A Break from the Bad News

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There’s a lot of bad news going around these days, so much, in fact, that it seems to be drowning out the usual, frantic hum of the holiday season. Today, I listened to experts on NPR’s “On Point” debate gun control in light of the Sandy Hook anniversary, closely followed by another news program during which I learned that 78% of Syrians do not have access to clean drinking water.

This is the kind of bad news that makes me feel so powerless I just want to curl up in a ball and look at old copies of House Beautiful and reruns of “Fixer Upper” all day. It’s the kind of news that makes me want to gather up my children, lock my doors, and bake cookies and paint paintings and lovingly read books with them until we’ve all had our fill of magic and simple joy. It’s the kind of news that makes me wish narratives, once established, can be erased. Clean slate! Let’s start over! But, of course, they can’t.

I don’t want to be someone who hides from the world’s realities. I have friends who don’t watch the news as a measure of self-protection, and that’s something I completely understand but can’t quite bring myself to do. But I do need a break from the bad news sometimes, and I think everyone else does, too.

So, I’m starting a little initiative of my own.

I’m going to take a little Christmas joy to social media and post, daily, something uplifting, something beautiful, something that reminds us that the majority of the world is made up of humans rather than monsters – artists, thinkers, dreamers, people, young and old who are courageous and wild and creative in the best and most extraordinary ways. I’m counting this as a Christmas gift I’m giving to myself, and I hope that others might join me.

Several years ago, my husband and I started this thing called “Beautiful Time,” in which we’d sit down for breakfast and share a thing of beauty with our little girls. They were tiny then, and while we all loved the idea, with the arrival of our third child and the overall chaos of our household, we couldn’t keep it in our routine. This initiative of mine may just bring it back, though. We all need a little beauty to warm us up from time to time.

A friend of mine unearthed this Wendell Berry poem the other day and posted it on Facebook, and I’m sharing it here again. May you find a place to absorb the peace of wild things today.

The Peace of Wild Things

BY WENDELL BERRY

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Strange Fashions

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I spent last weekend with some of my closest friends in the mountains of North Carolina. We’ve been getting together on an annual basis for nine years now, and although we don’t all live within driving distance of one another, we are as close as we’ve ever been.

These ladies all vetted my would-be husband and then stood beside me when I married him. They helped me say goodbye to my dad, heralded the arrivals of each of my children and have otherwise served as fine, funny, encouraging friends ever since I’ve known them.

I couldn’t be more thankful, especially this year, because I’ve found myself in a bit of a morass when it comes to today’s fashions. I am 5’2″, with what could be described as athletic/curvy/stocky legs; I have a penchant for high heels and cashmere, fitted shirts and a clear delineation between my torso and my lower body. The thing that’s going on with leggings, tall boots and long, chunky sweaters? To someone built like me, it feels downright immoral; after spending a lifetime taking exacting measures in fashion to counteract an unadvertised body type, the act of even considering “skinnies,” tunics, Uggs, and blanket coats is just reprehensible.

And yet, I feel an odd pressure to try and (finally) embrace it, maybe because we just bought a mini-van and I don’t really want to look the part, or maybe because I live in such a trendy city, where plenty of people, older than I am, have no qualms with donning a fedora and/or wearing screenprints with skull and crossbones.

I happily pegged my pants and wore a lot of hairspray in the eighties. In the nineties, I’m pretty sure I asked for Jennifer Anniston’s haircut, and I may have worn a vest. But in the 2000s, I settled nicely in to a closet filled with classic sweaters and universally flattering boot-cut pants, none of which were made of leather. I hardly ever came across another person and cringed, thinking how terribly out of style I must look. But then the fashionistas broke out the tall boots and skinny jeans, Lululemon came to power, and people, real people, started wearing it all – and my whole “pearls and cashmere” thing was blown to pieces.

This past weekend, my friends and I discussed several things: school choices for our children, baby naming, dinner ruts, work/life balance and, of course, the current fashion trends. Now, I should be clear that all the girls with me last weekend are a lot more on-trend than I am, but the general consensus was that much of what we see happening out there is, at the very least, difficult to identify with.

After a discussion about the right and wrong ways to wear the styles today, I started feeling a little braver, though. I resolved to update in the most timeless way possible, and on Monday, before the feeling wore off, I rushed to the mall.

After sending my friends a variety of selfies from the dressing room, in which I am making ridiculous faces in the mirror while trying on clothing that makes me look like a potato, we reached an agreement on a few things that were deemed not so far outside my personality that I should not buy them. I have boots now, pants that are skinny enough, but not obscene, and a few tops that, according to people other than me, might be described as flattering.

