Monday, January 14, 2013


Yesterday, I left Robert to watch football in blissful silence (i.e., without having to listen to me natter on about sports-related head injuries) and drove up to San Francisco to spend some time at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.  I love this museum a lot: it’s small and the exhibits are beautifully curated and the whole space feels sacred to me.
There was a wonderful photography collection by the New York Photo League.  But what really packed a wallop was the exhibit detailing the work of the artist and children’s book author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (THE SNOWY DAY, among others).  As someone who has never been particularly interested in picture books, I had read his books but never given them much thought.  Seeing his work as art on a wall (rather than illustrations in a book) made it come alive, though.  His aggressive use of color to give life to small moments moved me, as did his masterful use of collage.

He was a child who received almost no support for his art at home.  (His parents, emotionally distant and brutally poor, worried that art would not allow him to make a proper living.)  He was small.  He was teased and bullied mercilessly at school and in his neighborhood.  And he described himself (according to the exhibit’s notes) as lonely.

There is something about loneliness.

Most people understand that there is a difference between loneliness and being alone.  I love to be alone.  I work alone, I run alone, I gave up an afternoon of cozy football-watching with my partner to go to a museum alone.  I often choose to be alone because I can, in fact, choose

Loneliness is not a choice.  Loneliness is an unlit hole, a dreadful, black emptiness.
I have been lonely.  Not for long, but even in short bursts, it is terrible.  It is a feeling that no one can hear you, that you are screaming and no one notices. 

Something about Keats’s art—its bigness, its loudness, its brightness, its joy—seems to be his way of screaming, I am here!  See me!  Know me!  And because, by all accounts, he was a lovely, talented, honorable, thoroughly engaging man, it is a pleasure to do so.

But I couldn’t help thinking about all the other lonely people—most especially, children—who haven’t yet found a way to be heard.  There is a lot of screaming out there, and it is so easy and so terrible not to hear it.

I left the museum and sat outside on a bench.  It was very cold for San Francisco—I was wearing a winter coat and gloves—but sunny and clear and windless.  I watched some strutting pigeons and two older ladies having a chilly picnic.  I thought how nice it was to know that Ezra Jack Keats and his editor puzzled over whether to call his book THE SNOWY DAY or A SNOWY DAY (because I can spend hours wondering about just this kind of thing).   I thought about the art I had seen and the book I am writing and the large, shapeless crowd of twentysomethings waiting to get into St. Patrick Church.  I wondered if any of them was screaming. 
And then, happily, Tracy arrived—my dear friend Tracy who is only one of the reasons I am so very, very lucky—and we went to lunch.

1 comment:

  1. My son loved loved loved The Snowy Day. He just called the book "Nowy Day" with neither a The nor an A. Didn't matter.