It was snowing.
Whenever it snows I like to take the day off and work myself into an altered state. The easiest way to do that is to slip a solid hit of LSD on the tongue and watch life swirl into a painting. As happenstances would have it, I had no such Jedi mind tricks stashed away. Usually a cornucopia awaits the desire for expanded consciousness; but for one reason or another, I had no magic mushrooms either, not even a hit of weed. My stash for a snowy day was non-existent.
I racked my brain for what else was available.
I opted out of drinking beer because beer was too lazy for the likes of the day I wanted to pursue. I wanted a snow adventure. I didn’t want to get all sleepy and I didn’t want to deal with the rip-roaring hangover of a hop drenched day binging into the night guzzling all my dreams away in a sputtering daze. I wanted to be swept up in clarity. I wanted whimsy. I wanted big crystalline snowflakes falling fat and fucking heavy like the goddess sharing knowledge in slow motion wormholes ripped from the sky.
With my entheogen options shot, I decided to meditate.
I lit a bundle of mugwort and sat down with nothing else but my breath.
I don’t know how long I sat on my folded up purple blanket, but I heard a lot of conversations pass by my window. People talking on phones. People rapping. People walking together in solidarity through the snow. The mailman stopped by and clinked the mail slot with unnecessary junk mail. Sparrows fluttered and shouted happily in the tree outside. The sweet smell of mugwort tickled my olfactory glands and unveiled my third eye.
I felt my back straighten and my chest broaden. My body relaxed and I knew that was enough. When I emerged from the meditation my feet gripped the floor like suction cups on the ends of frog toes. I felt grounded. Light.
I walked down to the kitchen to make myself something hot to drink and to my absolute amazement a rumble of thunder shook the house and sky. It was astounding. The world was so incredibly silent and, as the flakes flew down like monsters, the thunder rumbled with the laughter of ancient gods. It was the first and only time I experienced the thunder of snow.
The experience was made all the more special by the kitchen itself. The kitchen was not only a place of fire and creation for me, it was a place of early morning peace with early morning sun alighting through the windows.
Such a moment called for a dark cup of coffee.
Before heading out for the day I put an hour into cleaning. It was the best and worst decision because I found a small bag of cocaine tucked away in the corner of an end table. I don’t know where it came from. I’ve never spent a dime on cocaine. Never have, never will, but I thought what the hell. A trickster wanted me to have fun.
I blew the whole bag.
I thought I was going to have a heart attack.
I thought I was walking on god.
The thoughts passed very quickly. I was high as the French revolution lopping off the heads of the rich and I sped right along into the winter air. Whipped by the blizzard. Satisfied. Snow blind.
It was best I didn’t spare much time thinking too hard. I recalled the last time I bumped a single line of cocaine. I was in college and lost my whole damn self on a word. A word. That’s right, a word. I was writing poetry and the word, whatever the hell it was, I still don’t know to this very day, wouldn’t slip off my tongue. It was the perfect word. It had to be. It was going to complete a perfect poem. The word sat there invisible taunting me at the edge of my mind, teasing me, playing childish games of hide and seek. I cursed and flailed my arms. That was it. I lost it all right there. Every last marble. Nuts and bolts and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again. I was cracked up. Off my rocker. To think, one line of coke had me ripping up paper and throwing pens against the wall, and ten years later I thought it a brilliant idea to blow through an entire bag of white powder. There was reason enough- my brains inside needed to reflect the snow outside.
Without a thought in sight I blitzed downtown toward the art museum. I leapt and bounded in giant steps. I felt like a yeti. Paul Bunyan. Casey Jones. The abominable snowman. I hurtled over buildings and small children.
At one point along my sojourn I ran into a guy named Carl. I don’t know if that was his name, I never asked him and he never said it, but he looked like a Carl. Or a Mike. Or a Joe. We’ll call him Mike. No. Joe. I believe his name was Joe. Joe was from the suburbs and he liked to take the train into the city to wander the streets high on meth. I shit you not. He revealed this within moments of crossing paths. He was flown, and momentarily, we were kindred spirits flying together through the dappled stars. He was a relatively small guy and he wore a scarf that was comically large. That scarf had a mind of its own. It tugged him along and spun him in circles. He lost himself in trees tangled like a wayward kite disappointing the child who had hopes and dreams of flying so high it would pull her to the moon.
We walked for too long together. We were quite the sight along the parkway. The main attraction. My eyes bugged three feet outside my head and Joe talked about Jesus Christ hiding in the bushes and demons poking him with sticks. People parted like the Red Sea as we passed. They gave us 20 feet on either side and glared at us like hungry lizards.
By the time we reached the art museum steps my high was wearing very thin and Joe was going on about his drunk father and all the shame he felt for “messing up” as a kid. He had all kinds of shadows hovering around his spinning head. I felt bad for him but didn’t have the capacity to spend the rest of the day playing therapist and certainly didn’t care to prolong my chemical binge and become his partner-in-crime sussing out the next dragon to chase but never slay.
We parted ways.
He appeared hurt when I told him I wanted to be alone, but very quickly he laughed maniacally, said he was really Jesus Christ, and ran off like the impish Charles Manson.
Atop the steps of the museum, free of any pedestrian hitchhikers, I stared at the skyline covered in a cloud of snow. It was wondrous. A dream.
