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Full Circles

I’m taking a step back from oil painting in October to participate in Inktober. It’s a good time to do some drawing, and, anyway, my studio is about to be torn apart as I claim a larger space.

Today’s prompt is “ring.”

I’m sitting in one part of a ring — on the couch with the Big Guy as I draw. I’m trying to get Thing2 to do Inktober with me, but he’s over at the piano teaching himself the Beatles song book and making our eyes sweat.

It’s almost Thing2’s 13th birthday, and I’ve been thinking about the first few minutes after his birth. I’ve been remembering that perfect round baby head and those early days when nothing seems as pure as the love that we felt for them.

Now all these years later, we know his triumphs and follies, and the love is anything but pure. It’s stronger and better because we know that each day will reveal some facet that makes it stronger still.

We are shy one kid. He’s away at college, and it’s been an adjustment. As broken bars of “Imagine” drift over from the piano, however, I keep thinking about how full our little family circle, with its faultlines and reinforcements, still is.

I sat with a student today who is trying to navigate from adolescence to adulthood with only support from the state. She has little help from the adults who brought her into the world, but her courage and determination to help people she still loves is nothing short of heroic. I know she should have enjoyed — that they all should enjoy — that same kind of parental love we take for granted, and I know the only thing I can do is support her and show her that I expect great things from her during our last few months together.

But, now, sitting on the couch as the first bars of “Let It Be” begin to echo, I think about the other things I can do, and I make a point to never take our small circle for granted.

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The Knowledge of Good

FullSizeRender

Whether you think it’s allegory or history, you’ve heard the one about Adam and Eve eating that apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

For years, I’ve felt like the bulk of the knowledge I gained has been that of the evil humanity commits against itself and against its only known livable habitat. We turn a blind eye to bad behavior by trusted people. We cluck our tongues at the latest mass shooting and then wrap ourselves in our cocoons until the next horror appears in our social media feeds. 

And I’ve been guilty. 

I’m guilty because I let fear of that evil, for me spawned in the aftermath of a crime, keep me mummified. I work at home because I’ve been afraid of the world. I’ve tried to keep my kids safe on a mountain, hidden from the world and life.

That fear has been shrinking over the last few years.  As I’ve rediscovered my art, I’ve rediscovered the better things about humanity. I’ve seen my son stand up for someone who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I’ve seen people expend enormous energy raising money to help people they barely know.

And last summer I had a chance to pay it forward a little.  

I was raising money to buy art supplies for children who were refugees or in foster care. Then a friend who had helped spread the word to raise money for kits for almost 100 children asked if I would lead a drawing workshop for the children.  I said yes immediately, even though the only thing I’d ever taught anyone to do is wash their hands after using the potty.

The afternoon started with 15 boys assuring me they couldn’t draw. I know everyone can draw so I started them on a free drawing exercise I had learned.  

It took less than 30 minutes for the boys to kill their inner critics and start experimenting.  

As they began drawing from their hearts, we saw abstract trees, scenes of and an occasional portrait emerge.  We saw art doing exactly what it was supposed to do – open the door to healing.

That workshop was a gift.

I got home and started investigating paths to becoming a teacher, something I’d just been considering for the last year or so.  

I neglected the blog through the months of researching certification options and reconfiguring my schedule. The drawing just about stopped.

The education, however, was just beginning.

My own history with mental illness, as well as the experiences of friends who were sometimes at the margins of school society, made special education seem like a good place to make a difference. I got a second experience-building job at an elementary school, and, as I felt like I was starting to be a small part of a small solution, my knowledge of good started to grow.

I’m breathing a little life support into my blog this afternoon, but the reality is that as I watch kids learning to accept others who are not like them and have the chance to give support to kids who might be having a hard time with the business of growing up, my creativity is thriving. 

All creativity isn’t an expression of hope, and that’s okay.  It’s an expression of how someone feels. But I knew that, for me, constantly feeling afraid of the world was stagnating. 

Acquainting myself with a bit more of the Knowledge of Good has prompted ideas for future children’s books. It makes life more colorful.  It forces me to engage with the world.  And when I stop for a moment to breathe, it makes me aware of how blessedly creative – and hopeful – engagement can be.

 

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The Bookmaker

BookMaker copy

Last Saturday, to much fanfare from my family, I clicked an upload button and published my first short story.  Fifteen minutes later, I had my first sale and, somewhat hesitantly, added the moniker of ‘author’ to my Facebook profile.

Hesitation has been the hallmark and stumbling block of my short writing career.  

I’ve wanted to write most of my life.  Only in the last year and a half – on joining the Hubbard Hall Writer’s Project – did a professional writing career seem like a realistic goal.  

