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Close in proximity to Amy Storrow's Doville is Quietmore. It is only a mile away, touching Houston's Art District. Quietmore is cloaked in sunlight, runs along North Boulevard, slices part of Montrose, and clicks west on Bissonnett. It is my midnight, thirty-minute running route.
Running most of my life, I have discovered that afternoon heat and car pollution make the evening a more pleasant experience. Quietmore has increased my sense of smell and sound.
On North Boulevard, I smell the white and pink azaleas in the spring. Then, I hear toads croak. They search their way along under the moonlight. I enjoy running under live oaks on a crooked, red-brick pavement separating the street.
Right on Montrose, I pass the Glassell School of Art, which encourages me to paint. Then I cruise by the Carl Jung Center and contemplate my checkered sales career; I could become a writer instead. Quickly, I am at the Contemporary Arts Museum and remember Robert Rauschenberg's exhibit in 1998. His collages made from magazine photographs of the Kennedys and Vietnam are disturbing messages from the 1960s. Rauschenberg is like November air that burns my lungs.
My return on Bissonnett delivers city buses that rumble by even at this late hour. Although bus noise pierces Quietmore, trees quickly insulate the neighborhood. Soon, I am aware of other societal issues. I notice waitresses and bartenders squatting on a curb in front of a dry cleaners. They are silent in the darkness, exhausted from a long day. They deserve a living wage.
Midnight running through Quietmore presents creative endeavors as well as communities' challenges that I might not see as plainly during the day. I try and notice, maybe I can make a difference.
Objects of Doville
About a year ago I started a writing class with Amy in Doville. We met in a gray house next to her housette. Each evening of writing began when Amy set before us some object she had brought with her.
The first item out of her big book bag was a worn Nike shoe, surely as ordinary as one can get. It reminded me of days when I could run and run without my knee hurting and then eat and eat whatever I wanted, without gaining a pound. Later Amy set out other objects - a computer cord, a funnel, a cough drop, a match book, a paperclip, and a bag of Goldfish crackers. They reminded me of making cream puffs growing up with my brothers and sister in West Texas, surviving honors algebra class with all those boys in high school, the joy of my new PalmPilot, finding a nearly lost granddaughter at the Memphis zoo, learning to be a more playful adult, and the effect of negative thoughts I had while diving at sixty feet.
I look through my notebook at the words and thoughts triggered by the items Amy put before us. I know that my best writing was my most honest writing when, once in a while, I could get past my censor and put a true feeling on paper, so hard for me to do, even now. It was then that I appreciated the uncommon purpose of the common objects of Doville.
A Fan Letter to Alexander Calder
Dear Mr. Calder,
I am writing to tell you how much I enjoyed seeing your sculpture Two Acrobats the other day at the Menil Collection. I was moved by the delicate, whimsical nature of the piece, but I also found your attention to detail quite charming. I'm referring, of course, to the way you captured -- with wire, no less! -- the effect of gravity on the nude figures, one acrobat supporting the other, who happens to be upside-down, in mid-air. Your technique for drawing in three dimensions is so realistic. Did you design this piece using models?
Probably, during your career, you had women sending you fan mail all the time. There is just something so sensual in the contours of a circus performer, don't you agree? Although this sculpture is represented on a flat plane, the cold metal quality of the wire adds an element missing from a drawing or painting. Did you form this piece with your hands, or did you use tools when you worked? I know some of your later mobiles and stabiles employed color, especially your favorite color, red. Did you ever experiment with colored wire? I can't help wondering how this sculpture would look made out of red wire.
I wish I could have seen your Cirque Calder performances, Mr. Calder -- may I call you Sandy? -- with your wire sculpture toys, circus animals, and performers. Your muse certainly had a sense of humor. Your work demonstrated a light-hearted touch that, judging by your success before and after the war, must have been greatly appreciated. I know it cheers me up. Just knowing that the Two Acrobats are on display at the Menil, waiting for my return visit, makes me smile.
Beyond Doville to ... downtown Houston
It is 85 degrees with 95% humidity at 7 am this early September morning as I take off for my two mile walk in my neighborhood near the medical center and the museums of Houston. I have sprayed for mosquitos, put on a sweat band and picked up the leash for my co-owned dog. I live in a townhouse, the other owner has a yard. The dog seems to enjoy both lives. This older esplanaded tree shaded area blends seventy year old two story brick houses, either housing medical students or being reinovated, with bland L-shaped apartments sporting only large parking lots. A mulitmillion dollar condiminum dominates the block across from the children's museum. Three story townhouses spring up every other block.
The dog is not up yet, so I walk alone to the Rose Gardens at the edge of the park. Sometimes I cut through, but this early I go to the side and wave to Marvin, the volunteer guardian of the park who rakes the sand in the exercise area and who has always done his run by the time I get there. Sometimes he sits and talks to all who come by, their conversations often sound intense. He looks out on the dew covered hillocks and small duck pond of the privately owned golf course. His is the best early morning view of the city. We wave and I begin the park part of my walk under ancient.Live Oaks and eighty foot pine trees. Elephant dung from the zoo, trash from the party the night before at the free out door theater across the street combine with the occassional sound of a life flight helicopter headed for the medical center on the other side of the park. About thirty of us walk consistently and we say hi or smile. This smiling does not happen in the evening, but this morning, we are fresh. A cop sits in his car under a tree in the zoo parking lot; maintainence men drive their carts through the rising mist. We nod. Sometimes the city is too much, but on mornings like this, I think Houston is just fine.
In a small seaside New England village thirty-eight years ago, my husband, an architect, and I bought a house for $2,500. I had come from New York City, where I'd studied art, to marry him. The water view/village green section of town was occupied by wealthy artists from New York and retired people from Boston. We, however, lived in the other side of town, amongst the Portuguese fishermen. They seemed to yell a lot.
