Thursday, November 10, 2016

Fuck You, Garrison Keillor


Garrison Keillor, and his opinion piece in The Washington Post, can go straight to hell and this is why:

Keillor thinks that because he's a white male and financially stable he's immune to the devastating effects of a Trump presidency. If this is satirical, it's only so for other rich, white men. He thinks he can bide his time for the next four to eight years, sipping Merlot and acquiring folksy wisdom by conversing with other old white males. Sure, he's bitter about a Trump presidency, but there's at least some comfort in knowing that the financially unstable white men who voted for Trump will be disappointed when they notice the rich are growing richer while the poor get poorer.

Meanwhile, my Muslim children will be persecuted. You don't give a shit? Well, all minorities will be persecuted, women's rights laughed at, intellectuals will be targeted, climate change accelerated, no more free press, Vladimir Putin is the United States' new best friend, stock markets crash globally, and all the most sadistic Americans are encouraged to come out of the woodwork and take the law into their own hands.

And when I say "Fuck you, Garrison Keillor," I really mean "Wake up, white elitist liberals, you can't just wait out the apocalypse."

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Investigating My Mother's Disappearance

My mother wears tiny, elegant black velvet slippers embroidered with carved glass beads, but otherwise she favors loafers, and dull, earthy shades of khaki ("shit tones," is how she describes her palate). She hardly ever gets dressed anymore, so she might be in her nightgown—my mother is very specific about nightgowns. Sleeveless, lightweight, with the hemline reaching exactly to her knees. She's tiny, so she often has to shorten her nightgowns by hand. Her nightgowns are pretty, pale pinks and blues, and some are trimmed with tiny seed pearls, eyelet, or satin ribbon. Isn't it curious, that counterpoint of femininity and camouflage, night and day? I hadn't noticed before.

          She craves strong, pungent flavors: sardines, lox, raw mussels on the half shell, sauerkraut, spicy chicken wings, mustard—not ketchup, red wine, liver braised with onions and vinegar, bleu cheese, Kalamata olives in brine.

          When her stomach is upset, she drinks beef broth, but when she has a cold, she always wants chicken soup. I prepare it the Armenian way, with a raw egg yolk and the juice of a lemon. 
        
          She drinks her coffee black with no sugar, two mugs every morning, while she reads The New York Times. In warm weather, she enjoys an Armenian drink called tahn, an iced mixture of plain yogurt thinned with water.

          My mother prefers specific fruits: pomegranates, blackberries, Concord grapes. She avoids bland, insipid sweets, such as shortbread, but she loves licorice, crystallized ginger, and tart key lime pie. 

          These little details, these specks of information, are important clues. I'm sure no one else possesses her exact constellation of habits and preferences. But of course you should know that her name is Roxanne—Araxie, in Armenian. She's been shrinking for years; now she's really quite small, about the size of a child of 9 or 10—but of course very old and stooped, although she prefers to lie down lately. Her eyes are a deep, penetrating brown, with an owlish gaze. Those eyes convey all her emotion, even when her words don't. And she has a Bronx accent.

          I'm not really a careless person. In fact for decades I don't recall losing anything more cherished than a single earring and, I suppose, my youth. Not until I was 51, the year my mother vanished.


Here my mother would interrupt me. I'm not lost, she'd say, I'm just dead. She was always the practical one. But I won't back down on this. I can retrace my steps exactly.

          I would tell a Private Eye that I sat at your bedside on the fifth floor of Princeton Hospital just before one a.m. on December 18, 2013. I was holding your left hand, which was quite warm. And a little swollen because your kidneys were failing. 

          Every breath you took was followed by a surprisingly loud, shameless gurgle, and an even longer silence. The silence was stretching, and your mouth was stretched in a long oval, like a fish out of water. Of course I couldn't help noticing your resemblance to my father. I would have been sharing this observation with you, except now it was actually happening to you, and we couldn't compare notes anymore.

          Do you believe this, I wanted to say. Did you ever imagine you'd end up like this? But there was no answer, not even in my imagination. 

