the Woods: Women and Art

How do the artists we admire find their way?  What do they sacrifice to share their vision with the rest of us?  How does it feel?  Were they ever satisfied with what they made?

The great Patti Smith answered many of these questions, and more, in her 2010 memoir Just Kids.  It was, to me a real gift – a peek behind the curtain that stands between the journey and the outcome.  It was a long time before another such revelation turned up.  But first, consider this:

“Of course women aren’t as creative as men,” he said.  “After all, they create children.  They don’t have the same drive to do anything else.  How many female composers do you know of?”  

That wasn’t some 21st century sexist.  That was a professor at Smith, the excellent, committed, women’s college where I spent four years in the late 60s.  He was sitting in the “housemother’s parlor” after dinner, speaking with whomever of us had turned up for coffee.  I remember thinking “Huh.  That’s interesting.” and feeling, at his declaration, not outrage but sadness — and humiliation.

I remembered this moment for the first time in decades as a rash of holiday films raised questions about creativity and art, agency and power, commitment and sacrifice.  Into the Woods offered a grim view of women’s lives, where mothers imprison their daughters, daughters abuse their sisters, bakers long to become mothers and deliver their most important lessons after they’re dead, and it’s all the witch’s fault.  Steven Sondheim’s beloved musical includes some lovely songs and I went mostly to see Anna Kendrick but still…

No witches but a desperate mother who sells her soul for her art (and, kind of, for love) emerges in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes.  It’s the story of American painter Margaret Keane, whose husband Walter stole her art, her talent and her reputation and took them for his own.  The cost of continuing to paint and still support herself and her daughter was to surrender the right to take credit for her own work.  A woman in the 50’s making art for a living was unthinkable, or so he told her.  Her story is a bridge – she owned her creativity but not the product.

Then came Mr. Turner, an exquisite profile of the brilliant JMW Turner, a maker of art, no matter what the cost.  The film is a journey through his life as a painter of sea and landscapes and the invincible drive to create images of the beauty he saw.  His singular vision, the decisions he made to preserve that vision, his almost Asberger’s detachment from most people and his startling depth of commitment to the two people he truly loved combined in a thrilling consideration of art and love and living with both: a portrait of what is required of any artist, woman or man, to share what they see and feel and understand.

And so we return to Patti.  She and Turner are bookends on this shelf.  As with Mr. Turner, we learn what she lived and learned and made and what she left behind to do it — a woman slamming through barriers with commitment and with love.  An woman’s tale of what must be done – and of a woman expecting, demanding and embracing — as did Turner — all it took to share what she sees with the rest of us.



Back to the Future: Futurism at the Tate and 1968


In the early 20th Century there was a band of wild men who created an entire new way of thinking about “Art.”  They were called Futurists and for those of you who took Art 11 and already know about them, I understand that I didn’t discover them – this being particularly true since they are currently appearing in a retrospective at the Tate Modern here in London.  AND for my penultimate (I think) post here I want to tell you about them because they were a real kick.

This painting, by Luigi Russolo, is called “The Revolt.”  On the right you can see “the people” pushing up against the hard line of the establishment.  It’s the same thing the Futurists themselves were doing.  Here’s their major “Manifesto.”

These are our final conclusions:

With our enthusiastic adherence to Futurism, we will:

  1. Destroy the cult of the past, the obsession with the ancients, pedantry and academic formalism.
  2. Totally invalidate all kinds of imitation.
  3. Elevate all attempts at originality, however daring, however violent.
  4. Bear bravely and proudly the smear of “madness” with which they try to gag all innovators.
  5. Regard art critics as useless and dangerous.
  6. Rebel against the tyranny of words: “Harmony” and “good taste” and other loose expressions which can be used to destroy the works of Rembrandt, Goya, Rodin…
  7. Sweep the whole field of art clean of all themes and subjects which have been used in the past.
  8. Support and glory in our day-to-day world, a world which is going to be continually and splendidly transformed by victorious Science.


The dead shall be buried in the earth’s deepest bowels! The threshold of the future will be swept free of mummies! Make room for youth, for violence, for daring!


As I wandered through, alone and more available for being by myself, (this one is Carra’s The Funeral of an Anarchist)  I felt that I knew these guys.  Yes they denigrated women (more on that in a second) but their rebellion, their anger, their passion, their desire to change everything – that was familiar.  Of course I never wanted to destroy; none of us did.  But the feelings of anger, of disappointment in the ways of the world, the desire to find new ways to say things, those were familiar — and swept me back to the determined, impassioned girl I was then.  I can only describe my reaction as delight.


