What I Learned at the Van Gogh Museum

I arrived at the Van Gogh museum with an empty, octagonal box of “magic truffles,” a pamphlet from the Dutch police on what to do when your wallet is stolen, and a package of Always Infinity overnight pads, which I had bought and clawed through in a moment of desperation when Aunt Flow rolled into town without a word of warning. My four friends accompanied me on this adventure. They were Jessica K. (The Sun Goddess), Raphael F. (My Sunshine Boy), Ada G. (The Artist), and Jess A. (The Glitter Queen of the Queers and Probably the Straights too). The five of us wandered into the museum in the type of daze found on an assortment of “liberal” college campuses, but legal only in Amsterdam. I lost them within five minutes.

The Van Gogh Museum was a magical place. There were so many colors! There were so many swirls! There were so many people speaking a fantastical language that was not quite English and not quite German and was probably Dutch, but I don’t speak Dutch so I couldn’t be sure. It was a sensory overload! I knew that I was in pain. I knew that my cramps were bending my back, and begging me to curl into the fetal position, but I didn’t feel it. Time didn’t exist in the museum, and neither did movement, at least as far as my legs were concerned. At the end of four hours, I had seen everything there was to see, but I didn’t walk anywhere. The essence, the very soul, of Vincent, yes Vincent, as we were on intimate terms at the end of my journey through time and space and oil paint, carried me throughout the museum on a translucent cloud of love and possibility several inches above the floor.

The paintings breathed and vibrated and danced and glistened and boiled over with life and craftsmanship as they shifted colors just for me. They talked to me, too, and revealed a profound truth about myself I had been hiding from for a long time. The paintings, to my surprise and horror, told me I would never be “a creative.”  I would never write again.

Van Gogh’s self-portraits jumped off of the walls. I saw him walking through the galleries where his most famous works hung, his face super-scribed on the faces of tourists with red hair and fanny packs. His landscapes sung. I leapt through meadows of sunflowers and danced on the roofs of buildings in towns in the rain. I pushed boats off the sand and into roaring oceans. I ate plates of steaming potatoes with peasants, and then left to sow the fields. I was witness to the rise and fall of separate, individual universes within the painted eyes of strangers on colorful canvases.  I still cannot write about what I saw.

How can I create anything when Vincent created everything worth creating?

I can’t paint. I can’t draw. I can’t even eat using chopsticks, and Vincent lived in Japan for a period of time. I can write, but I use that gift to talk about hairy genitals and failed relationships. What is there for me to do? What can I contribute to the world? Children? Children aren’t art. They’re disgusting.

“Send pics,” my mom texted me, but there was no point. I took no pictures of the artwork, just some vertical shots of the outside of the building (I do regret this now, but I guess I can order a book from Barnes and Noble or Taschen). The artwork just wouldn’t translate well over iMessage. I mean, Van Gogh’s last painting, Tree Roots, is an abstract depiction of a forest. The leaves melt into a masculine figure reigning over the soft, tangled feminine forms which compose the roots of the trees. Life and death and sex are all contained in this abstract wonderland. And it’s unfinished. How will I ever create anything that comes close? How can I look at a copy of it when I was witness to the real thing? My whole life isn’t as complicated as that painting.

I stumbled out of the museum and crashed into Ada (The Artist), who was sitting in the public park that circles the museum. We collapsed on the grass and nibbled on her snacks of bread and cheese and dark chocolate. Jess (The Glitter Goddess) found us.

“You look like a watercolor,” I whispered and brushed my fingers against the streaks of smeared mascara and wet gold lining her cheeks. She laughed and grabbed a pen Ada had pulled from her backpack.

“Juliette, take a brush we’re making a memory.” I painted a horribly unaesthetic, grotesque doodle in red before I rolled onto my back, typed some notes in my phone, and contented myself with taking pictures of my glowing friends. Is that creating? No, because I will never create anything again. I am at peace with the knowledge I will never write anything worth seeing or reading. Maybe businesswomen are onto something, doing paperwork from 9-5 and making boring love to dull men at home. I need money, I don’t have a wallet anymore. Going into the world of business seems like the best way to get some. Writing was always a risk, and now I know it won’t be possible.