Friday, January 24, 2014

Old Old Friend

For here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.

Most of what floats through my head would be too embarrassing to publicly share but every once in a while I find myself nearly mouthing this final line from Rilke's “ Archaic Torso of Apollo” Since the spawn have departed Mr. Rilke has kicked into endless loop. The acting upon it, trips to the East Coast, London, and Denver, has been satisfying but without a winning lottery number travel can only be life changing in small doses.

I make another impulse trip to visit Chris and Bob in the Santa Cruz area and then catch the final day of the David Hockney show “A Bigger Exhibition” at the DeYoung in San Francisco. I arrive in Mount Hermon in the afternoon and the moment I step out of the car I drink in the redwood aroma of what for us is always a happy place. I travel quite a bit and leave Himself to fend for himself with Tupperwared meals but somehow, being in Mount Hermon without him feels not quite right. I miss him particularly but he has work and is no fan of Hockney. I purchase his 3rd bonsai, a Chinese berry named Nestor from the stand off Highway Five on my way back to L.A. I jabber during a football game that Bob says is an important one, Seattle vs. San Francisco. I insist we watch the new show Looking because I know that despite quite good reviews, Bob will surely hate it. Unfortunately, the quality is indefensible. The show is dull and merits no spirited discussion whatsoever. One fewer thing to watch.

My old lady driving puts us behind schedule for our arrival at the Hockney exhibit. The City is jammed and the parking in Golden Gate Park impossible. We idle, waiting for a man to load infinite bicycles and children into a van. We meet my friend Blanche at the entrance and are fortunate that she's already seen the massive exhibit with a docent so she can ably navigate. It is the last day and a holiday to boot so the show is as overcrowded as the sunny park. My expectation is a retrospective but actually most of the work is recent, some apparently hung before the paint was dry. At 77 Hockney still has fire in his belly and is breaking ground in an astonishing number of medium. There are oils and watercolors, portraits and plein air. A few of the pieces remind me of Stanley Spencer, an artist Himself and I are so passionate about that we blow a big chunk of the sprat's inheritance to fly to London for an exhibit of a dozen or so paintings. I'm afraid it's my imagination but I discover that Hockney was so smitten with the artist that he bribed his brother to visit Spencer's home in Cookham and plead for an autograph.

Hockney is largely associated with nailing the light and color of Southern California in his works of the 1960s and 1970s. He is known too for stage design and a series of cubist inspired Polaroids. The DeYoung exhibit includes portraiture, landscapes, video and a series of drawings made using the Brush program for Ipad. There are blown up Ipad sketches of Yosemite and paintings and videos that capture the same sliver of Yorkshire countryside in each of the four seasons. A case of Ipads demonstrate stroke by stroke how drawings are completed, the fluidity suggesting filmed animation.

I am usually bored by artsy video. There is a longish video shot with multiple cameras from a convertible with four passengers traveling through desert terrain. Except for struggling to identify the location (perhaps Glendale Arizona) the piece evokes memories of suffering through Andy Warhol's Sleep in a filthy airless London art center nearly four decades ago. The revelation of the day though is another multi-camera work called “Cubist Movies.” Jugglers, hoola-hoopers and disc spinners are photographed with multiple cameras and in front of different backgrounds. Suddenly an entire art movement, that's always eluded me, makes perfect sense. The Hockney is one of the finest exhibits I've ever seen but because it all boils down to me, the prolific artist's work ethic and daring makes me feel slothful and ashamed at how little I've actualized my own creative ambitions.

Traffic to and from San Francisco gives me and Bob a chance to catch up. We met while teaching adult school, which was one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. Bob, I discover via Google, is a much bigger honcho adult ed-wise than he's let on. There are big changes afoot and he is a member of a small workgroup charged with creating a blueprint for adult schools and community colleges to collaborate, per Assembly Bill 86, which comes into effect next year. California Adult Education has been virtually decimated in the past few years and after devoting 40 years of his life to this often neglected student population, Bob's taken it personally. I almost want the situation to improve more for his sake than for that of the students he serves.

Bob comes a Free Methodist family.  I am sad to have never met his mother, who lived the Gospel and read Kirkegaard. Bob is Harry Robert but is "Bob" because is father is Harry too.  Harry the Elder spoke at our wedding.  His commitment to his creed resulted in a life of service performed with humility.  Coming from an areligious, wily household I envy those who were raised in the sweetness of faith.  But then again, there is the onus of having parents so good you'd rather die than displease them.  Nevertheless,  Bob will always be Harry to me.

Bob is one of a very few people who knew me intimately when I was in my 20s and still has anything to do with me. I share how rudderless I feel now without the kids around. I've become a compulsive bargain shopper. I scald my hands unloading the dishwasher the moment a load is finished,unable to bear a looming task.. Entire weekends are spent organizing cupboards. I watch Masterpiece Theater. I regularly scan obituaries for people my age. I whine to Bob that for all the things I wished for, I have become my mom. His response is one of the most reassuring and tender things anyone has ever said to me. “You're more self aware than your mother ever was.”

After spending a weekend with my favorite adult educator (and the one who introduced me to Rilke), I return home and receive a call from a local adult school. L.A. schools have laid off hundreds of teachers but some funds have been freed up and there are a few open positions. It 's been over 20 years since I taught for L.A. schools but using Bob and another old adult ed friend as references, I brazenly apply for a couple of jobs. I am summoned for an interview. This is the first time I've been interviewed for a job in about 35 years. Bob e-mails, trying to get me up to speed and I try to familiarize myself with the current curricula. The campus is as shabby and charmless as the schools I remember. I am subjected to a structured oral interview. Three administrators, seated around a conference table, read from a list of nine questions, all of which presuppose I've taught in a classroom recently. I fumble through but apparently my references and my honest expression of how much I truly love to teach seem to have made an impact. It comes to light however that I will need to be re-processed by the school district. It has been years since new teachers have been processed and my situation befuddles them.

I make a call downtown and am informed that as a “legacy” I am eligible indeed to be processed again. I have communicated this to my interviewers so there is a chance I will return to part-time teaching. My heart palpates a bit when I think about standing in front of a classroom. Much has changed in 20 years and getting up to speed poses a huge challenge. But what is the same is the opportunity to nurture students and encourage them to value the lives they've lived, and the experiences they've experienced, enough to propel themselves into the lives they wish to live.
From all borders of itself, burst like a star.

1 comment:

John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

What you are telling me as I type this response about the "borrowings" (pram, appearance, portraits) from Spencer by Hockney might make another fine entry. I note in the standard, 500-page 1991 biography by Kenneth Pople of Spencer that there's no mention of Hockney. Makes me wonder if the younger artist is telling tales? Glad you enjoyed the exhibit even if the 'Niners blew the big game. And Nestor Homerically likes it at his new home next to cousin from the same seller, Paddy, and of course elder statesman, Br. Juniper. Shabbat shalom. xxx me