while reading Patti Smith’s M Train…
i didn’t have much exposure to Patti Smith until my 30s. Her name was a peripheral in the books and articles i had read about 1970s New York where i zoned in on The Ramones because my best friend in high school was obsessed with them and i listened to more new wave Blondie than punk. i knew some of her songs from the radio and the iconic images of her album covers.
but it wasn’t until summer 2014, during the middle of one long beach day, when i convinced ryan to leave our stuff unattended for awhile to check out the art exhibit, Rockaways!, featuring work by Smith and others.
her main piece, The Resilience of the Dreamer, was absolutely breathtaking and inspired many a gorgeous photograph (including various filtered instagram posts of course). upon seeing the structure in person i immediately heard the first lines of my favorite poem, Ode, by Arthur O’Shaughnessy. “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
what struck me most about the building it was in, apart from the battered roof, the rusting equipment and the graffiti on the walls, was a small room to the left with an untold invitation for visitors to pick up a white rock and place it somewhere within the space. some were perilously stacked up, others pushed into nooks and crannies, but all holding the energy of the people that had recently passed through the formerly abandoned space, their positioned rocks serving as an “i was here” mark.
wandering through the rest of the exhibit, i was excited to see photographs taken at Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s home in Mexico City — somewhere i had been wanting to go for a long time. we looked at the other photographs and read some of the poetry.
i stopped at a table with an open journal and a pen. a note card asked for our thoughts. i remember thinking what could i possibly write down that would be worthy of a legend like Patti Smith’s eyes and time? i felt certain she would later take the time to thumb through the journal, though where this certainty came from, i don’t know at all. i wanted to sit right there and just breathe and be until something profound came to mind. even if it was simple — a few words. i just wanted to share something real, something born completely from the experience of being there.
ryan came up behind me and picked up the pen leaving an adorable if adolescent “ryan loves mari” in the book. he nudged me towards the door.
i grabbed the pen and wrote what i was feeling: a message of gratitude. it wasn’t the profound words i was hoping for. i signed my name and walked back to the beach.
Months went by and I didn’t think of Patti Smith. I ended up moving to Mexico City in January 2015 and made a point to visit Casa Azul on my own one early morning. If there has ever been a stronger spirit presence than Frida Kahlo’s — especially in the bedroom, overlooking the very bed in which she died — i would be surprised. Just like in life, when she welcomed so many into her home, i could feel her pride at having the world come visit her now. but most of all, i felt her spirit make an impression on me, but i didn’t quite have the words to express that.
after passing through the courtyard to visit the recently opened other side of the house, i noticed a short poem on the wall of the veranda. it was full of inspiration direct from having visited Frida’s room. it confirmed what i had been feeling as i walked through her home. and it was written by Patti Smith. it was then that i felt a connection to her. i knew we had gone through something very similar and i loved how she articulated it.
now, October 2015, reading her latest memoir, M Train, i feel grateful once again to this artist. without knowing that i needed validation of some sort for some of my wishful thinking, her chapter on the cafe she had completely envisioned, made me feel OK about the breakfast taco joint i have completely created in my mind but never made steps to make happen.
i’m only about halfway through the memoir, but i felt the need to get this “down on paper” now. so here it is. a little gift of thoughts and memories that came to me while reading m train.