I had a partner who told me that my nickname should be Yeah But.
Although I no longer remember whatever equivocating response evoked my new nickname, I remember precisely where I was walking and exactly how it felt.
It stung the way only kindly-spoken truths can.
And. I’m sorry to say. My response was. Yeah. But.
Many years have passed. I wish I could tell you that that moment provoked an epiphany, and Yeah But was phased out of my ontological vocabulary. In fact, it went the other direction. Yeah But speedbumped me into Maybe which led to I Don’t Know. From there is was just a quick slide into the quicksand of No, where I remained mired for far too long.
It took this blog to become my lifeline out of that life-sucking muck. My Yes has returned, but not by hitting the rewind button and repeating all the maybes and yeah buts in reverse, rather with my commitment to a full-throttle pedal to the metal yes yes yes yes yes.
Every time I stand up to speak or sit down to write about JOY, I never know what’s going to come out. That’s the beauty of it. Joy is teaching me what it is, and here’s some of what I’ve learned: Joy is not a halfway house on the high road to Heaven. Joy is the whole damn enchilada Christmas with an egg on top, the walk-off homer at the bottom of the ninth and the single to start the game, the road trip the radio and the surprise rainbow out the rear view mirror. Joy is Yes and Yes is Joy!
I got this in my One Spirit Seminary email this morning: “... joy comes in many different flavors. And it can look very different from person to person ... For some people it's an energetic radiance; for others it's a quiet feeling of connection. Joy can arise as a belly laugh, or as a serenely contented smile that accepts life just as it is. We experience a profound joy when we let ourselves be touched by beauty and nature. We can feel an energetic lightness when we let ourselves be touched by beauty and nature. We can feel an energetic lightness when we let ourselves be silly and playful. Acting with generosity or compassion uplifts our hearts, as does ... living with integrity. ... We each have our own ways of experiencing and expressing joy ... Your happiness may not look like someone else's, but you can find the expression that is uniquely yours.”
This blog, Camp Vincent Part 2 -- and there will be a Part 3 -- is about that “uniquely yours” piece. . .which I learned in the most beautiful way when a group of relative strangers came together from all over the world to celebrate the UK legacy of a man who knew how to say yes, who has given millions of people joy for over eight years — my father, Vincent Price: Master of Menace, Lover of Life!
And yes, this blog is yet another Love Story. Because call it what you like, what is joy except Love writ large in our lives. . .
Speaking of which, I am, by nature, a matchmaker — and not always in the romantic sense. I am a dog matchmaker — i have found many many people their canine companions. I am a colleague matchmaker — I love introducing like-minded people who do similar things in the world to one another so that they can find ways to collaborate. And I am a friend matchmaker — I love intuiting that certain people will enjoy one another’s company. Even when I owned a gallery and threw large parties, people told me that coming there was way better than e-Harmony! For me, it's all about connection!
So before Camp Vincent, I anticipated certain people would make wonderful connections. What I didn’t realize is that so would I!! When we came together, I knew some people, Peter knew others. By the time we said our good byes five days later, we had become a tribe united in our unique expressions of joy and yes.
As someone who has made her living as a biographer, I know better than most that everyone has a story. But sometimes I fall into the trap of Hollywoodizing people, reducing their complexities to a facile movie script with a two-hour story arc. Of course, in the process I don’t get to enjoy all the twists and turns of the real life plot lines we actually experience. Spending five days together, we all learned so much about one another as we gradually came to trust and know each other, and the joy it brought me was immense.
At the end of my dad’s life, he told me that he wanted to have a giant garage sale to sell off his life effects. i had a few at friends’ houses in Los Angeles before I left, and then when eBay came into being, it became my global garage sale. I have met so many wonderful people through eBay — and have had the immense pleasure of seeing collectors from around the world create wonderful mini-museums to my father’s life and cultural contributions.
Not only did I meet Peter through eBay. . .and you’ve heard all about Peter in my last blog. . .but I also met Bryan, Gregg and Natasha. This blog is about them! Next week our Camp Vincent series will conclude with my adventures with the other girls on the trip — Lucy, Nancy and Beatriz —from Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Buenos Aires!!
Gregg bought many things from me over the years on eBay, but I met he and his wife Natasha for the first time in Waco, Texas, when they drove up for the day from Austin to meet me at a horror convention. The three of us went out for coffee together, and it was definitely the brightest spot in my Waco weekend! A year later, I stopped by their house on a trip to Austin to drop off some boxes of old newspaper clippings for Gregg that he generously agreed to take off my hands.
Unbeknownst to Gregg, we had a mutual passion — poster art. It was the first thing I collected as a teenager continuing into adulthood, aided and abetted by my “art pusher” father, who was delighted to have a daughter who was as interested in art as he. I loved then and still love now the graphic arts (and I had the chance to learn more about it when I made my living in my twenties doing the print advertising for a number of movie studies). I know just enough to make me dangerous, as every graphic designer who had worked with me will tell you. I adore posters as one of the most accessible and affordable ways all of us can enjoy the power of art!
