April 15, 2009
I’m going to do everything upside down
from now on
“SADNESS OF SOUL,”
is one of Felix Mendelssohn’s suite of piano pieces entitled “Lieder ohne Worte,” “Songs Without Words.” I am feeling some of that as I make my daily rummage through the Community Thrift Shop at 17th and Valencia, scanning the racks for the elusive promise of a red dress; sliding hanger after hanger of people’s rejected and discarded rags to the side as I search for the prize—something both fun and camp, sexy and nasty to wear to Portland’s annual Red Dress Party coming up in May. Last time I wore a floor-length satin off-the shoulder prom gown, which I later donated to Out of the Closet because I had to get it out of my closet, its organza petticoats taking up far too much real estate. I danced the night away in my ruby slippers and ended up spent on the floor on my backside, surveying the winding-down revelry.
I have come from the gym but instead of energized I feel deflated, like I just used myself up, and drop onto one of the massive Michelen Man-style stuffed couches none of us know what it’s had spilled on it. I love to thrift-shop but if I’m not in the mood, just killing time, I see the places as the repositry of all that’s lonely and worn down: shoes in the shape of someone else’s feet, a past-its-prime handbag with a bus transfer still in it, and in the pocket of a raw silk jacket I try on I find that a Donna Butcher had once flown United Flight 1664 one May 7th from San Jose to Denver wearing it. In Seat 1A to be exact. Other people’s stories is what I love about thrift shops, but sometimes those stories are sad, beat-up relics of poverty and failure.
A song without words, that’s how sadness of soul does feel. Something unnameable weighing you down, a vague feeling of unease that sets you rummaging through your own life, like the answer is in the past, not the present.
THE TREASURE CHEST OF MY PAST,
a beat-up trunk plastered with Grateful Dead stickers, resides under my bed. When I get home, I attempt to plumb its depth in search of a series of letters I wrote pianist friend John Beck about Smetana’s moving string quartet “Z mého života,” “From My Life.” I kept thinking of one more thing to say about this heartbreaking piece and sent three letters one after the other. But I can’t find them.
I do find something I’ve been looking for, for years, though, some drawings I did “upside down” as part of exercises from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which I’d shown to coworker Phil Brewer and told him, hey, I drew these pictures upside down! He seemed lost in thought, apparently because he was trying to picture me upside down with my skirt over my head. (Men!)
#1 A drawing of Igor Stravinsky by Pablo Picasso
#2 Alexandra Jones, graphite on paper, 1991. The reader is looking at these right side up, but the author drew #2 upside down, with her skirt pulled demurely over her knees.
Author Betty Edwards uses upside-down (inverted) drawing as a technique for seeing things from a different perspective.
#1 A 16th-century drawing of a court dwarf
#2 Alexandra Jones, graphite on paper, 1991. Drawn upside down, same as above.
NOTHING’S EVER WORKED OUT FOR ME WITH TUNA ON TOAST
Remember the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite” where George gets a job with the Yankees by insulting George Steinbrenner? Because he figured as long as his life was not working for him as it was, why not try doing the opposite of what he’d normally do?
There’s no telling. One time while doing these right brain exercises I forgot how to write. After being in “the zone” of observing images, contrasts, shapes, I picked up a notepad and pen, and nothing came out. My (left) brain was stuttering. I thought, the more practice, the easier it’ll be to flip this switch when I need a break from one thing or another.
And I tried it just now. I was feeling ragged, tired and kind of hopeless. So I decided, when my instinct would have been to turn on Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony and cry into the night, that I would instead put on the happiest piece of music I know of (NO, it’s not “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” that is the most annoying piece I know of). It is…
THE GOLDEN RECORD
Have you heard of it? On June 16, 1977, a time capsule was shot into space containing a “golden record” with sounds and images depicting the diversity of life and earth. “We cast this message into the cosmos,” said President Jimmy Carter.
And what piece of music was the first to be chosen to represent Earth in the far reaches of space? Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.
I install it on my turntable, an ancient recording of Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (the tightest band I’ve ever seen perform). And it works. When I am reminded of this sprightly and joyous piece of human civilization out there “representin’,” I am soon choking with happiness.
THEN I MOVE ON
to the other foolproof antidote, the duet from the Bach Cantata, BWV 78, “Jesu, der du meine Seele.”
I was so happy, leaving a concert of Grieg and Brahms the other night, that I strode down Valencia Street hyperventilating, exclaiming “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” And that’s how I feel right now at 3:00 after turning myself upside down. Ah well, another sleepless night given over to Bach! I’m my old self again. (If you’re happy and you know it, you know what to do. Stand on your head and squeeeeeel like a pig!)
The author at work, upside down
If you can’t get off the ground
˙uo ʍou ɯoɹɟ uʍop-ǝpısdn ƃuıɥʇʎɹǝʌǝ op oʇ ƃuıoƃ ɯ,ı
copyright Alexandra Jones 2009