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.




Mucking Around


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,


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.”