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Writing the Baseball Queen

The Evolution of Inspiration

I showed this drawing to my second grade students and one girl said, “She’s the Baseball Queen, and she saves all the home run balls.”

And I said, “Eureka!”

The woman is the sculpture, “Memory”, who sits at Broadway and 106th Street in the memorial to  Isidore and Ida Strauss who went down with the Titanic. The baseball players? For months, vague ideas had been swirling in my head, centered on the great American Pastime.

In my neighborhood there was Dads and Daughters softball.  Several men gathered on Saturday mornings with their daughters to help the girls develop their skills and build confidence on the field.  The girls had other ideas, twirling, looking at the sky, practicing cartwheels--anything but batting and fielding. I thought there was a story there, but I didn’t know what.  Girls and baseball, feeling left out, the sense of longing; a baseball stew bubbled in my head.

ThenI learned Leonardo DaVinci’s last words and I couldn’t get them out of my head; “If I could make...If I...”

Then the Baseball Queen appeared.  I thought about her for some time and then sat down to write.  Anthony Trollope said, “It you want to write, apply cobbler’s wax to the seat of your pants.”  So I promised myself that I would sit with a pen and paper for one hour and I wouldn’t get up, I wouldn’t turn on the radio or pick up a book.  One hour.

Nothing happened for forty minutes and then the Baseball Queen flowed on to the paper.

 

The Baseball Queen

I am in bed and the sun is still shining.  I have to go to bed when it isn’t even dark.  It isn’t dark. It isn’t night. It isn’t fair. The sun is shining right in my eyes. Who could sleep?  Everyone else is outside playing baseball.

I can see them. I can hear them. I wish I was with them.

I wish I could get in that game.  They’re not really bigger than me.  I could play with them.

I could say, “Give me a shot.”  Then they’d pitch it to me, and I would belt that ball and it would go flying--sailing--out of the park, over the houses, over the trees, and over the clock tower.  The ladies who hold up the clock would try to catch it but it would be too high for them and much too fast.

It would fly all the way to the Baseball Queen, who catches all the home run balls and keeps them in her Home run Hall of Fame Palace in the sky.

She would say, “Who hit this ball?”

Hank Aaron would say, “It wasn’t me.”

Ted Williams would say, “Not me.”

Mickey Mantle would say, “I didn’t hit it.”

Even Reggie Jackson would say, “Don’t look at me.”

Then the Baseball Queen would say, “ Who is this new Sultan of Swat?”  And she would come all the way down to our field.

When she found out that it was me, that I was the one who hit that amazing home run, she would look at me and say, “Why are you wearing your pajamas?”

And when the Baseball Queen found out that the greatest home run hitter in the history of baseball had to go to bed before it was even dark, she would march right up to my front door, ring my doorbell, and tell my mother a thing or two.

that’s what would happen, if I could only get on that field.  If I could only get outside. If I could only stay up. If I could only...If I...

11

Why do I draw Baseball?
Safe at Home in a Persian Garden

 

Why Baseball?  I once said to my brother, Alan, “Did you love baseball for itself or for all the time you spent with Dad?”  His answer was, “It was all so wonderful, why choose?” That’s a typical answer from my family, one that left me wanting. Wanting what?

Baseball infused my life--the constant sound of the game on the radio or TV, the never ending games of catch in our yard and even in the living room. But baseball wasn’t for me. I didn’t like standing in the hot sun with people yelling and throwing things at me.  I have no interest in sitting through a whole game but I do like to watch on TV where I can see a beautiful play again and again on the replay.

It’s not the game itself, it's the mystique.  There’s something about boys. I remember the moment when I was very little and realized I would grow up to be a woman like my mother, not a man like Daddy. I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t thrilled either.  It was more like...well, Ok. I watched my brothers and their friends and wanted to somehow be part of that mysterious fraternity. I admired the intensity of their interest and their mastery.  They’d practice and practice and never get tired or bored. I coveted their passion.

Once at Yankee Stadium I emerged from the dark stands to see the sun shining on the brilliant grass. As nine young men in pinstripes ran onto the field I felt the romance of it all, the history, the timelessness and the grace.  My first thought was, I want to draw that. That was my way to make baseball my own. But how to make it unique?

When my grandmother reached the end of her life and had trouble remembering which story she had already told, she repeated over and over that her favorite Yankee had left the team. Her words were, “Did you hear that Tommy John got traded to the Angels?

It was the perfect metaphor for dying and going to Heaven, merging all the threads of my yearning. And so MomMom inspired me to begin a series of baseball players, primarily Yankees, whose pinstripes make a useful drawing device.  I set them in various classical, baroque and celestial settings. I took to reading the sports pages, not for the scores but for the photos of the graceful movements of elite athletes.

