Thursday, December 24, 2009

Intimate Distances

Intimate Distances
By Fred Shira

When I met Mary she was working on her MFA at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, a pretty high powered art school. And for an artist to complete a Master’s Degree in studio art, they must prepare and show a body of their work at the school’s gallery.
We, of course, had no money; I was galloping horses and going to school, and Mary was working as a hot-walker at Belmont. We lived in a little, I mean mini, apartment that we shared with our Australian Shepherd, Casey, two cats, Piewacket and Atticus, and about a million cockroaches and mice. I won’t list their names but just know that we were very close. Let me take just a second and tell you something of New York wildlife. When I say we had cockroaches, I don’t mean the little winged things that you may occasionally see around the kitchen. No, these are New York cockroaches: Puerto Rican Eagles, the Godzilla of cockroaches. They could crumble a Japanese cockroach city in a flash. As for the mice, I would go each payday and buy about five of those little boxes of mouse poisoning. You know, the kind that looks like little feeders. The mice would eat this and yell for more. You could hear them behind the refrigerator shouting out, “Hey Fred, this thing is gettin’ low. We’ll try to make it to payday, but I don’t know if we can.” This was before cats. The cats came and the mice packed their little suitcases and left. I’ll save my New York City rat stories for another time.
Mary’s medium was watercolor, and it required some rather extensive framing. As I said we had no money, so we set out to do the framing on our own. We found a place on Long Island that sold framing materials and bought what we needed. In Mary’s mother’s basement there was a small workshop where I worked at building frames. And, if I do say so myself, we did a pretty good job. I don’t remember my shop teacher’s name, but he would have been proud of me.
It’s customary to have an opening event for an art show complete with invitations and a buffet table. Now remember this is a student show. Mary made the invitations and sent them out. For the buffet we went to Manhattan and got some Bluga Caviar, Alaskan King Crab, foie gras from a little village just outside of Nice, and we topped this off with a nice white Chateauneuf- du-Pape from a very good year. Right!. Mary and her mother did make a nice table of finger goodies and a nice sensible wine; it even had a cork rather than a screw cap. We had the most popular gallery in the building everyone looked at the paintings and made nice remarks while holding a plate of food. I think the food ran out before it reached the wino’s grapevine or we would have had another group of art connoisseurs.
There were three of four other gallery’s in the building each with a different student show. Mary’s was the most popular and the only one with food. I walked into the next gallery and saw these large pieces of paper put on the wall with push-pins. On each one there was a drawing of some abstraction that looked like it had been made with a carpenter’s crayon.
Now, I should mention that Pratt is a pretty times forward kind of art school. Avant-garde is the norm. Mary once told me about how a student came to class with a paper sack that had a used tea bag stuck to it, and they spent the whole class period talking about how this showed the passion of modern man. But, I digress,
I stood in this gallery and looked around at the drawings pinned to the wall and thought about all the work Mary and I had done to get ready for her show. I could have done this in about twenty minutes. Whenever I look at a piece of artwork and say, “I could have done that”. Mary will reply, “But you didn’t”. There’s a reward that goes with doing things first.
At the entrance to the gallery was a table with an open book for signing your name and making comments. I looked at this book and saw the comment, “Love your intimate distances”. “Intimate distances.” What the hell is “intimate distances”. I’m a pretty good wordsmith, but I was baffled by this. Usually when I ask Mary about something like this, she tries to explain and then looks at me with that loving smile that says, “You wouldn’t understand this in a million years”. But, even she was at a loss at this time.
It wasn’t until about four o’clock one morning, “as I pondered weak and weary over a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” (God, I wish I had said that first.) that I finally after all these years grasp a meaning for intimate distances. I don’t think it is the same thing that writer in the comment book had in mind, but it makes sense to me.
Since I have been playing around with “Facebook”, I have opened up relationships with old friends, people that I knew from my earlier life. Old friends are very much a part of who we are. I broke away from that life many years ago, not looking back very much. Facebook is a great place to pull your life together and look at yourself in a perspective that you’ve not done before.
Over the years I have always thought that all my friends from youth had lived these wonderful lives and were very successful and happy. I was the only one who tromped around the world trying to locate himself in the universe. I stayed away because I felt like I couldn’t measure up.
Facebook has shown me that not everyone has lived like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life. Everyone has had their ups and downs just like me. We’re not that different. I think all people have a story to tell, and they want to tell it. I don’t like to think that I am in the twilight of my years, but I am in the afternoon of them. And, I think when people reach this stage of life they want to tell others about themselves, not just they have raised a family, worked a job, and bought a retirement home, but to tell that little story that has been inside for all these years: that they have lived with their spouse for many years and have never really known love, or that their perfect childhood was not as perfect as they led everyone to believe.
This is where Facebook comes in. It provides them with a forum for self-expression and self-validation. They can write to someone that they know who they may not have seen for many years and tell their story. They do not have to place the story in context because both the reader and the writer share a fund of knowledge about their past. They can say see I am a real person. I have another dimension you didn’t know about. They can broadcast this to their list of friends or keep it private to a single friend. This is the wonderfulness of Facebook.
Since I have started playing with Facebook I have remet many old friends; I had forgotten just how precious old friends are. It sometimes becomes necessary to connect the parts of your life, so you can have some sort of continuity. I realize that families provide a sense of connection, but there is still that something that is missing; that thing that is yours and makes you truly yourself. You can become a person outside your family and still not cheat the husband and kids.
So when you get to feeling alone and caught up with yourself, write it on your Bulletin Board and see that you not alone, but have empathetic friends out there wanting to tell you their story. You can have both the intimacy along with the distance of place and time.

August 2009

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