Hide and Seek: Hanging in a Writer’s Study
August 29, 2018
The blindfolded girl—or is she a woman?—has overturned—or is she about to overturn?—the table full of paint brushes needed to finish the canvases on the floor around her. Maybe she has veered to the left in time, towards the empty chair with the curved arms. Probably not. Probably her outstretched hands have not protected her in this hide and seek of darkness and light where things just happened or may soon happen.
This girl, for me, is the heart of Peter Milton’s “Sightlines: Hide and Seek,” which hangs with authority between two old windows in my study. I pass her every morning on my way to my computer—and nod in commiseration; for I know her mix of adventure and fear as I begin the daily search for meaning in the chaos of words. I know the blind steps; the bumping into things to get somewhere; the way “Hide and Seek” turns into high-stakes “Blind Man’s Bluff.” I know the feel of eyes everywhere; of diaphanous spirits, sometimes dancing, sometimes floating in the air above me; of stern men signaling Don’t go there! I know the echoes of past stories from the likes of Henry James who is standing with a palette next to a canvas of half a child’s face, its eye wide with fear above the neatly written words “Turn of the Screw.” And is he also hidden in the curved chair’s shadow? Someone is definitely sitting there.
And someone has entered John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the four Boit daughters? I know that painting, which Milton hangs so prominently in “Hide and Seek,” and there should be no man, looking like Sargent, wearing a dark suit. How did he slip through the thick gold-leaf frame of protection? Is no work safely finished?
There are so many storylines in and out of frames—but what are they? Why the boy holding his hat behind the girl does not help her. Why the woman curled on the ceiling, her hands and feet dangling, does not untuck her head to look around. And what about the child flying out of her canvas to escape the game and Milton’s frame? Will she make it—and will she come here to hide?
I see different possibilities every day in this world of shifting light, bright as sunlight, dark as death, but never static. It keeps me going as I look up at the girl and then down at my computer screen, seeking my own connections.
Author of When History Is Personal, 2018
Mimi Schwartz’s books include When History Is Personal; the award-winning Good Neighbors, Bad Times- Echoes of My Father’s German Village; Thoughts from a Queen-Sized Bed; and the popular Writing True, The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction. A winner of a ForeWord Book Award for Memoir (2008) and the New Hampshire Best Literary Nonfiction Award (2008), she has been widely anthologized and ten of her essays have been Notables in the Best American Essays series.