kandinsky revisited – all at the same time


“Oh, this is a Kandinsky!”

“A double – one painted on either side.”

“May I see?”

“Yes, of course.”


“What makes it exceptional is that Kandinsky painted on either side of the canvas in two radically different styles. One wild and vivid, the other somber and geometric.”

“My God!”

“We flip it around for variety.”

“Chaos, control. Chaos, control.”

“You like? You like?”

~The Kittredges showing their prized painting to Paul in Six Degrees of Separation

From The Kandinsky is Painted on Two Sides, Diary, 2008

Thursday night …

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 5.02.33 AM

Friday morning …

I am leaving for New York. I’ll be gone for two days. I go into Brooke’s room to say goodbye. I find her in her bathroom … um, indisposed. But life is life and I’ve got a plane to catch, so we say goodbye then and there. We do Kissing Hands and the Attack Of The Hugging Monster and the Roh Roh Rohs from Blue’s Clues and then she tells me that she doesn’t want me to go; she wants me to stay and even though it’s scripted I know that the words have meaning. The whole exchange, right there in the dang bathroom, is delicious.

I head downstairs with my bags and say the rest of my goodbyes. Katie and Luau and I gather at the bottom of the steps. Katie isn’t happy that I’m leaving and even less happy that I can’t take her with me. I’m determined to keep it light, lest I leave her in tears and drive to the airport following suit. Luau gets the gig, so he’s playing the part of the court jester. The three of us are laughing.

And then we hear it.

Footsteps on the stairs followed by five words.

“I’m feelin kinda left out.”

The three of us stop in our tracks.

Brooke has come downstairs. One of us (I swear, I’m not even sure which) says, “What’s that, honey?”

Now standing right there with us, she says it again.

“I’m feelin kinda left out.”

I’m fairly certain my mouth is hanging open.

I knew that it was what she had said, but saying it again, right there in front of all three of us … now it’s real. There are witnesses. There’s no denying it, even if I can barely process all the pieces of it.


Luau is the one with his wits about him.

“Wow, Brooke, thank you for telling us that. We never want you to feel left out.”

She says, “Nnnnnnnnnnnnnno problem.”

I don’t drive to work. I float.

Friday afternoon …

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 5.06.56 AM

From Luau’s post, Why on Run Luau Run …

From the very moment the social studies teacher said “three” and “why” I knew the tears were coming. I was sitting behind Jess so I put my hand on her shoulder, hoping that I could help her keep the tears in. It was a tough moment.

But there was something that I had forgotten to share with Jess over the past week; something that really didn’t register until that moment, sitting in the classroom; something that I had inadvertently brushed off three times.

On three separate occasions this past week, Brooke began to relentlessly ask me “why?”

We need to go to speech Brooke.
Well, because it helps with your communication skills.
Well, Ms. A helps teach you how to use certain tools so you can tell me and mama what you need or like or want to share.
Because that is her job.
Because that’s the field she chose…

Time to take a bath.
Because you need to get clean.
Because you’re dirty.
Because you played out in the sun today.
Because you’re teachers let you all out for recess.
So you could get the jigglies out…

…and on and on it went…on three different occasions…from my 10-year-old daughter…and it was wonderful!

Sunday morning …

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 5.33.04 AM

The stuff in that pamphlet?

It’s a different world.

No more, no less, just different.

But Jesus, it’s really, really, REALLY different.

I post it trying to sound defiant. Light-hearted at the very least.

It’s my way of flipping it the bird.

I add #TypicalJustAintOurThing before I hit post.

Next year is middle school.

I worry about my girl.

Sunday evening …

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 5.36.49 AM

Sunday night …

The old saw about how once words are out, trying to take them back is like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube; it just can’t be done; that’s the thought in my head as I scoop another handful of conditioner out of the bowl and do my best to get it back into the bottle. I scoop, I pour, I tap, I scrape. I’m determined not to dump it. Not again. It’s getting too expensive to keep replacing it at this pace, even if it’s just the cheap stuff.

Luau walks by the bathroom. Says hello to Brooke in the shower, then cocks his head at me by way of a question.

“Brooke got into the conditioner again,” I say in explanation. “Emptied the whole bottle into the bowl.” He smiles and shakes his head as he closes the door and leaves me to it.

I have a moment. One of THOSE moments.

A moment when I can’t believe that I’m saying, “Brooke got into …”

She’s ten years old.

And she got into the conditioner.

Even though I’d put it on the counter out of reach as one would with a toddler.

Even though we’ve “talked about it” 800 times.

Who says, “My ten-year old got into the …”

I do.

We do.

I keep at it.

I scoop, I pour, I tap, I scrape.

I’m determined not to dump it.

Not again.

At the exact same moment

The scene from Six Degrees of Separation plays in my head.

The Kandinsky is painted on two sides.





I loved that scene in the movie. Stockard Channing was utterly brilliant.

I was 23 when I saw it, but it stuck with me. Even then, something about that scene, that tension, struck a chord.

Kandinsky is often credited with being the first purely abstract painter. I wonder if that’s how he would have described his work.

Because it’s said that he was a synesthete. That he painted the colors that he heard.

If that’s the case, then what’s abstract to us may have been anything but to him. If he painted what he heard, and what he heard was what he saw, then his replication of it would actually be, to him, quite concrete. Painting what we see is not abstract.

It’s also said that he was on the autism spectrum.

Perhaps that’s precisely why one side of the canvas was simply not enough.

Because autism is not one-dimensional.

It’s not chaos or control. It’s not beauty or pain. It’s not challenge or triumph. It’s not abstract or concrete.

It’s all of those at the same time.

Just like life.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s why the result is so damned extraordinary.

16 thoughts on “kandinsky revisited – all at the same time

  1. Yes. This:

    “Because autism is not one-dimensional.

    It’s not chaos or control. It’s not beauty or pain. It’s not challenge or triumph. It’s not abstract or concrete.

    It’s all of those at the same time.

    Just like life.

    And maybe, just maybe, it’s why the result is so damned extraordinary.”

  2. I had a Kandinsky print on my bedroom wall all through high school and university. Reminding me that there were colours in the world too beautiful to see, especially when everything seemed grey. It was one of his earlier works but he saw colours where others saw only darkness. I think it helped me to keep hoping.

  3. The breathing thing is what really touched me. I know so much about having to cope with things and even when I can’t explain, I can show how to do it. But people hardly ever ask me. Not meant as criticism, it just makes it more special when someone does ask. It feels good to be able to show the things I’m good at.

  4. o how I love this post, Jess. Sometimes it feels impossible to explain to people how the polar extremes of so many things can both be true in the same moment, so often, but you nailed it here.

    And “I’m feelin kinda left out.” Wow.

  5. Yup! So get it. Last night doing Daniel’s journal he said “I was happy watching the Incredibles with you” he was angry “watching the Incrediles with you, it was scary”. Yes there was too much tension in the Incredibles for my nearly 17 year old….both sides at the same time. Sigh

    • I couldn’t sit through Pocahontas all the way through until I was 20ish, I think. Some of the scenes were just too stressful and I had to go hide in a room where I couldn’t hear it (or when I got older, cover my ears and close my eyes).

  6. amazing writing here, you capture the whiplash of these moments perfectly. i think it’s great that her big moments, the moments of growth, keeping changing, going further…”i’m feeling left out”, just wow

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