if I were a painter

if I were a painter

When we make something with our hands, it changes the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes the way we act. ~ Carl Wilkens


I am surrounded, here, by art—natural, and human-made, and human-created collections of the natural. To my left, photographs of trees, a tortoise, a spider’s web of Amazonian girth (which, I’ve learned, one can use to staunch the flow of blood, heal a wound). Behind me, a painting of two arctic graylings surrounded by a thousand words–three hundred more–a commitment, a project of inherent tedium and unending, painstaking, attention. Across the street, framed and hung on a wooden wall, fly two trumpeters painted upon an abstract background that captures every minute and extravagant aspect of the beauty of this singular place. I am in Montana’s Centennial Valley.

I, have only words. Made of spindly lines and curves, each one, like a single brush stroke, carrying little significance. There are more words than colors, more words than tools to place color on a canvas. Infinite, meaningless words, that wander across mind and page and only by sheer luck or through great fortitude tell a story nearly as purely as a painting.

I want to paint the trees and birds, the flat lake and its impossible line of light, the bulging clouds, the rainfall during the night. The moon, growing fat, yet full of dips and holes, places I risk being swallowed.

A brush in my hand, plump caterpillars of color on my palette; anything but dark pen, white paper, the shapes I’ve carved a million times, will carve a million times more.

My desk, in this cabin, is a hingeless door, black metal table legs bolted to its belly, propped on seven-inch blocks of wood to align its height with the window ledges, rough gray boards knotted and chipped, dry and splitting further with each shift of wind. My tall chair, a throne. Gentle brushstrokes, the paint green, indicate the place  where someone here before me painted–a small piece, the size of my own paper–on the left side of the desk. The green tells me only of its border, and I am left to imagine the rest—the vision, the story. For what we do is the same, we ache to tell a story, it wrestles us until it wins, whether by paint, by pen, by pencil, by arrangement of rock, feather, moss.

If I could only paint, use my hands to do more than wield a pen, I’m certain my stories would sing.

I would paint a grayling, a tamarask, a cormorant–sleek and black and curved of bill. I would paint on wood, let it dry and crackle and tell a story all its own.

I would sketch my story, trap my words inside the paint, daub and brush and seal them all, and with this, change the artist herself.

here’s my baby: be gentle

today I handed over a piece of my new project to my publisher.  if you’re any kind of a creator you can relate to the feelings involved, which are similar to those of a parent whose newborn child is on display.

possibly worse than being the parent is to be the viewer:  dare we speak our truth?  um, gee, that face is red and squishy, and the cheeks are out of proportion, and all those wrinkles around the eyes aren’t very attractive . . . the hair’s a mess, and yikes, look at her scrunch up her face and turn bright red and oh God, here comes a wail . . .    no, we try to find the positive and focus on that.  we put ourselves in the mind and heart of the parent and say, she’s beautiful.

as I handed these 4400 words over this morning, I told my publisher I’d already imagined a slew of responses he might have, considered what those might do to me and my project, and decided that I was going to keep moving forward anyway . . . so I handed the papers over.

and now I feel like I loaned him my baby.  he might come back with responses meant to mollify me, stroke me, encourage me.  he may say things that make me want to grab my baby back and never give it to him again.  he might be honest, and I may or may not like what he has to say.  it doesn’t really matter:  I will keep writing what I need to write.

I hope he likes it, of course.  I hope he thinks it’s fantastic.  but I also know that whatever he says I will hear through a parent’s (and a creator’s) self-protective, love-filled bubble.  I will listen, take in as much as I can, keep on writing, and subtly adjust as time goes on and the words flow through.

today I handed part of my baby to a relative stranger, and I’m waiting for him to tell me what he thinks of it.

I’m not holding my breath, but I am, however, gently holding my heart.