The Vivian Girls and a Quiet Time in NYC

I had a peculiar experience in NYC that has left me feeling slightly out of sorts.  Nothing bad happened, New York City was its usual lively self, all the more so this week with election energy tingling all over and preparations being made for the holidays.  Snowflake lights were hung but not turned on, Christmas trees were being planted in Rockefeller Center, and window displays were in transition as sirens wailed and horns honked like any other day in the big apple.

In the midst of all this excitement and movement, I was in a very quiet mood all week.  I wanted to be still, to bury my head in a book, to drink coffee all afternoon and watch the world go by.  I managed to have a pretty full day on Tuesday, but by Wednesday I practically had to force myself to leave our hotel room.  I had two full days in the city and this is what I did:  visited the American Folk Art Museum, wandered all over Central Park, had a light lunch on Columbus Avenue on the upper west side, visited the Guggenheim and indulged in a new pair of boots.  That was on Tuesday, and on Wednesday all I managed to do was visit the NYC Public Library where I wrote in my journal and visited three small but lovely exhibits there - including one about this extraordinary artists' retreat - before I went back to our hotel room and read all afternoon.  Read!  In our hotel room!  In New York City!  You've got to be kidding me!

As I was sitting in the cavernous main reading room of the library, at a long table with brass lamps which was one among dozens of long tables, writing in my journal, I filled many pages before I wrote this:

"All I want to do right now is go back to our hotel room and read.  What if I gave myself permission to do that?"

And off I went.  No hesitation, no agonizing over whether or not I should hit another museum on the way back, just very simply gathering my things and going back to a quiet room 22 floors above 57th Avenue.  After so much running around and moving and going, I finally found my way to some delicious quiet time in one of the most on the go cities there is.

I'll now go back to Tuesday, definitely the more "full" of my two days there, and share my discovery of Henry Darger at the American Folk Art Museum.  I have felt mysteriously drawn to folk art lately, and am now eager to learn more about its fascinating cousin, Outsider Art.  Henry Darger's story is simple and intriguing - a janitor who lived in a rented apartment for more than 40 years in Chicago, he left behind hundreds of paintings, collages and illustrations, along with a 15,000+ page single-spaced typed manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.  The Musuem only showed a small fraction of his work, but I was immediately pulled in and now want to learn as much as I can about him.  I can't help but observe that this newfound fascination with a man who was reclusive, unknown and basically ignored by society began during a week when I felt the urge to hide from the world in a city jam-packed with interesting, inspiring, creative things to do.  Maybe this is just a crazy coincidence, or maybe the fact that I was in such a deep observer mode all week enabled me to make this connection.

Thinking about his life - about all the ways he created a vast, complicated world in his imagination as he lived an intensely private and solitary life - I go back to a question I have been asking myself for the past couple of weeks:  exactly what is it I am chasing?  And why do I all of a sudden feel like this word - chasing - is the appropriate word for so much of what I've been doing this year?  Chasing after a dream, after book sales, after recognition, after an audience.  Most of the time it feels like the most magnificent journey I could ever experience, but lately an uneasy feeling of grasping at something too fiercely has been creeping into my awareness.  What can I learn from Henry Darger?  What would he think of all the ways his work is making its way into the world, a journey that did not begin until after he died?

I think it is impossible to know all the ways the work we do and the lives we live impact the world.  Maybe the kindness you show to a stranger today will give them the glimmer of light they need to maintain their faith in humanity.  Maybe a blog post you write that exposes your wildest dream or your deepest fear or your tiniest disappointments will touch someone on another part of the planet and make them feel less alone.  Maybe the story you are writing in your sketchbooks and journals will someday be discovered, 100 years from now, by a total stranger, and this stranger will be inspired by your words and your creations and will start writing stories of their own, stories that might inspire the world.  How are we to know how far our influence might reach and who are we to think we are the sole determinants of how our lives contribute to humanity?  Sometimes the things we do and the choices we make begin a ripple effect we have no control of, and those ripples are capable of extending far beyond our personal experience, our social circle, our time on this earth.  We have no way of knowing all the details of our imprint on the world.

Knowing this, I am reminded how important it is to continue to breathe deeply and let the quiet spaces expand as I march forward with Ordinary Sparkling Moments.  I don't know all the places this creation is going to go; I can't control the path it will take.  It is not possible for me to force it one way or another.  Just as I stepped away from all the opportunities I had in front of me in New York to go, go, go, every once in a while I must sit still and let my work find its own way into the hands of kindred spirits, friends and total strangers.  Chasing is not the answer.  Letting my dream have a life of its own even as I take time now and then to do nothing to help it along...well, there, I think I may be on to something...