So when I walked into Gregg and Natasha’s living room and saw their floor to ceiling incredible poster collection, I immediately fell in love with them. OMG! Their collection is amazing, stupendous, and gorgeous. Anyone who is willing to cover every square inch of wall space with art is alright in my book! I knew we would be kindred spirits. When the told me that they were planning on coming to London, I was overjoyed.
As the child of divorce, I have a certain cynicism about married life that I try hard to overcome. The best cure for my cynicism is meeting couples like Gregg and Natasha, who genuinely love another — not in a saccharinely cloying Hallmark card way — but with honesty, humor, shared passions and genuine affection. It was Gregg’s first trip abroad, and Natasha’s opportunity to show him her home country — she is British, but has lived in the US since childhood. I think all of us were so grateful for their presence on the trip. . .
We had two Greg’s on our trip — and just to complicate matters, Greg with one G is also from Austin. He is the only person on the trip I knew well. He has been a client and a friend for quite a while. We have traveled together, and we share many mutual passions — especially sports, travel, and art. What Greg is not is a Vincent Price fan in particular. He came because he is an adventurous spirit who loves to see the world. This is a man who went to Turkey for three days over Thanksgiving break (instead of eating one!) because, well, he could! His adventures are legendary, and I knew that he and Peter would enjoy swapping tales of their global travel. Everyone enjoyed Greg’s quiet enthusiasm and subtle humor throughout the trip, but the treat for me was to share a completely different kind of experience with someone whose travel style is so much like mine. Our next adventure is Cuba in March, a benefit trip for the Vincent Price Art Museum. I can hardly wait!
Bryan and I have had the privilege of spending many lovely meals together on two continents. But like first dates, we were both on our best behavior. So one of the greatest delights of this trip was learning that Bryan is a walking encyclopedia of witty utterly useless but completely fascinating trivia all delivered with understated and wry humor and a completely endearing grin. He is also a genuine expert on many things that we all wanted to know. . .English history, film and theatre, all manner of bird and plant life, and, of course, Vincent Price. But for me Bryan’s shining moment happened at the Courtauld Institute — where my father studied art history in the 1930s.
We were standing on the upper staircase outside a small gallery showing the work of Bridget Riley, a contemporary British artist I love. So I thought I would blather on a bit about her work before we went in. Suddenly the most extraordinary woman walked out of a small hall and toward our group. I could see her, but the others could not, and so, when I stopped mid-sentence and my jaw dropped, they must have thought I had lost my mind. Then she walked through the tight passageway right through the middle of our group, and everyone else’s jaws dropped. By the time we had regained the power of speech, she was long gone.
“OH - MY - GOD,” I said. “Wasn’t she amazing?”
Everyone nodded in complete wonder and astonishment at the vision that had just passed through our midst.
Suddenly I realized: “I wish we could have had our photo taken with her!”
That’s when Bryan sprang into action. He tracked her down her three galleries away, told her that our group was here celebrating Vincent Price’s UK legacy, and asked her if she would be willing to have her photo taken with us. Who could refuse Bryan’s English schoolboy charm! She agreed!!!
Now what you need to know is that I grew up with two women of immense style. My mother was a costume and fashion designer, and my stepmother, Coral Browne, regularly made the list of London’s ten best dressed women. I have had the privilege of counting among my friends a number of exceptional people, such as Joan Juliet Buck, the only American editor of French Vogue, who know a thing or two about fashion. I have lived in Paris, in Rome, in London, New York, and LA, where you see gorgeous women in amazing clothes every day. But I don’t think I have ever seen style worn with the pure confident chic of this extraordinary woman. It oozed out of every fiber of her garment, feather of her hat, and ounce of her being.
The inimitable John Galliano said, “The joy of dressing is an art.” What a pleasure to have spent even a few moments in the company of someone who understands and lives that joyful art!
She was charming in person, gracious and funny in her acknowledgement of her fandom of my father (“Camp doesn’t even begin to cover it,” was her witty assessment. . .), before wafting off into another part of the gallery, forever to live on in our delighted group memory.
Whatever inspired that glorious lady to don her emerald outfit that morning, it is unlikely that she could have imagined the alchemical effect it would have on a group of travelers in an art museum. In the moment that her sheer élan rendered me mute and then dominoed out to the rest of our friends, something happened. We shared sheer joy in the unlikely having of someone so purely glamorous in our midst. And then, when Bryan leapt into action and united us for that utterly gleeful photograph capturing the moment, all the walls came down.
After that, we laughed our way through a glorious lunch at the Tate Modern and went on to bond in ways none of us could have imagined.
There was something magical about that moment that became a turning point for our group: We went from a group of strangers getting to know one another in a foreign city to become a tribe. It all comes back to joy — the glorious life-altering trickle-down effect of joy!
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the quotes on my social media pages are all from the amazing poet Mary Oliver. Here is the quote from my Twitter page:
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.”
Here is the rest of the quote: “There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
Our Lady in Emerald proved to us all not only that joy is never a crumb, but that it is the catalyst where love begins. I think our whole group will always bless that mysterious and marvelous vision in green who united us all in joy. A joy that continues despite the miles now between us, and will never be able to be taken away. Such is the Power of Joy!
Stay tuned for more joy and love in Camp Vincent: Part Three next weekend!