          There was another deathbed moment you shared with my father. When your blank, fixed features contracted in a deep spasm, with brows knit, a vertical furrow appeared between your eyes—in all your life there had never been such a crease! It may have been a grimace of pain, but it looked even more like concentration.

          I had understood my father's grimace, years earlier, as the result of his effort to stop all systems, once and for all. The heart is so used to beating that to stop altogether must require almost as much strength as pumping. In his expression, I saw the harnessing of all his body's dwindling energies. When you winced like that I knew you would die very soon, but I couldn't keep my eyes open for another second.

          It's so hard to get comfortable in the hospital; the chair was so much lower than the bed, and even though I'd lowered the bedrail it was still dividing us. I couldn't seem to get close enough, but I managed to rest my head against your thigh. I focused on the solidity of your leg under my head rather than the coarse texture of the hospital blanket between us. With closed eyes, I timed the seconds between each gasp...12, 13, 14.

          When I woke up with a jolt you were gone. You had gripped my hand hard with your last strength. I felt it—or imagined I did. 

          I stood up and leaned across your body, pressing my fingers against the side of your throat. There was the faintest reverberation under the skin, and a succession of images flickered through my mind. A runner crosses the finish line and continues to run a few extra strides, stumbling a little, before coming to a full stop. After a performance, the drummer places his sticks against the rim of the drum and there is a tremor. Nighttime, raindrops.

        Once I was sure there was no more pulse I sat down beside you again and waited for the change. Before too long your skin turned a waxen yellow and it was no longer possible to imagine you were living. I hadn't let go of your hand and I would continue holding it for quite a while. I would sit with you till there was no more warmth. The absurd idea came to me that I might be transferring my own heat to you and, if so, we might hold this pose forever; but it was of no consequence. As long as your hand was warm, I held on.


So right there, in those few minutes between closing my eyes and opening them, my mother had vanished. She vanished while I held her hand. 

          My mother doesn't believe in God, she believes in annihilation. She told me often that death is The End. She said it a little smugly, to be honest, as if she was the more rational, reasonable person who refused to be duped or mollified. But it's not reasonable to vanish.


I'm sure you would see that now if you were still here. And even the PI, if he were to materialize, would help me search. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Case of You


First Bowie, now Prince. For people my age, whatever else is happening in our lives, this is the year we start saying goodbye. I've been immersing myself in music and stories, perhaps as a way of celebrating life or maybe just to prolong the moment of departure.

          In February, only two months before Prince died, one of his great loves died. Her name was Denise but, as Prince tended to do with his many lovers and musical protégés, he had wanted to rename her. The name he chose was Vagina (pronounced Vah-gee-nah).  Quite sensibly, she declined, and took the name Vanity instead. Of their split, Vanity had said she loved Prince and missed his sense of humor but, "I needed one person to love me, and he needed more." She died a born-again Christian and the two hadn't been in touch for many years.

          Prince learned of her death right before going onstage to perform in Melbourne, Australia. The feeling was very intimate—no band, no backup singers, no dancers—just Prince on the stage, all 5'2 of him, and a grand piano—for his Piano-and-a-Microphone-Solo Tour. Before playing "Little Red Corvette," he told the audience, "I just found out a little while ago that someone very dear to us has passed away, so I'm going to dedicate this song to her." He then proceeded to dedicate every single song to her, in one way or another, working her name into the lyrics and the mood. Denise, Denise, Denise.

          When he returned to the stage for an encore, he said, "I am new to this playing alone. I thank you all for being so patient. I'm trying to stay focused, it's a little heavy for me tonight. Just keep jamming...

          "Can I tell you a story about Vanity? Or should I tell you a story about Denise? Her and I used to love each other deeply...

          "She and I would fight. She was very headstrong cause she knew she was the finest woman in the world. She never missed an opportunity to tell you that." Prince told a story about a fight where he had threatened to throw her into a pool and she replied, You can't throw me in the pool, you're too little. He then asked his female bodyguard named Chick—who was 6 feet tall—to do it for him.

