Dog & God

chows

Georgia O’Keeffe on Evening Walk with her Dog, Ghost Ranch, by John Loengard, 1966

This photo reminds me of this quote:

“It was a beautiful clear dark blue evening – high tide –  The sort of thing that makes you feel that the human gods we have invented are a real joke – that God is something too tremendous – so universal – that we poor humans can’t conceive of it – “

Page 374 My Faraway One

Conception

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Dear Georgia,

I have just been reading the letters between you and Anita Pollitzer. I feel like a big cheat because you both keep saying things like – you must keep this in the strictest confidence and this is only between you and me and here I am reading it like it’s mine. In the summer of 1916 you spent the days walking (2 hrs) reading (2 hrs) sewing undergarments (unknown) and painting or drawing (2.5 hrs). Today as I ironed my uniform for work, my hands looked useful to me. I am imagining myself as a mother.

I have a confession – just between you and me – I have been thinking the last week that I needed to take a hiatus from this project. Why on earth did I set out to do a FOUR YEAR project? Did I think I would not want to do anything else for four years?

there are a lot of life things happening that are wanting my attention/i can’t conceive of how I will continue to learn about your life and create a performance right now/you really don’t need me prying into your world, which is no longer yours but still/this might end up all about me and nothing about you/the project is always tugging at me/i’m always feeling that i’m not doing enough/the initial excitement of doing this project has worn off/what is left?

and there’s this:

My husband and I are trying to conceive because we want to be parents and I am forty so the time is now. There is a part of me that just wants to be very quiet with this decision. To settle down and allow my life to shift and shimmer into the world of child/mother/family and forget all that came before.

Conception [according to Ms. Merriam Webster]

a :  the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both 

b :  beginning <joy had the like conception in our eyes — Shakespeare>

:  a complex product of abstract or reflective thinking

d :  the sum of a person’s ideas and beliefs concerning something

e :  the originating of something in the mind

 

Then I started to think about commitment. That there may be more lessons for me in hanging out with you when it feels hard and stuck and wrong than those lessons that come from shutting the thing down. I’ve done that one before and I know what those lessons are.

The funny thing is: when quitting was not an option I had to think about how we could work together now. How you are not Marilyn, and I am not the Alice I was a year ago. Then I let myself off the hook a little and thought about what I could do with our time together.

So maybe I might write to you next week. Let’s stay in touch and see what happens with us – even with all the rest of it.

Love,

Alice

Also, Sean and I are going to the PO today to apply for our passports. In September we are going to Croatia, but first we will land in Budapest where I will look for your relatives if I can find where to look.

Drive

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“The relationship was really very good, because it was based on something more that just emotional needs…of course, you do your best to destroy each other without knowing it.”

Quote by O’Keeffe found in How Georgia Became O’Keeffe by Karen Karbo

I have spent the day bouncing between New York City and Abuiquiu, New Mexico, looking for clues as to your daily life. It will take me 12.5 hours to drive to Ghost Ranch. It would have taken you 31 hours or more from New York in 1929. I heard you learned to drive and washed the car in the yard in the nude with your traveling companion that summer that you found your heart/home in New Mexico away from your husband. I am spinning with skirts and skulls and distant points that don’t seem entirely clear and I am loving you. I think today I really began the journey with you, suddenly it feels like you are nearby and I am alive and a little giddy. I am going to San Francisco this weekend, and will look for you there.

 

Peaches

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Georgia O’Keeffe Peach and Glass 1927

Dear Georgia,

Today I bit into a peach that was not entirely ripe and I remembered how my father told me to harvest the peaches before the frost (or was it wind) one of the times I visited him in his last year. I think there was a storm brewing and he said we’d better collect them before they all got knocked off and bruised. I can’t remember if it was August or October. One of those times I was headed into town to the grocery store – this must have been February – and I asked him – can I get you anything? Yes, he said, get me a five pound bag of manure, would you? That made me laugh, but it was no joke – he wanted it to start artichoke shoots in the greenhouse. Later he sent me pictures of the artichokes and I felt proud that I had contributed the poop.

Your peach looks gorgeously ripe, Georgia.

love,

Alice

 

Mucking Around

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Light Coming on the Plains II, 1917

Dear Georgia or Ms. O’Keeffe,

I’m not sure which to call you. Georgia seems too intimate but Ms. O’Keeffe too scholarly. Maybe others have struggled with this and that is why some resort to calling you simply O’Keeffe. I would be okay with you calling me Alice, but I’m not sure that the reverse would be true.

