What is a road trip without detours? Well, first off, it's probably not a road trip. It's just a drive -- from where here is to wherever there is going to be.
When I began my Daily Practice of Joy, detours became not only an essential part of every road trip, but sometimes the whole drive actually became one long detour. This last drive, however -- from New York to Cleveland, from Cleveland to Indianapolis, from Indianapolis to Oklahoma City -- except for a few back roads, I was pretty intent on just getting where I was going each day.
For years now, people have been asking me whether I have visited the Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. I guess they figured that, as a lifelong art lover, a passionate regional museum advocate, and a frequent cross country driver, surely I had. But nope.
In March, when I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, for a couple of days, I thought surely this will be my chance. But I was headed to Austin, the weather was bad, and it was just far enough out of my way to take a pass. This week, all that changed.
On Wednesday, my plan had been to stop in St Louis. But I had forgotten about the time change and hadn't take into account a heatwave. When I got there, I was way too early, and the pavement was literally too hot for my dog Allie's little feet. So, I waved hello and goodbye to the Arch, and on I forged to Joplin, where I spent the night.
The next morning, lo and behold, Bentonville, Arkansas, was a mere one hour south. So, after a full morning of writing and phone meetings, off I went. A quick little pop in, I thought, then I'll be on my way.
Four hours later, I left with a grin a mile wide -- refreshed, as I always am, by art and by the spontaneity of a road trip detour.
You see, detours aren't merely about deviating from the plan -- though that is certainly one of their greatest benefits. Any time we allow ourselves to tear ourselves away from all the shoulds of a plan -- no matter how necessary or sensible that plan may be -- we open ourselves up to change. A change of perspective, of mood, of idea, of our outer and inner landscapes.
Yesterday, I was, well, just plain old blue. For no one huge reason, but just blue enough to feel like a big old funk was coming on. Art, I thought. Go see some art. Discover someplace new. Be curious, be adventurous, be you.
Because museums were my dad's church, entering them always feels like a holy and sacred experience. Because he was an early and vocal advocate of the importance of American and indigenous art when most people still believed that European art was the only true art, I have a deep knowledge and love of American art. Walking through the collection at Crystal Bridges was like discovering amazing things I didn't know about some very very old friends. The collection was superb, wide ranging; surprisingly inclusive of women, Native Americans, and people of color; and superb. There was some delightful surprises -- pieces I had only seen in reproductions, never in person. The Moshe Safdie architecture was stunning and beautifully right. Plus every single person I met was just delightful.
As a perk, there was a Chihuly exhibition. Now I have seen enough Chihuly (who, let's face it, might just be the most prolific artist in the world) in my lifetime not to need to see any more. But I was there to see, so see I did. Both the indoor and outdoor installations were a sumptuous treat.
As a longtime Pendleton blanket collector and lover, I was delighted to see Chihuly's own comprehensive and gorgeous collection displayed across a huge wall in front of the glass pieces that that same collection had inspired him to create. And walking through the forest above the museum to view his outdoor installations was equally delightful.
I made many new friends. The Cincinnati artist, John Henry Twachtman, whose huge painting, Arques-la-Bataille, at the Met has become one of my core spiritual art pilgrimages, was well represented at Crystal Bridges by an equally abstract painting of the waterfall at Yosemite. The museum had the biggest collection of Heade nature studies I have ever seen -- and I have pored over the collection at Boston's MFA to my heart's content over the years. Heade's luminosity and love of nature always bring me joy. But these hummingbirds were just plain awesome! The contemporary collection is excellent, but perhaps even more importantly, very educational for visitors who might know nothing about art at all. To my mind, breaking down any barriers smacking of elitism, which allow timid museumgoers the excuse to disengage, is one of the most vital aspects of any museum mission.
But I think the surprising highlight for me was seeing Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter. I had read that it was in the collection and thought, Well, that will be fun to see. No more, no less. It was more than fun. It was pure joy! First of all, not only is the canvas enormous, but so is Rosie. She is a big, and I mean monumental, strong, tough, wise, smirking, powerful "dame" eating a ham sandwich with her 100-plus pound riveting machine casually laid across her lap, with her penny loafers firmly bearing down on a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. She is, in a much overused but here totally apt word -- AWESOME!
In Rockwell's painting, Rosie is a force to be reckoned with -- yet not at all shocked at her own power. She looks like she could have taken on Hitler single handed and bested him (a very appealing idea). But the larger message is that Rosie, representing all the women who, as the original model for the painting Mary Doyle said, "gave up their nail polish" to join the war effort, knew her place and her power without apology! I got the feeling that, were Rockwell still alive, this past January we would have seen Rosie resurrected in a fabulous pink knit cap with ears.
I guess I had always felt Rockwell's view of America a little too saccharine for my taste. Too perfect, albeit sometimes wry. Now I am compelled to go back and look a little more deeply at the oeuvre of Mr. Rockwell. And I am looking forward to it. But my reassessment of Rockwell was not my main message for the day.
As any of you who regularly read this blog know, learning to see is very very important to me. Going to museums always teaches me how to look with new eyes -- but not just at art, but at myself. Even though I am intentionally homeless and living on the road, even I can just get into a groove. Taking this detour shifted my whole mood, forced me to think with a more open mind about the family whose money created this museum, and reminded me of why I am on this road trip in the first place: To move through the world with an expectancy of good in myself, in my life, in others, and in the world.
I'll be honest. Driving through the back roads these days, one feels the divisiveness gripping America far more than one used to -- and it is dis-heart-ening. By that I mean, sometimes I have to tune out from the messages I see all around me in America's Heartland just to make it from Point A to Point B. It breaks my heart to feel that we are moving backwards into fear instead of forwards into Love.
But yesterday, I felt what my dad always told me he felt when he went into a museum: Art is the hope of the world. It is a statement of our investment in the creativity and connection we desire as human beings -- with one another, with the planet, and with our belief in Love.
I was reminded to hold steadfastly to the truth I have always believed: The daily acts of lovingkindness that are happening all over our planet, even as I write this, will always all ways outweigh even the most egregious and seemingly spectacular acts of hate.
Trust this -- the Universe seemed to whisper to me yesterday. Trust that Love is like Rosie the Riveter -- Bigger, stronger, wiser, funnier, and better than any puerile pamphleteer of vitriol, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and hate. What if, the Universe continued, this is actually a necessary detour -- reminding us that Love never alters when it altercation finds? Love is bigger than the apparent forces of history -- but it is up to us, each of us, to love this world back whole!
Turns out, I took that detour because Rosie had a message for me yesterday: Put on your Big Girl Boots and stride out into the world so you can help rivet it back together with Love.
I will, Rosie. I will.