Sunday, September 30, 2007

Good Old MTA

The MTA is the Mass Transit Authority, or subway system of NYC. And for the most part its pretty easy to get around town on. Every now and then I'll get on an express train accidentally or not be paying attention and get on the uptown train instead of the downtown. But for the most part, I haven't had any problems. Except when it comes to going to church...

My first Sunday here, there was no problem. The A-train came on time and stopped where I needed to go, and I thought it would be simple to go to church each week. But lately, because of a lot of construction they're supposedly doing on some of the subway lines, the A-train either takes forever to come, so I'm late, or it only goes half-way and then I have to take a shuttle bus, so I'm late, or I'm on it and it doesn't stop where I want to get off, so I'm late. Church always starts a little late anyway (probably to help out us subway travelers), so usually its okay, but today was even more of an adventure.

Today my sister and I decided to try a different train than usual, hoping it would work out better. But once again, it stopped unexpectedly about halfway there, and wasn't going any further. So we decided to transfer to a different line, and while we were waiting we saw a guy we knew from our church, a dental student from Washington, and he waited with us. But the train didn't come, and didn't come, and we were starting to worry, but then it came, so we got on it. But, it didn't stop at our stop! So we ended up getting off the train about 20 blocks away from the church. We couldn't find a shuttle bus, and weren't sure which bus we could take, so we just walked.

It was a nice sunny, cool autumn day, so it was actually kind of fun to walk, and since we were already late, we didn't try to rush. We just enjoyed the afternoon, and the colorful Harlem neighborhoods we were walking through. We even saw a huge crowd of people in medieval attire who must have been on their way to a Renaissance fair. As we passed through a park, one guy looked like he'd just changed into his Robin Hood clothes behind some bushes. His bow and arrows were lying on the grass near where some street-kids were rapping. It's quite a mixture of people here in this city!

So, it's kind of like what I was saying the other day. You never know what's going to happen--you just have to enjoy each moment. So even though we were a half-hour late, I'm glad it happened, because I really enjoyed walking to church with my sister and our friend the dental student. And we made up for being late by staying after church to go to choir. So it all balanced out in the end.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Up On the Roof

I didn't have time to post yesterday because I was too busy cleaning the house for the big roof-top sleepover. Our house was really really dirty... And it still is, because the thing about this old house we live in--no matter how long you clean it, there's always something else that needs to be done. It was built in the 1880's and hasn't been maintained very well, but we love it anyway. It's full of charm, even if it is falling to pieces around us. One of the best things about it is the big roof-top we have, perfect for parties, or just a place to go to get away from regular life. Summer is pretty much over, but we thought it would still be warm enough to have a sleepover up there last night.

So, around 10 pm there were about 8 of us four stories up on the roof in our blankets and sleeping bags surrounding a huge pile of cookies, chips, and soda. The moon, full a few days ago, was still big enough to give us light to see by. We played MASH and acted like middle school girls, talking about the boys we have crushes on, staying awake half the night just talking and laughing.

The day had been warm, but the night wind picked up and after we fell asleep we all sort of froze into little balls within our nests. It was surprisingly quiet up there except for the odd siren every now and then. Songs of the city. E. saw two shooting stars. The air was crisp and delicious to breathe. When I closed my eyes I felt like I was asleep on the Oregon coast tucked in a sand dune, with the wind whistling around me. It was cold, so I'd wake up every now and then to cuddle in deeper, and the moon stayed so bright, shining in my eyes when my head wasn't buried in blankets.

In the morning, the birds woke us up. Some girls had to leave for yoga or dance classes, but the rest of us waited in our blankets shivering until the sun rose enough to bathe us in light. Suddenly, we were baking up there, and had to shed our layers of wool and down. We went downstairs and made a feast for breakfast, with more guest showing up to see if we'd survived. More junk food was eaten, more middle-school-girl games played, more people came and went. Now it's 11 a.m. and I'm ready for a nap!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cabriole Legs and Claw Feet

I had a treat today, which few people get to ever enjoy. I went behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the most delightful authority on colonial American furniture, Morrison Heckscher. His enthusiasm and love for the furniture was palpable, so it rubbed off onto me. Don't be surprised if I start gushing about exquisite dovetails and original surfaces!

Unfortunately the American wing is closing for renovation for the next few years, so I was able to see some things that won't be on view again for a while. One wishes that the new American wing will emerge with a beauty similar to the lavish, nay opulent, grandeur that is the new Greek and Roman wing. Don't hold your breath... American art, despite how I feel about it, is still the poor step-sister to such areas as classical antiquity and the Renaissance.

