A few years ago, I had a hankering to gather my grown children and grandchildren to our home for a meal. The busyness of all our lives, along with the frequent company of houseguests, makes time with just our family a rarity. In this particular season, I had my head most often in books and academic deadlines while I worked on a master's degree, so moving everything else aside for few days in order to pour myself into the elaborate creation of a meal was a true pleasure. Creativity in the kitchen was good medicine.
I have a friend who wryly describes herself as a bad Buddhist. This makes me smile. I think of Dustin Hoffman’s character in the film Little Big Man and the many vocations he pursued over a lifetime: Caucasian Cherokee, drunk, gunslinger, muleskinner, liar, and more. With each one he describes his performance as horribly lacking. Can you hear the actor’s voice? I was a horrible drunk. I was a horrible liar. Well, I was a horrible Zen Buddhist.
The dreams and debates of modernity, cascading as they are into postmodernity, are always at the heart of the human condition. It cannot be otherwise, as we are never more and never less than sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. So we take our place as folks who long to love and to be loved. Percy understood that with an unusual eye: historically, philosophically, psychologically, politically, and, yes, theologically, seeing the complexity for Everyman and Everywoman. We want love, yet we also know how hard it is to love and to be loved.
My parents raised me for fourteen years. No more, no less. That may seem like an odd thing to say but it’s true. Some kids don’t get that much time. All you have to do is go to the grocery store or a fast food place to find out what I mean. Shifty eyes, mumbled grunts, manners in retreat, unclean hands, inability to count change. I’m grateful for the fourteen good years of proper parenting I had. Then Jack Kerouac took over. He was a lousy parent. As suburban shamans go, you couldn’t do better. Jack Kerouac, writer and former football star, was a game-changer.
It was a gala affair, not only because we’d been gone for so many weeks and reunions were in order, but because it was the October birthday celebration of both of the wives of our triumvirate of couples. With my husband’s gracious permission and assistance, I went all out: a champagne toast; artichokes with lemon-thyme butter for a first course; the loveliest cut of tenderloin; the ripest, richest Bordeaux; the most jubilantly-English flavors of Stilton and Cheshire for the cheese course; and a silver compote of succulent dried apricots and dates to follow it ‘round the table.
And the pièce de résistance: an absolutely decadent steamed ginger pudding that had been simmering maddeningly away on the back burner all afternoon in a little antique mold. If I’ve ever been proud of anything in my life, it was that pudding.
“I read a book that I think you would really like,” a friend said while I cut his hair.
“Oh yeah? What's it called?” I asked.
“[mumble, mumble, something] Little League,” he said, or at least that's what I heard him say.
“What?” I asked, wondering why he thought I would ever enjoy a book about baseball (I’m not exactly Sporty Spice).
“Little Bee,” he clarified.
A few weeks back I was privileged to sit with trustworthy friends and wrestle, yet again, to find the smallest, most potent words to describe what Art House means. This kind of exercise has played out many times in the last twenty years. We’ve been trying to put our vision into words since we first imagined the place and purpose that became The Art House home in Nashville, and our non-profit, Art House America. As we like to say, the name Art House designates place, while Art House America is an organizational title.
Three summers ago, Chuck and I were visiting family in our hometown of Yuba City, California. Whenever we’re there, we spend a lot of time on our bikes. The terrain is flat and bike lanes are everywhere, very unlike our Nashville suburb with its hills and narrow two-lane roads. On this particular visit, we set off to tour the important landmarks of our youth — Chuck’s grammar school, his old neighborhood, the high school parking lot where we’d met in marching band rehearsals our freshman year, and finally, to the site of my grandparents' house, where they’d lived until the time of their death in the last half of the 70s.
In our little town of Nashville, the photographer Jeremy Cowart is something of a rock star. I suspect his renown is growing all around the world. When you consider that he’s made pictures of Sting, Imogen Heap, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Courtney Cox, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Seacrest, and traveled with Britney Spears in 2009 as her tour photographer, some fame and name recognition makes sense.
My favorite project that Jeremy envisioned is one called Help Portrait. Help Portrait is a world-wide movement stirring the hearts and hands of photographers to find someone in need, take their portrait, print it, and give it to them for free.