          Love is strange, isn't it? Unpredictable, un-pin-downable, it shows up at the strangest times, in strange ways, taking flight and reappearing in another form. What makes Prince's story so funny and touching? Maybe it comes down to timing. Love in your 30s feels different from your 50s, love after separation, love after love, after betrayal, after death, each leaves a different imprint on the soul, and a different kind of longing. We all have stories, but after awhile the way we tell them changes.

I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints.
I'm frightened by the devil
and I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid.

The first time I first heard Joni Mitchell's song, "A Case of You," I was around 13 and had never been in love. But right from the start it was my song. I mean, you can't always be in the mood to listen to a melancholy love song, but that was irrelevant. For as long as I can remember, that song has been my touchstone. Anguished, maybe a little embarrassing, but comforting, too, like a beautiful prayer I sing for myself.

          The point is, I'm 53 now, and even after 40 years of life experience, Joni's song was still my song up till last week. 

          The first time I heard Prince's cover of Joni's song, last week, I was transformed. I know that sounds really corny. I know I had probably changed long before but still, without Prince I might never have noticed. With the very first line of "A Case of U," Prince's voice could easily be mistaken for Joni's—but then the earth moves. Breaking through that pure, sweet falsetto the deeply masculine emerges, intimate as pillow talk, from the lower end of his vocal register. 

          He subtly alters the lyrics and some verses are dropped entirely—gone are the bitter lines

          Just before our love got lost you said,"I am as constant as a northern star,"
          and I said,"Constantly in the darkness, where's that at?
          If you want me I'll be in the bar."

Instead he extends the lines

          Remember you told me love is touching souls?
          Surely you've touched mine.
          Part of you pours out of me 
          from time to time in these lines.

          You're in my blood like holy wine, you're so bitter,
          so bitter, so bitter, so sweet and 
          I could drink a case of you, darling
          and still be on my feet, 
          and I'd still be on my feet.

Also, Prince is singing Gospel.

          So the same song, but absolutely different. Prince is still a lonely painter, but he's no longer afraid. That's in the past now. I think if I could use only one word to describe the transformation in Prince's version, it would be matured.

          He could have sung this wearing a purple feather boa and lace gloves, high heels and assless pants, and that still wouldn't be the biggest difference between his rendition and Joni's. 

          When Prince sings it, "A Case of U" is a spiritual. Here, with Prince, these lyrics seem inspired by Rumi, channeling love in all its guises, tapping into the very source of the beloved from within, and turning longing right into praise with every breath. 

          Joni's version ends almost abruptly, the way a candle, or love, sputters out. Prince ends the song in a lower key. His closing bars are a completely different, moodier melody that repeats, insistent, over and over like a promise of returning love. 

          Since the news of Prince's death, I've been listening to this song on repeat, the same way I used to listen to Joni on my record player when I was 13. Like a beautiful prayer we sing together, I feel less alone. There is a plaintive and surprisingly masculine quality in his voice that is so true. It stirs and soothes some deep yearning and I want to stay in touch with it just a little while longer. 

I am a lonely painter, I live in a box of paints.
I used be frightened by the devil and 
drawn to those ones that weren't afraid.


http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/prince-pays-tribute-to-vanity-at-australia-concert-20160217
http://dlisted.com/2016/02/16/prince-said-a-few-words-about-the-death-of-his-protegee-vanity/
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/prince-pays-tribute-to-late-girlfriend-vanity-in-first-show-on-australian-solo-tour/news-story/d80310448ef160275398c7f36d2f221d
http://www.vulture.com/2016/02/prince-pays-tribute-to-vanity-at-solo-concert.html#

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Automaton

A protein designed to ticket germs and junk for destruction had been co-opted by the nervous system to ticket synapses for destruction. “It reinforces an old intuition,” my psychiatrist friend Hans told me. “The secret of learning is the systematic elimination of excess. We grow, mostly by dying.” Siddhartha Mukherjee (“Runs in the Family,” The New Yorker, March 28, 2016)
We thrive on destruction. Right down to our most basic physiology, at a molecular level: we sacrifice in order to thrive. Every day our damaged cells are flushed out, our synapses are pruned, and no one weeps while the ruthless human organism strengthens and refines itself at the expense of its outgrown parts. No, it’s not ruthless—immorality is too sentimental a notion to be applied to these insentient bits—discreet, obedient, innumerable—that comprise the human body—the self—and behave, in concert, like an automaton. 

