Saturday, December 17, 2011

No Pre-Packaged Holiday this year

Pre-tied glossy ribbons, shiny ornaments and gleaming wrapping paper hung above the reams of tinsel and pin lights for mantles and trees, next to adorned plastic wreaths, scented candles and rotating tabletop trees with fiber optic lights that blinked at me, as I searched the shop aisles for something that would trigger the elusive Christmas spirit, I was looking for in the store. Displays of wrapped gifts with pine cones and holly, cooking recipes to stretch a waistline and decorating ideas, jumped from my TV screen, in between commercials for toys, clothes and cars, filling my unfulfilled spirit with longing for a more generous way of sharing the Christmas spirit.

As I leafed through local papers, filled with smiling faces offering me holiday discounts that would disappear if I didn't act quickly, I wondered if anyone of them cared if I had the spirit of giving or just the capacity to spend. The requests for donations to the needy, that fell from my mailboxes, both physically and electronically, trying to reach that left over space in my heart and on my credit card, was met with a cool indifference, knowing my name was one of thousands generated from an unsolicited mailing list. Electronic gadgets that seemed to sprout new generations every holiday, capture my interests in gizmos, for a moment, but do not elicit a spirit of Christmas in me, anymore than a snow shovel would.

As I think back, the things that had triggered the spirit for me were sharing time and good will with family and friends, with little more than happiness and gratitude as a gift. The debt laden guilt that often follows last minute gift giving is different from the freely given love and appreciation that a drop by visit on a snowy day could provide. Breaking bread together or sharing a cup of tea, does more to spread joy to the world than an unappreciated gift, whether it was a good buy or not.

As we pull ourselves out of a long struggle for economic balance, we can look at more ways to give the spirit of Christmas to our families and communities. Items that not only benefit a retailer’s bottom line but employ local manufacturers and those they touch, rather than those a continent away. As I purchase local items, here in Columbia County, like scarves from Jeffrey Aronoff, gloves from DeMarchin and handmade knits from Spruce Ridge Farm, the feeling of impacting not only those I give the items to but who made them, makes it full circle for me. The gift of supporting those around me, seem to provide a spirit of giving that extends beyond myself, touching my friends and and community altogether.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A snowy reprieve

I awoke in my own bed, with a view of crystal clear skies and a wintry white landscape of overnight fallen snow, from my bedroom window. The unpleasant option of spending the night in a freezing car, parked at a closed gas station, with my two house guests for the weekend, by a miracle, didn't materialize after all.

The long slog to this outcome started with heavy rains battering us as we left the Poughkeepsie train station from Manhattan. Piling into my car quickly we braved the buffeting of rain, with the windshield wipers at full speed, for almost an hour, as we made our way north to Columbia County. The rain gave way to sleet and we slowed the speed of the car, as the road surface became slippery, and the windows thickened with a congealing slush. I had heard earlier that snow was on its way but had hoped we would skirt the brunt of it, as we sometimes did.

The heavy sleet turned out to be the more desired climactic condition as it soon turned into flurries and then a full blown snowstorm. We tried to make light of it, commenting on the interesting pattern that the flakes formed as they rushed to block our view of anything else on the road. The desolate roadway had a few tire tracks that we tried to follow in an attempt to remain on the road and avoid skidding on the icy surface. The white-out conditions and the reduced speed left me disoriented and unaware of where I was on the oft traveled road. Suddenly a phone call from Joe, who had landed at the Albany Airport and was making his way home from the north, was met with concern and trepidation as he told of over shooting his exit and being mired on a shoulder embankment, in the pounding snow, twenty miles away in the opposite direction. My first thought was to go get him once I dropped off our guests. With our godson, Ricon Wrenn's cellphone running out of batteries, my own cell lost a week earlier, and Angelique Anderson's phone indicating a loss of power and of signal, intermittently, we vowed to stay in touch with Joe.

The mounting snow on the road had us traveling at 20 mph, with an ever-present undercurrent of subtle and terrifying skids along the way. The mounting fear that we would eventually slide into an embankment and be stuck there all night led me to get off the Taconic Parkway an exit early. Hoping that the roads would have been cleared more was met with disappointment as the thick snow with tire tracks proved harder to negotiate. Steering first in one direction and then another, like a sailboat tacking along a roadway we inched forward, gaining momentum on the downhill, and spinning tires on the slightest incline. We had put off changing to winter tires because of a busy schedule and a deluding warm fall season. The delayed mistake was proving to be very costly emotionally for myself and my intrepid guests.

Joe calls us on the phone, with the ebbing battery, and tells us a truck had arrived to help another person, stuck where he was, and possible he might get the truck to help him. My concern for his driving the twenty miles home on the Parkway was weighing on me, knowing he hadn't changed his tires either. If we were having trouble, surely he was too.