You’re going to tell me that this is the kind of blind passion is just what was wrong with the 60’s.  And for those who transformed these feelings not into art but into primitive acts of violence – they were wrong then and they’re wrong now.  That’s what is so amazing about art.  You can act, and express, through representation instead of concrete acts of violence and hatred.  That’s what these enraged men did.  Meanwhile, the women artists were pretty angry, as you can imagine.  One of them, Valentine de Saint-Point, although she agreed with their ideas, had some of her own to go along with them.  Like this:

are Furies, Amazons, Semiramis, Joans of Arc, Jeanne Hachettes, 
and Charlotte Cordays, Cleopatras, and Messalinas: combative women who
fight more ferociously than males, lovers who arouse, destroyers who break down
the weakest and help select through pride or despair, “despair through
which the heart yields its fullest return.”  

I wish I knew more because there’s so much more to this; the impact of Cubism on all
of it, the way it affected artists in nation after nation, and, most of all, the sheer energy of
art that, instead of freezing a moment, seems to set it free and follow it.

Artists for Obama: A Few of the Many

Obama Graphic hope
I’ve been kind of out of it all week.  Post-Inaugural ennui, worries, lots of appointments… whatever it was, it really sort of shut me up.  But when I saw the Obama video I’ve posted just below here, I started thinking about all the creativity that the campaign, and this presidency, seem to have engendered.

Then a friend sent me this.  I admit I’m a sucker for this kind of music, but it really is a combination of politics and joy that only such a campaign could have inspired.

We all remember Wil.i.am’s Yes We Can.  And Ron Howard as Opie. And Sarah Silverman.  And even Paris Hilton

And this, one of my favorites, just for the discipline.

I guess Les Miz must really resonate, because here’s another one.

Of course these are only examples; there are dozens, probably hundreds more – and if you count the images, posters and paintings, many many more. If this kind of creativity goes toward solving our problems, we’re in good hands. Either way, it’s exciting (at least to me) to realize how many vocabularies came together to speak for this new president in the long journey that got him here.


Kol_nishmaYou know it’s true: we never know the best things are coming until they’re there. I can read this! It’s Kol Nishma, a song I really wanted to learn. I’ve twice heard it sung as a groom makes his way to his bride surrounded by friends — all singing (hollering) with energy and joy. A friend found the title for me, our Hebrew teacher typed out the lyrics in nice, big, first-grader font – and I can read it – even sing it in the limited tune-carrying that passes for me singing. Wasn’t expecting that one…

Malla_croppedLater we visited the studio of a designer whose work we thought we might like. He shares his gallery with his 80 year old mother, whose extraordinary art hangs over tables where his is displayed. It’s quite a scene. That artist, Malla Carl, whose work was enchanting, grew up in Switzerland after her family fled the Nazis and landed in Lucerne.

Her father, she told us, had been a Chasidic rabbi. Even so, he gave her permission to go to art school – quite revolutionary at the time for an Orthodox Jewish girl. When I asked how this was possible in such a traditional environment, she explained, a bit tongue-in-cheek, that the chief Rabbi of Lucerne had come “from Berlin” – dramatic pause – and been influenced by Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch. The father of Modern Orthodoxy, Hirsch apparently believed even then that women should be educated and gladly gave his permission for her to continue her studies.

I wish I could describe the animation, the humor and charm, the sheer joy of our time with this spectacular woman. She told us great stories; some, involving others, I’m not able to relay. Suffice it to say she’s a pistol. She took us through folders of her work – not as customers but fascinated visitors – and her content and execution are memorable and evocative. They are not the work of an “old” person but of one always alive and aware.

We just went on and on — asking questions and receiving remarkable responses. Somehow our conversation moved to facts surrounding our move toward Orthodox Judaism. She was pretty shocked. As we prepared to leave, our newly purchased print rolled up safely in a tube, the story of our gradual move from no affiliation to such a commanding observance fascinated her. Finally, we left. From the top of the stairs, after giving us farewell greetings (a kiss for Rick, a motherly caress for me because I have a cold and she couldn’t hug me) Mrs. Carl continued our conversation. Upon learning, from one flight down, that Rick and I have a Kosher home, she saluted! I don’t know if I have the skills to describe it: A small, grey haired woman in glasses, standing in the dim light of the stair well, saluting us for embarking on this stage of life with such a radically different reality. The whole scene represents an idea dear to Baby Boomers like me — and the basis for the title of this blog. Whatever you do, DON’T stand still. Grow and change and explore and wonder and respond. Not so dramatic; just be alive while you’re living. The drama was reserved for a tiny woman, learning of our journey of discovery — (sometimes so so hard) — and saluting. It took about a block to be able to speak; both of us were enormously moved. Honored, too, not only by her gesture, but by the opportunity, however brief, to share the reality of such a gigantic life. They say Jerusalem is full of history – and it isn’t all built into the stones and walls. Every person leaving the old country and coming here to build a new life — every one of them is a figure of history. Today we met one of the best. You’d know it, too, if you’d been with us, seeing her grand salute from the shadows at the top of the stairs. I never expected that, either.


