life art

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.” - Neil Gaiman


 

So there’s a Salvation Army “Family Store” right next to the gym where I just bought a membership (about three months ago, it feels like “just"), and anyway I think I’ve spent more money thrifting than I have for the cost of the membership. Yesterday, for instance, I bought two paintings, one an original watercolor of a European city street around about 1800, the other a print of an oil painting, a modern American sidewalk under a great oak (?) that looks about from 1950—like To Kill a Mockingbird on a sunny day, when Scout grew up and felt like smiling. This second piece of art has blues and greens and bright spots of yellow for the sun. It’s altogether cheery, as is the other one.

Within the scope of my room, these two paintings feel right. I have a multicolor rug—with pinks, oranges, greens, blues, whites, purples, gold, all kinds of colors—and a red ottoman, and grey pillows. The room is a welcome mat for art. At least, I tried to make it be.

In thinking back on the places I’ve traveled in 2018, it seems like I’ve continued to maintain this bohemian identity, as though I’m not quite a wanderer but definitely I remain an eclectic, artistic individual. It’s true that I like to experience new places and drink in new cultures until I feel I at least somewhat understand them. I like to get a feel for the scenery, let the aura of a place sink in.

In January and February, I was still in Shreveport, Louisiana. I lived on Dalzell Street in a yellow house with my new dog, Gigi—my lover, terror, and immediate best friend for life. 2018 was the year of our becoming acquainted. She continues to expect a cookie every time she mounts a set of stairs, because heck, of course! we made that habit of running up the church steps on Fairfield Avenue and she got a cookie every time. So we learned the nature of building habits. That is: we learned that habits stick.

Then there was Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our first place, near Richmond Park, with the seagulls and squirrels and deciduous trees on the slopes. Gigi’s first true snows. She met my friends, finally, from college, learned their names and learned that they loved her and then she met some new people too. And so did I. We built the habit of spending time with people consistently, and not being hermit-like (as I had learned to be, in Maine!).

There were burger dates with my brother, coffee dates with Lauren, dinner dates with a few men. Then there came a writing group, an interim job as a proofreader and fifty-two books in two months (damn, that’s a record!) Then Gigi and I moved again, to an apartment off of Plainfield, third floor on the end, where she’s asleep on the couch behind me now, curled up like a fetus in a womb. Tomorrow I’ll leave her at four a.m. to head to a church kitchen to keep doing my job as a baker at RISE Authentic Baking—the job that got me up north. And hey, that seems enough of an event. I moved to Michigan. As a five-year-old, and at ten, at fifteen and even throughout college, didn’t I always imagine myself here? Didn’t I always want to stay in Michigan? In my dreamland?

So yes, Neil Gaiman, I hear your words about making good art, and I believe in them. Because even though I’ve just talked about all the good things of 2018, there were bad parts too—parts I don’t want to mention, not here, not now. My life is a welcome mat for art, or at least the art of learning who I am under the great expanse of who God is, that God who created all color, all expression, all feeling, all humanity in its intricacy. I cannot believe such a great artist doesn’t exist. All ideas come from something.

2019 seems like a year for looking skyward. That ought to be enough—or at least enough for a start.

Then, I’ll just start making art.