My husband Sabin claims that I am a gadget person. It’s not how I think of myself, but his view makes sense. I do enjoy gizmos that make my life easier. A recently purchased Krups water kettle boils the water for my morning tea lickety split fast. Considering that the dog (yellow, 55 lbs) and the 5 year old (also blond, 48 lbs) have both already jumped on my fetal-position, bed-hugging person by 7 am at the latest, and usually earlier, I worship that first steaming cup of Earl Grey. It goes down like amrita, the divine milk of immortality. Once the dog hairs are out of my mouth.
Last night my husband Sabin Howard & I attended the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center event honoring Martha Erlebacher. Martha is a realist painter and teacher. She taught Sabin twenty-seven years ago at the Philadelphia College of Art, and Sabin credits Martha and her deceased husband Walter Erlebacher for giving him the tools with which to create beautiful classical art with a powerful modern sensibility.
It was a wonderful, heart-warming evening. Sabin and I picked Martha up at her hotel to take her to the Lotos Club. In the taxi, I asked about Sabin as a young art student. He had, at one point, sported a gigantic thatch of a beard that would have made ZZ Top proud. Martha laughed, told me that in all her decades of teaching, there were maybe 5 students who had serious, big talent as artists. Sabin was one of them.
She and Sabin fell into a conversation about the draughtsmanship of drapery. I shut up and listened. When two artists of the caliber of Martha Erlebacher and Sabin Howard are discussing drawing, Leonardo, and the play of light, I want to hear every word that comes out of their mouths.
Martha and Walter had to re-invent the Renaissance system of proportions and of how to structure the figure. Walter Erlebacher had been a darling of the art world when he was an abstract expressionist showing at the Whitney Biennial; when he turned to the figure, to the human body, they dropped him. Sad commentary on the lack of taste and vision in the art haute-monde.
No one was doing realism and the figure back in the 60’s, when Walter and Martha understood that the human body is the greatest expression of truth, beauty, and narrative that human beings have. Against a condescending environment in the art world and a disembodied academia that had forgotten the perceptual power of art in favor of heady conceptual babble, they reinvented the proportional system. Martha was the painter and Walter was the sculptor.
“The sculpture of human form is the metaphor for the human desire to live forever,” Martha told me, as we spoke later in the evening. She was telling me how her husband was a genius.
“Don’t underestimate yourself and your contributions,” I said, gently. She shrugged. But this evening was about her. Sabin introduced her, and it was an intense moment for him, because he got to publicly express his gratitude to someone who had, literally, changed his life. Who had set him on the path he lives. “Martha gave us the manual on how to make awesome, powerful, visceral classical art!” he said, with tears in his eyes.
Noah Buchanan, a painter with a big following in California, also spoke. Noah related some funny anecdotes about Martha’s classes, how her words had stayed in the heads of her students who went on to be teachers themselves.
It was a joy to behold the praise being given to a woman who has made such a quiet, fierce contribution to the world, to both the joy and the discipline of art. She’s also a beautiful painter. The painting shown above is her “Dream of Eden.”
NEW REVIEW OF IMMORTAL, COMING IN JULY TO RENAISSANCE MAGAZINE
In a recent National Public Radio spot on Dugald Steer’s Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons and other books in the Myth(ologies) series, an enthusiastic fourth-grade fan of those books remarked, “There’s sorta like a fiction way to learn real stuff.” How true—and for adult readers wishing to plumb renaissance Italy while being thoroughly entertained, there is Immortal, Traci L. Slatton’s stunning debut novel set primarily in the majestic heart of Florence. Immortal sweeps across the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as it follows the tumultuous life of Luca Bastardo, a beautiful blond-haired orphan boy who is kidnapped from a wretched life on the streets and plunged into an even worse existence as a prostitute by a murderous brothel-owner who surely ranks as one of the most vile characters in literature.
Blessed with unnaturally keen senses, Luca’s salvation is his ability to free his mind and soar to calming places while he is forced to “work.” As time passes, others age, but not Luca Bastardo, who at twenty-seven still looks about thirteen. Inventive and lush in the manner of author Anne Rice, Immortal explores the dividing line between the real and unreal, following Luca’s journey across time as he struggles to unravel the mystery of his birth and his ageless beauty while facing a difficult choice: immortality or the chance to find his one true love.
Along the way, Luca survives the Black Death and the Inquisition and becomes intimates with such giants of the Renaissance as artists Giotto di Bondone and Leonardo da Vinci—150 years apart—not to mention Savonarola and Sandro Botticelli. A mix of art, religion, alchemy, and historical intrigue, Immortal is original and beautifully written, a true gift to the senses and an uncommonly good read.
I joined the Fans of Sully Sullenberger Facebook Group
I was outside on Broadway yesterday afternoon when the icy Hudson River embraced a visitor. I was pushing a stroller which held a chattering 4-year-old, maybe a mile and a half from where a catastrophe was unfolding. Nothing in the frigid white-blue light hinted that something dreadful was happening. My husband called. “Hey, sweetie, did you hear that a plane went down in the Hudson?”
