Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mylar Balloon Reflections (or Playing with Creativity)

From the window of my classroom, I can usually see kids outside playing. However, when there is no recess going on, I can see what lies beyond the school gates....a small church cemetery. (I can see the church too, of course....)

One day I noticed balloons and flowers on one of the graves. I could see them from the window, briliant colors blowing in the wind. Those balloons  got me thinking about life, and about how I am spending mine. Mainly in terms of what legacy I leave behind.

All I can do with Eric is hope I leave a lasting, valued impression on his life. Although I love my own parents, I am so different from them...I don't embody any of thier beliefs and/or values...other than my life, I'm not sure what thier legacy to me has been. My family life has not always been easy. There's a reason I sometimes need a little distance, whether it is 15 miles, 1,000 miles, or an ocean between us.  Which makes me wonder about Eric, about what life he'll embrace, and which of the values I've taught him - if any - he'll hold on to. And suddenly I'm aware that he is getting older, and that his childhood is passing faster than I can keep up.

There is still so many things I wish to make happen for him... I wish he had a sibling. I wish he had a father figure, or at least another person in his life who'd love him as I do. I wish he had a backyard.  And a pony.  And a pool... I wish so much...but I am only one person. What takes the primary bulk of my attention right now is simply living. The chores, the homework, the necessary family time and play, the woods romping, the laundry....what time I find to really focus and concentrate on dreams and ideas is usually the late evening hours, when the house is quiet. I unclutter my mind from the drama of the day and play with creating.

Play with creating, you say…isn’t it a serious, deep venture? Aren’t artists supposed to be on some different level than everyone else? Aren’t writers supposed to be ornery loners that possess more intelligence than everyone else? Aren’t poets and musicians supposed to be dreamy romantics who hop and skip through clover waving colorful ribbons? Okay, maybe I went too far on that one but I think you get the point. Play at creating makes it sound like I don’t take myself – or what I create – very seriously.

And you know what? I don’t. 

I did, once. When my life consisted of evenings spent in pretentious mod circles, sipping wine from plastic cups and eating Brie at art receptions and listening to other artists – or worse, myself – talk cryptically about their work and their reasons for creating it. The big favorites were always political or social justice issues. Rarely did anyone, even me, ever say ‘I created this because I just love painting!’ (you can change the setting here to literary reading or concert and insert poetry or music or writing in place of painting, the effect will be the same.) And my own work took on darker overtones, not because I had complex, deep issues, but because my seeming to have complex, deep issues made both me and my work more interesting somehow.

Then, I had a child. Wow. 

Deep, complex issues? Thanks, but no thanks. Political and social issues, yeah, I care about you, but I’m not inspired by you to create something just to prove to the world I care about you. And as to being on a different level than everyone else, well, I’ve come to the realization that Picasso was right when he said we spend our entire adult lives trying to create again with the freedom we created with as children. I’ve done the loner thing, it isn’t as fun or fulfilling as Hemingway made it seem. And I have skipped through clover waving colorful ribbons, I’ll admit that…but it was with my son, and we were playing with nature. 

And last night, I sat in front of my easel and had fun with dots and swirls. Perhaps my new work won’t be taken as seriously as some of my older pieces, but I don’t take myself as seriously as I did ten years ago, and I’m kind of okay with people not staring into my art and looking for pain and angst beneath the layers of paint, or reading my poetry and dissecting it, and so on. Life is short. I’ve no time for pain and angst, nor do I want to create any lasting thing that reflects it. I want to play. Not just with my child, but with art. And poetry. And the things that I write. If you've seen my yard, then you know I even play with my landscaping. And definitely my clothing. And if there is a message that my work, or my life, conveys, I want it to be this:


And so I look out the window at the balloons, so out of place on cemetery grounds, blowing in the wind, and I think about the legacy I will leave behind. I want it to be greater than paintings adorning the walls of strangers, a mention in an art book somewhere, an inclusion in an anthology on painters. While all of those things are nice, they’re not my sole (or my soul) ambition anymore.

Creating, like life, should be fun. When we take ourselves too seriously, we lose that element, not only from our work but from our lives, from our beings. I recently passed up a glitzy Friday night art reception to paint pottery with two 6 year olds, something the 25 year old me could not even have conceived of doing. And the most amazing thing of all is it was exactly what my heart desired to do.

As my 38th birthday approached and passed last week, I realized that having a child and working with children has spared me from the road of pretentious mod-ness that I was careening down at breakneck speed. Becoming a parent opened me up to a magic and a wonder I had forgotten in my quest for fame and fortune. It opened me up to skipping in meadows waving ribbons, getting my hands dirty, catching butterflies with nets, making flop cakes and ‘anything’ cookies. It opened me up to love something, finally, more than I loved myself. It opened me up to fun.

I still want my work, and my life, to have an impact. I’m passionate about environmental and social issues. But I’m more passionate about joy, and helping others find it. If there is a legacy left behind in my art or poetry or writing, I want it to be one of beauty.

And the legacy I want to leave behind for my child? Be joyous. Life is short. Create always, but create beauty. Help others to create beauty and find joy as well. There is no nobler pursuit in life than bringing joy to another, whether it is through art, writing, poetry, music, or by simply loving them and showing that love by sharing your most precious gift: your time and attention.

I may never be able to give my child a house with a yard, a pony, a pool, a sibling or a father figure for his life. But I can give him the gift of how to find beauty and joy through the act of creating, not for recognition or fortune, but merely for fun. I can make sure that whether or not he agrees with my political, spiritual, or even nutritional beliefs, he will at least know, for certain, that it life it meant to be lived. And it’s meant to be fun.

And when we take ourselves too seriously, well, it becomes our great misfortune.