The end of year is a natural time to collect memories and, again, I am trying to make sense of this past year. I am twenty-four, mature in my better moments and childish in others, and a woman increasingly aware of physical changes in my body as I outgrow an effortlessly-thin teenage metabolism. This year, I have felt gratitude, wonder, loneliness, and physical sickness. I have felt joy and exhaustion in my job. I have felt envy, said yes to things I have wanted to say no to, and chosen selfishly. I have received forgiveness, second and third and fourth chances, and unconditional acts of love. I have used my hands to make, tried new mediums, and struggled with being creative in a social-media culture – as though I need to prove that I am creative and not some sort of artist fraud.
Lately, prayer makes the most sense to me through metaphors. Prayer is asking someone to go to an important party with you and genuinely not knowing what their answer will be. Prayer is throwing a net into the sea: maybe my request will be swallowed by the waves and maybe hundreds of fish will leap into my boat or maybe the net never actually left my hands because I can’t let go of whatever is worrying me. Prayer is the wise men following a star to find a child in a manger. Prayer is a thank you, a please change this, a this is not how it is supposed to be.
Several months ago, on the back porch of my sister and brother in law’s town home in Philadelphia, I found a really special kind of quiet that doesn’t exist in most city spaces. The low sunlight stamped everything with orange and navy shadows and the wooden panels of the porch hunched inward to fit in between its two adjacent buildings. I was thinking about being twenty three, about feeling healthy and more well than I have been for a lot of my life. I felt especially young and comfortable within myself. And I realized that I was especially interested in the present moment, a place I usually don’t find myself in.
I am sentimental more often than not. For a lot of my life, I have walked backwards, gazing at the past with gratefulness and bewilderment while tripping over the ever-coming present. How can I look where I’m going without forgetting? I’m forgetting all of the time – does that mean it didn’t happen?
There is something right in reading about a place while physically in that place. I have been reading Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm this week, slowly and carefully, and I probably need to read it at least two more times to make any kind of sense of it. It’s almost too good, too satisfying, to read about a moth burning like a wick in the flame of a candle on an island in the Puget Sound, while I, too, can see its damp gray earth and bruised, bluish currents slamming and tiding and swirling.
I see evergreens pregnant with soft, white frozen mounds, bearing weight with matured strength: a posture that pairs well with wire rimmed glasses and calloused hands. They are not tired; they are anchored and permanent and timeless. I need this kind of permanence, but I usually feel more like I’m floating a few frustrating inches off of the ground. I cannot leave footprints or smudges or impressions.
As a creative person – one who still often does not have the confidence to call herself an artist – I feel things deeply and inconveniently, like while in line at the grocery store or filling up my car with gas. I see moments of the kingdom of heaven everywhere and find myself frustrated because I cannot appreciate them fully. There is so much goodness to see, details that deserve to be sat with and relished in and adored, but life usually doesn’t give us this privilege. We have to choose what to focus on and let most of the everyday details slip away. I am constantly grieving these lost details.
It’s been a minute, well, several. I’m sitting here a little wide-eyed and out of breath, five days into a summer where (for the first time in my life!) the next few years are wide open. Wide open for me to dream, to meet new people, and to make big plans and continue to make make make. My learning will no longer happen in a structured environment, and I will no longer be enclosed within and committed to a few square blocks of intense academic and social stress. I am also grieving the loss of the gift of closeness to people that I don’t have to explain myself to, and that speak the familiar language of a close-knit community.
These past few months, my senior community art cohort has been meeting with community artists from all over Chicago and its suburbs: from pastors to art league directors to community organizers: people who live loudly, softly, confidently, humbly.
We’ve met muralists and sketchbook drawers and people that wouldn’t consider themselves artists at all; they just simply love spending time with other people.
People with all different kinds of personalities, the only thing they share in common, really, being their belief that art making matters to our well-being.
These past few months, I have been thinking a lot about the discipline and integrity behind good art-making: of continuing to put in hours when the inspiration is long gone, of loving and listening to the materials, of deciding that the details matter, even when no one else will notice them.
The more I explore art-making, the more I am convinced that as artists we have the responsibility (and privilege!) of being truth tellers: of protesting cynicism, of helping each other see ourselves clearly, of noticing beauty and slowing down long enough to pay careful attention to it.
After spending the past few months in New Hampshire, I am exhausted and shaken up in the best way possible: I am more whole, more here, and more honest. I have asked for, and received, a lot. I have experienced God answering prayer. And I have met dear friends that I may never see again.