Mr. Heksher spent four hours explaining the craft of the turner, carver, and cabinet-maker during the 18th century in America. I learned from him the style differences between Boston, Newport, Philadelphia, and New York furniture. Apparently, New York was never a style-setter back then, Boston was where it was all happening, but by the 1750's it was all Philadelphia, where carving was king. Nowadays, we don't consider our furniture to be our prize possessions, but back then it was what set you apart. And because the rich needed furniture, which was too costly to import, a real American style developed, handcrafted by the best artisans to come to this new land of opportunity. The skill in these pieces is evident, and its no wonder they have survived till today, where they are now entrusted in the hands of the most adoring caretaker.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Another thing I love about New York City is that no matter what kind of day you have, or wherever you go, you can always suddenly stumble upon something that cheers and brightens your mood.

I was totally late to class today (and not just because of the slow-poke trains and heavy traffic), which isn't the end of the world, but it started my day off on an awkward, stressful note. For the rest of the day at school it was hard to concentrate and relax. I just wanted to start the day over and re-do it all.

But after school as I walked to the bus stop, I came upon a lemonade stand. Right there in the middle of mid-town Manhattan, two little girls were selling cookies and lemonade! A mother stood off to the side, keeping track of the money, but she was letting the girls do it all, and they were good! They were so cute I just had to buy a cookie. Chocolate chips have never tasted so sweet. Suddenly, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, I was transported back to my own childhood lemonade stand, and I went home with a smile.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

You Never Know

You hear it all the time, but its true! You just never know what is going to happen, even in your own life. You might make choices, thinking they are going to take you one place, but in fact they lead you somewhere totally different. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes bad. But I tend to think that most often, if we're "doing all the right things" then our choices will lead us to good places with opportunities that will benefit us if we take advantage of them.

I was thinking about this today and thought about a painter named John Smibert. He was just an ordinary guy from Scotland trying to make it in the art world during the 1700's. He had experience painting houses and coach-doors, but, like the Little Mermaid, he wanted more. So he went to England and studied painting, and after that he went to Italy to try and learn from the old masters. There, in the pursuit of that higher dream--art--doing what he knew he should be doing to become an artist, he met a man that would change his life.

Reverend Berkeley was a minister with the great vision of a school in Bermuda where he would train Christian missionaries as well as teach the children of plantation owners how to live a Christian life, meanwhile doing some missionary work of his own. The thought in those days was that the Americas, indeed all of the "west," was a land of opportunity, a promised land, where men could find greater harmony by taming the wilderness and establishing an orderly, Protestant way of life. He asked Smibert to join him and his wife and several others in this adventure, and Smibert agreed.

No doubt Smibert imagined a new life, a secure job as an art teacher and an artist in a new place that had not really been documented yet in paintings. The first stop along the journey was in Newport, Rhode Island, where Smibert finished a painting of the "Bermuda Group" and awaited the funds for the school with Berkeley. The funds never came--Berkeley lost support and ended up going back to England, and no school was ever founded.

But Smibert realized that he had found something even better. He moved to Boston and set up a studio with artwork he'd done in England and Italy, as well as the "Bermuda Group" painting, and before he knew it, he had every rich man and woman in town asking him to paint their portrait, because no other artist in America at that time had been to Italy, let alone knew how to paint very well at all. He flourished in his new town, married, had kids, reigned for decades as the best artist in America, and was known far and wide for welcoming other artists into his studio to learn. Every portrait painter in America to follow was directly influenced by him. Who would have known, back in Scotland, that this would have happened?

So it just goes to show that you never know what's going to happen. That's how I feel in this city. I'm here to learn and grow, but where I'm headed--it's unknown. Anything could happen!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Il Dolce Suono

As Lucia sang, "I am freezing and burning" in the opera by Donizetti, I felt exactly the same way as I sat watching the opera in Times Square tonight. Not dressed for the night breeze, but captivated by the hauntingly rich and dramatic story, I had to stay and watch until the tragedy unfolded fully. It was opening night at the Metropolitan Opera, and they were showing the performance live on 2 gigantic screens in Times Square, where you could sit and watch the entire opera for free. The biggest tragedy was that not every seat was full! Still, it was fun to watch the casual passer-by or tourist stumble upon the scene and, in the midst of the glitz and glamour of flashing lights and moving pictures that is Times Square, suddenly become entranced by the sound of a song written in the 1830's, and feel compelled to stop and watch, for a moment at least, to see what would happen on the dark mysterious stage.

