The Sanctuary of a Story: Part 15 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

green world

Everything is safe in a story. Stories have beginnings and middles and ends. If the storyteller is kind then the story ends well. Though not all stories end the way we want, a good story, a story worth the telling should leave you with something that makes you think, makes you feel, and makes you see the world in a slightly different way. The very best stories leave you awake, aware, nourished; feeling fully connected and alive. I know stories, I live in stories, I hide in stories when the world becomes too shrill, sharp and blinding.

I sit on the edge of the world. As far away from humanity as I can hope to go, while my shaking fingers twist thin willow switches into ornate braids. Today I am an ancient girl, a timeless nomad, making what I need from the bounty of a vast green country. The air is cold, fresh, and pure. I taste the wind, feeling it as it wriggles in the folds of my gown; its rough spun wool smelling of grasses and smoke and earth. I am a part of the earth. The earth is a part of me. Together we make beautiful things.

The bracelets I weave are a gift. They calm my nerves, help me to breath, and fill me with a silence that restores my peace. I take a smooth black rock from my pocket and place it in the middle of my braid, twisting the thin willow switch in circling patterns around it. When the stone is secured and centered I tie off the ends. This braclet is for my mother. I lay the strip of willow and black stone on the ground with the other two I have made.

Girls walk towards me. They whisper in low tones, their bright modern colors destroying my illusory peace. I’m forced to sit up, to smile, to act…normal.
“What are you doing?”
“Making willow bracelets.”
“Can we see them?”
“Yes,” I look down on the bracelets that lay on the grass where I sit.
“They’re beautiful. Can I have one?” The girl is kind. She’s always been kind. Her name is a memory I can’t catch. I lift up a bracelet with a pink stone and help her tie it around her wrist.
“Why don’t you come play with us?” Her expression is curious, not judging. I would like to play with her but just being forced to speak to her has constricted my breathing, sending my stomach into knots. I need to be alone, in silence…free.

“Thanks but I like being here.” The kind girl smiles softly, her right hand sliding over the pink stone bracelet like a gesture of understanding. I watch them walk away, whispering and wondering why I sit alone. I try again to remember what it was to be timeless, to be alone in rough spun fabric I made myself, to be unindebted to a world without center, but the time has gone. With the ring of the bell I am forced to gather my things and head back to class.

Kids run with soccer balls, girls laugh, skip and play. I walk with my head down, trying not to see all the colors, feel all the noise. My mind grasps at a vanishing blue sky, an endless, enfolding expanse. Wispy clouds call to me through aluminum edged windows as block walls separate me from my true self, my green self, my free self. The story I embodied retreats, is saved for later, buried deep. Yet its memory lends me calm in the riot of noise that only stills when the teacher calls the class to silence.

The Sacred Act of Loving Art: Part 10 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

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For as long as I can remember, Mommy has taken us to every art exhibition and museum in Salt Lake City. We tour galleries and studio openings, my mother describing brush strokes, paint layering, visual dynamics and the importance of shadow play. We have been informed that we are in the process of learning to appreciate art the way she does. And when we grow tired, hungry, or want to go home we are made polite and educated on the merits of pointillism, the modern movement and the many fold reasons as to why we should always hate Picasso.

Once while touring an exhibition on contemporary cubist paintings we broke rank and rebelled. My sister cried and I whined and we both insisted on going home. Mommy took us quietly in hand saying, “I have brought you here and you WILL LIKE IT!” These words have since become a family joke repeated in a clipped German accent. On that day however, they were far from funny. With aching feet, we walked, listened and appreciated everything until the natural, mother dictated, conclusion of our tour.

As young parishioners in the church of art, we still pay our respect, say our obeisance, utter our prayers to the masters of water lilies and sun flowers, abstracts and impressionists, while haloed saints writhe in anguish and a multitude of glowing cherubic Messiahs rest in various possess upon their mothers laps. Art is our religion, our daily practice and our saving grace. We bow down and are made humble by all that God has inspired in humans until we too feel the spirit move inside, us bringing us to our own God given gift to create.

Mommy paints, my sister has music, I write and my father makes stained glass. We live in museums, poor endless hours into fat glossy paged art books and discuss what it is to live in art-for art. My world is the world of my family, I am guided by its opinions (Picasso is bad), its beliefs (Diego Rivera couldn’t paint his way out of a box) and its rhetoric (Monet’s work is light and color perfected). Secretly I love Diego Rivera and am concerned about Claude Monet’s eyesight but to say this to Mommy would cause her opinion of me to sink which is a thing I dread. So I keep Diego to myself.

I would like to watch Mommy work. Her paintings begin as sketches on canvas, washed in with dark pigments which are then layered over until she reaches a level of such depth that her figures are alive. But she needs silence to connect with the canvas and painting for her is not a family act. Family to Mommy is order, hard work and tolerance.

Daddy is different. He is gone all day, his work is exhausting but he has energy for us. When he’s home he makes up long stories and reads out classical books, giving all the characters their own voice. But of all the wonderful things he does, I love his stained glass windows best.

I creep down into our dirt cellar where old window drawings hang pegged to heavy wood beams. Dust from the dirt walls and hard packed dirt floor coat the old wood table where his newest drawing lays. Numbers that represent color are drawn onto flower petals and grass stalks. I watch him cut green glass and place it on the jig saw puzzle drawing. The color and shape of the glass fills in the part of the picture that will be a leaf. Night after night more pieces are added until every piece of glass is cut and placed to make the window. Then the glass is soldiered together and taken out of the dirt cellar into the light.

This is why I love glass. I love the way the light shines through it. I love the way it changes the world from ordinary to magical; it makes mere sunlight turn green, blue, purple, and red. I love the way glass is molded and shaped, its rich color or prism cut edges accentuating every sunrise and passing ray of light. Glass is an art form that actively adds magic and beauty to a constantly shifting landscape.

Mommy says art reminds us why we live, it adorns our already beautiful world with more color, adding magic to the mundane. Art stirs our heart and floods us with a passion for more life, more color and more living. I hope I always see life as a blank page or numbered drawing ready to be filled with shards of color. What Mommy teaches me in our long museum marches is respect, dedication and the thousands of ways one can create. What Daddy teaches me in our shadowy dirt cellar is that art forms in every kind of unlikely place. All it needs is inspiration, intention and a little light.