Somewhere, amid the darkness,
a painter measures a blank canvas,
a poet tests a line aloud,
a songwriter brings a melody into tune.
Art inspires, provokes thought, reflects beauty and pain.
I seek it out even more in these times.
And in so doing, I find hope in the human spirit.
~ Dan Rather (via Twitter)
* * * *
The past couple of weeks have been unusually insane.
From the delightful (taking a dear friend out for his birthday), the exciting (joining a new singing group) and the thrilling (some news you’ll hear about in a later post), to the aggravating (a longtime client who was refusing to honor his promise to pay me at the agreed-upon time), the heartbreaking (my elderly aunt, who lives about 500 miles away and may be in her final days), the frustrating (an as-yet-unscheduled meeting, the scheduling of which I cannot control in any way), and the stressful (a brief to be prepared according to unfamiliar rules and filed in a court I’ve never dealt with), it’s been a whirlwind. So, on Friday night, when I finally received confirmation that the brief had been filed, I declared a holiday weekend. (Since I worked most of Labor Day weekend, I viewed it as comp time.)
To back up slightly: on Friday afternoon, while my co-counsel was handling some of the production on the brief, I had the temerity to leave the house. I went to the post office and to the bank, and then I did something I hadn’t done in two weeks—I went grocery shopping. I bought healthy food so I wouldn’t rely on takeout. I came home, put everything away, and let my co-counsel know that I was back on the job so he could tend to his toddler son for a couple hours. I seasoned a chicken and put it in to roast while I returned to my desk and worked some more on the brief.
Then came the first glimpse of sanity. I took an actual dinner break. As in, a real meal—chicken, potatoes, steamed green beans—and I didn’t eat it at my desk. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I finished eating and went back to finish up the brief. I sent it to my co-counsel, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave my desk until he texted one word: “Done.”
It was 10:21 p.m. My weekend was about to begin.
So I did what anybody else would do under those circumstances: I cleaned up the kitchen. I put the chicken carcass, pan juices, and giblets into the crockpot for stock. I loaded the dishwasher and washed whatever didn’t fit. I vacuumed up cat food crumbs and cat hair. I Clorox-wiped the countertop and stove. I chatted with a friend who lives in another time zone. I felt more revved up than tired, but I finally went to bed around 2:30, because I had Plans.
You see, the weekend after Labor Day is one of the high points of the year in my little town. For two days, Hubbard Green is transformed into bounty of artistry with the annual On the Green Show. The show includes painters, photographers, mixed-media artists, potters, and craftspeople of all types. At one end of the green, a local poets’ group holds a reading of its work; at the other, a few select food booths offer everything from freshly-squeezed limeade to Thai food to cranberry apple quinoa to the most decadent cupcakes in the state.
As much as possible, I plan my schedule around this show. Literally every room in my house—including the bathroom—has at least one piece I’ve acquired at the show over the years. In 2000, shortly after the ending of a major relationship and the death of my first cat, I fell in love with an oil painting by Jenny Wong, a New York artist. It was the first painting I ever bought. It’s been sitting on my mantelpiece for nearly twenty years, and I’ve never tired of it.
In addition to paintings, prints, photographs, and a couple of pieces involving dried flowers, the show has also provided me with a number of unique pieces, including a handmade toothbrush holder and matching toilet brush holder. I’ve also found lovely necklaces and earrings. One year, I bought a royal blue wool cape–not my usual style, but I adore it, and it inevitably garners compliments.
The show is a fabulous place to buy unusual gifts. I purchased a menorah as a wedding gift from an artist who works in metals and always has her booth down by the poets’ tent. A couple years ago, when a friend turned sixty, I found a large ceramic plate swirled in blue and gold; the colors worked beautifully with her living room.
The show runs for two days, Saturday and Sunday. One year–a few years after I purchased the Jenny Wong painting–a friend and I went to the show on Sunday afternoon, we cruised through the booths, oohing and aahing. Then, I came one of Those Paintings.
