Spoken to Me

i. you’re very comfortable to be around

ii. your hair looks pretty, rachel

iii. don’t forget to challenge yourself today

iv. could you bring your super glue?

v.  i think you should pay attention to that

vi. i love you more each day

 

there’s something so very special about being given these words to hold on to. thank you, friends.

-rachel

s-art-urdays

On Saturday, I pulled on some fleece-lined leggings and gloves and adventured into the city with my friends Jill and MacKenzie. We’re all community art students, in one way or another, and we wanted to make a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art together. This blog isn’t about opinions or advice or essays. It’s about thoughts and memories and the tangled bits and images of days. So while I know I can’t do justice to the stories we made together on Saturday, this is the place where I can record some of those conversations and hold onto them for a bit as something precious.

Our college sits right next to a train station, so we bundled up after brunch and meet by the tracks just in time to catch the 10:57 train. It rolled in on time and we barely made it, climbing the steps to the higher seats and sitting above the heads of everyone else. It’s about a forty five minute ride from our campus to the heart of the city, and the only time I like to make the trip is when I have someone to sit and talk with. On this day I had two people on my right–Jill with her pale skin and pom pom sweater and MacKenzie with layered scarves and snow boots. We spent the train ride talking over and around each other. We took turns practicing listening. I think it’s important to have friends whose words you value.

Getting to the museum was a breeze, and they gave discounted $7 for students. To be honest, I didn’t know what it would be like to go to an art museum with artistic friends. I’d been to numerous art museums with other friends in the past and it was a blast. But I’d still always felt a little alone in the room, like everyone else was focusing on seeing and liking and I was focusing on seeing and being.

MacKenzie and Jill are both community art majors though, and they have a deep passion for feeling art in and with their bodies. Jill is a dancer–just over five feet tall with wide eyes and a constant desire to move. “I have this thing I like to do,” she said in the first room of the museum. We were standing in front of a huge canvas that towered over our heads. It was several inches thick with paint, blotted and spread and layered in a myriad of colors like the backside of a tapestry. “Sometimes, when I see a piece of art, I like to move in response to it.”

“Oh, I love that,” MacKenzie almost jumped in excitement. “Let’s approach each new work together and count to three, then we can all move in an immediate response to it. Okay?”

Someone counted to three and, with slow, unhurried limbs, we moved in response to the large canvas of layered paint. Then we took a few steps toward the next piece and did the same thing. Within the course of the next half hour, we’d covered the majority of the room with footsteps, spins, curls, and bends. Some pieces made us hurt, caving inward with hands gripping our stomachs and hearts. Framed works created out of colored pencils and crayons sparked our inner sense of play. A hanging mobile made us gently turn beneath it, imagining the object to be a bird suspended in flight. Something made us sad and we might stop. A few feet over, something might make us laugh. The gallery was full of us.

I had a thought in all of this. By physically reacting to art, are we, in some way, becoming art ourselves? 

I don’t think art is meant to be hung and examined in galleries. Don’t get me wrong–I love galleries. I love sharing a space with people who are fully experiencing enjoyment and pain and play. But I’ve found that what I enjoy even more than standing in a gallery is moving in a gallery. I enjoy touching things. I enjoy rawness. I enjoy being art.

Jill made a comment near the end of the day that made me laugh. I’d just been talking about how I go to art galleries to feel inspired to do something–to write or create in some way. “Yeah,” Jill said. “I like to leave an art gallery feeling like I’ve just eaten a meal. My belly is full, you know?”

We obviously don’t look to art to fill us. I realize that art can’t fix all the brokenness in the world or make us whole. But art can capture the wonder and play that we are too often scared to release. Recently I’ve been looking at photographs cave paintings in an art history class. One in particular strikes me as whimsical. It’s the smudged into stone portrait of a pregnant deer. There’s something breathlessly beautiful about that. When you look at a photograph of a cave wider than an IMAX theater, covered with bright paintings of red bulls somersaulting through the sky, you can’t help but be reminded of the physical nature of art.

Creations made in the image of a Creator are full of movement. They are full of play. And the moment you start to think of art as something sterile, something protected, something glass-covered–you’ve lost the ability to experience it.

Here’s to moving in the MCA Chicago. Maybe someday we’ll all go dancing in the Met.