Bonnie_and_clydeLast Sunday the New York Times reminded us that Bonnie and Clyde, a film seared behind the eyelids of people like me, is 40 years old.  I remember it particularly because just after I saw it, I went to a 21st birthday dinner for a friend at her uncle’s home on Park Avenue in Manhattan.  I was new to such places then, and, despite my anti-war lefty politics, both thrilled and intimidated – particularly because her uncle was a writer of some renown.  For a college senior, it was another experience milestone.

Along with most of adult America, our host had been appalled at the violence of the film.  We, on the other hand, argued that the film was an accurate metaphor for the violence in Vietnam; a social comment that spoke deeply to all of us.  The argument was long, fierce and audacious — and, of course, unresolved.  I haven’t seen the film in many years and am curious how I would react.

I’ve become a lot more sensitive to visual violence as I’ve raised my sons.  Beverly Hills Cop was released when my younger son was five.  His big brother was nine and really wanted to see it; since we hated leaving Dan behind, he came too.  Do you remember the ending?  It was a gun battle too but multiples more gory and violent than Bonnie and Clyde ever dreamt of being.  The worst part?  My son was upset, yes, but the audience barely reacted – and many cheered.  Film and TV violence in the years between 1967 and 1984 had escalated slowly, right in front of us – and we had barely noticed.  That progression has continued.

It’s a creepy dilemma. I’m a true romantic who revels in love stories like Bull Durham (1988) and  Shakespeare in Love (1998), oldies like Now, Voyager (1942) and two I’ve written about before, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)and Rebbecca (1940) as well as decade-old satires like Wag the Dog (1997)and Warren Beatty’s (aka Clyde’s) masterpiece Bulworth (1998).  But another of my favorite films is Pulp Fiction (1994)- steeped in violence, much of it random.  Silence of the Lambs, too.  And of course, The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)   None of these, and other more "realistically violent" films, would have been possible before  Arthur Penn brought Bonnie and Clyde to life.

My protective instincts as a mother and activist clash with my respect for the vision of the artist and the gifts those visions can bring to the rest of us.  This isn’t a new conversation of course, any more than it was new in 1967.  It’s been going on as long as artists have.  What’s different this time is that I was a kid when Bonnie and Clyde slammed into our lives; now I’m at least the age of that angry uncle.  I know a lot more and that colors how I look at things I don’t know.

I named this blog Don’t Gel Too Soon because I struggle to stay open – available to understand, to appreciate, that which comes next, and to remember that no matter how lovely the lovely there’s more to life than that.  And that, after all, if someone doesn’t help us to see it, we can’t join together to change it.


Kavalier_and_clay_2 I’m under a horrendous deadline and getting ready for Blog Her at the same time so I’m offering a couple of "best of" posts from my early days on Vox.  This one is here because of a conversation I had with someone I’d mentioned in a post – she would have rather I hadn’t.  Here’s the dilemma:

At BlogHer (last year – 2006) there was a great debate among the "mommy bloggers" about how much to reveal about one’s children.  Much of what was best in my career (as well as, of course, my private life) came from my kids – literally.  They’re why I finally wrote a book [for kids.] They’re why I got interested in kids’ books and began writing book reviews for the New York Times and Washington Post and eventually served as early children’s book editor at Amazon.  They’re the reason I did some of my best TV pieces – about kids learning to ski, learning disabilities, etc.  You get the idea.  BUT

Once they were over 7 or so I always asked before I mentioned them in anything I wrote.  I kind of felt that it was my gig and they had their own lives.  Now this is a problem.  Michael Chabon says:

“Telling the truth, when the truth matters most, is almost always a frightening prospect. If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves; if she doesn’t court disapproval, reproach and general wrath, whether of friends, family, or party apparatchiks; if the writer submits his work to an internal censor long before anyone else can get their hands on it, the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth. "

He’s right I think – I can feel myself hanging back when those "other people’s secrets" begin to emerge — and if affects my writing.  It’s true even of the most innocent things: something really lovely was said to me this week by one of my kids but it would expose HIM and I can’t do it.

Granted, most moms who blog have far younger kids than my adult sons but it’s an interesting question.  Any thoughts? 

Whatever we think about this though it gave me an excuse to share one of my favorite Michael Chabon quotes. (of very very many…)