So I have set sail on this journey of research, transformation and creation and so far seem to be wandering around in placid waters, watching the clouds go by with no sense of direction and no sense of urgency to get any where at all. Is this related somewhat to who you are, or am I just directionless? I am very much enjoying reading your book, Georgia O’Keeffe (by Georgia O’Keeffe). I am wondering if -in your lifetime – you became comfortable mucking around in the realm beyond language, the space where there need not be labels in order to experience some truth in the body. I wonder if that might be why you refused to speak about your art in terms of what it was about? Maybe you didn’t know what it was about either, it was simply what your body wanted to say.

I love reading the letters between you and Alfred Stieglitz – the way you both describe the world around you with such detail and earthiness! In this book there are such interesting things in the footnotes, like how the artist Marsden Hartley thought your art “too personal”. Stieglitz said that Hartley “doesn’t want to feel struggle – he has had enough himself-he wants greater objectivity-less subjectivity” (pg 136 My Faraway One). I wonder if Hartley knew and was responding to what you said previously about his work; that “it was like a brass band in a small closet”. That makes me giggle. You had a smart mouth on you.

We don’t much write letters anymore, at least I don’t. Mailboxes are being taken off of sidewalks as we are learning to tweet/vine/blog our every moment. When I meet up with friends, we have little news to share because we already read about it on Facebook. I think about your wide open velvety close nights in New Mexico and I remember the night sky in January in Maine when I was a kid, so sharp and clear that I could almost disappear.

The truth is I am scared. I don’t know what is going to happen with you and me and it feels like the rules have changed. Where Marilyn pushed me to reach out in a deeply personal way, create a burst of color and light, and change myself physically you seem to be urging me to listen within. Take long walks. Make salad. Stare out the window. Clean the house. All I want to do is clean the house.

You warn me about the perils of housework. Somewhere I read that when you were painting you let the dishes pile up. For me it is much easier to clean, grocery shop, and make all sorts of lists than to delve into the unknown of creativity.

Today on my walk I was visited by a monarch butterfly swooping and soaring on the breeze. She would come close to me and then flutter away. Her pattern seemed to be effort, effort, effort…soar, swoop, crest…effort, effort, effort again, then maybe full stop for a moment, begin again. This pattern echoed something I heard yesterday in an acting class. We were encouraged to row, row, row the boat of our creativity until the current took us and when the current ebbed, row again. Maybe this is the best lesson for me for today, try to feel when to effort, effort, effort, when to swoop and soar and when to full stop: rest.

With admiration,

Alice

Needing Blue

Blue Lines 1916 (2)

Blue Lines 1916 Watercolor

This quote (below) is my first clue about where to begin and end and start again…stepping into the unknown and learning to recognize when it is time for blue. Oh lordy, I am feeling so afraid to make a mistake.

[In 1915] “I hung on the wall the work I had been doing for several months. Then I sat down and looked at it. I could see how each painting or drawing had been done according to one teacher or another, and I said to myself, “I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me – so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down.” I decided to start anew – to strip away what I had been taught – to accept as true my own thinking. This was one of the best times of my life. There was no one around to look at what I was doing – no one was interested – no one to say anything about it one way or another. I was alone and singularly free, working into my own, unknown – no one to satisfy but myself. I began with charcoal and paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue.”

Georgia O’Keeffe by Georgia O’Keeffe

Philip Seymour Hoffman, God, and Discipline

Empty Swings

I cried when I heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman was dead. I was two parts incredulous at a universe that could allow such a thing to happen, and one part just plain sad. I wanted with all my heart for it to be not true.

I remember seeing several of the plays he directed at the Labyrinth Theater Company, one in which I sat in the row behind him and his mom, and couldn’t wait to call my mom (from the bathroom at intermission) to let her know that I was sitting behind them.  My mom and I were equally enamored with him as an actor, following his career and referring to him as only the sound “psh”, which made us giggle like school girls. He represented to me the time in New York, when I was acting in the theater, going to grad school and seeing amazing theater like his production of “The Little Flower of East Orange”.

I love the word God. When I speak this word it cracks open my heart and puts me right in touch with all that is big and mysterious in this funky world. It holds all the mystery of what I don’t know, can’t explain or find words for.  When I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman act I would think “He is touched by God” and by this I meant that the clouds were not obscuring his pure communication of truth.

When I set out to become Marilyn Monroe, this is partly what I was seeking.  To convey some unfettered moment of truth. I wanted to be touched by God, and share that with you. What I learned from the experience is that those moments of allowing God/truth/basic goodness to flow through come with practice.  And the practice is letting go. And letting go requires discipline.

