In the past month or so we’ve had a new visitor to the bird feeder outside my window: black-eyed juncos by the dozens. I’m in love with them. I could watch them all day. I haven’t been able to find a picture that perfectly captures the steel-blue-gray feathers about the head and neck…how it flows softly into the fluffy chest that has two strokes of chestnut brown painted under the wings. Many of the women in my family love birds…they have always been a part of me. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson…”Hope is the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words – / And never stops – at all.” I always imagined that if I were a bird, I’d be a scrub jay with its roughness and gorgeous, resilient blue. These days I feel a little bit fragile – a lot like that steel-blue-gray tucked squarely around my shoulders. Lately I like the junco.
Tonight you spent $50 of your hard-saved money on a Chinese paintbrush kit. Your art teacher taught you how to do Chinese brush art last week and you’ve been chattering on about it ever since. You love anything to do with color, shapes, texture and form. You are an artist. Not because you paint or draw well – which you certainly do – but because you do everything imaginatively. You “see” things differently, and you have a unique perspective to share.
There will be some well-meaning people that will want to share their perspectives on your love of art. They will kindly try to put your art in a safe, pre-shaped box. Really, it’s to keep them from feeling scared for you…they don’t want you to feel disappointment. But when you see them coming, remember that it’s more fun to ride the roller coaster, than to watch it, safe and sound, on the ground.
These adults or your peers may be teachers, family members or friends that will try to give you “guidance” on which type of art you should allow yourself the pleasure of. It will be hard not to listen to them because you’ll love them, respect them, or care what they think about you. Always keep only one ear open to them. You are the expert on your life and you art…no one defines what your art is – even the ones that have nice things to say.
The world we live in puts art into two categories: “real art” which sometimes comes along with public praise, acceptance, scrutiny, showings, mingling and money – sometimes a lot and sometimes not. The 2nd category is “art as a hobby.” It’s “nice.” Something one does on the side of “real life” when there’s a little extra time on hand. The only difference between these two is perception…nothing more.
You participate in your art, first and foremost, because it brings you joy and helps you to express who you are, without boundaries. It provides you a release for all that is inside of you. Don’t get caught up in the struggle of whether or not your art is “real”; do what you love. You are not one dimensional. You can have a career in science, medicine, education, or politics and still have your art to fulfill you.
So many artists think that if they’re doing anything other than creating, they’re not being true to themselves. That’s misguided. In order to create beautiful, meaningful art you must be immersed in life – all aspects of it – the precious, the sublime, the sorrow, the humor, the messiness and the miraculous awakening of it all!
If you’re struggling financially and don’t have something to feed the rest of your mind and soul – a fulfilling job – then you miss out on the ordinariness of life: the quiet trudging, everydayness of existence that is the plain, flat soil in which the rest of your life blooms. You cannot be in a constant state of creativity. You must, at times, be fallow.
There’s no shame in working for a living while creating the sacred in everyday life. There’s no shame in spilling your heart out into your art to inspire us all to continue living and to keep believing.
Following your passion doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” deal where you’re either creating all the time, or you sell your creative soul short to find a career. You can, and must, do both. People reach out to art for meaning, and to find some sliver of themselves mirrored back. You must give them something to relate to while you move their souls with truth and beauty. You must give them yourself, my love.
At the risk of sounding like a hysterical, maladjusted mother of a pre-teen, I have a couple of questions about P.E. that I’m hoping you can help with. Middle school P.E. was a realm of hell for me. So was high school. We are not an athletic family. The idea of my daughter having to run through Valley Park makes me want to run for the bathroom. She won’t be able to run non-stop! She’ll have to run/walk it. I’m so horrified for her/me…I’m sure I’m not the first couch potato mother to drop penitence at your door. I have shared none of this neurosis with her. I just need to know what you do with girls like T that haven’t shown any type of athleticism, are out of shape and probably can’t keep up with the class. What can I say to her to reassure her about the running, especially? Please help! Kristi Deutsch
Around ten, my daughter started offering her forehead when I’d move in to give her a kiss. When I asked why, she said she didn’t like slobbery kisses. So, I tried to make my kisses very dry…empathetic, of course, to hating slobbery kisses from well-meaning, open-mouthed adults in my own childhood. But it turned out that no amount of drying my mouth and lips would cut it. Turns out she just didn’t like kisses; especially what she liked to call “repetitive kisses.” This drove my husband crazy. Just another “particular” thing we had to abide by. So, I settled with forehead kisses for a while trying to be happy with the knowledge that she still liked to snuggle and hug. Well, hugs went by the wayside on the first day of middle school. Nothing allowed from me now but a tight-lipped, “Have a good day honey!” and she’s off!
Now I read an article a few years ago that made me cry in the waiting room of some place I was in. It talked about the end of physical intimacy with your children as they get older. It was something I’d never even thought of, and yet one more thing to dread. This child felt like an extension of my physical and spiritual being. Those moments of heart-tugging pulls of breast-feeding, listening to her soft breath when she’d sleep next to me, holding her snugly when she cried, and tangling up under covers to watch movies…giggling under blankets in our own small world.
And now she wants to sail off, without so much as looking back to say goodbye; without a bracing hug that assures her that I will always be the one she can count on; without a sweet kiss to fortify me for the day? I can hardly bear it.
I know that I’m not the only one that feels this way. My friends laughed along with me at dinner the other night, but one dear one started to weep in her enchiladas. Her baby will turn one year old next month and they are so folded into one another that she can’t comprehend the sadness of this. I had to choke back my own sobs watching her…I’m sorry that I told you of this.
I am a practical person. I know why this is happening. If T didn’t separate from me and go out into the world to procreate, the species would die off. It’s as simple as that. But last night, when her Daddy was spending the night out for work, she slept with me, our breath getting more quiet, the soft night closing in. The sheets rustled, and I felt her foot, almost as large as mine, find my leg and rest there. I lay there very still, letting it sink in, letting it make its mark, putting it in my pocket of moments…before she turned away to dream.
Some have suggested that I write down my thoughts about the everyday things that I experience being a wife, a mother, a worker among workers, a daughter and sister. It’s taken me about 12 years to get the gumption to do it. There’s nothing extraordinary about me, my life or my family. I’m trudging the same road as all other women out there.
What turns the ordinary to sublime is when I connect with other women in my life, and we’re able to share our experience, strength and hope with one another about things like: adoring our husbands one moment, and wanting to kill them with a frying pan and bury their bodies in the backyard the next; loving our babies so much that our hearts hurt and wanting so badly to spend the weekend in a hotel room with nobody calling our names with complete control over the remote; knowing that marriage is like a marathon, and you have to pace yourself to stay in the race, but still wishing that someone could see you through brand new eyes just one more time.
My life is interwoven with sorrow and light, strands of fear and palpitations of joy, envy, stardust and taxes. I’m ordinary in every way, but I breathe moments of extraordinaire…and that’s what our lives are made of.