cyndee lauper would be proud

I have never been an artist. And I mean ever. When I was in school and had to do an art project, my “people” were sticks with constipated expressions and my “houses” looked like they were taken out of a Tim Burton film. Beautifully majestic animals such as horses were reduced to moose-faced, bat eared, pot-bellied, scoop-assed puppies.  Don’t even get me started on colours – it took me awhile before I realized that the clouds were white and the sky was blue.

But yesterday, something amazing happened.

For the first time, I helped create something full of colour and design and beauty. Completely and totally by accident.

If you’ve ever watched The Princess Diaries (come on, you know you have, at least once.) you  might (or might not care to) recall a scene where Mia’s mother is found making something called “abstract art.” To me, this means that you can do whatever the heck you want with it and you can call it art. The kind of stuff the 4 year olds makes millions off of nowadays.

 Why do I exist.

Anyways, her method is to have a plain board as a backdrop, pin as many paint-filled balloons on it as you can, put some darts in your quiver and fly at ‘er! How could that not be fun? Without mentally realizing it, I put this activity on my bucket list but never knew when the opportunity might come up.

Now we come to this year. I moved into a house with 3 other girls who are almost as motivated to do as many crazy things as I am. During our move, we managed to acquire a sheet of wood and didn’t want to just throw it out, so Joanna said, “Why don’t we someday make a painting on this? Have you girls ever watched Princess Diaries where they throw darts at balloons full of paint? I think that would be so fun!”

I feel like our souls know each other.

And before you know it, “make an abstract painting” was added to our “To Do Before the Summer Ends” List – trying to get everybody’s schedules to coincide so that we can all do it together at the same time is another matter entirely.

We got to the point where we knew we would do it sometime THIS WEEK. At the same time, I was also expecting a letter in the mail from a friend in Smithers. I love getting mail. I probably checked the box 10 times a day in anticipation. Those mail carriers are sneaky little dodgers, you know. I could have checked, found nothing, gone to the bathroom, checked again and found something. When I finally did get it, I was so pleasantly surprised. This friend had made me a card containing a letter filled with nothing less but how awesome she thinks I am. Simply for being my unique and crazy self. (Elena, if you’re reading this, I’m SO writing you back. This doesn’t even count.)
But one thing in particular that stuck out to me was the quote she’d written inside the card:

 “Life is a great big canvas and you should throw all the paint you can on it.” (Danny Kaye)

I have always regarded myself as having a “colourful” life, but I had never really considered that this made me an artist.  Remember, I’m the girl that messes up everything she puts her hands to; I might as well have no hands for all the beauty I’m able to create with them. But here was someone who had been silently watching my life and admiring the picture I was creating with it, all the while I saw nothing but mistakes, clashing colours and awfully morphed shapes that made no sense. And maybe…maybe she’s not the only one. Maybe she’s one of those rare people who would pay a million bucks for a toddler’s finger painting because it’s not about the quality of the artwork – it’s who it comes from and the potential they have to become someone fully, beautifully realized, inside and out.

With this encouragement in mind, I tackled our project yesterday with gusto. I blew up balloons, filled them with paint using a turkey baster, and pinned them to that wall with determination – I even had 2 of them explode all over me while I was pinning them and didn’t really care. My body became a bit of an abstract painting itself.

The four of us looked proudly at our board full of balloons, just waiting to be popped, when we realized: we have no darts. We have gotten this far in our goal and we have no dangerously sharp objects to throw around and hope that none of us end up in the hospital.
Did we fret? No! We adapted – 4 forks were taken from the drawer, and let me tell you, those babies will never be the same again. We have decided that they will become part of the memory on the wall instead of being used to put food in people’s mouths for any reason ever.

Our neighbour Dave pulled into his driveway as we were halfway through, and he was pretty skeptical that it would actually look nice. After we were done, he said he’d be willing to pay money for it, to which we responded, “Sorry, no deal!”

It was then I realized: I was part of this. I didn’t screw it up. I was an artist. Just because there were no set rules or lessons or even proper tools doesn’t mean we didn’t create something fantastic…something amazing…something BEAUTIFUL. This is going to hang on our wall. If it wasn’t in my house, I’d be fricken jealous.

I am an artist. You are an artist. Kinda like…I am the Eggman. You are the Eggman. But only I am the Walrus, so too bad for you, Kookookachu.

But, no seriously. Everyone has been given the ability to create something amazing and that makes you an artist even if you never use paint. You just do your best to put all your colour, pizzazz and life into what you’re creating and don’t listen to the haters. You’re always going to have them. But you’re also always going to have at least one person who’s willing to pay money to see what you’re going to make next.

Not that it will be easy. Guaranteed, you’re going to work hard on something only to have it unexpectedly explode all over you. But that’s when you’re given the chance to let your own self become a work of art as well.

 It’s like you can’t lose – you’re either creating or you’re being created. I love those kinds of odds.


Oh Mother

One week.

That’s all that’s left before she’s gone.

