Two nights ago, I finished a three-week painting class in Austin. Actually, I’m not sure my work can be considered painting as much as wild stroking of a brush.
Will you keep painting, our instructor asked each night as she walked back and forth in front of our easels, the ones we stood behind as we sprinkled water on our blank pads and smoothed over the page with rounded mop brushes to prepare the paper to accept paint. I led with my right hand then switched back and forth between left and right. I’d painted this way once before, a year ago, so I wasn’t surprised to find equal comfort using my left to water down the thick watercolor paper.
Watercolors. I didn’t realize it was a watercolor and book-binding class. I’d read the course description, in fact read it out loud. After I received an art list of supplies from the Dougherty Arts School on what I needed to purchase prior to the first class, my memory still blanked about the content of the class. I showed up that first night with my brown bag full of watercolor paints and brushes and charcoal pencils and an odd assortment of other materials.
I wondered out loud, “Will we be drawing a nude?”
The instructor was a young creative – a hippie I think – who taught art for a living and played the saxophone for fun. She agreed how cool drawing nudes could be and I didn’t let on that I just wanted to see a naked body especially if I didn’t have to touch it.
Someone said recently, You have to start dating. Actually, no I don’t. It’s not a law of the United States or even of the Widow handbook. I do applaud those widows, though, who have fallen in love again. For now, anyone other than Hook appears insufficient and lacking somehow or at least that’s how I explained it to a friend of Hook’s. But I’m not sad or wanting in any way. Well, maybe a little but it’s not the held-back-from-living that it was this time last year. I wrote to that same Hook friend that it felt odd to say out loud that Allan has been gone for over a year and a half. That’s like no time at all. I know he’s not coming home but the memories still hang around and unlike divorce, you’re not at all interested in falling out of love with the person who is gone.
But we do need love in our lives and I thought to do this by bringing more color into mine and this was how I signed up accidentally-on purpose for a watercolor class. Now that it’s over, I am declaring that my painting is not horrible. I mean, I don’t think anyone’s going to call me on the phone and offer to host an exhibit but I learned that 1) I paint in the abstract and 2) my abstracts are less awful than when I originally painted them.
What does it mean that I would paint what I would not normally gravitate towards in an art gallery? Analyze that one for awhile.
I like to see people and structure and bold colors in artwork. In fact, I’ve never purchased original artwork that doesn’t have one or all of those aspects in it. It was difficult to resist a glop of deep cobalt blue on starch white and instead apply a watered down version of that vibrant azul.
You don’t have to be afraid of using more water, the instructor liked to say as she shared how she took a watercolor course by accident-on-purpose, too. She needed a final class for her undergraduate work and a watercolor class was the only one still open. She had begrudged the time on her academic calendar until she fell in love with the paints and now here she is more than ten years later teaching watercolor painting.
The second part of the class and the tangible goal was to bind a book from the art we created. Our instructor kept reassuring us how great our bound paintings would look which was hard to imagine as we splashed water and color and sometimes salt onto 22 x 30 watercolor pads while occasionally drawing an outline before applying paint to paper. I could not see how anything I was creating would be worthwhile to keep especially compared to the delicate works of my classmates. But after we painted pages and pages and created a collage from cut outs, we trimmed down those same sheets into book size dimensions and well, now I could see. I could see how focusing on a small piece of the full creation highlighted its beauty.
I will not be teaching a painting class to anyone – in the universe – ever. No amount of margaritas could ever trick me into believing otherwise. Although, maybe if we had had margaritas in class more of my Jackson Pollock would have emerged instead of a sketched, mutated Pepsis thisbe which began as a homework assignment then turned into me inventing a story to explain why this tarantula hawk was stylishly disfigured. In the children’s story in my head, Pepsis thisbe had two winged friends: Glenostictia pictifrons (Glenda for short) and Sceliphron caementarium (Cammie in the story). They all have female names because they are all female wasps. I’ve not passed into science nerd-dum but my teacher in this subject matter exited the world so I’m left making up stories about Pepsis, Glenda, and Cammie and their two mantis friends, Hook and Rosemary. They all, of course, live at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve where humans occasionally visit.
Oh yes, I could go on and on.
But that’s how creativity of any kind works. You can start out in one channel and end up in another. As an untrained painter, I was excited about what I produced in my classes. I thought about framing and hanging some of the pieces in the bathrooms of the Hook House and only mentioning them to visitors with a casual, Look at this from an unknown artist, what do you think? But there would be no reason for me to be in the bathroom with someone so that wasn’t such a great idea. Nonetheless, this artwork in its amateur form represents a time in my life in a way even words have not been able to do.
