Have You Seen Santa?

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It’s that time of year again, and hidden amidst the gazillion catalogs are the holiday cards. I love to get them. I always felt badly about not sending anything in return and envious of mothers who managed to put together the family photo shoot and sign and send. If you’re reading this and wondering why you weren’t on my holiday card list, that’s because there was no list. I just never got it together. The best I could do was an Instagram video of my dog.

Yesterday, I found an old photo that would have made the perfect card. It’s at least twenty-five years old. I didn’t use it then. It’s a good time to use it now. That’s three- year old Ariela sitting on Santa’s lap. The photo was taken at the holiday party at Ariela’s preschool, the early intervention program at UCLA. You can’t see much of Santa’s face, but it’s the same color as his large, dark brown hands. Santa was a UCLA undergrad. I can’t remember his name or what position he played on the Bruins football team. He volunteered at the preschool.

I love this photo, because it reminds me of Ariela’s happy times at UCLA. She especially liked the parties. They were always celebrating something. She loved Santa. All the kids did. He was jolly and fat, but not too fat to have a lap. And he was fun. Every child got a gift. She didn’t care what color his skin was. The colors of her clothes were the only colors that mattered to her. (At the time, pinks and purples were her favorites.) Skin color was irrelevant. Like most preschoolers, she only cared how someone treated her. Were they kind? Patient? Silly? Did they give her presents? I can’t believe any three-year old gives a damn about skin color. Unless, of course, that three-year old is on Twitter.

What you may not realize from the photo is that this Santa is holding her up. Without his caring hands, Ariela would have toppled over. That’s enough to make even this Jewish mother believe in Santa.

Now on YouTube

If you missed me in person, here I am reading at the ‪#‎ListenToYourMother‬ show in San Francisco. http://bit.ly/29HYgaS  Ariela didn’t want me to write about her, but here’s one story she really liked.

The Horse Boy’s Dad

Rupert“Following a child’s interests, going with what motivates them, spending time in nature, and if possible working with animals — these things seem to help all children.” – Rupert Isaacson

Like his bestselling book, The Horse Boy, Rupert Isaacson is intense, inspirational and candid about his courageous journey to help his son with autism.

Motivated by love, faith and desperation, he traveled to Siberia, rode on the backs of reindeers, and sought the healing powers of shamans. The results were life changing for his son and his family.

For me, he represents many parents of children with special needs who would go to the end of the earth to help their children. Nothing is simple when you have a child with special needs, and crazy becomes part of every family’s story.

Rupert is an engaging and generous raconteur. He was visiting SF to promote his new book, The Long Ride Home, and to work with Joell Dunlap of Square Peg, the ranch where my daughter enjoyed many years of therapeutic riding. He took time out to give me much appreciated encouragement and advice.

Beach Tires

crissy fieldI’m very excited to see my story, “Beach Tires”, in Hippocampus Magazine. Ariela was very proud to be a trail docent in Golden Gate National Park. The photo in Hippocampus shows her trail at Crissy Field. Ariela’s painting on my website banner is a view from her trail.
http://www.hippocampusmagazine.com/…/beach-tires-by-harrie…/

American Royalty: It’s Not What You Think

 

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KEHINDE WILEY The Two Sisters, 2012. Oil on linen.

 

I’m insecure about art. I don’t know enough to be an art snob. But I don’t want to be thought of as someone who doesn’t know kitsch when it’s staring at her. So I wasn’t sure what to think of Kehinde Wiley. His paintings are meant to startle, in his own words “go for the jugular.” His colors and patterns are bold. His subject’s postures and expressions are intense. His realistic paintings are larger than life.

When I saw his show at the Seattle Art Museum, I was captivated. His subjects, all people of color, gaze out at the viewer. “Look at me,” they demand. “Don’t accept what white society says about us.” They’re not screaming, but they’re not subtle either.

Wiley stops people he finds walking on city streets. He casts them in paintings derived from the great portraiture of the 15th through early 20th centuries. The originals, created by artists like Gainsborough, Singer Sargent, and Chassériau, depicted royalty, aristocrats, people of great power, wealth and prestige.

Most of his models are men. For his grouping “Economy of Grace,” Wiley focused on black women he had recruited in Harlem. He dresses his models in long flowing gowns by Givenchy. Their hair is styled in up-dos that suggest elaborate crowns. He positions them to mimic the poses of the originals. Maybe because of Wiley’s naturalistic style, they look better, more real, than the originals. They are self-possessed and regal, but at the same time, Wiley doesn’t hide their vulnerability and humanity.

For a moment in time, he takes his subjects out of the reality of their lives and elevates them from the ordinary to the majestic, from people with no power to people of nobility, from anonymous to celebrated. It’s not just the clothing, it’s their inner beauty that Wiley captures. We don’t normally think of his subjects as royalty. But in their newfound settings, on the imposing large-scale canvases, they command our respect and admiration.

Does changing the context of a person change the way we view them? How we treat them? We make assumptions about people by the way they look, the clothes they wear, their backgrounds. We take our preconceived notions and marginalize “the others” – be it people of color, or people from another country, or people with disabilities.

My daughter, Ariela, used a wheelchair. Her hands waved and her head bobbed. I know that people judged her by the way she looked, whatever they knew about disability forming their opinions. “Poor dear”, they’d say, giving her a narrative that wasn’t hers. We don’t normally think of people with disabilities as royalty, but that’s how she thought of herself.

I can’t dismiss Wiley’s work. He has too much to say about how we think of each other. He challenges our preconceptions about identity and art. With his reimagined light and landscapes, his subjects come alive and deserve our thoughtful attention.

More than a Cookie

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It’s Girl Scout cookie time. I bought a couple of boxes a few days ago. The Scouts were in a prime spot, outside Lunardi’s Supermarket. Location is everything. I remember standing in front of Safeway with Ariela and her troop. She used her communication device to call out to customers, “Girl scouts cookies. Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” Her digitized voice sounded like a girl’s version of Stephen Hawking. People stopped. Then another member of her troop would swoop in to close the sale.

While I waited outside Lunardi’s for one scout to show another how to charge my credit card, I asked them, “How’s business?” The mother (There’s always an adult at the cookie table.) said they were doing well.

“I was the cookie chair for years,” I told her. “For my daughter’s troop.”

The mother smiled. “And where is your daughter now?” she asked.

I hesitated.

“She died,” I said.

The mother got up from her stool, came around the cookie table, and gave me a hug.

“I have many fond memories of the Girl Scouts,” I told her.

Cookie chair was a huge headache. I had to call the girls several times to turn in their orders, and to pick up their cookies, and to collect the payments, and to turn in the money. Lots of calls and pick-ups and deliveries and nagging and a house full of cookies and tallies that never added up. I don’t regret a minute of it.

Once a week, Ariela donned her green vest with all the badges and joined a group of girls her age for meetings and hikes and service projects and fun. Ariela was always included and accepted along with all the other girls. Girl Scouts has long been committed to full inclusion and nondiscrimination. How many other organizations deliver on that promise?

Girl Scout cookies aren’t gluten-free, dairy-free, or nut-free. They have lots of calories, sodium and carbs. Buy them anyway. The money goes to help girls develop important life skills and to do good work in our community and beyond. I could tell you they’re yummy, but you know that. No Girl Scouts in your neighborhood? You can buy your cookies online. You’ll want to stock up. When Ariela was in Girl Scouts, we ran out of Samosas. Avoid this tragedy. Get yours while they last.