Our Collective Longing

Tom Wood parked his road bike and chatted with me at the bench.  I told him I was making an homage to him, a big tree made of flowers with giant butterflies and a hummingbird.  (I was worried that he might be mad at me for copying his idea, but he was not bothered at all.)  He told me not to paint everything to a finished state, to suggest some things–that’s where the poetry lies.  He is also working on a tree painting, a bacchanalia of sorts.

I. has turned into a good friend, and I can’t write about her anymore because it would be a breach of trust.  We sat together on the bench for a long time, sharing our core, even tears.

I had a phone appointment and was sitting on E.’s rock wall, chatting on my cellphone.  It felt wrong to be physically present, but mentally elsewhere, as people walked by that I knew.  I had had a raw morning, crying over my abject failure to love, the feelings of frustration, isolation, fear, exhaustion, and helplessness that rise up in me at my caregiver job.  The sun started setting.  R’s sprinkler caught the rays at just the right angle, turning to gold as they splashed against the house, falling like specks of fire down the window pane.  Green Tea Man crested the hill…said he’d heard my voice, and had come up to say hi.  I told him I’d be off the phone in 20 minutes and I hoped he would come back.

Sat down on the bench and started to knit, hoping against hope to see him again.  After what felt like a very long time, he appeared again over the hill with a clear pot of chysanthemum tea and two white Japanese tea cups.  So we sat there watching a sunset that could only have been painted by someone on psychedelics–a fiery orange, teal and saffron mess that was heartwrenchingly beautiful.  Our friendship is unfolding in sweet silence, one petal at a time…After an awkward pause in the conversation, he said “I watched the end of the World Cup…” I heard it at first as “The End of the World.”  Curious how my mind is always predicting what will come next–and is often wrong.

A tall man approached with a black poodle and introduced himself.  Asked lots of questions about the knitting project.  “Do you ever think about quitting?” Tall man asked.  “No, I’m too proud to…there are too many people watching for me to fail.”  “The pride is part of the journey too,” he said.  I loved the thought that this journey holds everything, the light and the shadow.  I told him the project is about thirst; it’s called “For Longing.”  He changed the subject abruptly.  Another guy had approached wearing a beerfest shirt–he’s roommates with I. and the young doctor.  The tall man asked him, “Are you old enough to be wearing that shirt?”  (Ouch, I thought.)  All four of us hung out for quite a while, like a magnetic force held us together, our collective longing, perhaps.  Despite the awkwardness, it was as sweet as a draught of water in the desert.  The street light came on and it was getting dark when I called it quits.  Green Tea Man was locked out of his apartment…I stood with him while he knocked on the owner’s door for the key.  “De ja vu!”  I told the owner when she opened the door.  (Last time, she had been the one locked out.)  I told her she ought to make me an honorary housemate with my own key so I could bail them out when this happens again.  Walked home at 10 pm.

Reconnected with a family friend housesitting on the hill, Dr. John.  He and his wife just returned from Thailand.  He and I talked about the purity of making art that no one sees like Emily Dickinson.  Is a project like mine less pure because it’s a performance, of sorts?  I told him there are different forms of art, and that I also make work in private.  He likes to write poems but he only shares them with a few close friends and family.  He wondered if that’s somehow a betrayal of his gift, if perhaps he’s meant to share the gift with the wider world.  We talked about the importance of one’s audience…I told him that after I entered the monastery, I couldn’t make art anymore even though I was given a few hours and a space to work in the corner of the library by a large window.  It was simply too painful to feel that no one would understand my visual language, and I couldn’t maintain a practice with just 4 hours a week.  Their knowledge of contemporary art ended with Picasso who they didn’t like very much.  I felt that a part of me had died–at the time, I thought I had entered the monastery for life, and that I would never again be able to go to an art museum, or have a heart-to-heart conversation with another artist.  Dr. John said that our modern culture seems to believe that if an artist stops making art, she’s plugging something up that’s so important that she will shrivel up and die.  He thought perhaps an artist’s work becomes richer if the artist stops making it for a time, if it’s for the right reason.  I came away impressed by this doctor’s ability to converse–to ponder something and then ask the right question, moving the conversation ever farther and deeper.


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