The instructor had a unique way of deconstructing our work for us. She invited us to see our paintings from her angle – pointing out our distinct strokes and what she saw as our artistic style. She’d softly offer suggestions for alternative brushes or how we might continue to add other colors over time to these pieces if we wanted a different outcome. Did I want a different outcome? Yes, but in more than just my painting.
Someone said recently without meaning harm, “Oh so it wasn’t recent,” in reference to the length of time that Hook has been gone. I have to remind myself that the rest of the world isn’t tuned into Hook’s absence at a level that I’d like them to be. Some of his friends and colleagues still are. When I hear from them or receive a hello or his name is mentioned by anyone other than me, it’s like opening a small gift full of joyful tears. It’s not all Hook all day anymore but that doesn’t remove my secret desire to use a bullhorn to announce: He died, yes, but he hasn’t disappeared forever! At least not for me, never for me.
Everything Happens For a Reason …
I used to like this saying because it was accommodating, and because life often appeared more acceptable if one were willing to allow for this unexplainable wisdom. Then the image on the right popped up on my Facebook feed. After my stomach stopped hurting from all the laughing, I felt a What? creep into my brain. It was an uncertain What that pokes and prods and uses a foot to open a door so that self-doubt can sneak inside.
My art instructor felt there was a reason she ended up with that watercolor class she never wanted. There is no reason that would make sense to me as to why Allan had to leave when he did, and my only true consolation comes from knowing he died having lived a full life. No regrets. No bucket list items still to be crossed off. But the same is not true of me. I have a one-item list that is prepared to haunt me if I do not act on it soon. I don’t want to be one of those, I wish I would have people. And if everything happens for a reason, I’ll either be successful or unsuccessful and it won’t matter one bit because, well, everything happens for a reason. See, it’s accommodating.
Had I fled the state of Texas after Hook died, that would have qualified as a bad decision. Mourning doesn’t know logistics. Instead, I held onto a buoy in the middle of my life. I swam through the worst of grief while building my business back up and did my best to re-create a new home. My progress was slow, true, but it was progress nonetheless. I’ll even give myself a B+ for overall effort with weekly outbursts of, Today was an A day! (I actually say this stuff, out loud, to myself when I’m alone.) What I’m trying to explain is that I didn’t run away. I did not give up hope but mainly that was because I had no hope to give up. I did become slightly amazed at what I’d been able to produce writing-wise without discipline and through tears. I mention discipline because real writers write every single day or nearly every day. It is their life, and it prompted me to ask myself what could happen if I actually committed to this craft daily.
So I signed up for a NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – where each sadistic writer agrees to pen about 2,000 words a day and/or at least 50,000 words in a month. I never wished I was on crack more than in the month of November last year. Although I didn’t need to start another new novel, I did and for the sole purpose of proving that if I cleared my calendar and physically left my home office that I could sit in a chair every single day without wireless access and with no other purpose than to write. Could I do it?
Well yes I can.
I’m not Allan. I could never be him. I don’t wear plaid. But I’m so (glad? relieved?) that he was wholly satisfied with what he’d accomplished in his life before he left it. As I continue to strive to live in my now, I’m ready to say out loud what journey is next for me — a year-long writing sabbatical. The questioning What? bubble was meant to test whether self-doubt would mar my choice as being one of a “bad decision.” This is the writing sabbatical I never took with Allan. It is time. It is time for a year of focus and carefree creating in whatever direction my right hand leads me. I must answer for myself whether I have the discipline to finish a novel.
That I will publish something before I die is a given assuming I do not die next week. Even if the world falls into chaos, I will at least finish a book. But it is one of my in-the-works novels that my heart and my mind want to jump into first. I’d been holding back rationalizing that I needed to be focused on a non-fiction book first. I stalled, because when I’m not working on what I really want to be working on, it’s drudgery to do anything else. Drudgery is what I put in the to-be-filed tax paperwork. I could spend another year stalling on both the novel and the book wondering how long the universe will keep trying to get through without any action on my part. But I would have to be dead to ignore the communique. Besides, since anything is possible, I could finish both a novel and a book! If I produce nothing at all, it will not be because I was not disciplined. It will not be because I did not sit in the chair every, single day for hours and hours at a time to write and only write.
My soul is begging to create what it wants to create, to conceive what it feels drawn to conceive, and to be let loose to do what I’d meant to do back in 2012 before our world fell apart. Crying for a year and a half does not count as a sabbatical. If everything doesn’t happen for a reason, then I plan to make one up with a splash of paint and pray to God that I don’t end up living down by the river in a van.
Details about the upcoming sabbatical in the next post!