My heart constricted: Oh no, what about the passengers? The children? The mothers waiting at home for news of their adult sons and daughters? As soon as I got home, I bolted for the TV and CNN. There were those early pix of people standing on the wing, and the first captions that all passengers seemed to have been rescued.
The Governor spoke well: this was a true miracle. For once, in a world of war and terrorism and accidents and earthquakes and plunging stock markets, life and joy were seized out of the very teeth of calamity. I emailed my friend Geoffrey, who has been a pilot for almost 30 years.
He wrote back, “Next time I fly down the Hudson I’ll probably be looking for airliners descending through my altitude. Seriously though, the fact that there was no loss of life and not even serious injuries means kudos to the pilots and very fast acting rescuers.”
So, yes, I joined the Facebook group. Kudos to Pilot Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles. You’re heroes!
In my next lifetime, when I come back, I will ski more and worry less.
I will begin every dinner with dessert, and it will be dark chocolate,
or something gooey
I will choose dresses for color and not for whether or not they make
me look slim. I am thinking yellow,
purple, and butterfly prints
I will start using sun-block when I am 12, the same age
when I will begin practicing
because it makes me feel so peaceful and good.
In my next lifetime, when I come back, I will choose
a comfortably upper-middle-class family to host my wandering
soul. I’ve seen that great wealth imposes anxiety
and demands of its own. Too little to work for
ruins people. So does poverty, my old scourge.
The lack of money–for graduate school, for good doctors,
for guitar lessons, for the occasional porterhouse steak and soul-ravishing
trip to Paris–
is one of the great evils that besets humanity.
In my next lifetime, and I hope the Earth isn’t ruined before
I make it back, I will play outside more, which can mean lying
on my back beneath an oak tree and reading something
or a cheesy romance novel. I will spend more time staring into the sky
and no time at all on a therapist’s couch.
I will say
more often and do the dishes only when they’re piled up to the ceiling.
I will turn off the TV but go to every sci-fi movie
that opens. I will choose more friends who understand
that I’m originally from
the planet Xetron
and that this beautiful blue and green orb
is just a way station on my peregrinations. They will laugh more with me
than at me and they will understand the value of
I have only a few of those kind in this life.
I miss them all the time.
In my next lifetime, since
I’m not enlightened
and I will have to return to complete the balance
I will say “I love you” to the people I love:
on the hour, every hour. Even when I hate them.
And especially when they hate me.
In my next lifetime I will be
the luminous me
I always wanted to be now, and somehow fell short of.
It wasn’t for the absence of an open heart or effort.
Rather, I tried too hard, and let gravity weigh
me down. So in my next life, I will let my
open heart lift, and shine me to everyone I meet.
On Thursday evening, Miyoko “The Hawaiian Mongoose” Olszewski defeated Elena Reid to win the WIBA flyweight title.
Miyoko is a longtime friend and I was there, screaming and cheering in the audience. Those of us who had come to root for Miyoko wore leis, nodding to Miyoko’s Hawaiian origins. What a fight it was, all 10 rounds! Miyoko came out strong in the first few rounds, fighting in her trademark crisp, thoughtful style. For a few rounds in the middle, Miyoko seemed to conserve herself, and a few voices screamed, “Jab, Miyoko! Double jab!”
I laughed to myself when I heard the calls. I’ve sparred with Miyoko, and her jab is like a solid brick wall. There’s simply no getting through it. Miyoko’s jab is so tough and skilled that there’s not even the possibility of a few atoms making use of quantum tunneling to get through it.
Then in the 8th round, Miyoko brought it. She came forward with powerful, relentless punches and dominated the fight. By the 9th round, Reid’s face was swollen to twice its original size. It was a clear, decisive victory for Miyoko, and her fans yelled themselves voiceless.
Miyoko deserved this win: she has worked long, hard, and consistently to achieve World Champion status. She exemplifies values that I revere and that I try to teach my children: hard work, sacrifice, self-discipline. These are not glamorous values today. Our culture has been overly psycho-therapized into mediocrity; we think any old half-hearted effort is just swell. We teach our kids that losing soccer games is just as good as winning them. And while good sportsmanship is imperative, and everyone needs to learn to deal gracefully with defeat and failure–we’ve done our children a disserve. Losing is not the same as winning. Mediocrity is not okay.
Winning matters. Being the best matters. If being the best isn’t an option for genetic or other reasons, then hard work, self-discipline, and sacrifice still matter; those qualities differentiate between mediocrity and excellence. The 4000 failures that are required along the path to success matter. It’s a question of persistent integrity, another value that is not considered important in today’s moral relativism.
But people who persist in these terribly old fashioned values are world champions. Some of them win a belt and acclaim, as Miyoko did. Some just win a quiet internal sense of self-esteem.