My husband was out of town when I went shopping, and since he returned, I’ve worn some derivation of this new style – what he has referred to as “strange fashions” – every day. I’ll admit that it’s nice to have a few new things to wear, and that it is good not to feel so stuck in 2008. But I won’t feel I can own this look for some time, if ever.

Fashion has a way of pulling even the most confident women into a delicate state of vulnerability. We hear a lot about the dearth of real body types represented in the media, but very little, really, about how clothing trends are chosen and the aftermath for those of us at the mercy of people who design clothing for ladies who weigh about as much as an average American 12 year old. As a woman, I find this exasperating; as a mother of two girls, I foresee a lot of long talks in dressing rooms, and I hate that they, at some point or another, are going to feel their worth is in the clothing they wear, or how they wear it.

If you see me out and about sporting my new style, know that I am pretending, at least a little, and that underneath that voluminous sweater I’m wearing, I’m holding my breath, waiting for a new trend to spike.

A Submission Call … and Some Thoughts on “Calling”

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About five years ago, two of my favorite writers and I launched a fun online project named Proximity. The effort was theme-based and made interesting by each of our different locations – Madison, WI (Carrie Kilman), Atlanta, GA (moi), and a small village in South Africa (Maggie Messitt). For each “issue” we chose a place, usually physical, sometimes temporal, and we wrote a short essay about our experience of it, yielding a diverse trio of perspectives. The project lasted a year, at which point we each felt it was time to move on.

Now, Maggie, Carrie and I are excited to serve as editors of the “new” Proximity, a literary magazine in the same vein as the original. We’ve added Traci Macnamara, an old friend with a stellar writing voice and a concrete sense of place, to the editorial team, and we plan to launch the first issue in January, 2014. Its theme will be “Morning,” and submission guidelines can be found on our web site. Please check it out, “like” us everywhere we can be “liked,” and tell your friends!

For my part, I am having a difficult time transitioning from having full-time “mom/family thoughts” to “mom thoughts” slightly diluted by “writer thoughts.” Everyone still needs to be fed and the kitchen cleaned three times a day; there is still, on average, ninety minutes of laundry to be folded and put away at least a few times a week; and there are things to volunteer for at the kids’ schools, and cookies to be baked, and parental awesomeness to act on.

And yet I now have this separate, highly creative project that I want to contribute to in meaningful, productive ways.

How I can make that happen in the midst of an afternoon like I had yesterday is going to be a work in progress. First, the baby tripped and split his forehead open on the (brick) corner of our house. Once consoled and cleaned up, he then dumped the contents of his diaper on the pantry floor (only to be found by me later, while grabbing canned tomatoes). At about the same time as the head injury, my three year old was yelling at the top of her voice for a headband she could not find among the playroom’s detritus and my five year old was having a monumental, if not historic, meltdown about misplaced butterfly wings.

Did I mention that we were having another mom and her two kids over for dinner and that the dads were working late? Our guests showed up just in time for me to find my 18 month old’s “present” in the pantry.

All is well that ends well, and it mostly did, except that Elizabeth (3) bit Claire (5) so hard on the back while I was putting the baby to bed that I could still see each tooth’s individual imprint fifteen minutes later. And speaking of teeth, I also had to play tooth fairy, which I think is the world’s most ridiculous joke on parents who really, really want their kids to believe in magic for as long as possible. Trying to get a tooth from underneath a sleeping child’s head in the middle of the night, especially when she shares a room with a light sleeper, without blowing the tooth fairy’s cover, is very nearly impossible. (Mission: Accomplished.)

Life does not slow down for me – for anyone – long enough to take stock of where I am and where I’m going. There is no time when I am not doing something, or neglecting something that needs to be done purely for reasons of self-preservation. There is no mossy rock on which to sit on and dream, to organize and plan for the next project, be it familial or professional. I read the work of great essayists, poets and novelists, past and present, and wonder how they found the time and the head space to put thoughts and words together in such beautiful format.

And for a few minutes, I find myself fraught with jealousy and dismay.

Writing is, in essence (and at its best), an act of service to the greater world. I have always wanted to minister to others in some way through my writing – to serve them for the better, because that is what writers, and so many of my writing teachers, have done for me.

But right now, I am spending my life – all the resources my heart and my mind have to offer – on the cultivation of little people’s hearts and minds. It is a service I did not know I was equipped for, but I am. It is a service that I thought would feel like a burden, but it doesn’t.