I've had a wonderful time placing the boys in odd but beautiful places.  Here's Mickey Mantle being traded to the Angels.



4

The Rhino

Why do I like to draw the rhinoceros? My figures, animals or humans, have a chubby, cuddly quality.  Even my old people look like children. If I were to draw puppies and kittens they would be sickenly sweet.  I look animals with some grit, that don’t look cute.

That led me to the Rhino. I had been thinking about rhinos for years since I found this  picture in the Daily News.

 Four rhinos walking down a road, just ambling along--four dudes out for a walk.  Isn’t the rhino a solitary creature? Not according to these guys. I don’t know where they were or what they were up to. They look so companionable. They look like the bandidos in The Wild Bunch or George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice strolling down a road in Texas, but nice.

You can see by how yellow it is that I've saved it for a long time.  I  wanted to do something with rhinos but I knew my draughtsmanship wasn’t up to the task. So I practiced, 

I think of the Rhino as a plodding heavy grumpy beast but I saw one trotting around in a large enclosure at the Bronx Zoo, surprisingly light-footed and graceful.   Then I read the obituary of Anna Merz, Rhino Guardian and Champion, who built a Rhino Sanctuary in Africa.  Rhinos — far from being the stupid, aggressive, ill-tempered sorts many suppose — were, in her words, beautiful and elegant. She blamed their bellicosity on their poor eyesight, leading them to charge first and ask questions later. She found that rhinos have a sense of humor and that they communicate by altering their breathing rhythms. She read them Shakespeare to soothe them.

Then I met the bronze rhino on the Plaza of Musee D’Orsay, and had a moment of perfect happiness.   

The elements of that moment were;

  1.  I was in Paris, with Arthur.
  2.  It was a chilly day but the sun was warm on my face.
  3.  In a few minutes we would meet friends and go out for a nice lunch.
  4. I’d like to add my children, but they were teen-agers and the best I could say   was they were safe at home under someone else’s supervision.
  5. Maybe most important, I had an idea for a new series of drawings percolating in my brain.

I went home and drew that rhino from all directions, in different settings, sometimes walking in Paris with Degas’s little ballerina.

You can see more rhinos in my Rhino Gallery.

When I complained to a friend at work about having to plan dinner yet again she told me the tale of the little table. It seems all you had to do was clap your hands and say “Come, Little Table, come!” and a table would trot in, beautifully set with a delicious meal. When you’d eaten your fill you just clapped your hands and said, “Go, Little Table, go!” and it would trot off to wash the dishes. “So,” I said, “where do I get one of those little tables?”  The closest I could come was to make a drawing.

Then when Jessie was about three she asked me as we were walking in New York City, “Why don’t homeless people just get jobs?” 

I took a deep breath and said; “Well... what do you need in order to get a job? First you have to go on a job interview.  You should be rested so you need a bed. You have to be clean so you need a bathtub. You should be well-fed so you need a stove and a table. We came to the conclusion that to have a home you need a job-but to get a job you need a home.

This series of drawings is a meditation on home. As I drew I thought of more things a home needs--a chair to sit and think, a fireplace to keep cozy, extra chairs for when friends come over.  What does a home provide us and what does our home need from us?  What does it take to have a life?

1

This collage made of pen and ink and watercolor is one of my favorite creations but I needed a little serendipity to complete it.
First I drew the table without thinking of anything else. I echoed the curve of that leg with the billowing curtain. I got very wrapped up in drawing the ivy leaves on the wall paper, and then gave it a gray wash to make the table stand out. Unfortunately the empty space out the window left me uninspired and I put the piece away in the flat file.
At another time on another piece of paper I drew the pelican. He was better than the background I had given him so cut him out, and put him away.
The two pieces lay in obscurity until I decided to clean out the overflowing drawers, making piles of Keep, Throw Away and What Do I Do With This? The Pelican and the table by the window fell together and Voila! They were made for each other. The swell of the pelican’s chest echoes the curtain and the table leg, the colors in his feathers echo the gray in the sky. The unexpectedness of his being there rates a double-take. Did he just fly in the window? What’s he doing there? So many questions. Thank you, Muse.
The pelican is a favorite of mine; so goofy on land, so graceful in flight. You will often see a pelican sculpture in an old graveyard. He’s a symbol for Christ because early observers noted red on the breasts of nesting pelicans. They surmised that the mother plucked at herself to make her blood flow to feed her chicks; thus she became a symbol of self sacrifice. Turns out the red was just a phase in the plumage but the idea stuck; that’s why you see pelicans standing over the graves of the long ago dead.
Was it the muse or the holy spirit who put my two images together? Are “muse” and “holy spirit” two names for the same inspiration?

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