Monday, April 30, 2012

New York City, the MOMA, The Water Lily Room and Whirlpools Underneath the Hell Gate Bridge

Lately I find myself conscious of time passing. I notice it takes me five minutes to walk to my parking spot, settle into my car, and drive out of the garage. Five minutes goes by so fast and there are only so many five minutes in an hour, in a day, in a year. Five minutes can pass instantly. A day can click by and then it's gone. I would like to regard moments as little points of infinity but it seems impossible. Time is a real thing that happens without us. Even at 15, I was terrified of time moving too quickly, of losing my youth. I went through regular, fraught with drama 1/8 life crises, writing every number from 1-80 and circling 15, trying to take comfort in the time I had left.
Lately, I feel time moving. I see it go by. Earlier this month, I flew home to NYC. After a week of crippling anxiety, family drama, great fun at Springsteen shows, old friends, and the usual highs and lows of a trip home, I decided I needed some restorative time to myself on my last full day in New York City. It was early April, spring, perfect weather and flowering trees. I got a manicure-pedicure, something only affordable in Queens. I got on the train, got off at 5th Ave and walked to the MOMA.

When I lived in NY, and I was sad, I often went to museums by myself. I usually have intense emotional reactions at museums (and, ya know, everywhere else)  and leave feeling drained and uplifted. Anyone can walk into the Met with a quarter and I used to walk right into the MOMA for free with my CUNY staff ID. This time I had to pay the twenty-five bucks like everyone else. I walked around the two special exhibits I'd been interested in-- Diego Rivera and Cindy Sherman, then wandered around the permanent collections.
I am a giant crybaby. I feel a lot. When something reaches me on an inner level, that reaching feels like a spiritual experience, like connecting with God. I wandered the MOMA and remembered how much I used to love to go to the Water Lily room to cry and write in my journal. I needed to do that again.
I grew up with these Water Lilies. Many of us did, on class trips, Saturday visits, the old MOMA, the interim MOMA in Queens, the new MOMA. Going back to a place over and over is like time folding in on itself. You are there both now and in memories past.


I dont know much about art. I only know that I love museums and that certain pieces speak to me and certain pieces don't.
The Water Lily room is tucked away in a corner of the museum, 4 giant Water Lily panels and two smaller ones.

I slowly wandered the length of the panels. I like to look at brush strokes. I like to look at accumulations of paint. I like to watch where the brush and paint began, where they go what colors are where. Looking like this is stress relief, for me. I love when you look hard enough, every color is everywhere--there is something about this that feels intuitively truthful.
In the moments while you stand before it, a painting can be all you see, time can stop and it can surround you. What makes art different from nature is that art is permanent. Art doesn't change--you do. The night before, I'd walked to Astoria Park, something else I used to do almost daily when I lived there.

Landscapes can be dramatic in New York City, a city carved by glaciers. Astoria Park is a swath of green under two giant, grand bridges that span a wide, deep and tumultuous tributary of the East River, the Hell Gate Strait. I had leaned against the railings to watch the water, something I hadn't done for years. Water flows in two, three, four directions here. I watched water clash, rush and wind into whirlpools, I watched the water unspool and scatter, only to twist into a whirlpool again a few feet away. It was mesmerizing. It is so hard to write about the things I love about Astoria, because it is exactly this, this chaos and drama and beauty and danger. I want to go home. I want to be strong enough to go home. I am not yet.

The Hell Gate whirlpools were convulsive and ever-changing but paintings are stagnant, fixed, here, snapshots of the same life-stuff as whirlpools, as anything.
The water lillies are a human interpretation of nature, not the way we would see a water lily pond if it were right in front of us, but a representation of the way we process what we see and how we experience time. These paintings are time accumulating. They are the rocks under the water and what passes underneath the water, what floats on top of the water and what is above the water, and what the water reflects, in a day, in a week, in a passing hour. The water lilies are us, they are the cosmos, beautiful, organized chaos.

Why do I feel comforted, sitting before the panels? Writing, reading, art, music, sometimes yoga--why are these things a valve to release anxiety and pent up, stored emotion?
In the Water Lily gallery, I hear a girl ask her friend, "Why do people like these so much? Is it because they're familiar?"
Of course I am comforted by familiar things. These paintings are old friends, and so are all the Van Goghs in New York City and the Natural History Blue Whale and the bridges and the subways and all of it.
I've known these paintings. Many of us have. Spending time in their company comforts us because they connect us. Not everyone to everyone, but some of us to that smokey electric god thing that lingers under everything. Music, mountains, art, books--these are my churches.
Sometimes I am crippled by the horrors and evils of which we are capable. We are living on this tiny little dot and we stampede all over one another but we also do this. Art is born from love, and it is a complicated relationship, and at this point in my life, I am of the opinion that love is the hardest thing for us to do, whether it is pushing love through ourselves to another person, or to the art we are trying to make, and accepting that the best we can do in the time we are given will have to be enough.

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