Yesterday, as I was talking to my amazing sister-in-law on the phone, I brought up Proximity and mentioned how long I’d been out of the game and how crazy it feels to be snapped back into a place of wanting to play again, in the midst of the three kids and the busy, ambitious husband, and everything else.

And she said, in such a beautifully casual way, “Right now you are writing – you’re writing your children’s lives, and one day there will be more time for writing of your own.” I almost burst into tears at the thought of engraving words into the tiny hearts in my care. I had never thought of it that way, but now I will.

How the calling of motherhood dovetails with the calling of writing for the greater good, even if we’re talking about a fairly small audience, is something that I cannot begin to wrap my brain around, but I feel confident, in a way I am not usually confident, that it will.

Editing Proximity-as-literary-journal is the beginning of that journey, and I could not be more thrilled to be a part of it. To learn more: http://proximitymagazine.org/about/

Beginning Again

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I recently picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel, Flight Behavior. I’ve been a Kingsolver fan since The Bean Trees; her writing played a formative part in both my desire to become a writer and my appreciation of beautifully crafted contemporary prose. With the exception of The Lacuna, which I just couldn’t get into, I have relished all of her books. I easily fall in love with her characters, her descriptions and her plot lines, none of which feel recycled from novel to novel. Her voice is never quite the same, but still, you always know you’re reading Kingsolver.

Flight Behavior is no different. I bought it without reading any of the reviews and was astounded to find, on page one, that her writing has actually improved. She seems have fallen in love with language all over again; it is a really beautiful thing to behold. And at a time in my life when I am rediscovering my own creativity, I couldn’t be more encouraged than to read a favorite author who has somehow improved upon a writing style that needed (in my humble opinion) no improvement.

In the past year, I’ve written very little aside from harried grocery lists and little bedtime stories for my girls – three minute, on-the-fly compositions, for only their ears and the quickly darkening sky. Six months ago I started a short story I haven’t finished. I write little essays in my head as I fold laundry, envisioning the sentences in scrapbook form – words on strips of paper without the accompanying pictures. I’ve had neither time nor presence of mind to flesh out the images. But that’s changing.

Two weeks ago, Claire started kindergarten. Peter just joined Elizabeth at preschool. In January, we moved into a house where we’ll stay for a good long while. Life is full of surprises, but as long as we stay steady, I need to find some work to do.

So here I am, beginning again. I’m no Kingsolver, which is great, because that leaves room for lots of improvement. I’ll be posting here and here in the next few months, and I also have a project in the works with a couple of other writers which will be unveiled this fall. Stay tuned!

Beautiful Time

By Nic-C

While reading the New York Times the other morning, I was distraught to find not one sampling of good news. Not one. Every ugly headline I read had something to do with destruction on both a global and a personal scale. And for days afterwards, columns of bad news piled up around me, rising like cinders, threatening to distort my world’s simplest joys.

More than that, the bad news made me think about the world we are handing to our children, to my children, and how I might help them cope with the onslaught of negative information and experience (i.e. middle school) that will inevitably come their way.

When I was growing up, I read and wrote poetry to process and lend beauty to circumstances that were not always the best, and some of my favorite memories of my father, a strapping, stoic farmer, are of his recitations of poetry at the dinner table – something that shaped my love for language and the comfort I’ve taken in it. So, I decided that I would help my family (and myself) combat the stress and uncertainty of each day with a few minutes each morning dedicated to the consideration/reading/hearing/tasting/smelling/seeing of something beautiful.

We call it “Beautiful Time.”

Now, this is a lovely idea in theory. And, actually, it’s a lovely idea in practice, except that our three year old has her own conceptions of beauty, and TV happens to be one of them.  Each morning, we drag Claire away from “Jack’s Big Music Show” to share with her the things we hope will eventually sustain her when NickJr. is a thing of the past: truly great music – not just classical, but rock, folk, country and alternative – beautiful, interesting art, and kind words, spoken and written.

For now, we recognize and give in to our children’s line of vision: we allow Claire to put on her princess dress and dance to Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Major, even if it’s a harried morning; on occasion, we use her art as a “Beautiful Time” focal point; we ask her what she thinks is beautiful, how she feels when she makes something beautiful (“happy”), and what makes her feel loved. In this way, her perspective (and soon, Elizabeth’s) will shape our grown up perspectives on beauty in all its forms, bringing with it a peculiar joy and curiosity.

