Yesterday I took an old painting I didn't like very much and turned it on its side and painted over it! It was quite fun to have the original painting add color and texture from underneath the new paint. The red flower sticking up at the left was in the original. Too bad the color is a bit washed out in the photo. In any case, I had fun painting it.
Some weeks it takes me several days to read the Sunday New York Times, and so it was this week. I finally read "The Week in Review" this morning. I was delighted by Thomas Friedman's op-ed piece "Yes, They Could. So They Did." about two young Yale grads who approached Friedman at an Energy and Resources Institute conference in New Delhi and took him on a driving tour of the city. A driving tour in their plug-in electric car that also has solar panels on its roof providing ten percent of its mileage. Earlier this year they took their car on a 2,100 mile "climate solutions road tour" around India, joined by other creative climate-conscious innovators, entrepreneurs, and artists, to "inspire more action and more innovation" especially among young people.
So where does Ms. Frizzle come into this? It has to do with thinking outside the box, trying zany things. (See my previous blog and her motto, "Take chances, get messy, make mistakes.") Friedman's column ends with the following quote from one of the climate solutions road tour innovators:
"Why this mad, insane plan to travel across India in a caravan of solar electric cars and jatropha [a local biofuel] trucks with solar music, art, dance and a potent message for climate solutions? Well. . . the world needs crazy ideas to change things, because the conventional way of thinking is not working anymore."
For a relatively brief span of time, Bekah and Anna (and I) used to watch PBS' "The Magic Schoolbus" featuring the unconventional teacher Ms. Frizzle. Actually, I don't really remembering watching many episodes on TV, but I do remember reading some of the thin, cartoony paperback books based on the show (or was the show based on the books?). In any case, what I remember best and, it turns out, only a little bit scrambled, is Ms. Frizzle's teaching motto: "Take chances, get messy, make mistakes!" We could all use a dose of that kind of thinking now and then, at least I know I could. Maybe there are some professions in which following that advice would be disastrous--it's probably not a great idea in medicine, for instance, although medical research probably depends on a decent share of taking chances following hunches. (And maybe even the practice of medicine does also, perhaps more than most of us would like to imagine! In that realm, taking chances is one thing; making mistakes is another.)
In any case, I find myself thinking that if I were an art teacher, or any kind of teacher with a classroom for that matter, I think I'd have that motto written in large colorful letters posted in a place of honor. I kind of wish I'd been encouraged to take chances, get messy, and make mistakes, rather than to play it safe, stay tidy, and aim for getting things right. (In my school days, I was like the Magic Schoolbus character Dorothy Ann who was so dependent on her book learning and a bit scared to venture beyond it.) At least I can do things differently now.
I googled Ms. Frizzle and found a few more favorite sayings: "Never say never." "Look for connections." "What you don't look for, you won't see; what you don't see is very hard to find." Or something like that...
I happened to catch the second half of Rick Steeves, the PBS travel guy, speaking to the Commonwealth Club of California (now called the CC of Silicon Valley?) about his recent travels to and filming and writing about Iran. I think of him as mostly a friendly, jolly guy whose TV programs often move so fast through interesting places that just when your curiosity has been piqued, he has moved on to somewhere else! But this talk, clearly accompanied by images (I almost said, "slides"--how neolithic of me!), was longer, more in depth, seemed to me more intimate and frank than his TV pieces, and included the bending and breaking of lots of American stereotypes of Iran. He clearly lives and breathes the horizon expanding possibilities of travel.
The program ended with some real feistiness on Steeves' part as he responded to questions from the audience, suggesting that much of the world has reasons for thinking of the United States as having some of the hallmarks of "empire," which he says always gets people riled up. He spoke of the "travel writer as political activist" and again and again held up a mirror to his American audience to better illuminate our own biases and lopsided perspective on global topics. (Also, our tendency to vote as leader of a minority of four against a hundred and forty-something nations on many United Nations initiatives aimed at solving global issues. Our regular allies? Israel, the Marshall Islands, and Mauritius, I think he said.) If you can find it to listen to on line, I highly recommend it. I guess there's a PBS show that may already have aired (if so, I missed it) or is about to. It sounds like worthy of viewing (he even spoke of wanting to get a copy into the hands of every member of Congress!).
Well, that seems clear enough! The other night I dreamed that I was back at the church where I worked in Concord, Massachusetts before David and I moved to Maine. I was at that church when David and I "courted" and got engaged and married and started our life as a clergy couple, visited by what I called my "psyche invasion dreams," with the rector and various parishioners appearing in our bedroom and bathroom and other such intimate spaces (I'm talking nighttime dreams here!).
So in this latest dream it was late in the week, and I knew it was my turn to preach on Sunday and that I hadn't started any sermon preparation. I was heading home to my house right next door to the church (Oh, did I not mention that? That was true in the daytime as well as in my dreams.) when I decided I needed to go back upstairs to my office. I turned to head back up the stairs in the parish house, and due to recent renovations, the door that used to lead to the hallway to my office was blocked off! There was fresh new wall board in place, not yet even painted. I decided to try another way around through the other end of the hall, but that door was now a wall as well! I was still trying to figure out another way back when I woke up.
I like that phrase "due to recent renovations." Last April when I formally renounced my ordination, the bishop made sure that I understood that this was for all intents and purposes an irrevocable step. There would be no going back to being a priest as far as the Church is concerned. From the official Episcopal Church perspective there never was a way back. But I trust that this dream was communicating to me about my own inner reality: that over the past nine months (what a catchy-sounding time span!) there have been renovations taking place, and now from the perspective of my own deepest self, I'm moving on. Episcopal priest? Been there; done that. No way to go back, and no need to, either.
Twelve years ago I took a drawing class. In retrospect I can see it was the official beginning of really paying attention to my interest in visual art, and it was also the first of the many classes I've taken. Back then I used to draw with my children every now and then, and on one particular day I drew a watering can with Bekah. I liked the drawing enough that I glued it into my journal where it remains to this day. I told Bekah and Anna that day that I was going to take some drawing lessons.
Anna, who was then four, said, "Maybe when you get to be a little older, you could be a artist." (How generous of her, I thought, to have such faith in me.)
"You probably need to practice more first," she continued. Maybe by your next birthday you could be a artist." (This was very generous, as my birthday was only two months away.)
Then, as she wandered around the dining room table where I was sitting, she stopped and said, "And when you're dead. . . ." (She paused, and my thoughts immediately leapt to how when I was dead my artwork would live on after me, or that my art would be in a museum, or some grand thing like that.)
Then Anna continued, ". . . you'll be a dead artist."
I exploded with laughter, pure unedited laughter. I laughed until I cried and couldn't speak a word. I could see that Anna was looking upset. I don't think she had meant to be funny. She was, after all, four years old, and perhaps she was chewing over the reality of death, even the eventual death of her mother.
Anyway, I like thinking that when I'm dead I'll be a dead artist (I'm sorry, but in my book it sure beats being a dead priest, which is what I often felt like even though I was officially alive). And until I'm a dead artist, I'd like to think I'm a joyful artist, even a playful artist. And a living artist, too.
I am a writer, speaker, spiritual director and life coach, and also a passionate painter and lover of the natural world. This blog holds both present-day observations of my life and pieces of the larger story of my journey from Episcopal priest to "free-lance human being". It's a midlife story of self-discovery and freedom, a "coming of age at 55" story, an ecclesiastical story through 24 years of being ordained and out the other side, a theological and spiritual story of an unexpected, evolving faith apart from religious beliefs, finding myself more grateful and having more fun with the ongoing adventure of being alive and being myself.