At least now passing darkened houses, which were going to be possible safe havens, we continued on, haltingly, toward a local gas station. Unfortunately, we overshot the entrance, sliding to a stop at the traffic intersection. Forging onward, fearing the effort of turning around, we passed a police car aiding a trapped car on our right. Perhaps it was the sight of someone else getting rescued, we suddenly careened off the road into someone's yard about fifty yards further ahead. Unable to go forward into a hedge or to backup, we knew we had had it. Three hours after starting this one hour journey, we had been forced to end it, on a cold roadway in front of a blackened house. Then suddenly a large white man runs towards us from his car, to ask if we were alright. I thought he had gotten stuck too but he had really just stopped to aid us. Using his formidable strength he proceeded to push our car out of the embankment. With a little maneuvering we were back on the road, tacking from one side to the other, with Gods hands moving us out of the way of the occasional oncoming vehicle. Our saving angel followed us to the gas station nearest our house, which was about five miles away before heading off to save others.

Now parked next to a filling stand, we weighed our options. Do we try to follow a road plow, that may or may not go all the way to our house, and risk getting stuck again on the outskirts of town at one thirty in the morning, or just wait there until the sun rose and the roads cleared for driving. Joe calls and weighs in that we needed to contact local friends, AAA, or a taxi service. Except for our friend Jelanie Bandele, the other calls went unanswered, and she was in Brooklyn. The chill in the car was beginning to wash over us as we gave into bedding down for the night there, when we saw a snow covered car turn the corner that we thought might be a taxi. Beeping my horn frantically, the car turned into the gas station and turned out to be a patrol car with a policeman named Sargent Guy. After explaining we were five miles from home but was afraid to try and get there he offered to drive us there himself. Angel Number Two, Sargent Guy of Livingston, packed us into his patrol car and drove us to our destination. He was patrolling the many communities that night for situations and people in distress like us. He used his spot light to light our path as we made it up the quarter mile long driveway to the house.

The relief of being back home at last allowed me to appreciate the glow of the white snow, emanating light across the grounds, as we trudged the length of the distance to the awaiting warm house. Upon walking in the door, we receive a call from Joe saying he found a motel to weather the rest of the night and we all slept peacefully that night, at last.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A wedding to remember

From the first moment that the sparkling octaves of Samantha McElhaney, singing Ave Maria, soared through the massive marble columned hall in the National Building Museum in DC, the 750 elegantly dressed guests, assembled in circular rows around the central fountain, knew it was going to be a night to remember. The hundred foot high royal blue curtains framing the room overlooked the porcelain fountain that had been spanned by a bridal arc festooned in gorgeous red, pink and white flowers. The wedding procession filed onto the bridge to the sultry lyrics and voice of Gordon Chambers. Officiating the marriage and ten year re-commitment ceremony of Corey McCathern and Reginald Van Lee was our friend, the Justice Vanessa Gilmore of Houston. On a lit dais, at one end of the room, the encouraging words of connubial bliss were offered in a touching and funny way by Susan Taylor and her husband Khephra Burns, who sighted the coincidences of life that conspire to cause perfect unions to form and admonished the crowd that "when you have to argue, do it naked." The exchanging of vows that followed could not be more heartfelt in their deliveries or more gender neutral in script and were finally punctuated, at the other end of the room, by the rousing medley of two love songs by the lovely Vivian Reed. With everyone now on the edge of tears, the passionate embrace and kiss of the newly minted couple was met with a splendid light show and glittering shower of gold butterflies from the ceiling.

The blue ascending curtains parted on cue, to the choral voices of more than fifty singers from the WPAS amassed aloft in a second floor balcony, heralding the next venue where the guests were set to mingle and greet one another under the lavishly decorated space. A stunning centerpiece of a floating floral tree with dangling birdcages filled the overhead space. Greeting old and new friends, Joe Steele and I first encountered Audrey Smaltz and Gail Marquis, whose own wedding two weeks prior is highlighted in today’s New York Times Style Section. As Joe spoke with Eric Michael Dyson and Julianne Malvaeux and Desiree Rogers, I circled the room greeting dear friends Norma Jean Darden, Nadia Fattah, Lola West, Sheila Hardy, David Martin, Peg Alston, Allen Harvey, Alison Arnold-Simmons, Antoinette Steward, Deborah Chatman, in a vintage necklace worn by Lena Horne, and many more. Well known actor, Tamara Tunie was stunning in an aqua gown, as she spoke of her upcoming feature film with Denzel Washington.

After a time the curtains parted again and the crowd migrated to the dining room with tables adorned in flowered birdcages, overhead floating trees and colorful fantasy birds painted on what appeared to be Lesmoges dinner plates. A stage drenched in blue light filled one end of the room and singers performed as the guests took their seats. The delicious fare was served up as Reggie and Corey were toasted over and over by friends and loved ones. Pamela Joyner, a self-professed twin of Reggie, gave a toast to the three p’s that Corey possessed and made him a wonderful partner, positivity, protection and patience. She wore a white gown to go with the white shoes that Reggie had given her for her wedding.

Upon the last toast the blissful couple cut the two cakes, one fashioned as a stack of Louis Vuitton luggage and the other of a peacock ascending a white layered cake, created by my friend Margo Turnquest Lewis' company, Cake Bliss. At this point, the newly married couple became the masters of ceremony and introduced Ron Brown’s Evidence Dance Troupe, which performed to Stevie Wonder’s “All I do, is just think about you”.