Absorbing artful sustenance for whatever lies ahead seems a good practice for anyone unwilling to surrender completely to the world’s painful realities. It can be a reminder of how best to process bad news – a lot of incredible art has been born of hard times – and how to find a center point of beauty and strength to return to in otherwise unwieldy chaos.

On Tuesday, we looked at a wood carving of a flower Andrew’s dad made when Andrew was Elizabeth’s age. It is one of his simpler carvings, but beautiful, and both our girls loved holding it and running their fingers across its intricate detail. Claire was so enamored by the idea of “Pete” having made the carving that she lingered longer than usual at the kitchen table, and didn’t even ask for the TV to be turned back on, allowing me, even, to read her a poem far above her reach, but filled with beautiful words. I’ve posted it below to give you your own bit of sustenance for whatever your day may hold.

From Blossoms

By Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

SeymourCornelius

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The doctor yesterday said the baby could arrive “at any time” and I have thus been totally preoccupied by that statement’s many meanings for my life … too preoccupied to do anything productive and/or suitably creative for myself or any of you. Sorry. I would feel bad about this were it not for my sister and brother-in-law’s recent creative launch – SeymourCornelius.

As my own creativity is waning (temporarily, I hope/think), Team Goodrich has come to rescue my blog-readers from boredom/disappointment. Take yourself on a little artist’s date: visit their new, beautiful, cool, well-soundtracked Web site. I would write more, but SeymourCornelius speaks for itself.

Enjoy!

The Writing Life

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“Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost

When I tell people I’m a writer, they get very excited. I’m not sure what they imagine when I tell them about my profession, but the reactions I’ve received imply something really dreamy – as if my days are filled with the kind of exhilaration also known by Arctic explorers and trapeze artists.

The truth is, when I am actually writing my days do sometimes feel bound only to creativity and adventure. When I am plowing fields of words or walking uncharted terrain with a new character, life really could not be better. But given the way most of my days shape up – the query letters, mostly bound for rejection, the internal and external land mines I must navigate, the “writing jobs” that pay only $10/hour – I find these strangers’ enthusiasms mystifying.

I wonder if I have somehow missed out on the hidden magic that lies within a writer’s life. I envy those who think for me a life of full-time reading, creativity, bliss. I wonder if it wouldn’t just be better to imagine myself a writer, and this edges me closer to the other side: the side that believes in practicality; the side that heralds the decision to become a bank teller, a Jeanie, or a dog walker. (I have considered, at one point or another, all three.)

Yet, if there is truth to Robert Frost’s quote, above, then I am on a path to freedom, allbeit crooked and kind of muddy. Claiming space for myself as a writer – despite what the world would like to tell me about other, more practical, “worthwhile” professions – is one of the boldest things I’ve ever done.

I’ve been reading Annie Dillard’s The Writer’s Life and have been so encouraged to learn of the land minds she, a Pulitzer-prize winning author, navigates as she writes. She must have a room without a view; she questions the accessibility of her work. She wonders why she spends her time doing something that she dislikes so often, and why she didn’t choose to be a ferry operator or a wood splitter instead.

I haven’t made it all the way through Dillard’s book to know her answer yet, but I think it must have something to do with Robert Frost. There is freedom in being bold, in taking the risk on oneself — just as there is freedom to be found in the knowledge one pulls from themselves or from their subjects as they’re writing.

Donald Hall has said, “Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing,” and I think he could not be more right. The people who make it at this job today have a mental and emotional toughness I am only just now coming to realize. The industry demands that writers have it, demands that they be able to maintain artistic integrity AND sell out the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

While on a recent road trip, Andrew and I popped Thoreau’s Walden into the tape player and listened as his beautiful language rolled past. I began to wonder what his book proposal – had he written one – would have looked like, what sort of marketing spin he could have offered to an agent, how he would have convinced him or her that at least ten or twenty thousand people would want to buy his book, if not more. The sad truth of the matter is that beautiful writing and timeless, overarching themes (alone) don’t appear to sell books anymore, and I wonder how many Thoreaus the world is missing out on.

This, in practice, is not a very good thing to think about, and I do not encourage it. However, it’s worth mentioning in a public forum because I want to urge people – not just other writers or teachers, etc. but regular American people – to look beyond the bestseller list, to explore a book or (!) a literary journal (!) or a magazine that might be intriguing and/or delightful, but just slightly off the beaten path.

