things to think about

today i am thinking about: looking at art while my grandmother dies
October 24, 2009, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

They say I took after her the most, after all. Strong and independent. When I was little everyone said I was her spitting image. She went to New York in her 20s, like me — or I went to New York in my 20s, like her. Now she is dying in a bed less than 200 miles from where she was born. And I am still in New York, and I am looking at art.

She is refusing food and water. They say this happens when someone is ready to die. I am still 26 and need to be fed. I am at the Whitney, looking at paintings, waiting for a phone call. When the phone rings, I will fill a bag with underpants and I will get on an airplane, and then get in a rental car, and I will go to pay my last respects. Until then there is nothing to be done — my grandmother has been dead, metaphysically, for a long time. So I am learning about Georgia O’Keeffe, who came to New York only 10 years before my grandmother did.

My grandmother came to New York to be in shows. I never learned much more than that. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and she grew up speaking Yiddish, and at some point she came to New York to be in the theater. She had to go back after her mother got sick, and that was that. That’s the only story I know, and when I try to ask her about New York, she asks me if I live on 33rd — that’s “thoity thoid” — and Park. For her, the answer is yes.

My grandma took me to see shows, too, when I was little. I’d stay longer than the other grandkids and we’d go see summer stock. All the classic musicals. Afterwards she’d let me wait by the stage door — the back side of the tent — and get autographs from the 20 year old who played Seymour, the 21 year old Audrey. I was going to be a star one day, just like she was going to be a star one day. Now it’s one day, and she’s dying, and I’m in a museum.

I am looking at abstraction after abstraction. Big bright colors. In Missouri, the grandmother I look just like is chipping away at the infinite number of steps between life and death. She has stopped taking in food and drink. Her skin might be cooling. Her breathing might be more irregular. Maybe her urine is concentrated and dark. I wouldn’t know — I’m in New York. I’m looking at art about life at its purest form.