August 11, 2011
A drawing from August 11, 2011 finds me at a table, at night. Instead of picturing myself at the table where I did the drawing, I have placed myself where I live much of my life, in front of my computer, at another table. The table is the one I am writing this blog post on now, a small Parsons-style table my sister Naomi bought for herself to use to write sitting at the same spot: for many years it had a small but treasured view of the Provincetown bay, but over the years two trees have come to block that view…I used to wonder what I could pour onto the roots of the first tree in order to stunt its growth or even kill it, by the time the second one was planted smack in front of the window, the view was mostly gone. She loved that view but she would still love looking out at the sky through the leaves. She always loved the way one could see Norman Mailer sitting in his little study in both his houses here, looking out at the bay, and liked to think of herself in a company of people who have been writers in this place. We shared that love of tradition and of belonging to a place, an American place we felt that through time we could claim to belong to, I think because we also shared the trauma of displacement, one we had not experienced ourselves, but that marked our lives, that of our parents’ forced displacement from Europe.
The drawing was done at another table, a jeweler’s worktable that has been in my family for about 70 years. It was my father Ilya Schor’s worktable in New York, I think perhaps as far back as the 1940s, certainly as far back as 1955. When my mother bought this house, she commissioned a young artist to build a worktable identical to it. The new table stayed in New York, and she brought the old one up here to Provincetown where she worked several months a year for the next 35 years. She always cleared and cleaned the table before her return to New York, covering it with a layer of the New York Times. The first summer after she died I felt the table should not be left alone. I put a fresh layer of newspaper down, unpacked inks, gouaches, brushes, and sketchbook. Sitting at that worktable at night in a pool of light from an ancient fluorescent desk lamp, I worked my way back into life. The worktable was an engine of creativity, a hearth. I thought of it so much as sitting down to her table and continuing that only later did I remember that it was not just her desk, but also his, the one she had sat down to, to continue the work.
I paint on another table where I have worked since before graduate school, next to windows with starched gauze white curtains. I would be happiest having ten such tables, I could use an infinite amount of tables, I am pea-green with envy at artists who have huge studios and giant tables (the kind you see in documentaries, where the artist’s assistant religiously brings out some work for the great man to work on) but this one, always more than half occupied with supplies, has been a place I can work.
You cannot go home again, in some basic sense: today I walked past the house where I lived when my family was intact, the summers we first came to Provincetown when my father was still alive. Sometime in the 1980s I had the eerie experience of walking past the door and as a young girl came out I heard her mother call her, “Mira.” I had never met or heard of anyone with my name until Marilyn French wrote The Women’s Room, with a heroine of that name, now here was a child named perhaps for that heroine, coming out of the house I had spent perhaps the happiest times of my life. But long since the door, which opened directly to an staircase to the second floor apartment we rented, was boarded up and the entrance moved to the side. But I can sit at my father and mother’s worktable. Tables must be stable and this link to the past creates a kind of stability of tradition and time.