Over the year as I’ve sketched and posted, seven-year-old Thing2 has written and sketched with me.  He’s filled 5×8 notebooks with trees and robots and star systems.  He’s pilfered printer paper to produce his illustrated, staple-bound paperback stories.  

The weekend before I published my story, I mentioned his endeavors as I was standing in the living room of a friend and writing mentor and his wife.  I had been working on their computers, and my friend was taking the opportunity to harangue me for my hesitation, even enlisting thirteen-year-old Jack to keep me on the hot seat until I hit ‘Publish’.  

“I think you’re scared,” said my friend’s wife.

 “You’re right,” I said and pointed to Thing2 who was hanging on my friend. “You should see the books he makes,” I said.  Thing2 smiled shyly.  I thought I was off the hook, but my friend’s wife smiled, apparently knowing her husband would not be so easily distracted.  “He’s really talented,” I said.

 “And I bet he doesn’t doubt himself,” said my friend.

 “No he doesn’t, I admitted.  

A week later, we were at Bob’s diner.  I was enjoying the glow of seeing my first royalties.  

Jack and Thing2 quickly put my accomplishment in perspective as they setup a game of table hockey, complete with salt-and-pepper shaker goal posts  and a straw wrapper puck. Fulfilling the requirements of my primary job title, I did the mom thing and barked a reprimand.   

Thing2 asked for my notebook, and I gave it to him. 

“Are you starting a new story?” I asked.  He grinned and nodded, staking out the back 10 pages for illustrations.

“Mommy,” he announced, “I want to write a book just like you when I grow up.”

“You’ll be a great writer,” I said.  There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind or voice.  The Big Guy concurred with the same confidence he expresses when he’s encouraging me.

That’s when it hit me.  Thing2 and I have the same dream.  I see his innate talent, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have his hills to climb.  Each of us will only succeed, however, if we don’t start (or in my case stop) worrying if we have the right stuff and just climb. 

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Another Rainy Sunday

Rainy sunday

I’ve been getting pretty good at getting up at 6 or 6:30 on Sundays to have enough time to get in a longer-than-a-weekday run and still get back to the cave before the kids or the Big Guy are ready to hit the all-you-can-eat buffet in Cambridge, NY.  Sunday wasn’t much different.  It was raining, but I’d tackled the rain issue, and decided to go anyway.

I planned to go to the park since my usual route was about to be the scene of a 5k and 12k to support our local community day care center.  But as I got to the turn for the park, I pulled the steering wheel the opposite direction and headed toward the covered bridge in West Arlington – a stone’s throw from Norman Rockwell’s studio.  When I drove through the covered bridge, I saw several cars parked at the grange building on the other side.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to support the day care center – both my kids went there for preschool.  But I have my first 10k coming up at the end of October, and I knew I needed both Sundays to get the longer routes in.  I was also keenly aware that this race would be longer than anything I’d planned or done.  I wasn’t thinking clearly because somehow I ended up getting out of the car and squishing through the muddy field to register for the 12k part of the race.

My boys were still at home with their aunt, and the Big Guy had gone in to work to cover a shift for a friend, so I was feeling a little lonely, but it had been a spur of the moment decision.  I’d be busy for an hour and a half, but I knew six-year-old Thing2 wouldn’t tolerate an hour in the damp.

The rain stopped by the time the kids’ 1k fun run began.  By the time the 5k and 12k participants began assembling, I’d waved to moms and dads I hadn’t seen since the beginning of the school year.

Fiddling with my music player and zipping it into its Ziploc baggie in my belt, I started dead last.  I was to be happier for it.

I started slowly, determined to run the entire thing one way or another.  The only person I passed on the entire race was another runner with a music player malfunction.

As I got close to the first turn around, other runners began passing me the other direction.  I started yelling “Good Job” and “Way to Go”, and they did the same.  I began passing friends.  Sometimes we waved, other times we slowed to high five each other.  Everyone – walking or running – was smiling.

The 12k continued past the starting gate for another lap out and back the other direction, and for a while, I was very alone.  I settled into my Sunday pace, meditating and enjoying the saturated fall colors against the grey sky and dirt road.  Then the front runners began to pass me on their way back to the finish line.  Again we cheered each other.

Typically (for me) I got close to the turn around point, and promptly got confused.  After running back and forth few times until my app said I’d gone 6.25 miles, I decided I was far enough out to get back and get all 7.45 miles in.  Except for a car making sure the last runner hadn’t collapsed, I finished the rest of the route alone.

At the end, there were a few people still waiting to cheer the slow pokes. I got my 3rd place souvenir (out of 3 in my 40-something age group).  I gave pats on the back to a few people and got a few myself and then went home to get cereal on the table for my boys.

I was soaked.  I was sore.  I was freezing.  And I couldn’t stop smiling, even when I snuggled on the recliner for a nap.  Some Sundays, the best plans are the ones that get rained out.