          Likewise when growth goes unchecked in this microscopic arena, cancers develop and the wellbeing of our organism as a whole is threatened by the chaotic proliferation of cells. Unimpeded growth ultimately overtakes and becomes the destroyer. We are most comfortable discussing cancer as an enemy invader. To envision that chaos always threatens from within is harder. But it's just as inappropriate to attribute ruthlessness to a malignancy as to our daily survival. Nothing personal about it, just doing a job. (Or is that the definition of ruthless?)

          Tonight we're all alone: We all lie down. We close our eyes. And we wage war for eight hours, fighting to the death. And, if we’re lucky, we awaken refreshed and remember nothing.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Museum of Memories

One of a pair of English, hand-colored woodcut engravings, from Valentine Green's 'Death and Life Contrasted—or, An Essay on Man, An Essay on Woman' (1770, London) [Photo courtesy of Sotheby's]

I'd been ruminating, as usual, about how much our homes are like personal museums—they contain our history, but they also reflect our particular passions, obsessions, and personality in ways that extend beyond our physical self and expand our identity. 

          That got me thinking about Anita, who lives in a real, honest-to-God museum, not just a symbolic one—at least I thought she did until I read the headline last night:

IRVIN & ANITA SCHORSCH COLLECTION REAPS 10.3 MILLION AT SOTHEBY'S

          Anita and my art-historian father shared a passion for emblem books and their friendship took off from that point of common interest. Anita collected and my father, a leading iconologist, advised, although Anita had a doctorate from Princeton and was an exceptional scholar in her own right. I discovered she lived in a museum when we were invited to lunch at her home, Hidden Glen Farms, where we dined in a colonial Dutch Room, served by Swedenborgians.

          The photos that follow are mostly from Sotheby's 608-page auction catalogue and real estate listing. I've grouped the photos to highlight the contrast between the lived-in rooms (quoting Sotheby's description of their contents) with the emptied rooms. Like the picture above, "Death and Life Contrasted," this is a way of approaching mortality.


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
As I recall, these were not ordinary sheep. They were of colonial lineage.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
This formal boxwood garden is a colonial design.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Naturally, the American flag at the entrance was Colonial.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
"The entrance to Hidden Glen Farms, where visitors were greeted by a cast-iron dumb stove figure of a robed George Washington, by the Corona Stove Company, Albany, NY, 1848 [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
"The Living Room at Hidden Glen Farms, comprised of predominantly Chippendale furnishings, showcases many of the stylish pieces in the collection, including the Potts Family Chippendale carved and figured mahogany bonnet-top high chest of drawers, carving possibly by 'Nicholas Bernard,' Philadelphia, circa 1765, and the important Patty Reed Chippendale carved and figured mahogany and needlework firescreen, Massachussetts, circa 1788 [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

"The Living Room at Hidden Glen Farms also features elegant paintings by two of America's most renowned portraitists, Charles Wilson Peale's Mrs. Jane Hunter Ewing and John Singleton Copley's Mrs. Joseph Calef (Hannah Jordan) [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
"In keeping with the historic tradition created at Hidden Glen Farms by Irvin and Anita Schorsch, the interior of the Chippendale carved and figured walnut bonnet-top secretary bookcase, Philadelphia, circa 1755, reveals and arrangement of 18th- and 19th-century books, a George III pair of sun spectacles, George I and George II silver tapersticks and a crewelwork pocketbook [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
"Irvin and Anita Schorsch's reimagining of a 17th-18th century Dutch genre painting, Dutch Delft polychrome large punch bowl and blue and white charger, a Dutch brass two-branch candelabrum, a Dutch painted glass and fruitwood birdcage and fishbowl, and the Saltonstall-Lyman Family Pilgrim Century turned and joined oak, maple and pine court cupboard, probably Plymouth County, Massachussetts, circa 1680 [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Antiques and The Arts Weekly
Anita particularly loved early English embroidered needlework caskets, like the sample above, being inspected by a prospective buyer at Sotheby's.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
There might have been upwards of 50,000 dollars worth of samplers and silk embroidery in what appears to be a bathroom.

