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Things as seen

February 10, 1985|MIV SCHAAF

'Only because I know you'll turn in something good I'm letting you be late," Sister Corita said. We were assigned to make a building for class, and there were lots of little Victorian houses of cardboard. Mine-late-was not only good, but superb, ' I thought. it was an angled block of wood-a factory (I had found wonderful clouds and sky in a magazine to use for the glass roof), a factory that made Heidelberg printing presses.

Yes, I was very pleased with it. Sister Corita was, too, I guess, because I never saw my cardboard house again; it disappeared into the maws on Immaculate Heart College.

Lots of things disappeared into the maws of Immaculate Heart College. Among them were the rosy illusions I had about a man I brought with me to an art show there. "I do not like that man," Sister Corita said to me. An odd thing for a nun to say, I thought, but I looked at Arthur carefully and-voila!-two months later I had to agree with her.

A year and a half later I agreed with her again. "I like that man," Sister Corita said then. That was fortunate for me, because I had already married Alfred.

You like people that you like to like other people that like, so I took Gia with me to see Corita at her most recent art show at Pacific Asia Museum. "You remember Sister Corita; you met her at Immaculate Heart when she was a nun, before she jumped out of the order and became plain Corita Kent."

"Mother, how could I remember? I was only 4. That was more than 15 years ago."

It was quite a meeting. I think that they liked each other. "You don't expect someone to look you straight in the eye and talk so honestly," Gia said. "It's . . . .unsettling-and exciting." Wasting no time on polite party preambles, the two of them plunged immediately into God and religion. Serious stuff, but not without humor: "some of my best friends are Catholics," Corita said with a laugh.

"And what do you call yourself now? Agnostic?"

"I don't call myself anything," she said.

"I mean, when they ask what to put in the blank for religion when you go into a hospital or something, what do t you say?"

" 'None.' At first I didn't say anything. I didn't want to offend anyone. But then I felt that there were a lot of people like me, so now I speak out."

"And what do you think now?" Gia asked.

"Energy from something out there can be distilled down to a human level."

"So somehow we can make a difference? It can come out of us?" Gia wanted to know.

Corita nodded. "It's a part of us."

Corita Kent is doing washy watercolor landscapes now-very different from her previous work-but Gia decided to buy one of her older serigraphs. I watched while Corita signed the print.

"She signed my name. I know it's corny, but . . . " Gia said with a smile, turning to me.

Corita laughed. "I'm from Iowa, so corny is appealing to me."

One of Corita's other serigraphs had this quote from Emerson:

"The poet's habit of living should be set on a key so low and plain that the common influences should delight him. His cheerfulness should be the gift of sunlight; the air should suffice for his water."

Tipsy with water. . . how often I feel the way Emerson described it-dazzled with its deliciously bouncing beauty.

Or, as Nabokov said: "The meek normal stuff-which you do not appreciate sufficiently, which is a flowing mystery, and yes, which deserves monuments to be erected to it, cool shrines!"

Corita, I am sure, is one of those lucky ones who can become tipsy with water, and she has the happy gift of inebriating us all with joy.

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