It was so close to the start time that people would already be on their way to my workshop. I wouldn’t be able to cancel until everyone had arrived. Jen passed the phone to Felix. He didn’t want me to cancel. Jen promised to give me updates, and I promised I would meet them in hospital immediately after the workshop was done, sooner if he needed me.
For the next three hours, I served coffee and tea and painted with a roomful of lovely humans who were ready to pack up at any moment if Felix took a turn for the worse, and ready to keep me laughing and enjoying the process of creating for as long as he did not.
After cleaning up, I stopped by the house and grabbed the hospital essentials - toiletries for both of us and a week’s worth of strategically interchangeable outfits for me. My husband is newly blind. I don’t leave him alone in hospital. I followed Jen’s final text to his room number. Thanks to the painting session, I’d never been more at peace on my way to an emergency.
Over the twelve months since then, the shape of our lives has continued to change, funneling through dialysis clinics, our daughter’s high school programs and the very real needs that can push a teenager toward a confident adulthood or lifelong insecurity, moving house in order to nail down a more constant budget, the erosion of my stepdad's memories, the odd circumstances of the death of my Aunt Sandy, health issues in our extended family, issues with my own health, seismic changes in family structure.
It’s been a cataclysmic year for us.
I am worn down to my threads. I peck at a chapter here, a painting there. I forget thumb drives when I go on writing retreats, research themes too big for me (but that are somehow easier than sitting in the mottled present tense of what is my real life). I find myself drifting. Longing for beauty.
And this is why we need art. This is why we need story. This weekend, my despair was so great I couldn’t sit alone. My husband was so exhausted from having his blood artificially cleaned and pumped back into him that he had no energy to distract me. So I gobbled up What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Someone had mentioned it after they asked what my novel, The Former Lives of Buildings, was about. My protagonist, Like Moriarty's, wakes in the hospital having forgotten important events. I intentionally waited until my own book was finished before reading Moriarty’s (I’m currently shopping TFLoB around to agents). Alice's forgotten years helped me forget my losses for a day.
Last week, I spent some listless time walking around Adjectives Market, a co-op type shop filled with vintage, upcycled, and original ephemera. Sometimes, when I can’t stand being in my own head, I think about which room I’ll paint next in our new place.
I’ve temporarily stopped offering workshops. I haven’t hosted Artist’s Way groups in months. I am still hosting my writing circle because I don’t think I will survive these waves of loss without the collective writing experience for a few hours a month. But otherwise, I have let go of most of the peopling part of my art life.
But the part where I get to leave my life for a moment by living in the head of someone else - whether it’s my character or another author’s, the part where the overlap of red oil paint just past the edge of the white strokes of a bird’s feather, even the capture of real forget-me-nots in a drop of glass on Etsy - these quiet offerings of beauty keep me breathing, in, out. They ask nothing of me across a year that has already stolen far too much. Beauty asks nothing. It just exists alongside all the ugly and lets us notice it, or not.
Make art. We all need to breathe.