In my research about Georgia O’Keeffe, I am finding a woman with immense discipline. From one anecdote I learned that she had to stop partying with friends all the time because she found that she could not paint when hungover. I found that she always ate three meals a day and plus two snacks and was very concerned with nutrition. When she was newly married, she tried to adapt to her husband’s way of eating which was hot chocolate and cookies in the morning and then nothing until dinner time. She found that she could not be at her best with this schedule of eating and soon established her own regimen. It seems she was looking for the people places and things that would allow her to do her best work. Allow her to let go and create. It’s such a paradox that small things like being well-fed, or having a morning routine that involves meditation, or taking a run allow us to let go and be our best.

This year, with Georgia O’Keeffe as my guide, I want to develop the disciplines that help me to do my best work. So I can more frequently let the unfettered truth flow. I’m so grateful that Philip Seymour Hoffman had so many years of sharing himself with us in this way, and I mourn his absence from this world.

In an interview with Simon Critchley at the Rubin Museum in December 2012, Philip Seymour Hoffman said  “Meditation is actually coming right up to the lip of death, and saying, ‘I’m here and I’m scared and I’m here and I’m scared’…That’s life, that if you can actually live in that place, that that’s happiness.”

Abuelita

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Dear Miss O’Keeffe,

This morning I awoke early with this word ringing in my head like an alarm clock. Abuelita. I got out of bed and the apartment was pink. I looked out the window and the sky was an explosion of fuchsia color mottled by dark grey and green clouds. In ten minutes it was over replaced by a sheet of mild lemony yellow lavender, as if it had never erupted in such intensity.

Grandmother. Abuelita.

As I am making tea I remember that I heard a woman asking for “Abuelita” in the grocery store yesterday and that it is a kind of Mexican hot chocolate that my sister and I used to serve with chipotle paste rubbed on the side of the cups when we worked at a Oaxacan restaurant in Brooklyn. My sister taught me a lot about food in our Brooklyn apartment, much too small for all of us.

There is a song by Beck that mentions abuelitas called Que Onda Guero. “Abuelitas with plastic bags, walking to the church with the spanish candles…” I used to run in Brooklyn with this song blasting in my ears, long hair swinging.

Maybe I am claiming you as my ancestor, my abuelita. I want to hang in the kitchen with you, take long walks and slow down… see the beauty in nature. I want to learn from your fierce independence and search for self-authority. I want to spend a year at your house, safe in the routine of life…not afraid of the quiet moments. Learning from a life almost completed.

I don’t know very much about you but I already know that you created a world where it was safe to be you.

I see you raise your eyebrows now and say “there is no safety”.

Would it be okay if we explore this together? I don’t know how you might answer this question, but I will look for answers in the sage brush in Griffith park today.

With deepest respect,

Alice

 

Lost & Found

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Dear Friends,

I am very excited to open the door to Room Two this week but first I want to spend a few moments looking back at Room One and Marilyn. It feels necessary.

I have been away from the project for about five months. I went on retreat shortly after the installation and then came back to a whole host of domestic things large and small to take care of. I went back to my natural hair color mid-September and haven’t read a single Marilyn article or book since August. This has been a welcome break. After more than a year soaking in the story that was Marilyn and transforming myself physically into her all the while; it’s good to be me. I have been taking my time coming back to the blog too because I wanted to allow the experience to settle in before attempting to describe or label it in any way.

Last week, I was able to articulate some of the experiences when writing a blog post for the Shambhala Times. (You can read the full post here) I wanted to share some excerpts, and then wrap up Marilyn/Room One with some well-deserved thank you’s.

Last summer I lived twelve hours as Marilyn Monroe.

I started at 9:00 am in front of a live audience and a video feed which was broadcasting across the country. By 9:15 am I was completely panicked. I couldn’t pick up the handle, the phone, the truth, the fullness of it. I had no way of managing the situation, no place to hide.  Furthermore, I created nothing, I had nothing to show…just the space, me, her, and the invited audience. I had no plan.

As was her custom, Marilyn arrived late, meaning that I was this weird herky jerky thing for the first hour, not sounding nor moving at all like her but also not entirely like me either. Sometime after 10:00 am I put on Frank Sinatra and start to dance around the room, and suddenly she arrived in full force, wild, angry, sad, lonely, manic, loving and so vulnerable. Emotions arrived suddenly like giant waves and then were gone.