One day shortly after we'd moved in, I was in the back yard pulling up what I thought what were probably weeds. The next door neighbor came out, and attempting to be friendly, I said, "My husband and I really like living here."
"You do? Well, none of us thought you would," she said.
When I asked why not, she answered, "We've never had an American living here before."
In time, though, neighborly relations mellowed and Portuguese sweetbread could be found on our door at Easter. When I was pregnant with our second child, our elderly Portuguese babysitter came by with a plate of food fitting for a pregnant woman: a large heap of lobster salad surrounded by four black gum drops. The next door neighbors, on the other hand, seemed never to cease yelling and were drunk much of the time. A young boy the age of my daughter lived there with his parents and grandparents, who were forever yelling at him. "Mikey, you get over here now!" "Mikey, if you don't stop doin' that, you're going to get a lickin'!"
We were not the yelling type of parents. One Sunday afternoon when our children were "restive," we took them out for a drive. Some time into the drive, they began poking each other, until finally my daughter said to my son, "John, if you don't stop that, I'm going give you a lickin'." And she stuck out her tongue and licked him.
Last year I visited the Menil Collection and was pleasantly surprised to find an exhibition by William Eggleston. The collection of photographs featured my hometown in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. As I gazed at the images I remembered my childhood there. I remembered running through the fields of cotton in front of my parents home, the stalks towering above me. I remembered fishing from the Tallahatchie Bridge and running trotlines along the murky Cassidy Bayou in hopes of catching a monster catfish.
As I gazed at Eggleston’s photographs I was drawn to one of a marble angel mounted on top of a tombstone. The angel sat in silent vigilance over a graveyard near a bend in the bayou. I knew it well. As a child I had found its imminence disturbing. As an adult I now found it hauntingly beautiful.
Other memories of the bayou came to me. I remembered the sounds of the Mississippi Blues drifting through the town. Along the Cassidy Bayou there were about a dozen juke joints. Each weekend they were packed to the point that people had to stand outside in the street. The people would come from miles around to hear the local bands play. During the day the band members were cotton choppers and farmhands, but at night they were virtuosos, masters of the screaming and wailing guitars in their calloused hands. The juke joints are all gone now, torn down in the 70’s. Only memories remain of this birthplace of the Blues.
I had moved to Houston from Mississippi because of the music scene, the museums and the diversity of places such as Doville. I had found Mississippi too banal and isolated. I was reminded that sometimes we are blind to the art around us.
"...what Doville means to me..."
I was in Amy's essay class this summer when she was writing the piece on Doville. Our class was held at Inprint, one of the gray cottages she mentioned. On a hot July night, when none of us were inspired, Amy shepherded us out to the street. "Okay," she said, "make up a story about the first person to walk by."
So there we were, 10 women ranging in age from 25 to 55, sweating on the curb in Doville and waiting to gawk. As luck would have it, no one passed by for the longest time (it was hot, after all). Finally, we saw a couple walking down the street - a tall teddy bear of a man and a small woman in a granny dress. They went to the front door of the Menil museum. Locked. "Let's go in and write," Amy commanded.
Here's my piece:
"We never do anything fun."
Geesh, thought Leo. Not this again. I've got a motherboard about to crash, and now I have to be Mr. Entertainment?
Leo sighed. "What do you mean, Emily?"
"You know exactly what I mean. I wake up at dawn, and spend all day at the daycare. You wake up at - what, 11? - and spend all day playing with your computer. Excuse me, programming your computer. And that's all we do."
Leo went to the refrigerator and got another beer. It was going to be a long night.
He grunted as he unscrewed the cap, "What about the Stevie Nicks concert?"
"That was 3 years ago!" Emily screamed. "Since then, the only thing we've seen is 10 preschoolers singing "I'm A Little Teapot."
Emily got her keys and headed for the back door.
"Where are you going?" asked Leo.
"To the Menil."
And that's what Doville means to me.
RE: Amy Storrow's piece about Texas
Absolutely Terrific! Will it air again? And when is her book coming out?
My New Town
When I went away to college I thought I would be leaving familiarity. I looked forward to a new lifestyle with more recreational opportunities as I would be living in a much warmer climate a thousand miles from home.
In my freshman year a former neighbor from my hometown lived down the hall. I noticed a name on a building on the picturesque campus of my grandfather's friend whose granddaughter took a summer trip with me in high school.
A medical specialist I saw during my sophmore year went to the same high school as my brother and aunt and the same university as my grandfathers. His niece, in the same high school class as my sister in law, married my first cousin's classmate in elementary school.
The first house my husband and I put a contract on was on a street of the same name as my parents' first house. Despite the difference in climate trees in my neighborhood are similar to the ones in my yard growing up.
My dentist in this area went to summer camp when he was a boy across the lake from my mother's house. A specialist who did surgery on my daughter trained under my maternal grandfather's friend whose partner's daughter rode a bus to school with me.
For over twenty five years I have lived in the same town where I attended college. Little did I know when I went to college that I would be surrounded by familiar people and places similar to my hometown in the town that has become my home.
Hey the story about Doville was great. Can you keep giving us stories about artist towns. I hear that artist are creating communities that are revitalizing many small towns. I also know that there is a web sight, something like 100 best small artist towns. Thanks for the great programming.
I wrote before and complained about an earlier show so I wanted to tell you that I liked the Doville show much better. This woman is promoting a book but she went to the trouble of writing one and it seemed more valid than the show I disliked. I liked Ed Hirsch being included and I liked that the service employees lived in the same neighborhood. It was well done and intersting.
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