Driving the back roads to a small town known for its "artists are always welcome here" logo. To an establishment known throughout the community for its gold and red striped awning. A cottage home. Inside cozy couches square off in front of an enormous hearth. Rolls of rich fabric lean against bricked walls. Footsteps echo off the antique planked floor. Polish pottery lines the shelves. Steep painted stairs point the way to the second level kitchen. A well worn farmer's table lies dressed in fine linens and mismatched dishes.
One of my favorite respites, this little cottage here, and I have some nerve to think I might be worthy. But nerve is all I have. That and my garden pages nestled neatly in the trunk of my car. That's where we meet. The owner and I. Peering into the trunk of my car, she reads the first piece, the one about my father. She weeps. I do too.
Even though the words are familiar to my heart, the tiny electrical spark of emotion that zaps between us is unfamiliar, and unexpected. For the first time, perhaps the most poignant in this writer's life, I am read. It is not the memory of my father that reaches her heart, it is the stirred memory of her own. In that moment, I realize what a precious gift this is, to be able to say what others cannot or have forgotten how, to feel another heart tremble and quicken. My intent for each page comes from my own space, until I see her face and know that her story and mine have different characters, but follow the same love lines home.
What should be a five minute thanks but no thanks conversation, dissolves into a two hour family reunion snuggled deep in the sofas, garden pages lined up and leaning in close. The two owners, husband and wife, sharing dreams. The upstairs walls become a gallery for the garden pages. Flyers sent, trumpets sound, and my first "show" begins. Saturday, September 11th, four years after the original, and customers are slowly but surely returning.
In that eight hour day, my life surely changes. I stand quietly aside and watch people read. Some smile. Others tear up. Some tug on sleeves, here read this. One man lays his hand on his wife's cheek and smiles the kind of smile only they can share.
My Dad was just like that. That sounds like your sister.
Better. Stories. Their stories. Their lives. They share their stories and their lives with me. All the while I watch their hands run over the three little pots lined up on the painted frames. It comes to me in a rush.
The third pot is Charity, for what is more charitable than sharing one's life with another. The good, the bad, the funny, the wise, the mistakes, the terrifying lows and the exhilarating highs. What binds us together like duct tape...the details, the tiny day to day details, the breathing in and out moments, the unconscious daily acts of kindness.
Fans. I think, grinning foolishly, I have fans.
I want to tell them.
I am your biggest fan.
You, the readers of my words, fill me up. From this day on, the garden pages will continue, but the stories will be as they should, a mixture of your stories and mine.
So to my benefactors from the Cottage, and to those who found comfort and a smile in the garden gallery that day in September, I wrote you a fan letter on my road trip home.
I'll post it here in case you missed it the first time.
A Fan Letter
Dear (Put Your Name Here),
I've never written a fan letter before, but I am your biggest fan. I would stand in line to see you. I would be the first one on my feet for the standing ovation you so richly deserve. I would wear a T-shirt with your name on it. I would ask to have my picture taken with you. I would carry your autograph in my pocket and show it to all my friends. I would want to tell the world that we met and that you inspire me every single day.
Signed (Put My Name Here).
Thursday, May 19, 2011
And I'll Puff
And I'll Blow Your House Down
Looking For Miracles
Among the Ruins.
My first exhibition. Dani's Place. She took my framed garden pages and built a lifelike garden space in the back of her store. Brought in tree stumps. Landscaped the floor with stepping stones. My garden pages blooming in her garden retreat. Dani gave me aesthetic advice on adding punch to my styling. I didn't see her foot coming. Too busy cozying up to my new celebrity.
Kicked me out.
Told me to take my act on the road.
Life is not one-stop shopping.
Move. Move. Move.
If not, you might get hit by a train.
She wasn't kidding.
That is exactly what happened to her. Her first store, located precipitously close to the train tracks, took a vicious hit. From a train. Hurtling off the track. A very unwelcome and dangerously disgruntled consumer.
Move. Move. Move.
She did. Grateful for life. Grateful for second chances.
I don't always listen well. Caught up in the fabulousness of first fame, I needed to show off. First time is the charm. This artist business a breeze. Who wants my autograph? I picked up my son from the airport. Off to see the wizard. That would be me! On the way, an ominous warning. A speeding ticket. 25 mph in a 15 mph zone. I was in the zone all right. A police escort to my grand opening, under different circumstances, might have been nice. This was not part of the red carpet ceremony I had in mind. Sirens, yes. Ticket scalping, no.
At the top of the hill.
Lots of them.
My son mused cautiously, "Mom, I hope that your store is not the one with the police tape around it."
The sooty, blackened and charred remains, not my store, but Dani's. Ashes to ashes and garden pages to dust. I have the newspaper photo in my studio. Through the front door, my garden pages are visible, waterlogged and blistered.
They are nothing compared to the look on Dani's father's face. Heart. Ache. First a train. Now an electrical meltdown.
This time Dani would not make a comeback. I tried to reach her, but we never spoke again.
Move. Move. Move. She said. Keep moving. Even then, there are no guarantees. No warranty for good behavior. No promise that tomorrow will be a better day.
Dani took a chance on me. She took a chance on many artists in the area. She gave them space and encouragement and hope. I used that hope, her belief in me, to keep moving. Hope, became the first of the three little pots. Faith and charity were soon to follow.
I did the only thing I know how to do when life is difficult.
I wrote...to her. I wrote...