For background, let us move for a moment to Paris in 1987. I was up at Montmartre where the street artists were set up. I found a lovely watercolor—I still recall the primary hue was bottle-green. I began negotiating with the artist. She wanted 350 francs; I wasn’t willing to go higher than 300. When she wouldn’t budge, I walked away. For thirty-two years, I’ve kicked myself for not just paying the stupid 50 francs, because I should have, because if I had, I’d have that painting instead of just a fading memory.
So I learned my lesson. There are plenty of things produced en masse, but when you fall in love with a piece of art, you need to listen to your heart. Some artists will even offer to negotiate; when I was looking at Jenny’s painting, she was the one who came up quietly beside me and said, “I can do better,” and I knew she wasn’t talking about the artistry. With memories of Paris lingering, I moved gently into this discussion. Within a few minutes, I was on my way to fetch my car as she wrapped the painting in large plastic bags to protect it because it was just beginning to rain.
All this meant that on that Sunday afternoon a few years later, I knew when I saw one of Those Paintings. I stopped and I looked. My friend asked what was wrong, and I said, “I don’t want to leave this painting, because once I do, I’m never going to see it again.” The price tag was a bit daunting—certainly more than I could afford at the moment. The artist and I discussed price and payment; fifteen years ago, it was not uncommon for artists as these shows to lack the technology to accept credit cards. Finally, we arranged that an artist a few booths down would run the transaction. I brought home the painting that now hangs over the piano. It took a couple months to pay off that credit card bill, but I’ve never regretted it.
Returning to the present: Saturday morning, my mother called at 11:30 and woke me up. (Remember, I was cleaning the kitchen into the wee hours of Friday night.) I knew I wanted to get to the show in time for the poets since one of my neighbors, Clare Mazur, would be reading. The weather was spectacular, crisp and clear. It was a good day for layers—when the wind kicked up, it was chilly, and in between, the sun made everything hot. I plunked my broad-brimmed straw hat on my head and set out.
The show runs shuttles from the high school parking lot to the green, but I preferred to walk. It’s a lovely tree-lined neighborhood—one I know well, because I lived there for two years before moving to my current location. The only jarring note was the detritus of what appeared to be a one-vehicle accident on a side road; a white car with Massachusetts plates lay on its side, with what looked like a portable set of steps jammed up against it to keep it from rolling onto its roof. A man on the sidewalk was taking video, but he didn’t seem to be involved. Instead, I had the impression he was someone who was passing by and thought it was an interesting scene.
I reached the show and had time for a quick stroll around before it was time to gather for the poetry. The poems were written as responses to certain paintings. For each, the painting was set on an easel so the audience could see it, and the artist gave a brief explanation of how she came to paint it. Then, the poet explained what it was about the painting that prompted the particular poem, and finally the poem was read. Six or seven poets read; then, they came back again and each read a second poem of their own choosing.
The presentation lasted about an hour. Afterward, I began my circuit of the show. After all these years, I’ve learned how to approach it. Rule #1: don’t commit to the first thing you see. (I know, I know—it sounds like the dead opposite of what I said about Those Paintings. This is just a general rule. Those Paintings are in a class by themselves.) My first stop was a jewelry booth with some lovely silver necklaces. Since I wanted a necklace to go with a particular dress, I decided that the easiest thing would be to wear the dress to church on Sunday and stop at the show on the way home so I could try the necklace with it. The artist promised that she’d bring extra chain the next day so she could cut it to the correct length if need be. (This is yet another of the marvelous things about such shows: the artists are such delightful people.)
From there, I ambled down the rows, zigzagging when I chose. This being New England, there was a plethora of seascapes, as well as paintings and photographs of boats and woods. This is probably why I was struck by a booth boasting dozens of prints of wildlife not indigenous to these parts. It turns out that the photographer conducts photographic safaris to Africa on a regular basis. Since my sister loves elephants, it occurred to me that she might like one of his (many) elephant photos for Christmas. I took his card, watched the booth for a few moments while he heeded the call of nature, and promised to return the next day.