With the crowd fully roused by the performance, Reggie tells us that Corey has something to say. With that Corey steps forth and announces, “DIANA ROSS is here!” Probably like many others I expected an impersonator to step out on stage, but the inimitable voice of Miss Ross reverberated through the room and the elegant crowd instantly rushed forward to the stage with cameras and cell phones capturing her image in every digital way possible. She sang three songs with Reggie and Corey on stage at one point, and then disappeared as quickly as she arrived. Floating on surprise and elation the crowd settled into the most festive mood of the evening and tried to reconcile in their minds and hearts what had just happened. Dessert was served and with our appetites quenched beyond belief, and the dance floor warming up to a hot night, we left the wedding night to remember.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Art of Giving Back

The large exhibition space was already full of well-heeled New Yorkers when I arrived, just fifteen minutes after the opening of the Art of Giving Back event, for the UNCF, at the School of Visual Arts Gallery, on West 26th Street. Dressed in the looks of the moment, the crowd peered at an array of artworks that spanned time, taste and style. The list of contributing artists, curated by Natalie Jones, read like a Who's Who in the African American panoply of creative visual arts. Legends like Romare Bearden, Richard Mayhew, Lois Maillou Jones, Norman Lewis and Faith Ringold shared space with emergent Ramona Candy, Paul Goodnight, Leroy Henderson, Philemona Williamson and Glenn Tunstull.

The benefit's goal of raising money to support the multitude of national programs the United Negro College Fund has in place, assisting African American student achievement, was a worthy one pursued by many that night. The crowd was filled with some that I recognized and some who remained incognito. A number of my collectors were there lending me great support, well wishes and hope.

The inclusion in the exhibition represented a long held dream of being included within the ranks of such noted artists as listed above. I met a few of the mentioned artists as indicated in photos below. As my works filled a large wall in the main room they seemed complementary in this stellar lineup.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dancing in the Dark

As I escaped along the FDR Drive, through the crush of New York's noisy and congested traffic, the highway eventually gave way to the open country roads, with the first drifts of falling leaves, floating about like the soft shimmer of a dancer's gown on a breezy afternoon. Playing repeatedly on the stereo was the wafting rhythms of string and woodwind instruments and the lilting voice of Diana Krall in her version of "Dancing in the Dark".

The sounds had placed me in a peaceful mood, as I relaxed into the two hour drive that seemed to be condensed in time through the musical wave I found myself on. The sultry lyrics spoke of seduction and survival, the inescapable twins of existence, that fortified my spirit as I edged closer to home and Joe, who awaited me there.

As I left the pressure of the city for the fresh air and open spaces of nature, I still carried the responsibilities of the week. At times the only way to confront the challenges we face is to dance into the rhythm that suits us best. As Diana sings in the song, "We can face the music...twooo...getherrrrr."

Dancing in the dark, of unknown futures, we move forward...on the breeze of steps we have taken, with hopes and wishes wrapped in the music of our lives...facing movements and moments that explain "why we're here." The time melted away on my drive home, just as easily as the years have grown, and in that moment, floating softly on the warm emotions of the notes in the song, I knew I could go on dancing in the dark...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Magic box

The day unfolded like a circus act, with friends arriving early in the day and continuing throughout until it was time to make our way to the gallery. “It’s your day” was the tag line so many uttered when offering me encouragement for a good day and great show. Like from a magic box that holds unseen wonders, beach chairs, umbrellas, music, food and drinks appeared in amounts unimagined moments before. A constant influx of friends arriving on island for the show descended on the house turning it into a full-fledged beach party. The wonder of it all was that it was completely unplanned. Because many artists suffer from anxiety on opening nights, my friends sought to make sure that it was minimized for me by celebrating our lives together all day.

As a result, when I walked in and saw the colorful paintings arrayed about the gallery it was a continuation of the fun, light and color that had been my life for the last year. The festive colorations worn by so many of the guests, suggested by the shows title, Vineyard Colors, filled the rooms and overflowed onto the outside garden and street. Color radiated from friends like Connie and Preston Williams and later the McLaurin family that had just returned from meeting with President Obama, wearing that inevitable glow that comes from proximity to the pinnacles of power and celebrity. Zita Cousen wore the same luminosity for the same reason, as she graciously greeted me at the front door.

The many faces of friends warmed me as they shared abbreviated conversations, well wishes and admiration for the new work. Stories of how, where and when they became collectors allowed me to see more clearly how welcomed the work has been over the years. These created children of my mind and spirit had found homes that they were loved in and somehow, for some, begged for new siblings to share wall space with. It is hard to let go of your children but one must, for by giving them the gift of life you give them the power to enhance other lives and spread your influence further than if you did it alone. To touch a life with love, is all we need aspire to, for a happy life.

At the end of the night as the last person walked out the gallery, and we said good night to Zita and her wonderful husband Michael Brown, the circus of light, fun and love, magically went back into the box, but the memories remain.