This update is linked to Derek Sivers’ “What I’m Doing Now” project https://nownownow.com/p/b2td). 


WHAT I'M DOING NOW

1) Still recuperating from back surgery a couple of months ago to fix scoliosis problem. Won't be riding a unicycle any time soon, but making tremendous progress. Physical therapists are amazing!

2) Painting a lot. Very small, intimate paintings of abstracted male figures. Look here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1ui0pZ9VKjOaVikR1cEzayBvVND8Ten6QbST1nuSJPas/edit#slide=id.p

3) Seeking more venues in which to do my art history lectures and online art classes--libraries, colleges, museums, private groups, weddings, bah mitzvahs--anyplace, really. See my list of offerings here: https://www.thesixhourartmajor.com/class-descriptions

4) I know I said I never wanted to write another book as long as I lived after The Art of Looking at Art https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538133729/The-Art-of-Looking-at-Art, but my life story is just too damned interesting not to tell it to the world. So I'm working on my autobiography. Here's the opening:


 The story you were about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect me from lawsuits. 

*

My life story makes Augusten Burroughs’ 2002 hard-to-believe-it’s-true-cuz-maybe-it’s-not memoir Running With Scissors look like a summer beach read. And it’s not one bit exaggerated. That I’m still here at all, much less that some people somehow (including a few members of my own dear family, who should know better) find reason to pick fights with me or knock me down a peg because they have some bizarrely skewed perception of me is beyond my comprehension. I’ve been to Hell and back so many times I have frequent flyer miles, and around the block more times than a goddamn Good Humor truck. Maybe it’s the fact that I always somehow manage to clean up all bright and shiny that throws them off? In all likelihood, in the case of my family anyway, it was their illness speaking, not them. I have yet to figure that one out…

While we're on the topic of  bright and shiny, my first memory dates back to the age of two or three, meaning 1959 or ’60. Our family had just moved into our brand new, six-room ranch house, complete with front and back lawn, three trees, four azalea bushes, and driveway.

My mother was wearing a housedress, with her hair bobby-pinned up—very Alice Kramden. I was sitting on the floor staring up at her as she moved a gleaming silver thing back and forth over my father’s shirts and even the sheets she had draped over a long skinny table. I was entranced, and can remember clearly how surprised and thrilled I was whenever a big, billowing cloud of steam would rise from it. My mother always sang when she ironed. She had a beautiful singing voice, and in later years I’ve come to decide that with her voice (and her temperament), she would probably have made a very good opera diva. By and by, the singing would stop, replaced by other, less pleasant forms of vocal expression—but we’ll get to that. At one point, my mother, having gotten every last recalcitrant wrinkle out of whatever garment she’d been working on, set the iron on its back end as she folded her latest triumph. I wanted to touch the silver thing my mother seemed to enjoy so much. Did the pocket watch-like motion of the iron hypnotize me? Was I looking to connect to my mother by coming in contact with this thing that seemingly gave her such pleasure?

I laid my palm squarely on the mirrorlike bottom surface with its two rows of little holes running along the edge. So my earliest memory included a valuable lesson—a lesson that may in fact be the reason this exceedingly painful incident is my earliest memory. Like most of the lessons I’ve received in my life, “Don’t touch the bottoms of hot steam irons” was learned the hard way. For her part, my mother turned whiter than the crisply starched sheets that laid neatly stacked on the kitchen table.

Which isn’t to say I haven’t had my share of laughs. Lots of my relatives, however loonybins, were funny, even if their humor was usually bitter as wormwood. Once I escaped the horrors of the high school pecking order for the more accepting environment of college, I made the shift from “out-crowd pariah” to “character.” The positive reinforcement I got from being outré (by suburban New Jersey standards, anyway) and entertaining (by suburban New Jersey standards, anyway) encouraged me to head further in that direction—indeed, the small but excellent community college I attended was where I took my first classes in art and theater. It goes without saying that the art and theater crowd was also far more entertaining and quirky than most of the kids I went to high school with. As soon as I finished college, inspired by the music of Lou Reed, David Bowie, and the New York Dolls, I made the leap and relocated to the big, bad city, where funny people abound—or used to. (This same music also encouraged me to indulge in a lot of naughty behavior, something else we’ll get to.) In the early 90’s, I fell in with a circle that made lots of money and became quite well known for being funny. Sometimes I think my ability to laugh, no matter how bleak things may appear, and my refusal to let my oppressors come out on top are the two factors that prevented me from throwing myself in a river, like one of my favorite cousins, “Annette,” did. The deadliest thing on Earth is to lose your sense of humor—never mind that your sense of humor can be acidic enough to eat holes through metal…I remember expressing to “Elizabeth,” another of my dozen first cousins, once how great it was that we always maintained that sort of cockeyed optimism, no matter what the circumstances. Her response? “Yeah, well, maybe we’re just a buncha happy idiots, laughin’ away while life passes us by...”