Photo courtesy of Antiques and The Arts Weekly
Linda Eaton, Winterthur's senior curator of textiles, inspecting a 19th-century painted and silk-embroidered picture at Sotheby's.


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
"The Schorsches rarely utilized the formal dining room in their home, opting instead to eat by candlelight in the Dutch Room or Keeping Room. The dining room, with its corner cupboards filled with Staffordshire salt-glazed stoneware and agateware pieces, showcased an elaborate late 18th-century English tiered cut-glass epergne on the very fine and rare Federal inlaid and highly figured mahogany serpentine-front sideboard, attributed to John Shaw, Annapolis, Maryland, circa 1795 [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Antiques and The Arts Weekly
Above, collectors pose in Sotheby's recreation of Anita's recreation of an early American dining room.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
"Irvin and Anita Schorsch added an 18th-century tavern room, called The Keeping Room, to their home, which included a large fireplace hearth replete with wrought-iron cooking implements, brick floor and hand-hewn beams [Sotheby's]."

"Edwin Brumbaugh designed the authentic Colonial walk-in fireplace with a beehive oven. Many, many loaves of bread have been baked for the family and friends over the years [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
"Having acquired a number of 17th- and 18th-century objects, Irvin and Anita Schorsch decided to add a Hudson River Valley Room to their home, consulting with Charles Hummel from Winterthur Museum and staff of the Albany Institute of History and Art. Architect John Milner was hired to construct what became known as the 'Dutch Room,' and it contained a treasure trove of objects placed to emulate early Dutch houses in New York [Sotheby's]."

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
  
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
The bulk of Anita's library will be auctioned by Sotheby's later this year; among all these books are a few reference books and emblem books that were gifts from my father's library. They will have new life in the hands of scholars and collectors who can make use of them now, but it still feels cold: an empty library.

          Erik Gronning, Head of Sotheby's American Furniture and Decorative Arts Department, gushed, "My concept of ‘living with antiques’ was forever transformed after experiencing the Schorsch Collection firsthand at Hidden Glen Farms. This is a collection for the ages; one that invoked the spirits of the antiques gods of yesteryear..."  


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
          (Someone smoked these pipes and wore these spectacles two hundred years ago.)

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
          (A child put her doll to sleep in this bed 200 hundred years ago.)

          Most of us look at these rooms of antiques and get depressed, groaning, "How ugly, and where do I put my feet up? Where do I get comfy and express myself?" On the other hand, can you imagine living in those rooms, sleeping in the 17th-century bed of a 17th-century person, writing at the desk of an 18th-century writer, knowing the provenance of each item, quietly thrilling at the touch of objects that had been made and used in another century, possessed by people who were once just as real and important as you and I but who died long ago?


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

The circa-1750 Queen Anne bed, pictured above, originally belonged to Revolutionary War General John Thomas, and had also belonged to Anita's oldest son, Irvin III, as a child.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

          I imagine Anita beheld the rooms of her house with a proud sense of responsibility to history, and to the history of every individual who had possessed any of those objects. She was methodically reimagining their lives, the keeper of their flames. I don't think Anita was invoking "the spirits of the antiques gods of yesteryear" as much as invoking specifically human spirits from a particular time and place. It was an obsession, and a true labor of love. Anita was a caretaker of lost souls.

       
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
          (Someone loved this woman from a family named Folwell, loved this gentleman with the kind eyes, and grieved their deaths, two hundred years ago.)


