Ramona Lives Her Life

Last weekend Kody and I masked up for an event at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston called The Marzio Years. Peter C. Marzio was the museum’s longest-serving director from 1982-2010, and the exhibition celebrates his thirty years of acquisitions.

At the museum entrance, an attendant took our temperature from an eight-foot distance with a device that looked like a camera. I’m not sure how that worked, but I didn’t ask questions. We were deemed good to go. Kody and I spent some time with Munch and O’Keefe, Pollock and Picasso, Rembrandt and Rothko. We saw Warhol, too.

Marzio helped found the MFAH International Center for the Arts of the Americas. He expanded African-American, Texan, and Latino art collections. When I visit the art museum, my goal is to really see one piece. Of course, I’ll see more, but I wait for the one that sees me. The one piece that will see me and speak. And da dum, da duh—this is she:

Ramona vive su vida (Ramona Lives Her Life), 1963

According to the museum plaque, Ramona Lives Her Life is one of the most iconic prints of the Ramona series. Argentinean Antonio Berni’s “xylo-collage” technique earned him the acclaim of international critics. Berni glued and collaged elements from Ramona’s everyday life—lace, machine parts, discarded gears and other industrial refuse—onto the woodblock print. This method gives his work an elaborate texture and relief.

I thought about Ramona…and me…and you…We are textured people. With interwoven fibers and elements. With distinctive qualities. Ramona in all of her texture reminded me to live my life. In these days of COVID, life looks different for us based on our qualities. As an introvert, I’m okay living my life at home. School is my life for now. I read books, and I’m writing one, too. I enjoy this time. School is online. Distanced. I walk outside most days. Distanced. I notice the squirrels fattening up. Do squirrels always size up in the fall? I’ve never noticed. The sun sparkles in the leaves at the tops of the trees. I take pleasure in these observations. I try to stay connected with my friends and family by text and phone. From a distance. Our conversations weave us together. These interwoven fibers make us stronger.

Sometimes I find myself surrounded by drama. That happens in families. I usually find myself able to distance from drama, except when it comes to my kids. With mental illness in the family, I’m not at liberty to give ultimatums. I mean, of course, I could. But I don’t want to be the mother who gives up. In my experience, there is no reasoning with brain disorders. Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit my drama quotient, like I just can’t share any more ridiculous stories, even with my closest friends. My introverted self keeps the drama concealed until I feel I might be breaking. How many times have I glued my own pieces back together? Then suddenly, I run into a piece of art called Ramona Lives Her Life. Ramona whispers directly to my heart, “Girl, go live your life.” I rub my hands together and feel their texture. Age. Experience. Ramona says, “You’ve made sacrifices your whole life. Take care of yourself, and speak your truth.” I allow these ideas to sink in. There is silence. I think of my own lace. My own machine parts. Ramona speaks again, “Your fibers are strong. You can handle whatever comes your way, and you inspire others to do the same. Be courageous, and do you.”