Surviving the Small Stuff with the Help of Joan Miró

Since major losses are unavoidable, what can we control? Perhaps our reaction to the small stuff, the daily indignities and frustrations: the inevitable bruising in a crowded, high-speed, super-tech world preoccupied with itself.

Enlarge the meaning of those events and you will sink to the point of drowning.

You needn’t.

Maybe Joan Miró can help.

I was on the wet way to the Museum of Modern Art. Spirit-sucking morning weather was not predicted. No mention of violently chilly rain, driven in horizontal body blows by the air. The leering wind lifted skirts, groping for female skin. People halted at the lip of the 57th St. subway exit to avoid the deluge, lest umbrellas turn inside out.

An annoyance only, I thought or tried to think. I’ll soon be at the Miró exhibition.

Poor planning. Spain waited for me.

An entire country, to my surprise, was on Spring Break. Every Spaniard (so it seemed) left home to see the work of their Catalan/Spanish countryman, Joan (pronounced Juan) Miró. The 54th street lobby, the size of a high vaulted, grand church nave, impersonated a forest of bodies: little bodies held by big bodies, vigorous and infirm torsos, people in your way and you in theirs. The ticket-issuers were past the horizon.

I considered whether the art would be worth the travail, hidden behind the mob of which I was a part. Instead I pushed on, avoided the block-long coat-check line, and chanced no one would steal my umbrella from the unguarded stand on the wall.

The slow-mo mass inched when it could, grew when it couldn’t. My elevator made its tardy human deposit on the third floor, revealing a new throng already there. One stepped around traffic in front and beyond the drawings and paintings. Chatter above and a drone below. Periscopes were not for sale. 

But then Miró appeared!

Not the artist himself, dead since 1983. I’d not known much about him. Unfamiliar art must be encountered with an open mind. To achieve an aesthetic connection one must engage the maker. A passive viewer, waiting for a painter to do something to him, is unprepared.

Miró’s work is hallucinatory, not of this world, outside the real. Hitch a ride with him and he focuses you elsewhere, on escape, one of his personal preoccupations.

The lump of bodies no longer mattered much. The Catalan and I engaged in unheard dialogue. “Look here,” he whispered. “I’ll part the sea of souls between us.”

Even Alexander — he of the “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” — might have enjoyed it.

Here is advice, offered in the hope you will manage with grace most of the frustrating, sub-catastrophic times ahead.

  1. Fill your lungs to unwind the coiled spring inside you.
  2. Do not require perfection of life in any circumstance, except perhaps surgery. People cough when the music is still, highways suffer congestion when you are late, and any queue you choose will be the wrong one. Reframe your situation. The Buddah would suggest these obstacles offer you an opportunity to learn patience, for which gratitude (not resentment) is an appropriate response. Your choice.
  3. Remember, you are not alone. All in the legion of Miró’s admirers were at the mercy of themselves and each other. Though well-behaved, they doubtless wanted a solo turn in front of the art as much as I. Many had crossed the ocean for it.
  4. Save your indignation, disappointment, and sadness for bigger things. The life-wrenching, knee-buckling, terrifying battalions led by an indifferent Fate will visit soon enough. Small disturbances would escape your biographer’s attention. Make your life larger than such incidents.
  5. Be open to possibility: the delightful surprises, the beauty in the everyday, the small kindnesses others bestow upon you or you on them. In the course of my time at the museum I chatted with a couple of uniformed attendants who protect the collection, deal with emergencies, and give directions. They are people, too — challenged to keep a silent presence while performing their invisible work. A blind John Milton saw enough to know, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Do not think I am never maddened or impatient, unhappy with the conditions in which I find myself. But I try to effect change where I can, welcome the possible, and accept what is not.

Life offers many opportunities to make ourselves better and take in the loveliness still present in the world. Do not miss your Miró-moments, whenever they come.

—–

The Miró paintings begin with Persons Haunted by a Bird (1938), The Green Moon (1972), The Birth of the World (1925), and Painting (1950). The second image was one I took on the day in question, on Broadway near 57th St., New York.

26 thoughts on “Surviving the Small Stuff with the Help of Joan Miró

  1. Lovely post, and particularly thought provoking title….the accumulation of ways in which we survive the small stuff will also help determine the ways in which we survive the big stuff…the ways in which we survive the small stuff will also determine the quality of our relationships ….there is so much to learn from the ways in which we survive the small stuff…..

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    • Thank you. Very good point. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine those who can’t manage small things to be capable of taking on bigger ones, though I think we don’t know until we are tested. I will wait my turn, since I’m in no rush for additional tests!

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  2. Absolutely. The weighing of others lives against our own. It is enough just to state the case here, as you’ve suggested it, since so little can be added in the abstract.

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  3. What a lovely post, at multiple levels.

    It also reminds me of an afternoon my husband and I spent at the Joan Miro museum in Barcelona a few years ago. I was skeptical about going to a museum entirely dedicated to a single artist–would I stay interested? But it was an incredible experience to trace his development from drawings he did as a youth through various stages of adulthood. It made me look at his work in new ways, and it also provoked a lot of thinking about how my own taste and vision has evolved over decades. Both my husband and I were enthralled; I think we spent close to four hours there. I hope you get to see it sometime. I think you’d love it.

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    • Thank you, Q. Four hours in an art museum! I generally can’t last past two or so. Indeed, I hope to see it in Barcelona at some point. Miro does cover all the bases.