I've been hit by a train
burned to the ground
scorched and singed
two big strikes
and my eyes are on the sky
is this a sign
the final blow of a train whistle
the remnants of a conflagration
a signal to put my hands in my pockets
and to walk away
maybe the business woman
the bottom line chaser must quit
but the artist in me
the believer in the spirit
of good work
of hands creating
of minds dreaming
cannot succumb to idle fate
my business has been a home
and has made a path
for artists to speak
porcelain, paint, flowers
these artists will remain with me
wherever I go
and return to me
whenever I need
a reminder to dream
hope to believe
and courage to rebuild
Thank you notes, people.
No matter where you are on your journey, it is more than just being polite, it is a personal reminder that we are never alone.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
It is 8:46 AM. I have used up all my phone-a-friends. Everyone I know has left the building. Here, in my son's former bedroom, newly painted walls surround me. My son said I erased his childhood. I told him the only thing I erased was the nasty nacho cheese memorial he left under his bed. For the moment we are even. I am about to pull ahead. I am building a studio. Let me be more specific. I am building a garden room to be a home for my garden pages. At this moment, there is one...garden page...written and framed ...sitting in solitary on my dining room table. Exuding kryptonite. We cannot be in the same room. Separated at birth.
Every journey begins with a nudge, a nod or a wink. The first word of encouragement. Embedded in the word encourage is the word "courage". Courage is the ticket out of creative isolation. The words, "you really should" or "what have you got to lose" jumpstart the conversation. The conversation about faith. In yourself.
It is an enormous leap of faith from being a writer to being read. From dancing in front of a mirror, to a solo performance. From making music to a song. The urge to push out into the world is strong, the desire to be heard, universal, but the actual movement from here to there requires an outside force. Someone takes us from in HERE to out THERE. From then on it's a free fall.
Cindy arrives at 8:50 AM. Cindy is an artist. Her paintings are recognizable. Capricious. One of a kind. She is here to paint a garden on my walls. Her flowers are whimsically climbing the corners, cascading over a rock wall sketched below the window. If I had tried this, my paint-by-number canvas would resemble coagulated nacho cheese.
As she stands at my front door, the green glow of the garden page catches her eye. "So what's this all about?" I explain my garden pages and pause for a breath. Before I inhale, she replies, "Make six more by Friday and meet me up North". Then, with a wink, she says simply, "What have you got to lose? You might sell one."
Friday, framed garden pages in hand, I walk into a store up north, Dani's place. She asks for twelve. My ticket punched, my suitcase packed, I climb on board and begin an extraordinary journey.
Like a roller coaster ride, a fast ascent and the inevitable pull of gravity. Grace like gravity. The struggle between up and down. High and low. The most important law of personal physics. Maintain your momentum. Just when you think you are all alone and scared out of your wits, someone will grab you by the hand and hold on for the ride.
All dressed up and somewhere to go.
I am, however, wearing flats, as I am older and wiser now.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Or maybe not.
More of the continuing evolution of the garden pages.
The paper trail led me to Tim. At our local art supply center. A treasure trove of ink and pens and frames and easels and Tim. I told Tim I had an idea. A dream. In the experimental stages. Super secret. Tim smiled. He'd heard it all before. An artist himself. A musician too, He never laughed. No, that's not true. He laughed with me, but not at me. He taught me about paper. Exquisite watercolor paper. Smooth? No, I needed something with a finish, finesse, a paper patina. We found it. We talked about music too. Woodstock. Jimi. John and Paul. Clapton. The blues. Tim recognized the unfinished business that stood before him. A return customer. An artist in residence, he said. Me. An artist. Big shoes. We'll see if I can be a return on his investment.
Limited budget. Yup.
Learn to frame.
I wandered through frame shops. Surveyed frame styles. Tried to sort out glass, mat board, hangars, wire. Wired. Over-whelmed. Too much information. Too much money.
One fairy godmother. One sweet afternoon. A frame shop near my home. Must have looked like a frame stalker. Out came the frame whisperer. The owner.
I know no boundaries. I blabbed. Told her my secret. Waved my hands around a lot, while describing the vision in my head. I played a touch of "air" artist, until she grinned. Said it was a slow afternoon and a good day. A day to teach me to frame.
She did. Patiently. Freely. Laughing. Confiding in me how she dreamed of owning her own shop. Could see it. The store front. The inventory. The decor. Years. Years and years ago. Watched this spot. Her spot. Change and transform from one retailer to another. Until. A framer moved in. Into her spot. She told me at that exact moment, she knew exactly what she needed. Her learner's permit. She was not ready to drive. So she worked part-time. Learned her craft. A few months later, when the owner sat down, she stood up, license in hand. The torch was passed.
I was payback.
A belated thank you to the universe. Lucky me.
I left with my learner's permit and instructions to practice. I did.
I broke fingernails. Cut my ill tempered self on untempered glass. Vowed to no longer cut corners or exposed digits. I bought unpainted frames. Built a makeshift painting shed in the garage. Made paint puddles everywhere. A human drop cloth.
My back hurt. My fingers were bandaged and splinterized. I was tipsy from brandishing glass cleaner and sticker remover in an enclosed space.
Swing a hammer. Pound a nail, Paint a wall. Practice. Learn my craft. Otherwise, the roof might fall in. It might anyway, but at least I'll know how to rebuild.
Oh and as my mother taught me...always send a thank you note. I am.