Sunday, May 8, 2011

Halfway There

On the Road

I’m writing this post in New York City, which, for anyone new to this space, is my hometown and continues to be the one place I can go to remember who I am, how I got there and where I need to go next. My experiences at the Somerville Open Studios last weekend left me feeling a little deflated but not defeated. After so many weeks of working with such passion and focus towards a specific goal, I suppose I expected an equally intense, immediate and obvious reward, but it turns out the true meaning and effects of that weekend may take many months to declare themselves. It was not an arrival, but a departure.

Gibson, Inc.
Archtop Guitar, L-5 model (serial number 87083)
, 1928
Spruce, maple, ebony, steel, celluloid, mother-of-pearl; sunburst finish; 8 1/4 x 6 x 24 1/2 in. (21 x 15.2 x 62.2 cm)
Private Collection

My first day here I went directly to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view the show Guitar Heroes, a wonderful exhibit featuring amazing instruments created by Italian and Italian American luthiers, ranging from a late 16th century lute through several Stradivarius violins to a 2008 archtop guitar. You can see some of these objects here but the show runs through July so if you are in NYC, I recommend you go. Anyone who loves guitars, music or art will be thrilled. I actually felt a little chill running through me when I stood in front of the Gibson pictured above.

Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010)
The Horn of Plenty
, autumn/winter 2009–10
Black duck feathers

“It is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholy but romantic at the same time. It is the end of a cycle—everything has to end. The cycle of life is positive because it gives room for new things.”
- Alexander McQueen, Drapers, February 20, 2010

In the gift shop of the guitar exhibit, in which I spent almost as much time as the show itself, I struck up a delightful conversation with two lovely ladies, the cashier and a nearby guard, both of them lifelong New Yorkers. I was intending to view a small photography show next, but they recommended the newly opened Alexander McQueen retrospective, Savage Beauty. Again, if you are in NYC anytime between now and July, I urge you to see this show. I knew that this talented fashion designer and artist in his own right had committed suicide last year at the age of 40, but I was not familiar with his work, hauntingly beautiful, outrageous and provocative creations that seem to come from our worst nightmares, strangest fantasies and most fragile dreams. Such a wild free imagination clearly could not have found peace in this world and his tragically premature death makes more sense to me now. The presentation of the show was as dramatic as the works themselves, as if you were visiting a palace out of a Gothic novel. There was one installation featuring a tiny hologram projection of a woman dancing in slow motion inside a glass pyramid, swirling her flowing dress around her while John Williams’ theme from Schindler’s List played in the background. It brought tears to my eyes, and I realized, just as with the chills provoked by the vintage Gibson guitar, that I have not been so deeply touched and moved by art, or by anything really, in far too long.  Read about the show and view a video of the installation here.

One of the things I’ve been struggling with this past year, readers of this space will know, was having to give up doing marathons as a result of an injured knee. Perhaps that explains in part why the sensation of an utterly transcendent experience has been missing from my life for so long. My journey as an endurance athlete began, where else? in my native city in 1999 when I first attempted an event called The Great Saunter, a 32 mile walk around the perimeter of Manhattan island. I’ve started and completed this walk 5 times, and attribute to it the confidence required to begin walking official roadraces alongside runners a few years ago and eventually taking up running myself.  Saunterers come in all shapes, ages and sizes and there are no time clocks or mile markers along the route. You leave the South Street Seaport at 7:30 am, and you return there from 9 to 12 hours later, or however long it takes you. The only reward is being able to say you walked around the whole island, and a signed certificate from the club president handed out at the after party at the local brewery. You can read more about this excellent group here .  They do hikes and walks all over the New York area throughout the year to promote fitness, outdoor activity and keeping walkways and waterfronts open to pedestrians. Enjoyment is far more important than athletic prowess.


I wish I could report completing Saunter Number Six, but unfortunately my lack of recent training, weight gain, and still unstable knee began to show after 10 miles, and I made the decision at the halfway mark to call it quits. This is the first time in my brief career as an endurance athlete that I have dropped out of any event. My motto was always “DNF (did not finish) is NOT an option." But yesterday, a wise voice inside me said that 16 miles on a bad knee and carrying extra weight after a very stressful year of inactivity was plenty to be proud of. Could I have summoned stubborn pride and pushed myself another 16 miles? Probably. Would I have enjoyed it? Probably not. I might even have caused further damage to my knee and thus further delay my return to regular fitness activities. So, just like the New York Times Saturday crossword puzzle I was able to work on when I came home earlier than expected, a feat as notoriously difficult as circumambulating Manhattan island, I am content with getting only halfway through.

 Doors of Perception

This made me ponder the nature of the goals I set myself. A wise person once said that it is better to aim high and miss than to aim low and hit the mark. In many ways this past year I have been conceiving and undertaking things most people would never imagine or attempt. The spirit of artists like the ones whose works I viewed at the museum is strong in me. We all crave completion and immediate rewards. But sometimes rewards come late, and sometimes completion never comes at all, because the process itself takes all our energy and ultimately holds the most meaning. 

 The Best is Yet to Come

Better a spectacular miss than a perfectly executed mediocrity. Better halfway on an amazing journey than going nowhere.


  1. Beautiful. Gabriella, ’tis a gift you’ve penned, and the wise of us who read it will rejoice.

  2. How good to hear from you, William! I'm well aware that my offerings have been a bit sub-standard lately so I'm glad this one proved worth the wait! And like so many things, perhaps it required the passage of time for all the right elements to come together! All the best to you, my friend.

  3. Gabriella, lovely to hear your voice. And yes, it does take time. Thanks for the NYC tips. And, yes the best is yet to come.