Times Square, the temple of commercialism and advertisements run amok, has never held any appeal for me, but I loved the incongruity of it tonight. The contrast between the old and the new, the old-fashioned meeting the cutting edge, the old-fashioned commanding attention and becoming the cutting edge.

Natalie Dessay was a magnificent Lucia, but my heart went out to her poor lover Edgardo, who loved her until the end, even though he thought she had betrayed him. In reality, she had been forced to marry another man, but killed him on their wedding night in a culmination of insanity, before dying herself. At the very end, as he waits in the cemetery to duel her brother, Edgardo sees Lucia's ghost and kills himself so that he can be with her.

I didn't look as gorgeous as Cher does when, at the opera in Moonstruck, a lone glamorous tear falls down her cheek, but there I was, crying in the middle of Times Square, freezing in the night breeze blowing down Broadway, but burning with the emotion and power that such a masterpiece creates. I wasn't the only one crying.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mormons In New York

Because its Sunday, I thought it would be a good idea to give a spiritual message, or some kind of sermon, but my thoughts are scattered today, and though there were a lot of good messages in church today, I don't know which one I would want to focus on to talk about. So maybe since this is my first Sunday in blog-land, instead of the sermon, I'll just talk about Mormons in New York.

I'm a Mormon, the nick-name for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There are Mormon's everywhere you go, and there are quite a lot here in NYC. Each congregation, or ward, is based on where you live, and my ward is full of artists, musicians, playwrights (well, I know for a fact there's one, because he's got a play opening off-Broadway this week) and other talented people. The most wonderful thing is that every Mormon I've met since moving here, both guys and girls, has been extremely nice, friendly, and helpful. They all seem to understand that in a big unfamiliar city a newcomer needs a little help. No doubt they were once in the same situation themselves. Whenever I tell them why I'm here they immediately think of someone I should talk to who might be able to help me with such and such. It makes me hope that I would be as helpful were I the one who wasn't new.

The other thing I like about the Mormons here is that, again, they all seem so talented. Not just talented, but interesting. They all seem to be living very full, active lives, doing what they want to be doing. Aside from an accountant Mormon I met on the subway this afternoon who said "oh, it's just a job...," in general I've found that people here are excited to be here, full of energy for their pursuit, whatever it is. Maybe you have to be excited and energetic to live here and make it in such an overwhelming place.

One thing that a lot of people say about this church I belong to is that wherever you go, you have a family, and I've really found that to be true. And because the people are so kind, so generous with their friendship, it makes me believe all the more that what I learn at church is true and beneficial to me. The subjects discussed today in various classes today at church were unity, grace (as referred to by Paul in Romans,) and forgiveness. Knowing that the teachers and speakers really live and believe what they talk about is tremendous, and gives me peace and hope. There are definitely areas there that I could use some work on, but I'm surrounded by such good examples--not just here, but from all the wards I've been a part of (I miss you D3!)--that I know I can do it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Here's me and my sista sketching in Central Park this morning. The trees were really interesting where we were, but both of us try to put in so much detail that in two hours of drawing we didn't even finish half our page. Then I got bored and started secretly drawing E's poses, but she kept moving around!

Soon, it got really dark and started to rain, and we got drenched while running to the subway. Still, it felt like a productive morning.

Art and Vanity

Since my post yesterday, I've been thinking about vanity, and since my mind has also been on early American portraits, the two have become inextricably linked. For the first few hundred years of America's history, portraits were the number one type of painting. Everyone who was anyone had to have one painted. Was it out of vanity? Probably, in some cases. But I believe that there is also a very human desire, in the face of mortality, to leave some trace of ourselves on earth for those who follow after. For our children or for our community, or, if we are all alone, to remind someone out there that we once existed.

Maybe that's why I'm writing a blog! Just one person in an enormous city, who knows I even exist?

Thomas Smith was the first person in America (that we know of) to paint a self portrait. But more than just a visual recording of himself, it tells a many-layered story about death, faith, and vanity. A vanitas painting is one that comments on the emptiness of worldly possessions, reminding us that we all will die, so we ought not place too much value on tangible objects. Thomas Smith's work can be called a vanitas, also sometimes called a memento mori painting. He has depicted himself touching a skull, a reminder of death. Beneath the skull is a sheet of paper with a poem that goes like this: Why why should I the World be minding,Therein a World of Evils Finding. Then Farwell World: Farewell thy jarres, thy Joies thy Toies thy Wiles thy Warrs. Truth Sounds Retreat: I am not sorye. The Eternall Drawes to him my heart, By Faith (which can thy Force Subvert) To Crowne me (after Grace) with Glory.