-Rachel

Something Tiny, Something True

I’m taking an acting class this semester. I don’t really know why I’m taking an acting class, because I don’t believe I have any kind of future on or off Broadway. But I’m taking an acting class this semester and already I feel it is teaching me more about life and even writing than anything I’ve studied in a long time. In this class, we move a lot. We also sit on pillows and ask questions. We give opinions but not really answers.

Yesterday, after a simple exercise reading a set of vague lines with a partner with no story or background whatsoever, our professor challenged one of us in each pair to raise our hands. “You,” he said to the volunteer, “Are a child. The person sitting opposite you is your parent. Now do it again.” After repeating the exercise under this guise, he asked us to give feedback on what we noticed. I raised my hand again and he called on me. Fifteen pairs of eyes turned to the back corner of the room where I was sitting next to my partner by the window. “I realized I still had no idea what the story behind this was or what was even going on,” I said, glancing at the sheet of paper in my hands. “But I did know that this was my mom and that meant I had the potential to be very loved or very hurt. And I felt like doing this scene was a little bit scary because I didn’t know what would happen either way.”

The room commented on this a bit and, after a few minutes more of work, we gathered in a circle in the center of the room and sat. The key of this exercise, my professor explained, wasn’t to tell a grand story. It wasn’t to create an amazing and completed piece of theater that stunned the audience and showed just how well you understood the scene. The key was to figure out the next thing. 

In that corner of the room, I was just a daughter talking to her mom. It was work free of affectation or contrived acting. I wasn’t concentrating on a set or props or a climax or the backstory of our characters. All I knew was who I was and what I needed: to talk to my mom. My professor insisted that this was the heart of the work. All we, as actors, can do is figure out one thing at a time. In that moment, my work was to talk with my mom. Maybe in a bigger play with weeks and weeks of rehearsals, I could figure out more. I could determine who I was, where we were, what was going on, and where we were moving. But that wasn’t my goal in the moment, and I should only concentrate on one true goal at a time.

I raised my hand at this point in the discussion and threw out a thought about writing. “I don’t really know if I’m an actor or not,” I admitted, “But I’m a writer. And this is what I know to be true about writing: That, at any given moment, the best you can do is write one true thing. When I start worrying about my plot and my word choice and my impact and my dramatics, the story gets lost. I have to save it for editing, you know? But if I can sit down and just get out the bare words necessary to get a point across and say one true thing, I’ve done something I can actually like.”

My professor nodded in agreement and stated how much all art is really like this. We tend to want to make things bigger and better and perfect, and we forget about the small, significant dream. The most interesting thing that we are creating is the thing we are creating, not the fact that we are creating it for and in front of others. When we let the grandiosity of what we want to accomplish overshadow the smallness of what we need to say, it gets lost. Real art, and real storytelling, is baring our small ideas and our little stories. There is no room for perfection. There is only room for discovery, for truth, for digging deeper, and for making layers.

These are good thoughts for a Friday morning.

-Rachel

Retrospect

I know we’re five days into the new year, but I can’t help thinking over some of the moments that made up the last…

January

The glory of mountains and snow

White sauce pizza with fresh sliced tomatoes

February

The ice and cold of Chicago

Dancing the night away together

Freshly fallen snow in Virginia

Days warm enough to wear sandals and buy flowers

Girlfriends + pancakes on Galentines Day

March

Sunny picnics with my special someone

Making me laugh by the water as the sun set

All the world’s a stage…

Exploring art museums

The magic of ordinary moments

April

Something close to sacred

Afternoon walks with my cousin

May

Sunsets in the Keys

Lunch with my ninety year old best friend

June

Free donuts at Krispy Kreme

Good reads and big hats

The moment right before the sun disappears

July

Fourth of July pies

Farmers market mornings complete with fresh flowers and peaches

Still not over MachineHeart’s sound

August

Mini burgers for all

Girl gang xoxo

New school, new world

September

Dressing with a capital D

Art that can fly

On the brink of twenty

Birthday aftermath

October

Typical college shenanigans involving pumpkins

Explorations in the city

Heart eyes

November

Breakfast with MacKenzie

Me + You

First snow

December

Besties

Christkindl Market

Happy Holla Days

Merry Xmas from da hood

 

***

2015 was a wonderful year and I’m thankful for all the friends and moments that made it that way. 

-Rachel