My first "Now" post, "COVID and Me," May 9, 2020:


“Now” isn’t just this moment, right now. “Now” began in the middle of March, when COVID-19 shut almost everything down and I stopped teaching at places I didn’t live in. Pretending it’s business as usual is pointless; wishing things could be otherwise, a waste of energy. There’s no choice but to accept the here and now—a “here” that means everywhere on Earth, and a “now” that ain’t over yet. There’s no escape, except for the billionaires maybe but that’s another story. So, having passed through the acceptance phase, what I’m doing now is adjusting and adapting.

 

I can no longer teach classes in studio art—my students work on individual projects that require one-on-one in-person instruction—and whatever public speaking engagements I had scheduled are on hold. The eternal “money vs. time” issue has therefore been resolved for me. As with many others out there, my plate is less full these days.

 

Though for me personally, this gift of time (together with the attendant luxury of sleeping and waking up whenever I feel like) couldn’t have come at a better time. My book The Art of Looking at Art is set for release this August https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781538133736/The-Art-of-Looking-at-Art, and end of March/beginning of April was exactly when I needed to be sending out review copies, contacting venues for book talks, sending press releases to museum shops and bookstores, and etc. etc. etc. My next order of business was to look for more work—commissions, private lessons, lecture opportunities—and to expand the scope of my online instruction. This was an undertaking I’d purposely put off until the spring, the book being my main priority. And so, the first few weeks of my “now” were as busy as ever. However, the abundance of free time allowed me to take care of all that business I had to take care of anyway a lot more quickly, and with a lot fewer complications. My efforts have begun to pay off, although it’s pretty obvious I won’t be making any personal appearances in the near future.

 

I haven’t exhausted every available opportunity to promote my book and find jobs, but I’ve done all I can for the time being. (Trust me here. I’m nothing if not thorough.) So in the “now” that means right now, my swath of unfettered time is the gift that keeps on giving.

 

Another of my little projects for March was to clean out my studio. As thrilled as I am about my book coming out, I’ve made hardly any art over the past seven years, and the fact that I now have the opportunity to fill the bulk of my time with an activity that I love doing, that I’ll never get tired of doing, and that I can do in the confines of my apartment proves that some good can come out of even the direst circumstances. I haven’t been bored for even a minute since the lockdown started.

 

I’m not living in a dream world, selfishly pretending that just because I’m fundamentally okay everything is. I’m deeply saddened by the suffering the pandemic has caused, concerned that more of us—including, possibly, someone I know—will die, and outraged that too many of our elected officials (whose primary responsibility is to their constituents, lest anyone forget) have proven themselves to be clueless, inept bunglers whose only concern is the economy and their stake in it. I’m aware that many people right now are overwhelmed financially or health-wise, bearing the burden of family responsibilities, the fear of losing everything they own, or their designation as an essential worker.

 

But for those of us who are more or less safe and sound, this time of isolation and quiet is actually a golden opportunity. To learn a new skill. To read about something you've always wondered about. To help improve the current state of affairs. To get political. To think and self-reflect. To do anything but gripe about being sick of watching movies on Netflix. You have only to seek out these opportunities and act on them.

 

Meanwhile, it seems useless to worry about a future I can’t control or foresee. All I know is that I’m here in the present. If there’s one thing this disease has shown us, it’s how foolish and futile it is to make plans assuming they’ll work out. The release of my book may be delayed, the promotional events I worked so hard to get may be cancelled, I may suffer hard times ahead. The bad guys might win in the end; that happens sometimes too. The Great Depression was a field day for the wealthy, who were able to buy up stocks for next to nothing knowing they would rebound in the future. On the other hand, possibly there’ll be an equal and opposite reaction to this awful state of affairs, and we’ll be that much the better for it. It’s been theorized that the Black Death helped bring about the Renaissance. We’ll simply have to wait and see.

 

So I’ll continue to accept, adjust, and adapt. To be grateful for my gift of time (for as long as I have it), and all the other gifts I’ve been given. And to hope for the best.