  4. Hey Miss G!!!

    So good to see you, my friend!! Your time at the museum must of been amazing!! That Gibson makes me swoon!! : ))

    Sorry about the knee....yikes...that's why I gave up marathoning also. You did great on the walk!! Who needs more than 16 miles anyway? lol. btw....I replaced running with walking, elliptical and weights..... I don't even miss running anymore.

    Loved your post!! xoxo

  5. Luis - I'm happy to hear my voice too! I missed me. I'm so glad you understand.

  6. Hey Miss M!

    Oh good, so I'm not the only person whose knees go weak at the sight of an awesome guitar!

    I'm happy with my 16 miles. I'm especially happy that the day after I'm not hurting at all, which means I'm in a lot better shape than I gave myself credit for! I guess all the efforts I made to stay fit in the past can't be erased so easily, even by months of idleness! I'm definitely looking forward to getting back into a non-running routine of walks, yoga and light weights this spring. I don't see another marathon happening until maybe 2012, and I won't be trying to break any speed records, or cramming my calendar with events, just finish strong and happy and have fun!

    Take care, you.

  7. It struck me reading this post that you have a heap to be proud of. Sharing things of beauty is a wonderful attribute of yours, not only your own creations but those of others. Shows a truly generous and giving nature. And a 16 mile walk is a huge step (or many smaller ones?) in the right direction. I have a feeling that Alexander McQueen's mother also completed suicide. If so, she opened the door for him. And yes, given his work he was already a fraught soul.

  8. EC - wow, that's so nice of you to say. About the stuff to be proud of, but especially commending me for my urge to share. I'm a solitary creature, and often quite anti-social, but I've never been able to keep things of compelling beauty or truth to myself.

    About McQueen, yes, it does seem he was always familiar and flirting with Death. He had the vision of someone perched on a precipice - I'm just happy he managed to translate it into something positive he could share with the rest of us before he had to let go and fall.

  9. what can be said ?
    this is the most human post with pure intimacy, so....real that i can tought from here.

    i wish i could see that exhibition.

  10. Caio, I wish you could see it too! You are exactly the one who would understand.

  11. Dear Gabriella, I love the foto of you in the train, really love and know the feeling trought a train journey and the feeling back to the born town.
    I'm in the last time very busy too, but I'm here and it nice to have you, really

  12. Hi Laura - this seems to be a busy time for us all. I hope everything goes well for you and you find happiness and success in all you do! I like the train photo too! It is one of my favorite places to be!

  13. If I ever start running, assume my pants are on fire. And I did a walking marathon once. My hips wanted to slit their wrists. That said, I do walk pretty much everywhere. 32 miles? I hope that isn't on pavement.

  14. Murr - good for you completing a marathon! Walking, running or some portion of each, it is an accomplishment to be proud of! The 32 mile course is indeed on pavement, and can indeed be done without hospitalization afterwards -- it takes being a lot more fit than I am now, a lot of bandaids and Advil, proper fuel, and most importantly, a change of socks at the midpoint!

  15. G/TT - Better halfway on an amazing journey than going nowhere.

    So perfect - so true. Life is for loving, experimenting, exploring, challenging yourself, testing things, and seeing, making, creating and sharing beauty. You do it all - thank you.

  16. Fiona, I'm glad you understand this most difficult of truths to recognize and accept and ultimately take pride and pleasure in! I'm also honored that you think I'm doing a pretty good job embracing it! Many thanks, my friend.

  17. carissima Gabriella,
    first, sorry my 'slight absence'; some events, appeared to me in a 'domino effect'...
    pc broken, the use of old and slow PC,
    tendonitis and/or carpal tunnel syndrome,
    a different sensibility in the eyes ...
    all 'forced me' to stay a bit away of the tourbillon of blogs; and now these two days of disaster in blogger ... well, nevermind ...

    I saw the photos of your display, quickly read on... I think your studio a delightful place, suitable for success!
    and now, what I liked was to see you traveling, reflecting, going to the museum and sharing with us ...
    I would like to be with you and complete the crossword! ;)))
    ohh, give everything, for this to be true!

    I loved the pictures 'Doors of Perception '
    well thought! amazing ...
    well, I hope that everything is back to normal quickly here ...
    I am always doing what I did not want to do at the moment, you know?
    finally ... part, the massacrante, everyday life
    sorry to vent

    thanks for passing there on the blog :)

    baci baci baci

  18. Cara Denise! Apologies are not necessary - all is understood - tra amici tutto è compreso, tutto va bene, e alcuni amici sono come la famiglia! Blogger has been a devil, and everyday life is always a challenge, but I am always happy to read your words and feel your true friendship and sympathy! You are a strong woman and you will find a way to do what you want! Mille grazie e baci, bellissima!

  19. Just loved to watch the video on Alexander McQueen's work, to get into his world, that show must be stunning in the real.
    And I totally agree with your words, let's go somewhere!! xx

  20. Renilde I am very glad you enjoyed the video! I'm so glad the museum provides the next best thing to actually being there - but yes, in person it was indeed stunning. I'm also glad you agree about going places! All the best to you, my dear.

  21. Excellent post! I especially liked "We all crave completion and immediate rewards. But sometimes rewards come late, and sometimes completion never comes at all, because the process itself takes all our energy and ultimately holds the most meaning." so true. I can imagine how you must have felt after completing the 16 miles with a broken knee as I have been nursing a broken knee for the past 6 months. I admire your courage to even take part in the marathon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your posts are always inspiring.Take care.

  22. Very good to hear from you, Narayan! I'm glad my words and experience resonate with you. But I am sorry to hear about your broken knee! I do hope it gets better soon. I am not disappointed with my DNF (Did Not Finish). There is another expression among marathoners - DNS, which stands for Did Nothing Stupid. And I am proud to write that next to my name! All the best to you, my friend.