How glad and proud I am to be Canadian, as we get ready to celebrate our 150th birthday. I am profoundly grateful that my father was hounded out of his birthplace, the U.S., by the McCarthy witch hunts of the 50’s. After getting his Ph.D. in molecular biology in 1950, Dad was too leftwing to get a job in the States and instead took his first position at Dalhousie in Halifax, never to go back. Though there was much he missed about the US, he was always deeply loyal to Canada; as one of the leaders of the Canadian protests against the Vietnam War in the 60’s, he was aware of how much more vicious and violent the fight would have been had he still been living there, especially with my brother coming up to draft age. Even as the recipients of some anti-semitism, we were overjoyed to live in this relatively peaceful land. Yes, flawed, no one is claiming otherwise. I understand that indigenous people have truly legitimate reasons to protest our celebrations. But celebrate I will.
Today’s celebration: the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the AGO. What a magnificent woman she was, how very brave and far ahead of her time. She decided she wanted to be an artist at the age of 10 – in 1897! And she proceeded to define her own style with remarkable courage and speed, and then to find the perfect partner in life and art, the photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz, more than 20 years her senior. Her face over seven decades, in his photographs and those of others, is like a hawk’s, independent, fierce, almost pitiless.
What’s startling about the exhibit is finding out that she objected to the sexual interpretation of her paintings – canvas after canvas looking like vulvas, cervixes, labia, phallic pistils emerging from the soft folds of flowers – even her hills look like thighs. And yet she objected. She was painting flowers, she said, huge flowers so that we would learn to look, really look, at flowers and nature.
And when I just went out into my garden, I tried to do just that.
I know, these shots are not O’Keefian, they should be vast close ups of individual flowers. I just want to celebrate, too, the panorama of roses and clematis and astilbe.
I wrote down a quote that was on the wall: Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. (Easy for you to say, Georgia, I thought, so successful early in your career…) Making your unknown known is the important thing – and keeping the unknown always beyond you.
How beautiful. Making your unknown known … I also bought a fridge magnet that’s on my fridge now. It says, “TO CREATE ONE’S WORLD TAKES COURAGE.”
Speaking of which – last night was the last home class until September, a group like family, reading one gorgeous piece of writing after another. At the end, as I usually do on the last class, I read to them, this time the new beginning of the memoir. Full of trepidation and fear – does it work? Will they like it? They did. I know, they’re prejudiced and kind. But at least I know it’s good enough to keep going. Keep going, Beth, because to create one’s world takes courage, and making your unknown known is the important thing.
Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
Thanks, Georgia O’Keeffe.