One perfect bunch of red tulips. Hmmmm…no…wait, maybe a bunch of yellow. I dug through my wallet to see how much spare cash was laying around in quarters, dimes, and dollars. Excellent…I had enough to buy one bunch of each. I wrapped them together in one of those long, plastic sleeves and made my purchase. These would be perfect.
My main living space was a bright, sunlit room with French doors that opened onto a stone patio. That room was the highlight of my small apartment. That room was where my futon, my funky wicker and metal chair and my bookshelves framed my reading corner. On the other side of the room, next to my patio, I kept an easel set up with my sketches in progress, and a huge, overflowing basket held my sketch pencils, water colors, pastels, and brushes. Right now, my subject was tulips.
Ironically, I am not an artist. I have always loved art, respected it, admired my artist friends. During the prior year, I had done a brave and daring thing and signed up for an art class. The class ended up being cancelled, but the teacher offered me some private tutoring and we struck up a lovely friendship of art and life and loss and growth. We are still friends across the miles. That year of art lessons opened up for me a love of drawing, and sketching in particular. It didn’t matter whether or not I was “good” by objective standards. Sketching was my therapy, my artistic meditation while the rest of my life was fully engaged in a different…scientific and methodical..process of becoming.
Today, I had taken six hours of classes in statistics and statistical computer programming. I’d then run off to facilitate a grief support group at my place of employment, where I attempted to reconcile the stories of individual loss with my scientific pursuit of generalizable knowledge of the impact of loss on communities, systems of care, and patterns of persistent health disparity. It was a challenge to be fully immersed in both worlds. I had stopped for tulips on my way home from work, responding to a spontaneous request from the muse in my soul for a respite from the relentless intellectual pursuit of knowledge and my mind’s attempts to sort and retain the information.
I walked into my apartment, through the room that held my computer and my files, and into this personal retreat space I had created in the midst of my apartment. There was no sun streaming in, as it had gone down long ago. I turned on some soft light instead, and lit a candle scented with frangipani. I took out a vase I loved, amber colored glass which formed a deep red heart-shaped opening. It was a gift from my artist friend Caroline, and even though the original occasion of its gifting (a wedding present) no longer carried the same meaning, I still cherished the vase. The tulips fell perfectly, and I added just enough water from my sink to keep them fresh without adding a complex water line to my sketch.
I set them on a small nesting table adjacent to my easel. I selected watercolor pencils that night. As I followed form and color and light, my thoughts dissolved into blending reds, yellows, greens, amber. I was lost in the pencil marks, brush strokes and water lines, drawn in to watching the pigment transform when touched by water, bleeding its colors into patterns that were both guided and unpredictable. I have no idea how long my session lasted, but my soul was at peace. My body, mind, and spirit had been unified again and the resulting piece of art was its visceral gift to remind me to stop, breathe, and take in the art and beauty around me.
I still have my sketches. And sometimes, gratefully, I still sketch.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
― Pablo Picasso