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.