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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Sixty-Six

Spring blossoms, a reminder of the cycle of life.  Photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2021

 

As Time Goes By; An Interlude

 

 

Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have of them.

 

― Marcel Proust

 

 

In Memoriam: Dudley Stone

 

 

And it's nearly May, 2021. The other day I almost forgot that the year had turned from 2020 to 2021, the brain's way of processing pain: suppression. Psychologists recommend that we dip into the flow of—normal  —life slowly. Is this possible? We've been holding our breath and now we are gasping fresh air, meeting friends and family, hugging everyone once we've established vaccination status. No more elbow bumps. No more masks. Oh, you have a face! I remember that face. Big lips, small lips, I can see your lips, the expression on your face. I can read you again. I can, literally, see you again. Oh, you are not on Zoom, you are here in all your corporeal reality. This is, truly, a miracle.

 

The other day, at Main Course in New Paltz, NY, I saw the young woman at the register who had texted me early in the pandemic to ask if there was anything she could do to help, such as shopping, for example. She had started graduate school,  and way back before the lockdown, she'd asked if she could interview me for  an assignment, which is how she knew me beyond ordering food at our favorite go-to restaurant in town where, happy to say, she still works. I hadn't needed her to shop for a while and fallen out of touch, now here she was again. First things first, a big thank you for helping us out in those early nerve-wracked pre-mask-mandate days when it felt dangerous for those in our age group, the more vulnerable age group, to go into a supermarket. Oh, it was wonderful to "see" her again and to be able to thank her in person.

 

The next day, my husband went into the city for the first time in more than a year. I was skittish. This was more than a toe into the water. But he was determined. A tournament table tennis player, he had missed his friends and the intense athletic effort he'd been used to. Zoom calls twice a month with his pals weren't enough, to say the least, and he'd been trying to stay in shape on his own without the incentive of competition. Our apartment is a gym—two bikes, a rowing machine, and weights. Will this apparatus soon become artifact? Our local gym and pool are open again, by appointment and Covid questionnaire only, please, and I am so relieved I can alternate laps and the elliptical machine with walking.

 

And, then, yesterday morning, my city friend, Nancy, and her sweet pooch, Rudy, came to visit on their way back into town after a two-day getaway. This was as overwhelming as the first hug my daughter gave me on my birthday back in March, which as time goes by, feels like yesterday. I am teary just writing about it. I met Nancy in the parking lot behind our apartment complex where she was walking Rudy, we ripped off our masks, and had a big hug. Oh, my goodness!!!

 

And then, and then, and then, an invitation arrived on email from Alan for a Mediterranean meal with mutual friends in celebration of our release from pandemic incarceration. I can't wait.

 

So, I suppose, a kind of euphoria has set in, the euphoria of survival: most of us have made it through this terrible ordeal. And though we continue to mourn the loved ones we have lost, we must not minimize the experiences, connections and skills we have gained in this challenging interim in our lives. Indeed, dear reader, we are permitted some happiness in this one small moment in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Sixty-Four

For those who remember what Gloria said when she turned 50, this is what 87 looks like. Stunning.

 

 

Gloria, Where Are You?

 

 

I can go on the road— because I can come home. I come home—because I'm free to leave.

 

Gloria Steinem, "On the Road"

 

 

I received an invitation to Gloria Steinem's three-floor upscale Manhattan apartment. Would I like to visit, peruse the memorabilia of the Women's Liberation Movement dating back to the 1960's, and perhaps have a cup of green tea, sit and chat for a while, toast Gloria's 87th birthday? As my visit would be managed by Google Arts & Culture, I'd be unable to ask any probing questions, however. In fact, the visit would only be virtual, and not interactive, not even a chat function, more like a museum tour. That stung. I wonder if Gloria knows about it? As a former investigative journalist herself, I am certain she would not approve of the anonymity of Google's Street View tool. Indeed, the apartment was desolate as I entered, no human in sight except for those framed on the walls. Yes, the bookcase, of course, that is of interest, but was it enough? No. I was looking forward to seeing Gloria in person. I wondered if I would bring up my connection with Ms. Magazine. It was brief, but unforgettable. I had been assigned an article, what I cannot remember. Just the very fact that I was working for Ms., that in itself was heavenly. And there were editorial meetings and social occasions and we once or twice must have said hello. But Gloria, where are you now? On the road again? I read somewhere that you fled to California as the pandemic lockdown began, leaving your home to the Google curators. Maybe you are living in a pod with your good friend, Alice Walker. Maybe you will stay in California and never return to the townhouse. Maybe you will end your life in California. Maybe the townhouse will become a customized mausoleum, a structure planned well in advance of a person's death, by the person herself.

