1. In what way do you have great power and great responsibility?
I am a parent.
2. When have you recently swung into action on very short notice?
I *used* to employ a super-power in this way: for more than three decades, I was a go-to person at church, in the community chorus I was a member of, and at work whenever someone needed music organized on short notice for some event. Called upon often in my prime, I have thrown together some nice little concerts with very little notice.
However, as indicated by my choice of tenses above, there's been less call for my instant music production skillz of late. (Then why bring it up? Because (1) it was the first thing that came to mind, and (2) it actually reveals a constitutive part of my sense of self, which I take to be the purpose of completing exercises like this.) Okay, let's see ... the most *recent* "swung into action" episode I can think of -- and it's one in which I saved the day, so it fits our theme -- occurred almost exactly a year ago, when the Man had to vacate his apartment because his lease was up (he'd let it lapse, since he was moving), but he'd somehow left almost all of the packing, etc. till the night before. Now, my children's father and I have a working relationship that I don't think of as a friendship, and news of his proposed move had been rather inconsiderately sprung on me not long before, so let's just say that I would not ordinarily have been on the list of people helping him with this project. However, it turned out that no one else was on that list, either, so when Number Two Son (not known for his patience) informed me that he was declining to give some requested eleventh-hour assistance because the task looked impossible and his dad wasn't at all organized, I grabbed Three (whom I can still make do things) and sped over to light a fire under my erstwhile spouse. The three of us basically pulled an all-nighter to get him packed and the place clean (as well as to book a U-Haul for the morning and recruit a friend of Three's to help load the heavy pieces), and I honestly don't think he'd've made it out of there (at all, let alone in time) otherwise.
3. What's the closest you've come to being stuck down with great vengeance and furious anger?
Wait, that's not a Spider-Man quote, is it? I thought Samuel L. Jackson said it in Pulp Fiction. Does he call it back in the latest Spidey? Either way, let's clarify: are you asking me about some time when I was almost killed because someone or something had it in for me? I mean, I *was* nearly struck down in a car accident over 40 years ago (the one that just about did for my mother), but I don't think the universe was exacting vengeance for anything (I was only sixteen, and all my grossest offenses against said universe came later; meanwhile, my mom was a saint). And, okay, I truly almost didn't live through being left by my husband nine years ago, but that strike-down doesn't quite fit the "vengeance & anger" template, either.
Maybe I am overthinking this one. Do you just want to know the closest I've come to suffering any Draconian payback for some real or imagined offense? Because I *can* think of a non-near-death incident in which a vengeful entity came down quite hard on me (and might even have come down harder, but for a bit of luck) ... but it's that thing I literally never, ever talk about. Sorry!
4. What's something memorable in a museum you've visited?
I've seen many memorable (beautiful, inspiring, iconic, thought-provoking, etc.) things in some world-class museums, a fact for which I am very grateful. Picking one shouldn't be easy, but I guess the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel & the Raphael rooms (and yes, I am lumping them together, since I saw them on the same day) at the Vatican Museums have got to rank right up there on the "deserves mentioning" list. Of course, the last time I saw them was in 1986 (during the Sistine ceiling restoration era, in fact). For something more recent, I'd have to look to one of the NYC museums, where I've spent a lot of time in the last decade. How about this: I will always remember the feeling of delighted surprise when I rounded a corner at the MoMA on my first visit in 2012 and The Starry Night entered my field of vision. That's right: I honestly hadn't known it was there before that day.
All that said, my most memorable time in a museum occurred in Washington, D.C. at the National Gallery of Art in 1990. A friend from England was visiting me (then, as now, I lived near not-far-away Baltimore), and we decided to take a day and hit a few of the museums on the National Mall. To give you more background, this friend and I had first met in a university Christian group and we would both have said, I think, that we were open to being moved by spiritual art in any context. We also both had degrees from Oxford University and fancied ourselves, if not worldly sophisticates, at least not wholly unsophisticated -- not to mention not utterly stupid. However, we were both in our mid-to-late twenties, a pretty good counterweight to any sophistication and/or brains we might have laid claim to.
Armed with the histories and personae described above, we found ourselves walking into a large room at the NGA in which was installed Barnett Newman's multi-canvas triumph of abstract expressionism "The Stations of the Cross." Neither of us had heard of the artist or the series of paintings, but the title seemed to offer a straightforward clue to interpreting whatever we'd see, so my clever co-religionist and I were (we thought) prepared. Alas, it turned out, we could not make head nor tail of the uber-abstract canvases.
We stared in silence. We then might have spent a moment murmuring to each other about the pieces in museum-appropriate tones. But I suspect it wasn't even a minute before we came down with the giggles, uncontrollable ones, which were probably equally directed at ourselves and at the incomprehensible (to us) paintings. Surrendering to the silliness, we began playing pseuds (so, pseudo-pseuds?), simultaneously poking fun at the art's opacity and acknowledging our own cluelessness with Emperor's-new-clothes-esque comments about the significance of the blank space (most of the fourteen canvases seemed to consist of little else) and what-not. Thankfully, there was no one else around, because we'd've ruined any aesthetic and/or religious experience they might have hoped to have. We simply could not stop laughing once we'd started, and we finally had to leave the area. It seemed inappropriate to be having that much fun in a museum at the expense of the art!
In the years following our escapade, I visited the museum many times with groups of students and with my family, and on one or two of those visits I took a peek at the Stations to make sure they were as I remembered them. I even read up on them a little, learning that despite their effect on me, they are (1) important and (2) deeply significant to other art-lovers.
Now fast-forward to 2012 or '13: my same dear English friend, in the US for a short visit and keen to meet up during what was a pretty dark time for me, suggested that we go back to the scene of our earlier crime against taste. We did, and I'm afraid it must be reported that, more than two decades on, neither of us had made much progress in terms of "getting" the individual paintings and their purported connection to the fourteen stations. However, I'm happy to say that we'd both apparently matured as humans, and there were no giggles.
[Interested in the Stations? You can learn more here, or here, or here.]
5. Who's the most interesting person you've met while traveling?
This isn't the sort of thing that happens to me -- that is, I don't meet many people in the course of traveling. Every now and then I'll converse with a fellow plane/train/bus passenger, but I always let it be at the other individual's discretion, as I know I'm far more willing to chat with a stranger than is the average person. And it's rare that such a conversation rises to the level of "interesting."
I backpacked around Europe in the summer of 1986, which you'd think would have been a great time for an interesting encounter with a stranger ... *thinks* ... Umm ... nope, I got nothin'.
But if you'll accept an entry in the category of "most interesting person(s) I ever traveled to meet," then I can give you Alberto & Carlotta Guareschi, son & daughter of beloved (to me and many others of a certain age) Italian author Giovanni Guareschi. Their devotion to their father's legacy and consequent hospitality to a practically random pilgrim (me) will forever stand out in my memory. I talked about my trip in a series of posts beginning here.