Thursday, April 14, 2005

Flowers Forty Years Ago

Spring is sprung and . . . the height of decadence . . . I wandered happily in the local Lowe's touching plants, deciphering labels (full sun, part sun,), consulting the "safe for parrots" list for indoor plants . . . comparing all-purpose bloom booster to rose food.

Here's what I remember, kneeling down in the cool northeastern Ohio (Canfield to be exact) grass next to my "Aunt" Wanda. She was really my cousin, hence the quotations, but I was about five and she was about 45 so to me she was my aunt. I can clearly remember one day, kneeling next to her, putting those bulbs in the ground. Then we went for a walk down the street with my favorite toy, a stuffed monkey I'd named Joe. Wanda holding one of Joe's plastic hands and me the other. I'm sure there was lemonade and cookies along the way.

Aunt Wanda passed away several years ago, but I glanced at her photo today -- it hangs in my living room, she's smiling, with my son's arm around her on one holiday or another -- and I thought of her. And I thought of that spring day forty-odd years ago.

Hooray for extended family members, cool Ohio grass (I lived in Florida long enough to appreciate that), spring that is a separate month (Florida again) and the fresh air, the boy next door cutting the grass, the bees buzzing around the flowering shrubs the burst of yellow color I saw yesterday in a gorgeous forsythia bush growing alongside a creek, seeming to laugh at me as I sped by, tax returns on my mind.

Yeah for lemonade, ice tea, all the family birthdays in May and June. Mother's Day, the end of my youngest son's first year of college.

Pansies sit now on my back deck waiting for their honored place. I put up the new flag I won in a raffle; it's cloth and sewn and not that cheap kind I had last year that ended up looking like a relic from World War II.

I'm sorry Terry Shiavo died. I'm sorry the Pope died. I'm sorry for the missing girls in Florida and California, the young Ohio soldier missing in Iraq. I'm sorry, but I can't be sad anymore. Sadness has to end. Spring has to come. Nature knows this. I know it too. It's a bit cruel but human nature, I suppose.

Yes, I have spring fever. I caught it from Aunt Wanda years ago.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Things I Found Not To Be True

Way back, decades ago ... how can that be? I was facing a panel of "Real Life Working Artists" also known as my professors, waiting for their verdict on my Senior Project. The project consisted of a one-person art show in the university. Unfortunately, I'd failed my first one. The renderings were accurate enough, but they were too illustrative for my avant garde, non-representational loving mentors who, I realize now, did me a favor. They thought so at the time, because when I returned months later with my second show, I passed hands down, grabbed my BFA and, having honed that starving artists, dark-eyed appearance down pat, promptly started . . . planning a wedding.

"We know you are getting married," they'd said. "Don't you get busy and forget about your art. Don't you forget to paint, or you'll lose your talent," they warned.

I nodded, "Of course, I won't stop painting."

But I did.

I fell into someone else's life, and before I knew it all I wanted to be able to do was keep the house clean enough and raise children unscathed by a difficult marriage.

Slowly though, like tiny plants under the snow in winter, ideas, images, colors, sounds, rumbled around quietly in the depths of my personality. A book idea here . . . a sculptured figure there . . . a life drawing class . . . a painting trip to North Carolina . . . a box of pastels . . . a watercolor of nothing but water. I started to keep notebooks: "Drawings," "Dolls," "Writings." I registered copyrights and started to learn piano.

Weaving in and out of the day-to-day life of a mother, I pulled along a ribbon of creativity and it lightly swished past my face and through the memories of my children. I held onto it after my divorce, and wiped my tears with it more than once.

I didn't forget and I didn't lose my talent. They were wrong. Everything I experienced as a young wife and mother fell into the pockets of my invisible painting smock and waited there, patiently, for me to gain the wisdom to view them anew. When I did, creation turned out to be so much easier than it had been in my twenties. I only had to please myself, and I became free to try anything. I also was free to fail. Free not to be "the best." Free to enjoy the process. Free of the fear that I would never be an Artist.

Today, I was in the grocery store. "Put that down, now!" exclaimed the young mother behind me in line, in that tired mother voice that is so often heard in grocery stores. My first impulse was to be critical. Does she know how angry she sounds? I thought. Then I turned around. She had a baby in the front of the cart and a young boy of about three was trying his best not to touch the brightly colored impulse items hanging at his eye level. My heart softened.

"They are the same age difference as my boys are," I said, smiling. She replied in a much kinder voice as well, and stated her son was usually well behaved.

"It's hard not to touch these things, they are irresistable." I told her that my children were now in their twenties, and how fast it went. I also said I remembered what it was like to be so tired and have so many demands as a mother of young kids.

I paid for my groceries, wished her a good day and moved along. Home. Home to my business where I draw, paint, design, write, edit and make a living doing what I love. And, being a mother. How great is that?

The professors were wrong. The talent doesn't leave. The creativity doesn't leave. There is time in life for each phase of life and there are ways to keep creativity alive during the fallow years. I wish they had told me that instead. I would have had more hope in the future.