"saying, what other amazements / lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes"
I’m trying to remember that feeling exactly, that feeling I had after leaving the Nan Goldin show at Galerie Yvon Lambert. I felt as though I’d been somewhere far away. I had let myself be wrapped up in the music she’s using (a uniquely uplifting snippet from Godspeed You Black Emperor!) for her “Honey on a Razor Blade” slide show, and I was half in love with her brazenly beautiful nephew Simon. And I was so in awe of her bravery, her embracing of the messiness, frailty, ugliness, and shattering beauty of human life. I left the gallery feeling full to bursting, like I might laugh and cry all at once, explosive. It reminded me of the end of that James Wright poem about the ponies: “Suddenly I realize / That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom.”
A few weeks later, my mother and I were sitting on the terrace of Café des Phares when, lo and behold, Nan Goldin walked by. Mom pointed her out. Bless you, Mom. I, as coolly as possible, sprang from my seat and followed her for a minute or so, until she turned the corner and headed down the rue de Rivoli, towards the bustling and appropriately messy heart of the city. I wanted to shout after her and thank her for her bravery, for scaring me and challenging me, for making me uncomfortable.
When I was little, a psychic told my mother that I was a “new soul,” that this was my first time on Earth, and hence my rather substantial childhood fears, namely of needles, loud noises (vacuum cleaners, thunderstorms, the dial on the stereo cranked too high), and people with anything physically out of the ordinary. [I’m not proud of this last, but you should know that it's visceral and instinctive, and, after years of learning to talk myself down, I'm at least rational about it now. There will be no more running or sniffling and crying upon seeing the Oklahoma artist with no arms, or the child with progeria on the airplane.] But new soul, new schmoul. I won’t hear a word of it.
It's important to write this down, I think. To resolve, and to write, to preserve this "suddenly lit, awakened state," as poet Heather McHugh once said. It's terrifying, this breaking and blossoming. It's terrifying to begin this being brave.
[Thank you, Mary Oliver, for the title.]