His poem asserts his forsaking of the World for The Eternal. But if his heart is set purely on the hope of things eternal, why has he shown us his wealth (evident in the elaborate lace neckcloth), his accomplishments (he was a sea-captain, and a possibly real battle is depicted behind him), and taken the time to leave us with a fine painting of his pious self? Is it vanity? Or does he just want to teach a moral lesson to his children and grandchildren? Is he vain to believe that he has something to tell them? It is impossible to know what he was thinking, but it is a fun painting to study, with so many contradictions to be found within it. I encourage anyone in Worcester, Massachusetts to go take a look at the original, in the Worcester Art Museum.

I was thinking a lot about it today as I sketched in Central Park. The morning was cloudy and cool but I was able to do some nice drawings of trees and people before the skies opened and poured rain. Vanity. Here I was--a tiny person in a huge park in a giant city, in an enormous nation, on a huge planet with no controlling its elements, in space--making faint pencil marks on paper. It all seems so futile, yet in the end I cannot believe that I don't matter.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Reason

Okay, so now that I have this blog I've been asking myself why I started it in the first place. So here are my reasons to have a blog:

1. (Don't laugh!) To counteract the filth that is on the internet with something uplifting, nice, non-commercial, non-vulgar. I guess it's like planting wildflower seeds--you hope they'll spread and drown out the weeds.

2. To talk, because its fun to hear (or read) oneself talk. (I've been struggling with the vanity thing--and I know its vain to assume people are going to want to read what I write here, but then again, why wouldn't they want to know what I have to say? I'm not going to be just talking about myself the whole time.)

3. To create a sort of journal of my time in New York, because lately I've been horrible at writing in a journal, and I miss it. This very afternoon I discovered a journal I started in 2006, that only had two pages written!

4. To let people that are interested in me know what I've been doing and thinking about.

5. To keep track of ideas that I have, as well as thoughts and feelings, because it helps to understand something if you write it down and flesh it out.

6. To practice my writing skills.

I think my main answer is #1, because lately I've been sort of overwhelmed by the mass commercialization in this nation. Perhaps its just here in the city that every surface in view is plastered in advertisement of some sort. And people everywhere you look are wearing clothing with giant advertisements for the brand. They think they are showing their good taste and wealth by broadcasting their Bebe or Hollister clothing, but in fact they are paying to be billboards for those companies. It's ridiculous. So, not to rant, I'm just saying that I'm happy my blog doesn't have any annoying Flash ads or popups or such. Hopefully you are glad as well.

And as far as filth is concerned--I am all for free speech and freedom of expression. However, I think that personally a moral line must be drawn. I wish to support beauty, innocence, purity, intelligence, faith, and all those other standards that have flown out the window with "anonymous" internet life. Things that make you happy rather than titillated, joyful rather than ashamed. What do you think? Too quixotic? Never deny that you are Dulcinea, my friend.

Late Arrival

Wow, I'm a blogger! Somehow I thought this would never happen (hey, at least its not a MySpace page!), but since I've moved to New York, I think I must have modernized. I'm thinking differently about things, that's for sure. For any of you contemplating a life change, I highly recommend it. Just make sure you pack better than I did. I swear I left home half the things I meant to bring (including you, Matt!)

Too bad I didn't start blogging the day I got here, because already I've seen and done too many things to recount. I guess the highlights have been starting school, which has turned out to be even more of a dream come true than I thought possible. The other big thing is living in this really strange old house. I'm starting to wonder if it might be haunted, because yesterday I was all alone and suddenly heard the unmistakeable sound of a woman crying uncontrollably. I looked out the windows and went outside and couldn't find anything... So chalk it up to New York, or a haunted old brownstone. Either way, this city has charmed me, despite its dark corners.

As much as I love school, I'm happy not to have classes today. It's a gorgeous September day and I want to go outside and play! My big exciting plans are to go check out the local library branch, and then go visit the oldest house in Manhattan, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, because I've got 18th century interiors on the brain. Call me a nerd--I'm too much in love to care. After those big activities, I'm going up on the roof to drink mocktails and paint the town--literally. You know you're jealous. Well, I wish you were here.