Serendipity and Vermeer

We went on a writing marathon day. I thought at first it was the same thing we often do during NaNoWriMo; a whole day dedicated to just sitting down and writing. I was very wrong (or at least 95% wrong). Yes, writing marathon day is about writing as much as you can, but it is also about walking, visiting, learning, and even socializing.

This event was organized by the NVWP (Northern Virginia Writing Program) Invitational Summer Institute that I am participating in. We all met at the historical town of Fredericksburg, Virginia with the goal of wondering around town, writing our thoughts as they ebbed and flowed.

I started the day by myself, frantically searching for that quaint little bookshop that sported a great coffee shop. But alas! It was no more. Instead, there is now a very nice used books store with great little nooks and crannies inviting a reader or a writer to spend some time in. I accepted the invitation and sat for a while, looking around me and writing. I had sat close to the Art books and my wandering eye immediately latched on to a big book about Vermeer.

I am known in the Facebook world as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” because I use that painting as my profile picture. A couple weeks ago I even had a gentleman compliment me on how beautiful I was. I had to control my urge to thank him and tell him the girl in that painting has been dead for quite some time. But I digress…

earring

The point is I absolutely love Vermeer (more even than Da Vinci, my art/science idol). I don’t think there is a single painting of his I don’t like. His art is so serene, it’s like visual yoga. Years ago, when I volunteered as an art docent for Kitsap County Schools in Washington, I taught a lesson using the Milk Maid as the focal point. As I was preparing the lesson, a sense of calm came over me. Looking at the gentle light coming through the window and the young milk maid preparing things for the day ahead, you could almost hear the sound of silence, that magical sound that envelops the early morning world.

milkmaid

When I was a child I liked waking up before everyone else. When the moon was still holding on to its supremacy over the sun. When the light was reduced to faint tendrils lacking the power to break the darkness yet. I sat at the window and watched the world wake up. One light here, another there. The first train of the day rolling on its tracks, early workers walking silently to the train station, a few early worshipers climbing the long staircase to the church. All was quiet. All was well with the world in that silent moment. Serendipity.

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Her Hands

Today, during one of NVWP’s presentations I was given this picture and after we analyzed and talked about it for a while I felt I had to write something  down. I had to write what this picture was telling me at that moment. So here it is.

 

Her eyes speak of long, hard days, empty bellies and desperation, but her hands tell another story; the way they cocoon her baby, pulling him closer to her beating heart.“Here child, take a little of my strength, ride the rhythm of my heart, drink from the fountain of my endless love,” they whisper…

 

For more of her and other Great Depression photographs, click here.

A Little Girl Called Mafalda

I’m writing this blog while I’m trying (in vain I should add) to drink a cup of coffee with a totally numbed mouth. I just came from the dentist where I endured a deep cleaning. As I sat on the dentist chair, mouth wide open with an ultrasonic drill scratching away all the plaque I have managed to collect in the last six months, I am reminded of one of my favorite cartoonist’s famous strips. Growing up I was a serious groupie (who am I kidding? Still am) of Argentinian cartoonist Quino and his most famous creation, Mafalda. I have every strip he ever drew and to this day I delight in reading them. He had that uncommon ability to appeal to children as much as adults and be able to tell some very serious truths about the political and social situation in his country at the time and also the world in general. He was drawing these comic strips at a time when the war in Vietnam was still going on. I read them quite a bit later, but his truths were and still are true today.

quino

Just as he was free with the sharp and biting political and social commentary, he was also amazing at articulating common truths, episodes or feelings that came straight from everybody’s life, no matter where you came from or how old you were. One of the funniest sayings of his (or hers, since most of these messages were being delivered by an elementary school girl, Mafalda and her friends) was that the dentist was yet another place where you go, you sit down, open your mouth to say nothing. I can concur 🙂

mafalda-y-su-tortuga-burocracia

Mafalda, a precocious little girl who wants peace and justice for the world more than anything else, named her pet turtle “Bureaucracy” (Burocracia). In one strip she reads the definition of democracy in the dictionary and bursts out laughing when it says the government of the people by the people (see below).

Democracia

I’m always amazed at how relevant she still is today. Mafalda is just a little younger than me (yes, I’m ancient) but while I age, she will always remain the six year old she was when Quino created her. Gotta love her!

mafalda_paseohist

Life Is Beautiful

 

My life has been a bit nightmarish for the past few months. Life as I knew it, and as I had hoped for myself and my family, took a turn in the other direction about 10 years ago. Lots have happened; some good, a lot of bad, probably nothing very different than what a lot of people experience in one shape or another. I guess I just wasn’t ready for it. I had a very happy, very “normal” childhood and part of me (a big part) believed that with the right attitude I could fix just about anything. I have since discovered I can’t fix everything no matter how much I want to, or how much I work for it. I can’t say I’ve totally accepted that, but I am learning to live with it. You know the prayer, God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I have tried and it’s a mixed bag of results. Sometimes I can, sometimes I just curl up into a human ball and cry my eyes out.

A friend posted a clip from the online (at least I think it’s an online thing) movie/documentary Human where a French Jewish woman, who was in a concentration camp as a child, retells this amazing story of what a simple gesture can do to change someone’s life forever. It got me thinking about how fortunate I am. I have never been imprisoned, I was never a victim of violence, I was never really hungry (well, I came close one time but it didn’t last long. A story for another day), never had to wear rags or go naked, always had a roof over my head, people who love me in my life… Therefore, as hellish as my daily life sometimes is, it pales by comparison to many others. That’s when I decided to go back to my original plan; to focus on the good things I have rather than put all my energy into the bad.

funnylifequotes34

With Thanksgiving just around the corner I thought it was the right time to write a series of blogs (bloggings???) about things, events, or people  I am so very thankful to have in my life. For those “other” things that keep me up at night, cause me awful stress headaches, and make me cry ever so often, make no mistake; your time on (virtual) paper will come. But for now let’s smile and focus on the bright.

I start you off with a picture of serenity. Vermeer is by far my favorite painter, even more than Leonardo DaVinci (even though I am his #1 groupie). Vermeer’s paintings convey such serenity, such peace of mind, staring at his work is like therapy for me. So, I give you the Milkmaid. Bask in the quiet of the morning, the tender brightness of the new sun, the sweet promise of fresh milk; the calm before the storm of the daily madness. Namaste.

 

 johannes-vermeer-the-milkmaid-1355338007_org