Do We Ever Really Let Go?

As an artist who paints the human figure, usually people I know and love, I’m often asked if those pieces that include family members are for sale. I ardently explain that, yes, if you’re viewing something in public, of course it’s for sale, and please support artists and purchase original works! I’m usually met with a look of astonishment and feel the need to clarify.

Art, so often reflects life. Whatever experience I am having must have the room to do its work in me. I must be open, receptive and present with what is happening around me and in me, actively listening and responding to my own process, whether it is the creative process or an emotional, spiritual, physical, therapeutic, relational or mental process (usually all or some of these are active together). Some processes have marked beginnings and/or endings. Some are a bit more ambiguous. Some have sharp edges and some bleed into the next. But all leave artifacts that they existed. Even if the only evidence is that they still live on in our bodies or memory. Our experiences form and give shape to our present lives. They make us who we are. What do we keep and what do we let go?

I sold this piece yesterday. It is called “Blue Hydrangea” and is an Encaustic piece I made by embedding a dried flower into the wax over a layer of oil paint. It was a very important piece for me to have made at the time (early 2017, I think). That flower has always had significant meaning for me and I needed to process some emotional turmoil I was feeling at the time as well as celebrate some important events that had recently happened in my life. I knew I was ready to release it when the time came. I could look at the piece in a different way than when I had made it. It did its work in me. It touched me the way it needed to. Now, when I see it, it feels more like a memory rather than a dwelling place. I became ready to pass it on and allow it to do work in someone else.

Even though I released it, that piece won’t ever leave me. It is now a part of me. It informs my present and my future, or perhaps I should say, the experience of it. The things that we let go never really leave us, whether relationships, art or seasons of life, they stay and get swept up into our Essence. Rainer Maria Rilke pens this thought about lost love: “Don’t think that the great love which was once granted to you… has been lost: how can you know whether vast and generous wishes didn’t ripen in you at that time, and purposes by which you are still living today? I believe that that love remains so strong and intense in your memory because it was your first deep aloneness and the first inner work that you did on your life.” (Letters to a Young Poet).

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The power of art to transform us can be magical, whether it is music, poetry, painting or whatever medium, if we allow it to do its work in us, we wake up to the beauty of life. I’m going to leave you with a poem. I encourage you to spend time with it, in your own solitude. You could practice Lectio Divina with it or sit quietly and notice what rises for you as you read the words. Where in your body are you holding a memory or sensation that wants to be noticed? What emotions are attached to that memory? What do you want to remember? What work does this memory want to do in you? Does it need acknowledgement? Does it need healing? Does it need celebration? What kind of tending is it asking of you? Listen to what’s invisible, what is quiet and let it come around you and comfort you. Let it do its work in you.

Everything I’ve Ever Known

Everything I’ve ever known is with me still,

bits of kindergarten wedged between each toe,

high school banished to the shadows behind my spine,

womb pictures hung in rows along the length of my thigh. 

Recent years cling

to the tips of my fingers like good dirt

gathered between thick garden rows.

Every place I’ve ever visited has dropped a pebble in my pocket,

history dripping like tears from their thick skins. 

Everyone I’ve ever loved breathes through my lungs.

Everything I’ve ever done still travels the

long road of my blood from heart to brain and back. 

All of my life is hiding in this imperfect body,

waiting to be remembered

in a certain slant of light,

the timbre of a voice,

the slow path of a hand,

tilt of a head,

curve of shoulder or hip.

Whole years gather in the tatters of a song,

faces swim in good wine,

rooms emerge from the scent of flowers or spice. 

Blessing or curse,

everything I’ve ever known is with me,

and I am trying to remember.

 

–Amy Christman

A Reminder to Ring in the New Year

I had a great idea!  At least, that's how it seemed as it began to form in the caverns of my mind.  I'm a painter.  I paint the human figure mostly.  I paint my children.  A lot.  My mom loves my paintings.  I don't know if she loves my work as an artist as much as she loves seeing her family take space on the surface.  Nevertheless, she has really been expressing her desire for some paintings from me.  This painting, in particular, she had asked for a print of.  

