Dec 17, 2013

I fall in love with (and write letters to) people I've never met. Like Zina Nicole Lahr, Anne Morrow Lindberg, and Lillian Hellman


Self Portrait with Books, Priscilla Warren Roberts, painter. 

I’m thinking about how deeply connected I feel to people I’ve never met.

As long as I can remember I’ve written in the margins of books I read. It’s like talking to the characters or the author. Sometimes I write them letters.

By postcard (long ago) I wrote appreciatively and offered our house to Anne Morrow Lindberg. I dreamed of her walking the beach, calling silent hellos to those shells she writes of in Gifts From the Sea.


I turned the last page of Pentimento: A Book of Portraits and pronto handwrote her a compliment on the book and an invitation to visit: “Hey, Mrs. Hellman, want to come sit by the water and ponder activism, unjust governance, change and choices?” After all, I’d been chatting it up with her throughout the book.

That was 30 years ago.

She was elderly and not feeling well at the time. (I’d read that in The New Yorker).

I don’t have a copy of that letter, but I recall this: I related to her description about seeing:

“Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again.”

I was oh so at the beginning stage of waking up from sleep-walking my life when I read that book. I felt a nudge of motivation to be more true to myself. To find my voice.

I still get an inner quiver reading that quote because it began a wearing away of layers I’d built to protect anyone from seeing what I truly believed, thought, or felt. I was years from being free to see and be me.

Authors help me see things anew.

And then yesterday this happened.

I met young artist (23 years) Zina Nicole Lahr. Not in person. Online. The meeting was just like with Morrow and Hellman in that I saw and read about her work and ideas and thought, “I’m going to write to her.”

Zina’s beautiful. Typing her name wells me up. I watch this video of her work and I cry.

Honestly, I’m baffled by my emotion. 

I don’t know fully why she gets to me. But she does. (She did die unexpectedly in a hiking accident near her home in Ouray, CO last month while taking personal time away from caring for her grandmother who is in Hospice care. However, my deeply-connected feelings for her began before I knew that.)

I’m not sure what’s going on, but I think I see Zina as someone who is awake and happy, and joy-filled. And I’m attracted to that.

I see her as someone who is 100% comfortable being fully herself. And I want to be like that.

I’m getting there. I still do something zany and catch myself looking around to see if someone noticed. It's a little carryover from being overly concerned about taking personally another's response. 

Zina’s creative energy fuels my spirit. I think I have a bit of her nonconforming, making-madness.

I was a loom weaver. I wove (textile and design) 40+ hours a week (long ago), tying knots of rams wool yarn full of burrs and manure and handspun irregularly, then batting it into rugs or wall hangings. (Now my creative making is writing.)

What I love about Zina and her making is this:

She doesn't make things, she brings life to things.

She doesn't make to have, she makes to learn.

She doesn't do to accomplish she does to see how things work, to make meaning.

And then there are those goggles she wears. I would so do that. 

They’re like a metaphor for taking care of seeing. Holding vision (for me it's intention) with precious delicacy. She says she is never without her goggles because "you never know when you need eye safety." 



Zina Nicole Lahr, animator.
A still from a video about her work made by Stormy Pyeatte.

One more letter story.

I married someone whose book I read. I sent a letter saying what I liked about his writing and ideas. (I worked in an art museum and was interested in communal, multiple interpretations--engaging conversation about life through contemporary art.) Later, we met. As our relationship grew and for a gift, I hand transcribed words from his book onto a kite (he loves to fly stunt kites). I wrote small and was able to get several chapters on the kite. It took a long time.