Oh, does everything come back to Robert Frost? Go take the road less traveled by …

Interpreting Joy

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Earlier this fall, I founded a little artist’s group. I knew from previous freelancing experience how isolating (and depressing) it can feel to sit at home all day without access to humans except via email, and I was keen to find a way around that problem this go-round. At the recommendation of a knowledgeable friend, I picked up a book called The Artist’s Way, aimed at nurturing the creative spirit. The author, Julia Cameron, suggests readers form “creative clusters” for support and community.

My creative cluster consists of Kristina, a visual/decorative artist, Kerie, a photographer, Natasha, a graphic designer, and Laura, also a photographer – all women I respect and admire not only for their artistic talents, but also for who they are as people. Although we’re all in different creative fields, when we meet, we discuss the same sorts of things – how to balance art and commerce; what to do about taxes incurred by our small (tiny!) companies and how to bar against them; where to fill our creative wells, etc.

As I was leaving our group this past Monday, Kristina and Kerie began talking about the nature of their work. Kristina’s paintings are full of color, joy and life. She uses pink paint, often. Her work is bold, with a fun flare, and beautiful. Kerie does all sorts of photography (weddings pay the bills), but enjoys her work with children the most. She loves to bring out their liveliness and innocence, captures sly, mischievous smiles and quirky personalities.

Both girls talked about their peers from art school, who were so focused on finding reflective meaning within their paintings and photographs that they seemed to discount the value of something that was simply beautiful, or dear. I remember feeling a similar tension while studying poetry in college. It seemed all “legitimate” poets were writing about fear, death, longing or depression. With varying degrees of success, my peers there followed suit. I sort of tried to walk into the shadows, but always felt I came off as a sham, and there’s nothing worse than insincere poetry.

Still, the “true artist” stereotype sometimes serves as a deterrent to my own work. I imagine that I will not achieve real success with my writing unless I addict myself to an illicit drug (or maybe just some painkillers), go crazy or become madly self-centered. Unfortunately (I mean, fortunately), I’m just not wired that way, and I kind of like my balanced life as it is. I try to remind myself that there are plenty of wonderful, “legitimate” artists out there whose work has tracings of both light and shadow, who are not destitute, and whose lives are not in shambles.

But the question remains, can art be joyful and still be considered art? I think so. If all artists were tortured souls, searching for an outlet for their grief, the world would be in a very sad state, indeed.

FYI: The painting, above, is by my friend Kristina.  It is one of my favorites.

Everybody’s A Snob About Something

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Today, I went to Binders – an art and craft/framing store – to get a mat board for an etching Andrew and I picked up from a street artist in Florence. We found the etching’s artist in a courtyard near the Uffizi Gallery, among several other vendors selling artworks of Florence and Tuscany.

There was something I liked about this artist, beyond his work. He had an easy way about him and was less conspicuous than the others, smoking cigarette after cigarette while working on a copper etching block. He seemed content and absorbed in his work. He had a graying beard, and big, brown, deep-set eyes. He didn’t seem to care, really, if we wanted to buy his stuff or not, but he was clearly pleased when we showed more than just passing interest. His etchings were lovely – mostly panoramas of the city, with Brunnelleschi’s duomo in the forefront – and they weren’t too expensive. 35 Euros bought us a nice-sized print – half the price of what we would have paid if we’d bought it in a Florentine boutique.

Upon our return to the States, I was excited about displaying our little piece of Florence. But typically, I feel a little intimidated at art & craft stores. I like to walk the aisles and imagine myself doing something highly artistic … or, let’s face it, even just colorful … but I know my limitations. So, today I approached the custom framing counter feeling a little silly, carrying a huge “liberty blue” mat that I hoped could be cut to size by someone other than myself. (I am left handed and a disaster with scissors and most other sharp things.) I rang the bell, and in a short time a red-headed guy with a scrubby goatee and very artistic looking wire-rimmed glasses greeted me.

He seemed a little annoyed by the gigantic blue mat, my Target-brand frame and the Florentine etching. I explained I just wanted it cut to size, that I didn’t know how big to make the window for the etching to show through and that I would trust his judgment. He sighed deeply and took out a tiny, pocket-sized measuring tape. (Should I have made an appointment, I wondered?)

At about that time, someone came over the loudspeaker and made an announcement for the frame shop. My disgruntled frame guy sighed again, more deeply still, and said, to no one in particular, “It never fails. I’m here alone, the bell rings, and all of a sudden everyone needs me.” I didn’t quite see how stressful life behind the custom frame shop counter could be, but I smiled sympathetically anyway.

