The Watercolor Wound

When I was in elementary school, school came pretty easily to me.  My mind was quick; I usually understood the teacher the first time she told me something.  I memorized time tables and state capitols with ease.  And when I got to music class, boy, did I sing my little heart out each day.  I loved school, more than most kids, and went to such great lengths to learn that I would make up additional homework assignments for myself. 

The only time I dreaded school was on days when we would do art projects.  I have many vague memories of me tearing up at my little desk, frustrated at my lack of understanding.  I would fold something wrong, cut something wrong, glue something wrong.  When you don’t follow directions, the teacher yells at you for not listening.  I felt the other kids’ Halloween ghosts always looked better than mine.  They could draw better and paint better. I began to look at art class as if it was silly and pointless, but it was only because I “didn’t get it.” I just couldn’t make it perfect like I wanted to. 

Now, this may seem like a really silly, insignificant story to most of you.  You weren’t the best in art class. So what? But this kind of thing happens to people all the time. Somebody says You’re making my ears bleed! when you sing.  Somebody laughs at you when you dance. Somebody listens to a song you wrote and tells you it’s stupid and shallow.  And as unwelcome and one-sided as those comments may be, it stops us from expressing ourselves. It keeps us from creating. And in turn, the wound forms.

“No. I don’t dance.”

“I can barely draw stick people!” 

“I can’t carry a tune to save my life.” 

We leave creating up to the professionals, thinking if it’s not the best, we shouldn’t offer it at all. But when has the point of expressing ourselves ever been perfection? Not everyone can make one of the creative arts their vocation. But I believe it’s essential for the goodness of humanity that the everyman and everywoman create. 

My last semester of college, I felt rather daring and signed up for a beginner’s painting class. I bought all my supplies and eagerly went to the first day of class. But then I saw all the painting examples. The professor talked about all the beautiful things we would create. My stomach started doing flip flops. “I can never make anything even close to that standard,” I thought to myself. “My painting will be the worst one every time.”  I became so afraid of art again. And I dropped the class. “I would be so stressed out by this class. I would feel like I had to have everything perfect instead of just enjoying creating.” This was the reason I gave for quitting. It was true at that time. But instead of giving my wound a chance to heal, I turned away, afraid it would be cut even deeper. 

A couple weeks ago, I painted something that wasn’t a solid color for the first time since middle school.  (I wish I could show it to you all, but alas, it is currently in the possession of friends.) This painting is a water color of a willow tree woman – the trunk, her sloped body; the swaying branches, her hair. Her bark opens up to reveal a big, red, multi-layered heart. In a sense, she is a self-portrait; it was how I felt painting her. She is not perfection. No one will frame her. But I designed her with my own mind. And I think I may be on my way to healing that wound. 

summer warmth

Maybe it’s because the summer heat never really came this year. I can count on one hand the number of times the Iowa heat and humidity made sweat droplets on my forehead. I have lived in an un-air-conditioned home this whole summer – it hasn’t bothered me yet.

The strawberries and black caps have come and gone. The garlic has been harvested. Tomatoes are coming into their time. Green beans. Zucchini. Cucumber. Carrots. Kale. We’re rolling around in our abundance, filling our bellies with fresh food. “This has to keep going!” I think to myself. “Summer hasn’t even begun yet!”

There’s something beautiful about a summer figuring out how you can use less and create more. Less water, less electricity, less fuel, less waste. More dancing, more singing, more community, more love for others. How can I leave this place? How can I leave dipping my body into ice cave springs and fossil hunting? How can I leave the place and people that taught me to dance?

Even though the real, thick heat never came, the leaves will all turn red and yellow soon. And I will no longer live in this place where I mark my time by the harvests.

The heat in Tennessee is there, I’m sure. It’s waiting for me, longing to make me sweat a whole summer’s worth in the last few weeks of August. Nashville won’t welcome me back. It will suck me in to its beautiful self, the way it always has, and I’ll find myself running with the city rhythms. I’m sure I’ll run down my cute neighborhood street to the park and roll around in its Southern sweetness and feel like some sort of wonderful reunion is happening. I’ll drink some of the yummiest beer in the world with my roommates in my backyard and feel some sweet longing and belonging for what’s been and always will be in Nashville.

But the summer won’t leave my bones. How could it? My feet will long to be bare. I’ll remember it every time I dance, every time I sing all the songs I learned, every time I butter up a yam and make it taste like candy. The summer heat never really came. But the warmth this summer gave me will stick with me long after it’s gone.