The other day I found my quilter friend at the retirement center working on a machine, stitching leafy patterns over her latest creation. Fascinated, I stood breathing over her should until she stopped to ask if I wanted to learn the process. “Yes, please,” I blurted out before remembering my 4th novel, Ballet Noir, had to reach my publisher by March 1. I had little time for quilting lessons. When I demurred, the woman gave me her “Buddha” look. “At our age, it’s good to learn new skills.”
How true. But writing a blog offers plenty of brain exercise. First, I am constantly confronted with computer snarls, the codes of which have to be untangled. Second, I’m a bit of a quilter, already. I take bits and pieces from my reading to create a fresh essay every day.
Take, for example, the two articles I found in the January 29 edition of The Week. One was about the painter, Jackson Pollock. He is revered for dripping paint on a clean canvass, a technique some say ushered in the age of abstract art. Thirty years ago, I viewed his work at the Los Angeles Art Museum. Standing in the exhibit hall, surrounded by his masterpieces, I came to realize the photographs I’d seen had been unable to capture the depth of paint and the shine of his canvasses. I was bowled over by what I saw and left the exhibit no longer a skeptic but a convert.
Despite Pollack’s success, between 1951 and ’53, he produced a group of smaller, monochromatic pieces known as “black paintings.” These pieces were largely ignored by the critics because they contained images and weren’t pure abstraction. (“Review of reviews: Art,” The Week, 1/29/16 pg. 24.) Recently, however, interest in them has revived. Critics now claim they stand at the dividing line between painting and drawing, something altogether avant garde.
The second article I read was about the American economy. (“An Economy No One Understands,” by Nelson Schwartz, The Week, 1/29/16, pg 14, excerpted from NY Times.) In it, writer Nelson Schwartz provides two views of the state of the union. One is bleak. It points to a lackluster growth in GDP, massive layoffs within major corporations and the bidding wars for tech talent. The other view is more rosy. It points to the rise in service jobs, important because they buffer the US from economic turmoil abroad. What’s more, we have a strong dollar, so we remain a safe haven for investors from around the world. After examining both sides of the economic argument, Schwartz throws up his hands and concludes nobody knows which view is correct. (Ibid, pg. 14.)
What I’d read over my coffee were two disparate articles. One on art. The other on the economy. And yet my brain saw a connection. Hamlet, speaking to his former schoolmate, Guildenstern, says, “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” (Hamlet II, ii) How right he is. What both articles show is that what we know isn’t as important as how we value what we know. Like the quilter who fits bits of cloth together to make a whole, so the writer looks at bits of information, hoping to discover patterns in our thinking.
(Originally posted 2/11/16)