My next stop was at a booth with silk scarves. They were water-marbled, a term I’d never heard before. I noticed two long boxes filled with water, but the artist didn’t say anything about them, so I focused on the scarves that were hanging. Since I tend to pick the same colors over and over, I knew the wiser approach would be to look at what was in my closet to see what I needed to complete some outfits, and so I planned a return stop for this booth as well.
Saturday evening was quiet. I’d recently received a wedding invitation; the response card included a blank for “song selection,” which I didn’t understand, and so I spent some time texting with the bride’s father to find out what this meant. (Turns out, the DJ is assembling a playlist. The bride’s father said he’s going to choose “old music” which, to him, meant “Cherish” by the Association. I told him my choice is Nat King Cole’s “For Sentimental Reasons.”) Then, I did some creative cooking, gathering the leftover chicken and the herbs and tomatoes from the garden and some leftovers from earlier in the week to make a lovely pasta. I ended the night by emailing about the big news I mentioned earlier that I’ll talk about in a later post since this one is already long (and the best part is yet to come).
Sunday morning after church, I returned to the show. The necklace artist helped me decide on the right chain length. The wildlife photographer talked about the elephants as I chose photos. At a pottery booth, I bought a wedding present for the couple who will dance to “For Sentimental Reasons.” At another booth, I splurged on a print of a watercolor I’d admired the day before. At the food court, I resisted the siren call of the decadent cupcakes, electing instead to have a simple iced tea with fresh mint.
And at the water-marbled silk booth . . . I made my own scarf.
I don’t know if I’d have done it, or even thought of it, but just as I arrived, a woman was about to begin. I watched as the young man working the booth guided her through the process. The scarf she produced was so beautiful that I knew I wanted to do it. And so, I did:
(Note: a kind young woman offered to take photos while I made my scarf. She also took several short videos of the process. Unfortunately, I’m not able to post the videos here, but if you’d like to see them, I invite you to my Facebook page, P. Jo Anne Burgh, Author.)
I returned home tired, a bit financially depleted, and utterly delighted. I made lunch and sat on the porch with the paper and my sandwich. I debated whether to try to get to New Britain for an afternoon concert I’d been considering, but in the end, it felt like too much of a rush. Instead, I treated myself to a pedicure at the nail salon near my house, after which I came home and took a nap with the cats. When I woke up, I read and commented on pieces for my writers’ group tomorrow. My mother called with an update on my aunt. I fixed dinner, watched a movie, and sat down to write this post.
Mind you, I could easily have spent the weekend doing errands and chores. I desperately need to do some laundry, and the kitchen floor still needs washing. The lawn is looking a bit shaggy. The driveway is littered with broken acorns so that driving on the blacktop sounds like driving on gravel. The windows need to be washed before the weather turns cold. And don’t even get me started on the state of the garage and the basement.
Similarly, administrative tasks await in my office. I didn’t file away the brief documents or update my recordkeeping. I didn’t attend to the growing pile of documents to shred. I didn’t even vacuum the rug.
But all those things will be done in their time. This weekend, I needed more than just to check items off a to-do list. As a friend says, I needed to do things that fill my soul. Like a sponge, I soaked in the beauty of the art, the poetry, the music. I played with the cats. I worshiped. I kept tabs on my family. I pampered myself. I rested.
In her beautiful little book, A Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes with grace and eloquence about how people—especially women and artists—spill themselves away in service to everyone else, and they need to be replenished and refilled. Her solutions include solitude and creative pursuits, and I wholeheartedly concur. While my weekend was not solitary–I enjoyed plenty of interactions with friends, family, and strangers–what was delightfully absent was the demands for assistance that so often flood my voicemail and my inbox. How delicious to have two whole days with no one saying, “I need you to do this,” or “Can you do that by tomorrow?” Instead, I had the freedom to revel in other people’s artistry, and even to dabble a bit myself. It was as good as a vacation. Maybe better.
And in case I ever forget how necessary it is to pause for refilling, I have my very own handmade, unique, water-marbled silk scarf to remind me.