 

What a strange experience, dear Gloria. How much you have meant to women of the Second Wave, what an iconic figure you have become, honored in life as you certainly will be in the after-life.  And have you aged a hundred years this year, as all of us have, no matter our chronological age? Are you 187 and still counting? Has time collapsed or expanded for you? How are you feeling? Healthy? You are a breast cancer survivor. Brava to that and so much more, Gloria.

 

Your absence became a presence as I entered your apartment. Alas, only the camera was my guide. No voice-over narration, your strong mezzo silenced, and just some potted written history of the women's movement, most of which can be found online on Oprah's site or in Wikipedia. Alas, did someone you hold dear suggest this special invitation to promote your foundation? Is that what this is all about?  If so, I forgive you.

 

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Sixty-Three

One of Stuart's montages, a drawing superimposed on a photograph of Lenoir, a professional artist's model. © copyright Stuart Bigley 2021, by permission of the artist. Watch Stuart draw in a video on his website: www.stuartbigley.com   

   

Covid as Muse

 

 

One of the things that I tell beginning writers is this: If you describe a landscape, or a cityscape, or a seascape, always be sure to put a human figure somewhere in the scene. Why? Because readers are human beings, mostly interested in human beings. 

 

-Kurt Vonnegut

 

 

One summer, between my freshman and sophomore year of college, still so young, I took a job as a swimming instructor at Manitou Fine Arts Camp about four hours north of Toronto. It was cold up there under the Northern Lights and no one wanted to go swimming. In between canoeing, playing tennis and escorting campers to bed, more or less, I modeled in the art studio. That is, I modeled my head and nothing but my head. I had to keep still, no posing necessary, no instructions other than to sit. I sat and sat and day dreamed that one day I'd travel to Paris and become a writer. I was already in Paris in my imagination, I already was a a writer in my imagination, though it took me many years to become a writer. The teenaged artists sketching me, however, were precocious, gifted and disciplined, very serious about their work, which is why they had chosen the camp. Immersion in art with some athletics and romance for balance all summer long. It was bliss for them and for me. Then one day, the art teacher asked me if I'd pose for him off hours in the nude. He was about twenty years my senior, handsome in a rugged way, not my type exactly, but I wasn't sure—being young and naïve—if he was coming on to me (is that what we called harassment when I was coming of age?), or if I wanted to come on to him, or if I even knew what a nude model did, or why artists since antiquity have used nude models to practice their drawing skills and create great works.

 

   "What would that involve?" I asked.

   "Undraping yourself," he said. "Shifting your body into various poses. Do you think you can do that?

     "Like a dancer?"

      "Yes."

 

          I'd had some dance experience and sort of knew what to expect. But was I willing? Was I being groomed?  Was I flattered? No, none of those. I was in the presence of an artist and that was exciting for me at the time, and I felt safe, and mostly curious. I did wonder how I would respond to the sometimes voyeuristic male gaze, what is known as  "le regard" in France. But I had an emancipated European mother and I was emancipated, I thought, or at least I planned to be. So I said I'd think about it. L'artiste didn't press me, the decision was mine, he had other models, other counselors who were willing, he said. 

 

"But you, maybe, there could be something more."  

"Like what?"

"Model as muse."

 

       Alors, he was in love with me, I decided. So I said no definitively. I had a boyfriend, I was still so young. But it didn't take long for me to regret my decision.  To be an artist's muse, ah well, that would have been a memory to take into full adulthood.

 

          Fast forward decades, I've never had a similar offer or request, though I have had a muse or two myself, have written about art a lot in both fiction and nonfiction, and when I am in the company of visual artists, my spirit soars. I make certain I interview them regularly, artists near and far, so that the life affirming conversation about making art can continue. And so I was pleased to be able to meander –masked, distanced, and vaccinated—through the Unison Arts Gallery a few days ago with  Stuart Bigley to peruse his work and ask him about his process. The title of the show is "Covid Muse," though Covid itself has not been the inspiration. Rather, Covid sheltering has provided time for quiet contemplation and experimentation, a "forced retreat," Stuart says. Most artists and writers I know have had a similar experience during the pandemic.

 

     "When I retired as Director of Unison Arts, I decided I wanted to nail drawing," Stuart continued. "I question artists who can't draw. It seems necessary, even as I moved into abstraction, to be able to observe and record accurately."  As usual, there are analogies to writing; our devotion to practice is similar. A life drawing class, which Stuart hosts in the gallery once a week, is the same—practice and preparation. These days, though the models are still mostly female, the class attracts both men and women image makers. It's a reminder that women, too, enjoy contemplating the contours of the human body and transforming it into art.

 

 

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