My idea came during the month of December to surprise her by delivering this painting in person for Christmas.  In the winter months, my mom and step-dad live in Englewood, Florida, which is 12 hours away from me (12 hours is with no stops and applying a lead foot to the gas pedal).  I invited my daughter Maggie to come with me.  To know Maggie is to have some idea of how much she loves the beach.  I have known this child to tear up in the candle aisle at Target when she puts her nose up to the "Sea Breeze" scented one.  So, when I asked her to come along, even though it was going to be a short trip, she accepted.  I wanted some time with her.  We'd had a difficult year relating to one another and I thought a road trip would be a good opportunity to reconnect.  We'd both gotten off work and cleared our schedules around New Year's as the sister chatter began.  Everyone wanted to come; the other three sisters and a boyfriend were devising ways to accompany us.  We discussed, rearranged several times, trying to figure out how we could all go AND still have room for a 48 x 48 painting.  As a mom, I should've made a decision and stayed with it, right?  I couldn't.  I was so indecisive about the whole thing.  I was decisive about no boyfriends and multiple cars.  At least!  But Ellie and Bree also really wanted to come along.  I told them they could.  Then I told them they couldn't.  And so on.  Many reasons.  Lots of new data coming in last minute.  Ellie wasn't even getting off work until late, and I didn't know how the painting and four humans could fit in my vehicle.  Still, I was upset with myself because I couldn't make a decision.  On December 30, at 9 pm, Maggie and I packed up the car and headed down the road, leaving Ellie and Bree downtrodden and abandoned.  Ellie hadn't even arrived home from work yet when we left.  Maggie and I planned to drive all night and arrive in Englewood around 9-10 the next morning so we could fit two beach days in.  As we approached the highway, the feeling I had been trying to convince myself didn't exist, became so prominent.  I spoke it out loud to Maggie.  "I have this bad feeling that I can't explain.  Leaving right now doesn't feel right.  I've been trying to shake it all night, but it feels larger as I think about getting on the highway".  Maggie's response surprised me.  She said, "Wow, you should listen to that.  Let's go home".  I thought I'd get push back from her, knowing her ache for the beach.  We turned around and came home with plans to leave at 4 am the next morning, creating an opportunity for Ellie and Bree to come as well.  

The four of us and the painting got on the road around 4:30 the next morning, the last day of 2017.  I ws texting back and forth with my step-dad, keeping him apprised of our progress.  He was keen about keeping our secret.  All was going well.  I began to get a little drowsy so Maggie was more than willing to take over the driving.  After about 45 minutes of her behind the wheel and my futile attempts to get sleep, words one doesn't want to hear and vibrations one doesn't want to feel materialized in the air and all around.  I sat up, blinking, staring at the lit up instrument panel.  All the systems were lit up and the electrical gauge was in the red.  I could feel the car working hard to find juice.  I had recently replaced the battery.  Alternator?  I told Maggie to take the next exit.  We made it to the gas station.  The car was still running.  I took the car manual from the glove compartment and began reading, realizing that it was probably the alternator.  It was around 2:00 in the afternoon in Lake Park, Georgia on New Year's Eve.  I googled auto parts stores in the area.  There was a Napa 1.6 miles down the road.  AND they were open until 5!  I backed out of the gas station, praying the car had enough juice in it to make it that far.  All the while, I could feel it rumbling and working hard to find the power needed,  I could see the parts store just up on my left.  We are all cheering that silly SAAB on.  She stalled just as I made my left turn and we rolled into the parking lot right at the front door, with no power to spare.  I walked into the store, knowing they don't always have SAAB parts on hand, even though it's really a GMC Trailblazer.  Kyle from Napa looked it up and discovered he had my part.  We had already determined it was the alternator.  But who would install it the afternoon of New Year's Eve?  Kyle told me of a friend that was a mechanic who might be able to do it.  I called him and he said he could be there in an hour to install the part.  We hadn't stopped for lunch yet, so we walked across the street to a diner that was open for another hour.  

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As we sat at that diner, we began to notice the events of the last 24 hours.  We noticed that if Maggie and I had left the night before and the timeline was the same, we would've broken down at 4:00 am in the middle of nowhere.  Now, thanks to my dear friends who bought me an AAA membership for Christmas, I would've had roadside assistance. But who knows how long we would've had to wait for help.  We were talking about all of the provisions and the way we were feeling cared for, when Travis, the mechanic texted and said he was arriving soon.  He came and we installed the new alternator, let the battery recharge and we were back on the road.  We arrived to surprise my mom around 9:00 pm.  She was shocked to see us walk in the door with the painting.  The girls rang in the New Year at the ocean.  I wasn't coherent to actually see 2017 turn into 2018.  I was just happy to have my head on a pillow.

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Over the next few days and into the New Year, I began to listen to what this story was wanting to say to me.  I don't always know what the future is or what I'm headed toward.  So much of life is mystery.  But I do know this.  Life is a series of collaborative efforts with the Divine.  Even when God feels distant, as he has recently, he is still close.  Just because he feels that way doesn't make it so.  And, though I wonder sometimes, I do know what Divine sounds like.  And as I put my ear to the ground to listen, I can always hear something.  What I heard in those events is something I knew but forgot.  I was reminded that God has already been where I am going.  There was already a pathway forged, known to him and unknown to me.  The soft whispers of invitation, warning and kindness smacked of his presence.  My work in this collaborative effort was to stay open to love, even though I couldn't see all the moving parts.  Having a limited vision can feel so harsh, uncaring, unloving.  Watching that instrument panel light up, getting a life-threatening diagnosis, losing someone you love feels so lonely and cold and lifeless.  Human suffering.  Storms.  Death.  Darkness.  And yet, there is at work in us, a strange and nonsensical experience of deep trust that there are beautiful things happening that are hidden.  There are moving parts that we can't see.  O good Jesus, let this year be one of deep trust such as this.  Let my heart remember that wherever you take me this year, you've already been there.  You have already constructed a pathway and it has already been filled with your Essence.  Here's to moving forward with faith, hope and love in 2018!