Category Archives: Uncategorized

Make It Work. Make It Beautiful.

The Cloisters (exterior of the museum)

The Cloisters (exterior of the museum)

A couple days ago, I visited the Cloisters—a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at the northern edge of Manhattan and dedicated to medieval art and architecture. The museum, along with neighboring Fort Tryon Park, is one of my favorite spots in New York. Home of the iconic Unicorn Tapestries and herb gardens that would be the envy of any alchemist, the space hosts an energy that is not easily found in the throngs of the mid-Manhattan Museum District: quiet, natural, reflective. I love the atmosphere.

The art itself is, of course, extraordinary. And everything is art, from the paintings to the statues, the ornate wooden doors to the figures carved into structural columns. Even the sinks and the pitchers of water used to wash hands before a meal, all of it is gorgeous in a way that makes the prefabricated frames of my Ikea furniture feel shameful. The books on display are made from parchment paper, handwritten in calligraphic ink with gilded drop caps and sketches of angels and saints in the margins. Dishes, tapestries, candelabras—these simple, functional objects are presented as ornate decorations. The display of wealth is shocking, really. Chess pieces carved from elephant ivory rest behind a glass case in one air-conditioned gallery. It’s obvious that these few stray pieces were once part of a complete set, kept in someone’s home. They were probably dusted regularly by a servant and pulled out from time to time when the master of the house felt like playing a match or two. They were part of a life. It all was.

The Unicorn in Captivity (from The Unicorn Tapestries series)

On the one hand, I know that these objects—valuable in their own time and priceless today—were never the norm. I know that they are symbols of exorbitant wealth, vestiges of people who lived decadently, either ignorant or negligent of the poverty that surrounded their own happy, gold-plated bubble. I know that, if she’d been around in the 14th century, Suze Orman would have told these people that commissioning a jewel-encrusted chalice isn’t the smartest financial move.

Still, there is something I can’t help but appreciate about their extravagance. Maybe it’s the result of a childhood spent watching Disney movies and playing princess dress-up. But I think it’s more than that. What I really love is that these people, who had money and influence to burn, chose to cash it in on beauty. On creativity. On art. What struck me most during my time in the museum was the detail with which even the most ordinary everyday items were crafted. The handles of a heavy wooden door, adorned with carvings, angelic faces chiseled into the corners of a window; the tapestries used for winter insulation, woven with intricate narrative scenes. Beauty was important, and these were people who wanted to immerse themselves in it.

Stained glass window at The Cloisters

Consequently, the artist was an important person—the person they could pay to provide them with the things their money couldn’t actually buy. Talent was celebrated on a scale that seems unreachable for the modern-day creative, whose work is nurtured on a much more “indie” scale, and whose education is often dismissed as fanciful procrastination before the dust settles on the “real world” of post-collegiate life. Artistry was valued and, perhaps most importantly for the artists themselves, it was fashionable. Time consuming, non-utilitarian, trendy, successful expression—and unapologetically multifaceted.

There’s a lesson there.


“It’s the space station,” or…On AWP and Why Writers Geek Out Over It

I just returned yesterday from Boston, where the annual writer geek-out (also known as AWP, also known as the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference) was held. It was my first time attending, so I’m sure I was even more wide-eyed and full of wonder than usual than most of my counterparts. Still, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that these few days in Beantown were impactful for me, important in some way much greater than my singular experience.

AWP swag…I will always be excited about a good tote!

Of course, this AWP was marked by an enormous pile of snow that insisted on blowing through the northeast last week, thereby trapping masses of writers within the confines of our hotels and the tunnels connecting them to the Hynes Convention Center (I literally did not breathe outdoor air for three days…) My hotel roomie, the inimitable Kait Burrier, described the other-worldly nature of this situation best, I think, when she said “It’s the space station!” She was referring to Prudential Center architecture at the time, but I find that the metaphor holds up for all other aspects of the conference, too.

Because writers are weird. We’re weird, and we know we’re weird. We couldn’t possibly deny it. Most of us go about our daily lives feeling the weight of our own oddity, noticing the awkward pauses as our conversations with non-writers shift away from whatever point we were trying to make and onto something more ordinary. Sure, we can get some solace from general book talk (“Hey, did you read A Visit from the Goon Squad? It’s awesome, right? Yeah, those characters are really something.” And this is surely a lovely discussion…Goon Squad is incredible, after all, and you tell your non-writer pals so), but there’s something about the life talk, the unnameable chemistry that occurs when speaking with someone who “gets” you, that simply isn’t there. Our friends and family love us, enjoy us, appreciate us–to some extent, they may even understand us–but, for the majority of writers, it is only the rarest of interactions that makes us stop and think, Yeah, they really get it.

Imagine, then, a place in which 12,000 such people have congregated, all aching for conversation, literature, and frivolity. All feeling buoyed by the presence of each other’s oddities–embracing them, reveling in them. Together.

In short, it’s amazing. I mean, mindblowingly and heartwrenchingly amazing. Indeed, what masks itself as a conference is really a return to the writers’ proverbial home planet. A trip to our own bizarre space station.

So forgive us, please, for the onslaught of post-AWP lovefest blog posts, tweets, and Facebook statuses. Take it easy on us when you ask how our time away from home or the office has been, and we are only capable of responding with a glazed look, a breathy adjective, and perhaps some small, insufficient anecdote. We do realize how annoying we are. It’s just that…this was really something special. Like, really incredible. We’re going to need a few days to come back down to Earth.

Let’s Talk About Blogs

Blogging, by its very nature, is an odd and uncertain thing.  First off, let’s be honest for a minute and admit that we all forgot where the word “blog” even came from until we Googled it and landed in Wikipedia-land.  It has been integrated into our modern language, as well accepted in everyday use as “Kindle,” “app,” “DVR,” or “bootylicious.”

Why, then, is the best available definition something along the lines of:  “Well, you know, it’s like a website where you, like, write stuff.” What does one write about on such a website?  (“Oh, I dunno…like, whatever you want.”) There are blogs on politics, celebrities, food, travel, art, books, shopping, crafting, coupons, careers, parenting, fashion, music, religion, technology, golf–You name it, someone has taken to the internet to yammer about it in their own personalized public forum. With these many voices already covering nearly every topic imaginable, do I really need to add to the cacophony with my own off-key musings? I mean…really?

Of course I do.

I’m a writer, for God’s sake.  Have you ever hung out with a writer?  We never shut up, as long as there’s a keyboard around.  So here’s the deal:  I’m going to write some words; you’re going to read them. Everyone else will get over it.