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  4. The small stuff, like losing one’s umbrella on a rainy day, can sour the mood of any sane person. Based on the samples of Joan Miro’s work that you’ve shared with us, the artist gives new meaning and connections to the small stuff of life.

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    • Thank you, Rosaliene. Miro covers much ground, from the silly to the profound. Mahler said a symphony was like a universe. Miro’s art suggests he might have agreed.

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  5. All are valuable reminders for keeping things in perspective. Thanks for writing and posting this. Happy Spring!

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  6. Looks like we may have crossed paths. I was in NYC recently on such a miserable day you described trying to get to a Broadway Dance Center class. Subway delayed. Unbrella turned inside out. I arrived all wet but in time and happy to be dancing. At least I can still jump over the puddles.

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  7. I am currently in the process of looking for a windproof 🌂, but I have not found one yet. As far as change, I like it when I decide to change but not when others try to change me. I can handle changes around me and in relationships, but when I feel I do not have a choice for the change (e.g., natural disaster effects, medical conditions), then I freak. I try to see change as an adventure. Even when facing life-threatening situations, I saw heroic death as an adventure, or victim-fights-back as an adventure. Perhaps that is post-traumatic growth, or perhaps wishful positive thinking. I like the suggestions you offer, Dr. S. I am planning to move for bittersweet reasons, and I am enjoying the change in outlook, dreams, possibilities. I am also planning on skydiving for the first time (in June) with some veterans… strapped to a professional diver, of course. I have to get the okay from my doctor, which may or may not happen since my new medical symptoms landed me in the emergency room a couple of days ago. Throat and neck swelling is no fun, and neither are unexplained tension headaches and occular migraines. But maybe changes in the body can be an adventure when one considers the living yet toxic microorganisms that love to feed on my body, or the lack of my own body’s homeostasis. Allostatic load is only fun during eustress; all other forms of stress are just plain toxic. I think CBT and positive psychology helps reframe the toxic, or at least bear with it. Life is an adventure!

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    • Thus, I love your advice No. 5.

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    • I’m not quite up to embracing the idea of feeling loved by toxic microorganisms (not exactly what you said), but your capacity for reframing and resilience can only be admired, GLB.

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      • Thank you! 🙂 When I hear about cancer patients getting better through positive thoughts and purposeful dissociation (to manage the pain naturally), I can’t help but wonder if I could apply such resilience to my own life. I’m not a natural at resilience; I can certainly be negative at times. But when I can, I try.

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  8. I’ve never heard of Joan Miró before today. I forgot to turn on my notifications for WP, so I barely saw this new post just now, Dr. S. As an integrated person, the “Gloria” (creative) alter in me reminds me of Joan Miró. I looked up his works online and discovered that he did ceramic art. One of the art projects Gloria (I) did in the past was a ceramic-mosaic piece, a “self-portrait” of seven “systems” comprising fragmented parts of myself. When looking at Joan Miró’s art, I can’t help but wonder what the meaning is behind each of his artifacts. The colors depicted in his works contrast dull with bright, dark with vibrant, muffled with pointed, shades with lines, shapes with shadows, and much more. The overall architecture of his works also demonstrate “harmonious chaos,” where life is always changing. Also, his works depict ambivalent emotions – frustration, awe, disgust, adventure, curiosity, shame, fear, and courage. Life through his lens is exciting and exhausting, but worth sharing and expressing. I suppose change can seem that chaotic when one truly embraces the depths of life through unfiltered lenses. Let’s see beyond law and order and our biased -centrisms. Let’s capture moments where the advent of change has just begun. Most artists capture the effects of change, the good or bad in life, the life that makes “coherent sense.” However, Joan Miró’s works depict moments of incoherent uncertainty, at least in the eyes of this beholder.

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    • The older I get, the less I trust the human capacity to understand the complexity of another, whether through his words, his own beliefs, his behavior, his art, his work, or all of it. The writings of composers and artists often reject the idea wanting to communicate one and only one emotion or effect to the exclusion of all others. To me, when we drink in another’s artistic product, we bring so much of ourselves that it is difficult to know where our understanding of the artist begins and our self ends. Still, one cannot deny the universal power of great art to move and enlighten others, even if the enlightenment and emotion is not necessarily in unison with what the artist was feeling.

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      • LOL – I could be wrong about my interpretation, but I love to “play” whenever I see art. It’s like making shapes out of clouds when sky-gazing on sunny day, or seeing Pluto’s heart (whether we appraise and personify him as a dwarf star or a planet within our solar system).

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      • Art could also serve as a projective-like test. Hee hee.

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    • Yes, a projective test. Among the most telling comments of composers and visual artists, I think, are those who say that if they could put their art into words, they wouldn’t need to create it in a different medium.

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  9. tldr: Thank you, Dr. S., for sharing your adventure with us – and your own lens of that adventure. It is always inspiring how you not only describe your encounters with life, but you also offer help to your readers. Your mindfulness, empathy, and understanding are impressive and heartfelt.

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    • Oops, I meant “tldr” for my own previous replies. I’m in the process of trying to tease out, categorize, and separate the different thoughts I have about certain interesting things I engage in. When there are many “voices” inside, it’s hard to come to a consensus. So, I’ve responded in three different ways to your post – with three overarching “voices,” that is.

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    • Thank you, GLB.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely art from this Joan Miro….I can see you wanting to view this. I also appreciate your advice on handling unexpected aggravating circumstances, and I will try to remember your teachings the next time I am stewing.

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