          Surely I'm not entirely projecting my own personal obsession with rescuing the spiritual past onto Anita. I had first heard of Anita in college, a little before my father and she became acquainted. I was studying expressions of mourning in Colonial American folk art and read Anita's book, "Mourning Becomes America: Mourning Art in the New Nation" and was inspired to start my own collection of mourning jewelry. When my father eventually introduced me to Anita I felt like a groupie. She invited me to tag along with my parents to the opening of her Museum of Mourning Art in Drexel Hill, outside of Philadelphia.

Arlington Cemetery at Drexel Hill, The Museum of Mourning Art
    [Photo courtesy of Wikipedia]

Photo courtesy of Bob Kramp
Yes, Anita actually built and filled a museum of mourning art at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, outside of Philadelphia—her family-owned, nondenominational cemetery on 200 acres of land. The museum was completed and opened to the public in 1990, in a structure that replicates Mount Vernon. The building is approached by a circular drive bordered by posts and chains, just like those that line George Washington's actual estate in Virginia. The Washington motif is significant because the collective grief over his death in 1799 had a tremendous impact on representations of death in American art and dramatically affected mourning practices.



Photos courtesy of Sotheby's

          The auction’s last two lots, pictured above—a gold brooch (sold for $47,500) and a ring (sold for $30,000)—are both said to contain strands of George Washington’s hair. "There's no way to prove it but the provenance is very good," Alessandra Merrill of Sotheby's told Antiques and The Arts Weekly.


          Inside the Mount Vernon replica is a chapel modeled after the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. The museum is now closed because half its contents were auctioned at Sotheby's. 

Funeral carriage/horse-drawn hearse   [Photo courtesy of alistasi.com/Rue Morgue Magazine]
Photo courtesy of citypaper.net

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

Photo courtesy of ghost-lounge. blogspot.com
Photo courtesy of scenery.xiyouok.com


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
One of the few remaining cemetery guns in the world. In the 19th-century "resurrection men" stalked cemeteries in search of fresh corpses to sell doctors for dissection. Cemetery guns were placed at graves and rigged with tripwires to discourage grave robbers.
[Photo courtesy of Museum of Mourning Art, Arlington Cemetery]


Mourning art with hair ornamentation                                 [Photo courtesy of scenery.xiyouok.com]

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's


Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

          
Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

When the museum first opened, The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Irvin as saying, "The museum was designed to be uplifting, not depressing. We expect groups to come on tour, by appointment. And when they see how beautifully the cemetery is landscaped and kept, they will be impressed. Funeral Directors have asked if they can use Arlington in their advertising and people are already asking if they can hold a wedding here."

          Conversely, Charles Hummel, curator emeritus and adjunct professor at the Winterthur Museum, who had consulted on the design of Hidden Glen's Dutch Room, wrote, "The decision to offer their collection at auction is in keeping with the way that Irvin and Anita Schorsch conducted their lives. They were givers, not takers. This sale, then, represents their final effort at sharing" (from the Hyperallergic article).

          Maybe so, I hope so. But my heart says no. I want to imagine a conversation, in a manner that conveys both practical and spiritual urgency, where Anita states her desire to have her collections cast back out into the world again upon her death. It's entirely possible such a conversation occurred. It could not have been easy for her sons, and yet, what a relief...to be instructed to respect the boundary between past and present, between her life and theirs.

          I notice that several years before his mother's death, one of the sons published an article titled "Five Essential Questions to Ask Your Senior Parents." In it, he writes, "It’s important for you to not only know who is managing your parents’ investments, but also to have an understanding about your parents’ values and desires regarding the distribution of their assets. You may be surprised by the discussions you can have with your parents about the future and the legacy they wish to leave [italics mine]." 


It turns out my heart was dead wrong: During the sale, Irvin III spoke with Antiques and The Arts Weekly, "I got a few treasures. I hope that other family members picked up some things of sentimental interest" (from MyInform article). Furthermore, the over-a-thousand lots offered had no reserve price (meaning many items were sold at far below their estimated sales price instead of being held back and returned to the heirs). I guess inheritance tax on 10 million dollars worth of antiques would also be incentive to sell.


