A Light Or Two Less.

You know how it is. You are taking your usual 14-hour nap on your favorite kitty blanket and Taffy decided that he wants to cozy up to you:

And an hour later he’s trying to hog the whole kitty blanket for himself:

You know how there are people in the world, famous people, who you don’t know in real life, but you feel like you know them, because without doing it on purpose, you have incorporated something about their work and selves into your life?

I was very sad to learn that Ntozake Shange died on Oct. 27, age 70. I admired Ms. Shange very much in spite of her work, which  combines the two things that I most detest when it comes to high culture: poetry and theater.

When Ms. Shange’s 1975 play, for colored girls who ave considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, closed on Broadway and began its road tour, Philadelphia was where it landed  in the Winter of 1977 (according to my memory). I was living in the suburbs of Philadelphia and I heard a radio advertisement for the play, wherein an actress recited :

Without any assistance or guidance from you,
I have loved you assiduously for 8 months, 2 weeks, and a day.

I was 21 years old and I knew absolutely nothing, NOTHING bout Black Feminism, choreopoetry, or the Nuyorican art movement. But I loved the sound of this. So I bought a ticket to see this play, had a thoroughly wonderful time, and then I went to B. Dalton’s and bought the hard back book of the play. Me. I went to a play. And then I bought a book of poetry. I mention this because I was working in a factory in 1977 and I never had extra money for theater and books back in those days. But I spent money for for colored girls.

Reading Ms. Shange’s obituaries reminded me of the fervor I had for this play, back when I was too naive to know that this play was not written for me. The fact that Ms. Shange was African-American and writing about her very particular experience as a woman of color did not creep into my thoughts at all. At all. . . even thought it has the words for colored girls in the title. Nope. Not me. No clue. I was too dim to feel the specificity of her work — I  just loved the language and the emotions and the humor and I appropriated it for myself. I don’t think I could do that these days. Because isn’t this what White Privilege looks like?

I bought the book for colored girls who have considered suicide etc. so I could memorize the whole poem:

Without any assistance or guidance from you,
I have loved you assiduously for 8 months, 2 weeks, and a day. I been stood up 4 times, left 7 packages on your doorstep, 40 poems, 2 plants, 3 handmade notecards,
and I had to leave town to send them.
You call at 3 am in the morning on weekdays… charming, charming!
But you have been of NO assistance! I want you to know that this has been an experiment…
to see how selfish I could be.
To see if I could really carry on to snare a possible lover.
To see if I was capable of debasing myself for the love of another.
To see if I could stand not being wanted when I want to be wanted and I can not,
so without any further guidance or assistance from you,
I am ending this affair!
this note is attached to a plant i’ve been waterin since the day i met you
you may water it yr damn self

I kept that book and those words in my head all through my various wanderings of my 20s and 30 through Europe and Africa. I don’t have the book any more. I suspect it was given away in the Great Post-Engagement Breakup Clear-Out of 1994.  Ntozake Shange:  she watched the world with glittering eyes.

Ricky Jay by Avedon, March 1993. Classic stink eye.

The magician Ricky Jay died on November 24. He was 72. He was well known for being the most brilliant slight-of-hand artist of his time. He was also a deep historian of magic and confidence men, and an extremely intelligent practitioner of close magic. His best friend was the playwright David Mamet.

I know of Ricky Jay, firstly, from a lengthy New Yorker article about him from April 5, 1993. It’s a really good article. It’s on the inter webs.

Secondly, I know of Ricky Jay from the early 2000s when I was interviewing one of my favorite writers, Lawrence Weschler. Mr. Weschler’s book, Seeing is Forgetting The Name of The Thing One Sees, is an elegant analysis of an art form I loathe with an intensity that I usually reserve for poetry and theater: performance/installation art. And I love it. It made me read all of Mr. Weschler’s other books and then, because we both lived in the same little village on the north shore of the Long Island Sound and I was a free lance magazine writer, I sold an editor on a story about the illustrious Lawrence Weschler. Yay. I got to meet my idol.

Lawrence Weschler used to be a staff writer of The New Yorker and then he was the director of the New York Institute for the Humanities and he teaches at elite colleges. He is also pals with the crew at McSweeny’s. Mr. Weschler gets around. He knows everybody.

So I get to go to Mr. Weschler’s house and we’re talking. He is a wonderful talker.

Lawrence Weschler is telling me that he knows Ricky Jay. He also knows the painter David Hockney. David Hockney wanted to meet Ricky Jay, so Lawrence Weschler introduced them to each other. And then Lawrence Weschler tells me something that could have changed my life if only I had heard it when I was in my 20s (instead of my 40s, when I heard it).

Lawrence Weschler told me that Ricky Jay was happy to meet David Hockney, and he said to Lawrence Weschler:

“This is the best thing about being really good at something.[Ricky Jay was really, really good at card tricks.] You get to meet other people who are really good at something.” [David Hockney is really, really good at painting.]

David Hockney Painting Sells for $90 Million, Smashing Record for Living Artist

This (above) happened at Christie’s in New York on November 15, 2018.

This (below) happened at my house this morning:

And this is especially for Dear Readers Marilyn and Marg-o, who were concerned about Coco’s strange sleeping habits:

Coco is letting improve the quality of her life just a little by letting me make her litter box bed a teeny bit more comfy and cozy.