In the emptiness I am hyper-aware that all my usual ways of coping – making a cup of tea, snacking on something, checking Facebook – none of these things are available to me. I have stocked the room with three record albums, a record player, three books, some personal papers, champagne, and about four outfits. I quickly explore these things in the first three hours, reading from books, listening to the albums and getting dressed and undressed as I get in and out of bed restlessly.

Throughout the whole day I am haunted by the questions: What if this was my last day? How would I spend my time? There is this itchy feeling of waiting for time to pass, yet knowing that time is short. At one point I ask the audience “How do we make this time matter?”. They are quiet, eyes wide open…my partners in silence.

It’s sad joy to live in this world, knowing that I will have to let go of everything. I always resist that truth by building up my identity, my schedule, my agenda, my goals, never letting go enough to just be seen and loved by others, always proving something. In that twelve hour space and time with Marilyn, I experienced all the messiness and beauty of being human, all the expectations, the neediness, the wanting to be loved, the mystery and the itchy terribleness of staying there all the while, with just these three albums, these three books, this cactus and this champagne (which wasn’t even real, by the way, so there was no escape there either).

I think this is what Marilyn offered as the gift of her lifetime…or at least this is what she gave to me. The most beautiful things that life has to offer: sensuality, beauty, sex, and playfulness. And the messiness of being human, the not being able to hold it together, the addictions, the drama, the holding on too tight for too long, the self-hatred and closing off from others. The waiting for time to pass, waiting to get it perfect, the forgetting about the preciousness of this experience and feeling overwhelmed by all there is to accomplish. And the moments of complete surrender, where life is only what it is and that is good enough.

thankyou

There are so many folks that helped out in ways large and small, and I am going to include everyone I can think of since this really was such a community effort. I’m sure I will forget some folks, and I apologize in advance. First, I want to thank my husband Sean. He offers so much time, patience, editing skills, laughter, and heavy lifting to this project. Here is a picture of him heavy lifting with Natalie & Alicia the night before the performance:

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Special thanks to the Fabulous Four, who made the set-up, performance and take-down a total dream. Lisa Blandford, Natalie Panaia, Shelley Ray, and Alicia Vogl Saenz.

Fabulous Four

Thank you to Jmy at Pieter for making it possible in that beautiful space.

Thank you to Kathy Gronau for publicity.

Thank you to Rachelle for being my hair and make-up guru.

Thank you to Greg Schreiner and Scott Fortner of Marilyn Remembered.

Thank you to Siran Babayan & Drew Barillas from the LA Weekly.

Thank you to these exceptional women:  Jude, Sonora, Cynthia, Alicia V-S, Alicia T, Katie, Shelley, Erica, Vicky, Jenny, Sharon, Anne, Debra, Amy, Laura

Thank you to the Indiegogo contributers who made things a lot more financially possible:

Dustin, Ava, Eric, Janice, Jared & Annie, Heidi & Ben, Elke, Kirstin, Natalie, Nicole & Dan, Shannon, Sharon, Matthew, Alicia T, Barbara, Jenny, Valerie, Suzanna & Philip, Sulai, Patty K, Annie May, Debra & Malcolm, Patrick, Alison P, Aunt Kat, Katie, Mary Beth, Cousin Anne, Mike & Amy, Shelley, Jessica & Jennifer (PPC), Beth & Truax, Jude, Lynn, Tammy, Joseida, Lee

Special thanks to Janice of Success is Sweetest and Ellen of Bohemian Bookshelf for engaging and inspiring me.

Thank you to Mykl & Mary Lynn, Guy Blume, Margaret Kemp, Mat Keel, Julie Civiello, Lisa Oxley, Jason Elias and Philip Lasker for asking me how it’s going, listening, and advising when asked.

Thank you to the Shambhala Los Angeles sangha for support and friendship.

Thank you to everyone who participated that day (near and far) and sat with Marilyn for a time.

And thank you to my family, each of whom continue to inspire and encourage me.

Transformation Complete

Dear Marilyn,

This is me as you from August 4, 2013. I feel the photographer captured something of you in this photo. Thank you for loaning yourself to me and for giving me a taste of the moments in time on your last day.

What I want to say for now it this:

we were always free

trapped in a golden cage

lit up like a torch of hips and lips

burning through all the old papers and heart saws

rest awhile beautiful

sleep in perfect wisdom

rock out your work of nowness

enter the back room territory

as i float above alone

Love,

Alice

This is a drawing of me as Marilyn by Anne Saitzyk.

I will be on retreat until the end of August, but look forward to sharing more experiences from the day of this performance when I get back. The live stream is still available if you want to watch any of the installation. Go here.