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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention


Chasing Matisse: The Book

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Matisse, France, Travel, Creativity, Adventure, Expatriates, Dreams, Reinvention

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March 30, 2003

The Muse

It was Sunday morning, and a brilliant blue sky lured us from our work inside our lovely white-washed house. We drove to Auray and parked, walked through the old town to the port of St. Goustan and strolled beside the River Auray. This had been our only outing for the past week, and it was glorious. Spring surprised me as it does every year-jonquils bursting open, golden forsythias unfolding their profusion of petals. Flower yellows and the baby green of newborn leaves are the true colors of spring for me.

We weren't the only ones strolling. Some walked their dogs. Others ran and bicycled. Old French men and women, who must pace their paths in the world until they fall over dead, slowly but steadily made their way along the promenade. Both of my dear grandmothers were walkers in their Arkansas towns after their husbands died. Neither ever learned to drive a car. My grandmother Arnold followed the lanes in Batesville, Arkansas, until she was almost 100, and I count this as an important reason she lived so long. She may not have "worked out" in all the ways we're "supposed to" now, but she moved her body her entire life. That's what our muscles, bones, and organs were built for, so she lived and improved upon her and our genetic code.

Spring is bringing more activity and new life to our town of Auray. The cafés at the harbor began opening about 10:30, and people sat down for breakfast, a hot chocolate, or coffee, or wandered the rues snapping photos. One young girl appeared as a pirate. I couldn't resist her costume and ahoy-matey stance, and I asked her parents if I could photograph her. Some restaurants in St. Goustan have two floors, and the upstairs windows were being thrown open and the clatter of silverware rang the setting of tables. The sun shone down on us that morning.

After an afternoon of good work, we were excited to be going to Alice and Guy's for dinner. They had promised us Breton oysters and delivered with aplomb and crisp white wine! (How the oysters thrilled us.) Then an Alsatian choucroute and warm Tarte Tatin were beautifully served and devoured. The four of us have great conversation. When we meet, it's hard to decide if the talk or the food is more delicious.

We discussed Chasing Matisse, and Alice said I was Jim's muse. (I only wish my body matched Sharon Stone's as Albert Brooks's siren in his film of "The Muse.") Since we've been chasing Matisse and art and seeing the world and ourselves with new vision, this word comes up quite often. It seems that in the life of art and artists' lives, models and muses are not only natural but necessary. On our journey, we have learned more about M. Matisse and have encountered many of the women who inspired him. We have also discovered the muses of other artists. The Dina Vierny whose foundation established the Musée Maillol in Paris was Maillol's muse and model. She also posed for Matisse, Dufy, and others, but M. Maillol was territorial (as they all must be) and needed her energy and countenance for himself. He wouldn't let her go for long before he called her back to him.

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, muse is defined as "a source of inspiration." Its etymology is "from Muse any of the nine sister goddesses of learning and the arts in Greek myths." (Notice they're women.) After working the long and mentally strenuous hours that it's taken to manage all of my jobs (not including this), I've had no energy left for inspiration. I've felt no force of creativity-that spark of idea and desire that flashes in your head and startles you, that rings true within and lifts you above the mundane and flings you in the sky-for myself much less for Jim. The life has been sucked out of me by this work that is not about "seeing" but the "business of our seeing." Albert Brooks put Sharon Stone up in luxurious hotel rooms (smart woman required this as her working environment), bought her gifts from Tiffany's, and granted her every wish so her inspiration could crossover to him. Fortunately for Jim I'm not as high maintenance as Ms. Stone was, but he brought me a beautiful secret gift one day when I was least expecting it and pleased me to no end. I have to have time to think, feel, and see myself-to experience my own journey-in order to have thoughts and ideas, to create situations that also inspire him. (He would tell you that I'm more adventurous than he is.) It's not a job per se, or at least I haven't figured out as Ms. Stone's character did in how to make a career of it. But Jim and I work well together and naturally, and my focus and energy are easily and freely given. I can sometimes see his endeavors (or potential ones) more clearly than he can. Sometimes I give too much of myself away and leave myself bereft. I am an artist too and am compelled to do my own work and fulfill myself creatively (which I believe is a human trait and certainly an artistic one), so I'm trying to allow myself the time, space, and energy to get what I need for me.

As has often happened as I write this diary, I've not thought as much about the subject of muses as I am now. I'd like to speak with other muses to see what their experience has been. I was always impressed with Calvin Trillin's writing of his wife, his crowning her as muse (even though she had a distinguished professional life herself that didn't include this mantle). Some men (and women-I guess-not having knowledge about the opposite sex's experience in this realm) don't have the generosity to admit this relationship. They somehow feel it diminishes their own stature if someone else has inspired them. What a narrow point of view as well as naiveté not to understand this historical and creative configuration that has been a part of the imaginative world throughout the centuries. Cave women who posed for drawings must've pointed at their representations proudly whether the cave artists admitted their encouragement or not. (This is probably the etymology of women calling men Cro-Magnons, cave men, etc.)

Women are usually muses in the world for their husbands and lovers in some capacity artistic or not and whether they get credit or not, and again over the centuries, men have forgotten to point this out. Muses of the world unite! If men understood how much mileage this would give them with their wives, lovers, and partners, they might rethink this. (Are you men out there that smart?)

Don't all humans want recognition for something? Isn't that why warriors beat their chests and hunters smear the blood of their first deer on their faces or something primitive and tribal like that? They have arrived in some important rite of passage-of becoming a man-depending on your definition.

Carrie Bradshaw (my new addiction to "Sex and the City") talks about her issues and how the old ones keep popping up. Getting recognition is one of mine. Being a writer is a tough business, but am I so needy for approval? So many times I think I don't care what people think, and I don't. Then I'm hungry for acceptance. Jim says I give my power away, and I must stop. He's right. Like Carrie, I fall back into my old issues. No matter who we are we always do.

We women and muses support our husbands, lovers, and artists, and I will make the bold statement that we even enjoy it. But isn't that what partners are supposed to do for each other? What I (and others) are learning is to give the same consideration to ourselves.

posted by Beth on March 30, 2003 | View All Diary Entries

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