Inside the art museum, a couple of staff members kindly directed me downstairs to a lounge for members of the museum. My luck kept turning. I had no idea such a perk awaited me at the other end of this quest for the holy grail of snow days. I fell in love with that lounge. It felt like a well-kept secret. An underworld wrapped in art books and café-styled tables and chairs. A den beneath the mythic giants of painters and sculptors burbling with the subconscious charge of every dream I’ve ever dreamed about basements. That lounge was like stepping back in time, into the underground and the unknown. Into hazy hallways, smoke-filled and coveted.
Such a moment called for another cup of coffee.
The coffee perked me right up. I shook off the snow and found myself meandering the great halls with no attachment to any painting or sculpture, until I stopped in front of Vincent van Gogh’s painting entitled Enclosed Wheatfield in the Rain.
I was stunned.
The artist’s representation of rain slashed at my heart. The anguish and utter peace of the painting poured forth from the frame and tore me apart. I was broken and enraged. Tears welled up and I tried to choke them back but they streamed forward like a miniature waterfall gushing from my face. Who was this man and how could his art strike me so deeply so quickly? I stared into the painting endlessly. The lines of rain reached out and pulled me in. I was lost. Soaking wet.
When I regained some semblance of clarity, I read the small placard next to the painting regarding Van Gogh’s time in the asylum hospital at St. Remy and the wheat field outside his window, specifically its thematic connection to manual workers and toil. I couldn’t keep it together. I wailed. I wept loudly like an old man at the end of a hard life without a friend alive to reflect on the memories or share the little joys. Only death. I cowered at the power of a brush.
“You think?” I said through bleary eyes and puffed up eyelids. My nose ran religiously. God, I was ugly.
“Here’s a handkerchief.” She stood in front of the painting too.
I took her offering and blew my nose. It echoed the relatively quiet halls of art. After several loud honks I handed it back to her. There was a little bit of blood and the faint remnants of cocaine streaking the fabric like a Rorschach.
She waved a hand at me, “It’s okay. Keep it.”
I shrugged my shoulders and stuffed the hanky into a pocket. “Thanks.”
“He was brilliant, wasn’t he? Still is,” she suggested.
“Van Gogh. The painting you’ve been gushing over.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” I stuttered. “Look at it.”
She nodded, “I am. That’s exactly what I am doing. Looking at it.”
“I’m a mess. Look at me.”
“I see you too,” she laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. Nothing. Well, actually, you. You’re funny.” She shook her head with a smile. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be mean,” she said with genuine apology in her voice.
After a moment she asked, “Are you familiar with the term empathy? Where it came from?”
“I know the word, but no, I don’t know its history.”
“I read it came from the art world. It describes how we look into a work of art. How we sense into the meaning, the symbols, lines, and colors. How we feel and see into and become a part of the art. Einfühlung. The original in German.”
“Huh.” I said.
“I don’t know if Van Gogh cried a whole lot, but you certainly spilled enough tears for him and the rest of the museum. I wouldn’t be surprised if I looked in your eyes and saw his image reflected back at me.”
Her words cheered me up a slight bit.
“But that’s great art, isn’t it? Forever in the act of creation. Even a century and a quarter later it has the vitality to bring a grown person to uncontrollable blubbering in public,” she said.
I looked around and remembered we were not alone, and as much as I questioned her existence, this was a real person speaking to me, not some phantasm of my own cocaine addled creation showing up to comfort me in a moment of deep realization and despair.
“You’re coming with me,” she said.
“What?” The welling up of dormant emotions still minorly incapacitated my ability to coherently socialize.
“Come with me. I’m Charlie,” she said.
I trailed behind her, and before I knew it, Charlie and I were dancing around the museum in a mad frenzy. The artwork burst to life. We spun in a whirlwind.
“Yes. What of him?” I asked.
“You find pleasure in his work?”
“Of course.” I responded.
“One of my favorite movements. Hands down.”
“What would you call a new art movement today?” she asked.
I thought about it. “I don’t know. Can’t say I’ve given it much thought. You mean specifically in painting, or art in general?”
“Whatever,” she said.
“Well there’s a lot of collage and sampling, mixed media art, and mass production, especially with technology nowadays. And everything’s so fleeting. Trends come and go and flash before the eyes and die into the graveyard heap of the internet. I don’t know. What do you think?”
“How about the Ephemeralists?” she suggested.
“Hm. Ephemeralism. There’s a ring to it. Sort of captures a twilight of magic reborn in the post-industrial milieu,” I said.
“I don’t think we’re quite out of the industrial age, but we are certainly teetering. I get the sense we’re all lost and uncertain, but the Lost Generation is already taken. I suppose time is nonlinear and art movements weave through the ages. Quite like surrealism. There’s a lot of that now,” she said.
“And Dada and the absurd,” I added.
“We are culminating in endless experimentation seeking what hasn’t been produced, yet repeating and riffing off the past and reproducing, reproducing, reproducing. It’s inescapable,” she said.
“What about graffiti and street art?” I asked.
“It’s fleeting. Ephemeral,” she said. “Up one minute, buffed over the next.”
I thought for a moment. “The irony of Ephemeralism is the actual ephemera is fading away too. Hardcopy photos are disappearing into digital wastelands. Postcards and handwritten letters are less and less popular.”
“The old world is dying,” she said.
“And we are ushering in its death.”
We took a break to visit the lounge to re-up on coffee and then walked outside to cool off in the winter temperatures. We danced in the snow, twirled, and laughed like the followers of Dionysus drunk on the spirit of artists.
What a day chalked up to the winter vortex.
Now every time I return to the art museum I ask about the lounge but they tell me no such lounge exists.