Why is it I'm constitutionally unfit to sell my family home and let go of some of my parents' collections, and excessive "stuff"? Unlike Hidden Glen Farms, my house is a 1910 Dutch Colonial in suburban New Jersey, and it's falling apart. I can't afford to make repairs and barely manage the property taxes. Selling and downsizing is a financial necessity for me, yet I continue to struggle at an impasse.

          For the Schorsch heirs, money is decidedly not an issue—Anita's children are billionaires in their own right. (Although a few months after Anita's death, Investment News published a brutal article about the financial problems of son Nicholas, "How Nick Schorsch Lost his Mojo.") The family is loving and close, large and devoted. I have fond memories of Anita and Irvin's tradition of bringing their many grandchildren caroling to my parents' house at Christmastime before they continued to McCarter Theater to watch The Nutcracker. Yet in record time (under a year!) the children were able to dispose of three museums' worth of their parents' stuff (there was also a beach house filled with nautical antiques), and place the family home on the market. Obviously, they don't associate the memory of their parents with their parents' stuff. They are presumably able to honor their parents' memory in meaningful way—without confusing the material and the spiritual.

          I respect it, of course—and even envy the sense of freedom from material and emotional burdens—but I can't help but grieve for Anita's collections, so lovingly and earnestly amassed over decades. What a rare, generous person she was—who spoke so beautifully at my father's memorial service—but my memories are too ephemeral. I look at a picture of that prim, elegant, almost shockingly curvaceous highboy that I believe had been a particularly cherished possession in her bedroom, and I recall her Jackie O-vibe, the low, steady sound of her voice, fiercely intelligent and self-assured, sometimes witty, and always calm and poised.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
I find it impossible to prevent myself from re-collecting Anita's dispersed collections in my own way. The pictures of the empty rooms of her house are so moving and evocative, like a body without a spirit. Another person might look at them as awaiting new life, new inhabitants, new memories. That's a wonderfully inspiring way of viewing, it's just not my way. I prefer the abandoned rooms beside images of the lives they once so graciously housed.

Photo courtesy of Sotheby's

The Sotheby's real estate listing for Hidden Glen Farms ends with this photo, captioned, "These 11 sheep are available and have expressed a wish to remain."

The only picture of Anita I could find on the internet was
buried beneath images of antique furniture [Google+]


Bibliography:

"A Farm Sale Like No Other," by Laura Beach, MyInforms.com.
http://myinforms.com/en-us/a/23339478-a-farm-sale-like-no-other/

"Five Essential Questions to Ask Your Senior Parents," by Irvin Schorsch III, The Huffington Post, June 7, 2011.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irvin-g-schorsch/senior-parents_b_868837.html

"Irvin and Anita Schorsch Collection Reaps $10.3 Million at Sotheby's," by Laura Beach, Antiques and The Arts Weekly.
http://www.antiquesandthearts.com/a-farm-sale-like-no-other/

"Mementoes of Grief Go to Auction from the US's Only Museum for Mourning Art," by Allison Meier, Hyperallergic, January 20, 2016.
http://hyperallergic.com/269109/mementoes-of-grief-go-to-auction-from-the-uss-only-museum-for-mourning-art/

"Mourning-Art Museum Opens at a Cemetery," by Lita Solis-Cohen, The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 23, 1990.
http://articles.philly.com/1990-09-23/news/25877044_1_enameled-rings-mourning-art-hearse

Mourning Becomes America: Mourning art in the new nation, Anita Schorsch, Main Street Press, 1976.

"Museum of Mourning Art: Arlington Cemetery exhibit dedicated to death and grieving," Atlas Obscura.
http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/museum-of-mourning-art 

The Schorsch Collection: An Eye for Americana 
http://www.sothebys.com/en/news-video/slideshows/2016/schorsch-collection-hidden-glen-farms-interiors.html#

Sotheby’s Auction Results—Property from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch: Hidden Glen Farms
http://www.sothebysrealty.com/eng/sales/detail/180-l-4091-kqwy7r/hidden-glen-meadowbrook-pa-19046

Sotheby's to Offer One of the Greatest Collections of Americana Ever Assembled: PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF IRVIN AND ANITA SCHORSCH