Dear Vincent

Originally published on Facebook as part of the social media experiment #30DaysofArt

It took me all morning to find the Vincent van Gogh paintings in the Musée d’Orsay. Not because they’re not well marked — I could have walked right to them — but because I have a thing about delayed gratification, so I made myself walk through every other room leading up to Vincent. And then there he was, like a long-lost lover appearing, as the crowds parted, at the end of the jetway. “Mine,” I thought. And then I ugly-cried like an overwhelmed Justin Beiber fan, right there in front of Vincent’s self-portrait.

To be fair, I also cried a least a little bit because I’d doing too many hill sprints in Montmartre and not enough chilling at cafes, drinking half-carafes of Sancerre. Sometimes I make it very hard to be me. My hips ached and the slow crawls through museum after museum didn’t help. Also, Paris is terribly romantic and everyone is in love and making out everywhere all the time, but I was not in love. I was alone. It was bullshit.

15192620_10154489799415218_3819259972376788331_n

I wondered, in the Musée d’Orsay, if Vincent wasn’t a lot like me. Too hard on himself and in love with someone who didn’t love him back, or at least not as he should have been loved. Because, my god! He was Vincent Fucking van Gogh! But he probably didn’t know that. He probably thought he was a weird Dutch dude, hopelessly unstylish, who made strange paintings. He probably suspected he was inherently unlovable. And yet love lived in him, so he did what he could — he put it all on the canvas. Those kinetic shapes, the saturated colors, the way a wheat field was as sensual as a woman; the way he captured his own agony with the same electric strokes he painted sunflowers — as if human ache and madness pulsed with the same sun-drenched ebullience as a vase of fresh flowers.

He worked at the synthesis of beauty and pain. He buried his heart there, in those hues, those lines that are so specifically his. And I swear his lovely, immortal, perfectly broken heart beats on, forever, through his paintings.

Art. Love. Revolution.

Though I can’t make a political statement under the auspices of the alt-weekly paper I write for, I do want to speak from the perspective of a longtime arts writer and editor. Because art is what we have. Art is the conversation. Art is our great gift, to ourselves, each other, our communities and the world.

The election results were a blow to many people I care about and even more who I don’t know but whose concerns — LGBT rights, the environment, multiculturalism, civil rights, justice, the arts — mirror my own. But this is not the time to lose heart. Rather, this is the time to be brave, be bold, stand with those we love and stand for those who feel disempowered and disenfranchised. And this is the time to make art.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-10-10-50-am

Public art, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We have not lost our freedom of speech. We live in a country where we can express unpopular opinions, speak out against our government and disagree with our neighbors without fear of being imprisoned, or worse. We owe it those who do not have such luxuries to exercise those rights. And for those who don’t feel safe to speak out, we must be their voices and tell their stories.

To love in the face of hatred is a revolutionary act. To hope in the face of fear is a revolutionary act. Defy that which insults your good heart. Stand tall, radiate, invest in what you love, what feeds your soul, what strengthens your community, what represents your humanity. Continue reading

In the beginning there was the word

I was recently at a writers’ conference where a fellow author said to me, “Oh, I hate writing. I’d quit if I could.” I thought it was a funny statement, but also sad. Why would anyone give their time to a pursuit that they don’t love? Just because a story presents itself to you doesn’t mean you have to tell it. As author Matthew Quick writes in his YA novel, Every Exquisite Thing, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.”

For me, the word — both written and read — has long been a joy. I’ve lived in books. I believe I’ve loved fictional characters (both of my own creation and others) sometimes more deeply, more completely, than I’ve loved actual people.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-11-41-28-am

“Woman Reading” by Félix Vallotton, 1906

There was Kip, the Sihk bomb defuser from The English Patient. I’m not ashamed to say I loved him. And I love Michael Ondaatje for writing him. George Emerson from A Room With a View is both one of the great loves of my life and my spirit animal. Continue reading