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Coming to New York

August 21, 2014

Sitting in the dentistʼs chair today I remembered how I met Mariann Nowack. I had been trying to remember for a few months, since Elizabeth Hellman had critiqued the draft of an essay that I was writing about Virginia Admiral, Robert De Niro Sr., and my early days in SoHo. Elizabeth said that I needed to explain how I met Virginia.

“Mariann Nowack introduced me to Virginia,” I told her. “Then, how did you meet Mariann?” she asked. I couldnʼt remember at all. But today it came to me in a flash and I played the memory over and over again until the cavity in my tooth was filled.

I hear the phone ringing. I am in the large floor-through living room of the suburban house close to St. Louis that my husband, our four children and I have just moved into. It is 1970. I walk to the desk in the back of the living room and pick up the receiver. I remain standing throughout the whole conversation, becoming agitated and angry. “I am an artist,” a female voice says, “and I am starting a consciousness-raising group for women artists. I was given your name and number.”

“Iʼm not interested,” I say. “My life is difficult enough without my questioning it. I will only become more unhappy if I share my misery with a bunch of equally unhappy women. Moreover, if I begin to hate my husband consciously it will be the end of my marriage, so donʼt pester me with your ideas.”

The voice belonged to a New Yorker, Mariann Nowack, a graduate student studying at the Washington University School of Fine Arts at the time. She argued that it was the responsibility of older women artists like me to communicate with younger women artists and to support them. We soon became hostile to each other and ended the conversation with Mariann telling me that I was crazy.

A few days later I joined the consciousness-raising group. It was the end of my marriage and the beginning of my coming to New York.

copyright © 2015 Minerva Durham