You know what? I’ve had a great week. I’ve caught up on some sleep, I’ve had so much encouragement from friends about the growth I’ve made as a person in the last year, and I made Amish Friendship Bread for the first time without something bad happening to it or the people who ate it. I’ve even started making lists and plans for my next steps in life. The road is wide open before me; what can’t I do? (Don’t answer that.)

But once again, reality hits, just like the rain that’s been pelting the pavement for the past 12 hours. My mother – the one who bore me, raised me, protected me, stood by me, who I’ve alternately loved and hated – is being forced to leave the country in one week. When I see her on Monday, this will be the last time I see her for who knows how long. For years, I’ve been envisioning what this moment might be like.

Nothing prepared me for the tug-of-war that my heart would be fighting.

While I’ve been busy counting my blessings, she’s been counting her dollars and her days left and her options. I have helped with almost none of it. I’ve always felt that our relationship was this twisted, symbiotic blob where no one was quite sure who was the mother and who was the daughter. If I helped her, that would feel like a mother stepping in to rescue her daughter from the mistakes she’s made and enabling her to continue doing so. No, I had to steel my backbone and tell myself, “She’s a big girl; she’s made her bed and she can sleep in it. She’ll thank you for it one day.” And meanwhile, I mentally shake my head that these are actually the thoughts I’m thinking. Just when did I become the mother in this duo?  Have I taken one tentative step away from that craziness? Or am I a heartless, selfish daughter who is now guilty of turning away her own family in their time of need?

Growing up, there are sounds I heard every day that became part of my existence – to the point that when I hear them now, I’m instantly transported back to place I first heard them.

The clacking buckles of a guitar case. The slightly-sharp/slightly-flat process of tuning the guitar strings just right. The melodious picking of fingers moving so fast I could hardly see them. The heavy up-and-down strums, back to quiet picking. The scales, the suspended 4ths, the minor 5ths. I learned all of it without actually touching the guitar once. My mother was a master of this carved wood and string. She could move an entire crowd to tears as they heard her sing words pregnant with meaning. I can still remember some of them if I think really hard.

And then, for some reason, she put the guitar away and didn’t touch it for 7 years. The only evidence that she’d ever even written anything was a quarterly check we received from sheet music being purchased by her circle of listeners. She became someone else far removed from the idol I had worshiped growing up. Yet as much as I adored her, I knew that I would never want to play the guitar simply because she did. If I was going to be known for anything, people would not be able to say, “Of course she plays the guitar; just look at her mother!” Underneath the love and admiration was a deep desire to never be like her.

Honestly, I thought in 7 years, she must have lost her touch when it came to that guitar. After all, she’d lost touch with everything else in life and all I could do was watch and take more mental notes of what not to do.

But I was proven wrong. In 2 of our more recent visits, she has picked up and dusted off other people’s guitars and again I’m 6 years old, hearing those strings being plucked into perfection. It’s like there’s been an invisible magnet between her and this instrument, as though she can sense they are out of tune and she cannot sit by and let them stay that way. And somehow, she proceeds to wow me with new music material that is so spellbinding and even tear-inducing.

Somehow, this knowledge hurts more. When she plays, I glimpse the woman she once was, the ancient receiver of my adoration. But too much of real life has passed between those strings. They have been slammed, stretched, bent out of tune to the point where I can’t listen to what she says when she sings because it doesn’t line up with the rest of her life. I wish with all my heart that it did. People who hear her for the first time are amazed, but I have lived with what goes on when the guitar is inside the case, silent.

Maybe we all have an ” instrument” we hide behind. Something so camouflaging that we can hide our true selves behind it, something so enticing that no one would notice the difference unless they looked closely. The tears fill my eyes because as much as I know my mother, I don’t know her at all. She is an intimate stranger who has passed along the gift of music, a resilient spirit and not much more. This I grieve as I let her go, my little mother in the process of growing up.

If only I could bang the keys of a piano until I manipulated an answer from it. But I choose to not let this become my instrument of disguise. I will instead hide my soul in something — Someone — much greater, and I trust that I won’t get lost in the notes.

This is a beautiful song by City & Colour. Just change the word from “sister” to “mother” and it expresses my heart so well.

Oh sister,

What’s wrong with your mind?

You used to be so strong and stable.

My sister,

What made you fall from grace?

I’m sorry that I was not there to catch you.

What have the demons done?

What have the demons done?

With the luminous light that once shined from your eyes

What makes you feel so alone.

Was it the whispering ghosts

That you feared the most?

But the blackness in your heart

It won’t last forever.

I know its tearing you apart

But it’s a storm you can weather.

Oh sister,

Those lines etched in your hands

They’re hardened and rough like road map of sorrow.

My sister,

There is a sadness on your face

You’re like a motherless child who’s longing for comfort

Whats running through your veins

That’s causing you such pain?

Does it have something to do with the pills they gave to you?

What is eating at your soul?

Was it the whispering ghosts that left you out in the cold?

But the blackness in your heart

Will not last forever

I know it’s tearing you apart

But it’s a storm you can weather.

Oh sister…My sister.