A moment later, the frame guy whisked away my big blue mat and the Florentine print and went to a back room. I heard mechanized slicing sounds and worried about our little etching, wondering if the disgruntled artist would take out his frustrations on Florence. He didn’t. Instead, he emerged with a perfectly cut liberty blue mat in just the right size, with a massive scrap of mat board left over for me to take away. I asked if they wanted to use the mat board scrap for any reason, to which he sort of rolled his eyes and said, “No. We use a better quality board than that back here.”

Oh. Sorry.

I actually thought it was kind of funny – that everyone has something about which they are inordinately snobby. For some of us – those of us who eschew Chicken Soup for the Soul type books and Dan Brown-esque novels – it’s a specific type of writing; for others of us, it’s mat boards. Go figure!

I did wonder what our street artist would think of my el cheapo frame job, but decided that he’d just shrug and light up another cig, or maybe just close up shop for the day to grab a late afternoon cup of espresso.

A date! A date! A very important date!

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Today, I did for the first time what I hope will become a habit: I took myself on a date. I did this at the urging of The Artist’s Way, a book written by a woman named Julia Cameron for people (artists and non-artists) who want to augment their artistic lives. Cameron writes, “We forget that the imagination-at-play is at the heart of all good work … in order to have a real relationship with our creativity, we must take the time and care to cultivate it.” I took her at her word.

My date was to the High’s Annie Leibovitz exhibit, something I’d been meaning to get around to, but for which I had somehow never found the time. After a bright, breezy morning with Ivy and Andrew at the park, I showered quickly (who was there to impress, after all?), threw on my flip-flops and the most comfortable dress I own, and drove to Midtown.

Immediately, I savored the freedom of all this; the bold stroke of life on my own schedule. And it’s not that anyone in my life demands so much of me that it is a burden, but there is something deliciously indulgent about not having to apologize for parking a mile from the museum (in 90 degree weather) because you are too cheap to pay for parking, of walking through an art exhibit alone without feeling the need to respond to anyone’s opinion or curiosity, without worrying whether you’re spending too much time at each photo or not enough. Add to this the fact that I have been waist-deep in Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, and the freedom tasted that much sweeter. (I am so moved by this book, I can’t even write about it yet. If you have not read it, you must.)

My experience with myself and Annie Leibovitz’s photographs (from both her personal and private collections) was filled with both a thrilling appreciation for beauty and startling emotion. I stayed there for two hours, looking for stories in every photo.

I became fixated on one photograph of Leibovitz’s parents on their 50th wedding anniversary, on another of a pool of blood beside a fallen bicycle in Sarejevo, and another of two circus performers: a woman was strapped to a massive red and white bullseye – on her face was a look of total boredom and resignation; a man stood in front of her and took aim with a dagger. I cried at the sight of Johnny Cash, June Carter and Roseanne Cash playing music on their front porch in Kentucky. I cried again when I came to Leibovitz’s photo of bloody footprints left from the massacre at a schoolhouse in Rwanda. Again, I cried at the photos preceding Susan Sontag’s death, and the death of Leibovitz’s father. Leibovitz captured each scene, each tiny moment, with curiosity, dignity, a raw and naked tenderness.

This afternoon, while standing in the High Museum, where everything is brilliantly white and crisp (its design reminds me of what it might be like to live inside an iPod), it struck me that all art – drama, visual art, music, writing, etc. – is connected by that which is alive in all of us. The spirit of great art is the thing that moves us from hope to despair and back again. It leans in to curiosity — not just to beauty and freedom, but also into ugliness and rage. Art is always looking for answers, retribution, a kind of hope that sees clearly the pain and unfairness of the world but continues to demand more of it.

After leaving Leibovitz, I wandered into the High’s museum store and was overcome with the urge to buy something beautiful. I recognized in this a desire to bottle my experience, to bring it home with me and put it on a shelf – as if a painted porcelain bowl or a coffee table book would somehow infuse my living and work space with a better sense of purpose, or some higher plain of artistry.

But the truth is that such things can only stretch so far. Eventually, I would flip through the $75 coffee table book out of moral obligation, would, at some point, pass the beautiful serving bowl and think, with disdain, that it needed dusting. I’m all about cherishing beautiful things, but then again, we have museums for a reason. They show us what to look for and help us to see. They silence the noise in the background and force us to take notice.

To make some odd purchase – a postcard? a High Museum pencil set? a brightly painted umbrella? – would have cheapened the experience for me. As if I’d won myself a stuffed panda by playing skee ball at a country fair. So – the beauty will have to wait for my next artist’s date. Luckily, Cameron prescribes one per week.