Dona and Joe’s European Vacation, Episode 3: The Spectrum of New Yorkerness, from High Brow to Low. And Dona Starts Writing!

Joe: Today was Metropolitan Museum of Art day for us, which is a bit of a misnomer since no one can take in the breadth of the museum in a single day. You really need two or three or more. But we did the best we could, concentrating on our individual areas of interest, which for Dona is European sculpture, painting, and decorative arts, and for me is the Renaissance-era painting of Italy and the Netherlands.

The highlight of the day, though, was seeing how many people—young people mostly—were at the museum with pencils and pads, recreating the great works of art for their personal development. This, I think, is the art world’s version of what some writing teachers recommend, which is to type out great stories so that the writer’s process is somehow infused into the student. I’ve never really understood how transcription can improve one’s writing, but seeing it in practice with the students at the Met, I’ve begun to realize that perhaps there’s an aha moment that comes into play when one breaks down the process of genius.

Dona: My highlights for the day were two: 1) listening to the audio descriptions of the various artworks, and through them being transposed to another place and time, and 2) being with others who take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the magnificent works of art. It can be hypnotic.

I’m a city girl and have always loved being in big cities. There is an energy I feel when I am in a place like NYC. Everyone walks fast, talks fast; they are on a mission. I love it! But something I have also seen here is—wait for it—kindness. While it may be hard to believe, I have seen things that continue to give me faith in humanity. From the person on the subway who gave up their seat, to the staff at the 9/11 memorial, to the individuals whom I saw helping people down the steps. Yes, I saw kindness.


Joe, again: So how far will a Lyft driver go to earn an extra tip? It’s a question we will wonder about no more after today. A chill wind and a drop in temperature made us decide to forego the walk to the subway on the way back from the Met, and call a ride instead. At first our driver regaled us with a tale of nerdish individualism: he told us he was a freelance software engineer who drove two hours a couple of days a week to unwind from his intellectual labors. I’m not married, I have no kids, so I’m free to make a few extra dollars, he told us. But a couple of minutes later, when he learned that Dona was CEO of the Pierce County United Way, he told us his wife was the HR person at the New York Goodwill (although he had trouble remembering the name of the organization), and that she did many of the same things Dona did. And all that had been erased by the time we made it to our hotel (and at least he got us there), because he had replaced that story with how he had driven a yellow cab for ten years before deciding to go with the lesser-paying competition. Sorry, no points for bullshit, man. No extra from us.


8 Replies to “Dona and Joe’s European Vacation, Episode 3: The Spectrum of New Yorkerness, from High Brow to Low. And Dona Starts Writing!”

  1. Hmm… Dona talks kindness, Joe talks hard ass.

    I am enjoying this day by day of your trip. And you have not even made it to Europe!

    On the idea of writing things out; I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and his claim of expertise derived from 10,000 hours of practice. I was reading Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s biography. When he was at school (Cambridge) he could not afford a book of poems that he loved and wanted to share with his friends. So, he hand copied the poems for dozens of friends. Imagine how prosody and poetry would be instilled in his brain from doing that!

    1. Well, somebody’s got to be the hard ass.

      In a similar vein, I recently read where author Robert Olin Butler said he wrote a million words of dreck before he produced anything worth publishing. I figure since getting serious about creative writing I’ve written around two million.

  2. Yes, it definitely does do a lot to copy out the words of famous authors. I used to copy out sections of poems and plays and etc. that I was particularly fond of, and post them up on my walls when I was in college. It definitely did me good to look at them from time to time when I was going through things, it was restorative to remember the intellectual and emotional experiences I had had reading them the first time. I’m glad you had a good time at the museum. Here where I am, we have the Boston museums of various kinds, and they are very fulfilling as well. Maybe next time you plan a trip, go stateside and come here for a museum-fest!

    1. Especially in the arts there is nothing like the inspiration you get from seeing works by people who have made the leap necessary in order to move beyond oneself and produce works that speak to others. We have relatives in Boston, so yes, maybe a future trip there is in the cards.

  3. Loving the blog.

    Authentic New Yorkers are the nice ones …. the rude people are the transplants. That’s how I felt when I lived there.

    Anyhoot – be safe!

  4. Years ago, when still early in the writing business, I’d heard about writing out published work for some reason (I no longer remember the goal). But what I did take away from doing that was that that published story looked exactly like everything else *I’d* written, in the same Courier 12 font, double-spacing I was using, and I realized that…huh…my work could also possibly get published because it looked exactly like this published work. It was a crazy leap, but it made sense to me, because that story looked no different on the *manuscript* page than my stuff. And the fact that I had typed out those words kinda metaphysically put me into the place of the famous author whom I was emulating. So I can see how doing something like that can help out an artist. You can see that published/hung art started out just like your stuff and found its audience, and that can help the psychological struggle be a little less intimidating for artists.

    The story I’d typed out word-to-word in this existential exercise was (and still is) one of my favorite short stories, “Nona,” by Stephen King.

    1. That’s a great way of looking at it, Frank, and one that hadn’t occurred to me. So many new writers see a huge gap between what they write and the work of established writers. And honestly, that gap is widened by some writing teachers who in not so many words give writers the impression they’ll never be able to close it. It may be a little late for me to start copying great works, but I can certainly recommend the exercise to others.

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