Today (Friday, Nov. 30) I am installing all my castles into the display vitrine at the library, and I’ll have photos to show you next week.

In book store news, I got us some PR in the local media:


So on Saturday morning I will be setting up a special sale of author-autographed books and first editions. Sometimes, one book is both an author-autographed book AND a first edition. This is one such book:

This book is by an artist, Chaim Gross, who was very popular in the 1950s – 1970s, and he signed it:

I hope to get $125 for this — all money earned goes right back to the library (and it’s tax deductible!).

I’m going to bring in my CD player and I’ll play all my Christmas songs, and I’ll light up my book tree. . .

. . . and I wish you all could be there because we have a nifty tea-making mini-kitchen down the hall and tasty Pepperidge Farm cookies and I’m also going to bring a thermos of my favorite vodka tonic, and I will bust out either beverage depending on how the day goes.

It’s going to be rainy tomorrow here on the north shore of Long Island but we will be cozy and useful at the Bryant Library used book store. Cozy and useful: my two favorite things to be.

Have a great weekend, everyone. See you next Friday.




7 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan November 30, 2018 @ 4:43 pm

    Extremely lucky cats! Well dear Vivian, I must be dim or clueless, because I do not understand your criticism that, “I was too dim to feel the specificity of her work — I just loved the language and the emotions and the humor and I appropriated it for myself. I don’t think I could do that these days. Because isn’t this what White Privilege looks like?” Her work touched you and resonated, you may not have been able to understand what it was like to be in her particular situation but it made a difference to you, surely that is what it is all about? You empathised and admired her. This is why I think I need to live life as a hermit away from polite company. However I don’t think you did something inappropriate.

  2. Patricia December 1, 2018 @ 12:05 pm

    I live in a senior residence with interesting neighbors (professors, world travelers, writers, painters, musicians). I can hardly turn a corner without bumping into someone with a fabulous back story. One of my friends here was a seminary student in New York many decades ago and became fast friends with Madeleine L’engle and she gifted him with first editions (and autographed) all of her books. He, many years later, then gifted our residential library with all the books he could no longer keep. The library committee only kept a few and planned to drop the rest off at Goodwill. I leaped across the table screaming “Nooooooo”. And convinced them to let me research the value of those books. They ranged in value from a few dollars for a simple pamphlet to $300 for a signed first edition with a prose poem handwritten by L’engle. Eventually I delivered them to our local library (after notifying them I was bringing them in) with my researched values attached so they could go into our Friends of the Library better books online auction.

    I don’t know what they eventually sold for but I’m thrilled we were able to add many $$$$ to the library coffers. I believe in libraries and I love what you’re doing for yours.

    PS I’ve convinced our residential library board to let me haul all unwanted library donations to our neighborhood public library. And one of the books was L’engle’s personal loaner copy; she had written her home address inside. Of course I looked it up…

  3. Steve December 2, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

    Like Megan, I don’t think your response to Ms. Shange’s work illustrates “white privilege.” In fact, if anything, I think it illustrates a certain universality in the experience of women. I doubt that Ms. Shange would be at all bothered that you loved (and bought!) her poetry and play — you responded to it, it touched something in you, and that’s the goal of an artist. She was relating her experience as a woman of color but she was relating it to all of us, anyone with ears to hear and eyes to read. In fact, if anything, you and I and others like us (i.e. white) probably ESPECIALLY need to hear her message (and the message of other artists like her).

    I hope Chaim Gross’s book sells for a pretty penny! The signature alone is worth it.

    Those are some happy cats. 🙂

  4. Kirra December 2, 2018 @ 4:16 pm

    Your cats are great showing us how to sleep for a 14 hour nap! I really liked the poem so thanks for sharing it, the interesting thing about art is it can connect with people in many different ways that may not have been intended by the the author. You don’t have to even tell anyone what you really think…

    You always have such great stories, I love that you liked the book about performance art! Sounds like it’s worth a read. I hope the castle transport/installation process went well and all the best for the autographed/first edition book sale, will it be vodka tonic or tea or both?! I have a thermos for tea but not vodka tonic, hmm…..

  5. Casey December 3, 2018 @ 8:13 am

    Ricky Jay is right. I am really good at drinking wine, and I have been able to meet many others who are also really, really good at drinking wine…at my house…while we complain about politics and stupidity.

    And Kirra is right. You have the best stories. I do not know Ntozke Shange but I’m certain that she would not have been insulted that you loved her work so much.

    Did you make piles of money for the library?

  6. Carol December 3, 2018 @ 9:43 am

    Now THAT’s a signature! I am inspired to get to work on my own version.
    Thank you for your posts!

  7. jeanie December 3, 2018 @ 2:04 pm

    I haven’t seen Colored Girls in eons. I’d forgotten that. Thanks for including it in this post. Really does make us think.

    Well, by now the library sale is over and I hope it was a smashing success. I also hope people appropriately oohed and ahhed over the castles because they are just wonderful and deserve all the praise they can receive. Or rather, you the creator do!

    I’d kill to sleep like one of your cats. Or Lizzie for that matter….

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *