I hopped in the car and backed down the driveway after a few teary hugs goodbye. The car was brimming with bounty, not unlike a pirate ship after a successful pillage. Tucked inside was a marble-topped table belonging to my maternal great grandparents, and a Victorian rocking chair, its skids brittle and faded after floating trapped in the recent great deluge indoors. A large silver tea tray set made the trip, complete with every accessory except the teapot, which got packed in one of many boxes somewhere else, not to be discovered until another chance moment in the future.
As I headed north towards Shreveport to pick up I-20, imagining the worst was not hard. Passing through small town after small town, the schools once epicentres of these sparse rural communities, they sat forlorn, dark and empty, their presence foreboding. Only the cows dispersed on either side of the highway, heads down, ripping the last of the pale winter grass by the roots, followed by a Dollar Store planted in the middle of a paved square, were the only indications of commonwealth whatsoever. I couldn’t help but envision the best of samaritans turning spontaneous swindler, like a chameleon changing to meet the color of its environment, after glancing the cavity of the swag bag in transit should mechanical calamity occur.
In total, it took 25-hours to drive home. I spent the night in Gadsden, AL, about an hour past Birmingham. It was a dry and dark run between the two cities. Finally exiting the interstate, it reminded me of the cluster of hotels in Elkton, MD we frequented when competing at Fair Hill. There were five all stacked together, along with a gas station and a Cracker Barrel. I picked my way through the parking lots to get to the “nicest one,” the Holiday Inn. I unfolded myself like a pretzel and walked my sea legs inside to the lobby.
“Sorry, we’re sold out.”
I picked my way back through the parking lot to the other side, what I considered the second “nicest” hotel. When I asked if they had a room, the young guy was hesitant in his answer, but after scrolling his computer screen announced, yes, they did. Shortly after, two other couples came in looking for a room, only to be told what I had already heard before: Sold out. I asked what was going on. We were in the middle of nowhere. Without looking up he said, “High School Basketball Tournament.”
I got the last room, caddy-corner to the front desk, and across from the ice machine. Needless to say, I discovered people’s affinity for ice is an around-the-clock necessity. I watched Killing Eve on my phone until fatigue bettered the day’s stream of adrenaline. I woke early the next day and showered, starting the day by rubbing the complimentary lotion into my hair, instead of the shampoo. It was not a great start for the last leg of the trip. Luckily, I found the Starbucks only a mile away, attached to the side of a truck stop.
With coffee in hand, I buckled up and started my entertainment for the journey: Wondery’s The Apology Line. It’s a true story about what started as an art project in the 80’s, turned into a cultural centerpiece that lasted well over a decade. I was only a young kid when this artistic experiment began, but listening to the voices and recorded messages from adults at that time made me realise the world was just as fucked up ideologically for a lot of people then, as much as it is now. Human struggle is as persistent as nature’s mission to fill the void with its own kind: relentless.
While I was visiting in Texas, I managed to stay awake during my second writing class. We learned a creative method called “clustering.” It is sort of like roping the stampede of your stream of consciousness into little seperate corrals for identification and branding. I had never done this exercise before and I found it very useful. I tend to operate habitually, which I don’t think is all that uncommon. Good habits are the sunny side of determination. But working on my own comes with benefits and constraints like anything else. I have no choice but to listen to my own words, developing attunement, but also coddling my idiosyncrasies hovering beneath the surface. This is the dark side of habituation. In short, I attribute some of my dry spells as nothing more than hitting the end of the runway that was built intentionally with consistency and determination. It is time to lay new rails in order to go different places.
This week one of our exercises was to write a passage of our own making with the opposite hand. I learned my right hand is highly critical when given the mic, as if it took a speedball and crashed into Jack Nicholson holding the knife standing in the hallway of the Overlook Hotel. Demons really do exist….inside of ourselves.
The last writing exercise she said, “I want you to write about the four qualities you can become…”
I was off and running. I listed “insivible” and “flying.” Then I got a little more grounded with “generous” and “intelligent.” (Combined, I thought, that sum would be much greater than its parts!)
“…I want you to write about becoming your creativity, your fear, your judgment, your perfectionism. If these parts of you were speaking to you, what would they say?”
Hmm, not as fun.
Looking down at my paper, I always want to start at the beginning of the instructions given, but Judgment leapt to the front of the line screaming, “Look at me, look at me, DAMN IT!”
This is what I wrote: “I am your judgment. I WIN!! I’m shiny blue like a rosette. No one can touch me, you fucking bitch. I taste like saltwater brine. Too big a mouthful and you choke, just like I want you to. I smell like erudite because I’m clever. I am Villanelle in nice clothes. I am beautiful, unassuming, even in my silver leggings and combat boots. No one ever sees me coming. I smile in your face as I submerge the knife.”
We read our writing to each other in breakout rooms. That was an unsettling experience, sharing our writing so off the cuff and spontaneous, with not a modicum of curation, but it was fun to hear what others wrote using the same prompt. Strangers transformed into peers, their writing pieces each a signature calling card all their own.
This is what I wrote about Creativity: “I am a flower girl with a coronet of daisies in my hair. I am free, a cloud, floating. I am Brene Brown, following the trail, leaving fresh prints. I taste like a desert morning, high above the boulders at Hueco Tanks.”
I said to Russ last night, “Guess what?”
He got the same funny look on his face he always does when faced with this ambiguous, always rhetorical, question.
“This morning I bought paint, brushes, and paper.”
He smirked. “Why?”
“So I can paint.”
“So I start to rewire my brain and access parts of it that are frustratingly dormant.”
“So get used to some really shitty art happening in this house!”
He smiled, shaking his head. “Oh…I will!”
“Maybe we can paint together and you can help me!”
“Hmm. Okay, we can do that.”
Because I married an artist. Someone who studied art long enough to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. It’s still in there. It’s in all of us. It’s taking the time to coax it out, inviting it to dance, even when we don’t know who is leading who, or we step all over each other’s feet as we round the floor.
In lieu of the potential bickering between a husband coaching his wife (in anything), I predict one of us in this marriage will end up with paint swatches all over our clothes, hair and faces instead.
Who will it be?