Monday, July 21, 2014

Gratitude for artists

This morning,  gratitude.

My small piece of the world has been turbulent.  Not in the way that Syria or Gaza or Lebanon is turbulent, I am not so conceited.  A smaller piece than that, small enough to fit inside my own skull. 

In here, it's been turbulent awhile. The balancing act of mother and scientist and teacher and wife and friend and daughter and self has been poor.  Roles have been dropped, and retrieved again, dusty and somewhat covered in cat fur, from the floor.  I shake them off and try to crawl back into them, and find they don't quite fit.  There's a tag that's too scratchy, and it's nagging at me, all day long.  I have bad mother nightmares: my husband lets go of Kid 2 in a deep lake and I can't get to him in time - all I can do is watch him sink out of sight in green water as I dive after, never diving fast enough.  I wake up terrified.

I have work nightmares, that dredge up all the long last friends and frenemies from childhood and populate my office with them, and they watch as I fail there, too. I wake up sick, knowing I'll never live up to who I should have been.

It's all bullshit, I know that.  Or mostly.  We're never - none of us - the most  brilliant, shining, perfect versions of ourselves that we can be.  And I have proofs enough, one would think, that neither my kids nor my colleagues find me a failure.

One of my students wrote me a note last week, with a photo attached.  English is not his first language.  He wrote:

"Dear Rebecca,
Here are some of the nice pictures of you and lovely Kid 1 on the tide-pooling trip. Hope you like it. Besides, I really enjoy your class. It is the most funny and attractive class that I have ever take! It spark my interst in oceans and I'm looking forward to the rest of the classes. :)

Best wishes."
 
And he sent me this, in which I'm surrounded by my students and holding an octopus, gently lifted for a moment from its seaweedy home:
 

That should cheer anyone, should it not? And yet, inside my skull, there's not been much but swirling angst.

This morning, two emails.  Both from artists, very different artists. 
My dear friend Ruthie, a painter and hand-carver of astonishingly intricate, delicate, beautiful paper art, who is living in Israel with her three kids, the same ages, roughly, as mine.  I'm feeling like a failure for not sending mine to more challenging summer camps. She's breathing deeply and sending hers to camp while rockets are blasted out of the air.  She puts my worries in perspective, and she takes my breathe away with her compassion and integrity and strength and love, while living in a place that badly needs those things.  We've been corresponding about Gaza, near daily, for weeks, and all I can think is that I must have done something right to have a friend like Ruth.  She reminds me, gently, how deeply I am not alone.

My advisor in all things important, Clive.  A painter and gardener and illustrator and a hundred things more in Wales, objectively one of the most preeminent artists in Great Britain, invariably one of the kindest and wisest men I have ever known. He said to me, this morning: "A painting should be like life: lots of peculiarities that are unexplained and will most likely remain that way."  I needed that reminder: that life, too, must contain mysteries.  That I can be at peace without explanations, without understanding or knowing everything I want to understand and know.  That wondering is ok, too.

I'm a scientist, and my life would be so very poor without artists.  I am so grateful, today, for these two amazing people.  On a morning when I needed them, they were both there, without my asking, and in the ten minutes before breakfast, I learned so much.

Thank you, my friends.