I have been spending a lot of time by myself. I’ve said this before, working on my mojo. Studying books about the mind and heart, reading about people who live lives with the expansiveness I long for. I’m moving into new territory and the leaps I’m taking are not into darkness but along a well-lit path. There are visionaries that have come before us, and mystics and wise ones amongst us. We only have to watch what it is that happy people do, to learn great lessons on how to live a good life. If we are only willing. It’s the peace in every step. Yes, I want excitement and surprises and every high emotion. It’s the little dramas that no longer appeal, mine and everybody else’s. A part of me is stepping back and yawning really loudly when I hear myself going into my own dance; spinning the tales, blowing smoke and tilting the mirrors a certain way to prop up my position on the way it is. Because I’m not interested in the way it is anymore. I’m interested in the way it’s going to be.
I want to feel the ground give way as I jump. Being grounded in reality has just ground me down for far too much of my life. When the spirit in me, this wondrous joyous bubbling irrepressible life force has waited so patiently for me to pay attention…to me.
I have been under-employed for a long time. And much of my writing has been about faith. Watching my dwindling resources, but reveling in the life I have now of simplicity and far less compromise than at any other time in my life. It has not been hard to make these choices. But I have become aware of the huge difference between knowing what you don’t want, and knowing what you want. It is the same difference as concentrating only on what you have, rather than looking towards what you want. The different perspective makes all the difference in what happens next.
A huge hand has reached down and tapped me on the shoulder. I feel it still. In my little notebook where I am configuring my plans I have a page of lists that I am constantly adding to, and gleefully check marking when I have achieved my goals. It started out very basic…food, money, a computer, a vehicle, body care. But it’s important to fine tune exactly what it is we want and my non-grocery list looks like this:
a new toothbrush
heater for the Shed
visit to the dentist
a road worthy vehicle
a Maggie Woycenko
Bach Flower Remedies
a pot with a lid
I have celebrated every check mark with elation and pride. Undeterred that it is the smaller things on my list that have been the first and easiest to attain. Until now.
The Fort Gallery on Glover Road here in Fort Langley is a place I have been visiting for a few years. At first I’d only stop and look in the windows at night when I walked this town in the dark. Every few weeks two more artists in the collective would mount their work on the walls. Eventually I started dropping by for an hour at the Friday night opening party, going in for the colour and warmth. One such night last year, I stepped into the smaller back room where there was more art and the food, and spied a painting that hung behind the desk. A blue night sky, dark water, a small boat seen across the way, were those stars?…Venus in Transit. I loved it! I asked the secretary, “Who did that!” and she said, a little non-plussed by my enthusiasm, “I did. I don’t belong to the collective but they said I could hang one.”
Maggie’s Venus In Transit has floated in and out of my mind since last year. Something, something about it. And one late night in September I looked through the window again and saw great heaps of clouds and movement, and sensed right away, aha, these were Maggie’s too. I am a sky watcher and when the gallery opened I went in to take a closer look. Yes! The title of the show was MESSAGES. Maggie and I greeted each other and then I stood before her paintings, marveling at the beauty and mystery in them. But then something happened. I turned and saw a painting that I had not been able to see from the window. Standing before it I experienced something that I have heard tell of, but it has never happened to me. I felt a sensation in my chest and started to cry. That painting moved me. I felt it move inside me.
I had walked into the gallery so cheerily and now I felt undone. It was words. Snatches, arrows pointing this way and that, blues, reds, browns. Feeling myself tumbled in a sea of passion, swept by words, the power, the call, the call of the words…longing. The sentences themselves indistinct and yet individual words…hear, roar, draw back, pebbles, the sigh, yield, all that is lost, the sea, faith…listen. These were my words, and the call was unmistakable. It was a call to my self.
I turned to Maggie. What? What was behind this painting? What was her inspiration? How did this happen? She told me that a poem had always stayed with her since high school, by an eighteenth century English poet. He’d written Dover Beach. My mind flew to a poem I’d printed off the internet. I just knew it was the same poet, Mathew Arnold. I had looked him up because of the impact he’d had on four young men in Victoria who’d studied his poem The Buried Life in their English class. They’d made a pact to make their dreams come true, make a list, and make a difference too. For every dream they realized, they would help someone they met with a dream they had too.
I took myself to the river in wonderment at Maggie’s painting and what it had touched in me. The name of the painting…Listen to the Poets. It brought up a sadness, but not the kind you choke on. It made me feel alive, and re-minded. I remembered all I wanted to say.
When I saw Maggie at the next gallery party, I told her that I was still affected by her painting, still felt energized, and that I vowed some day, some day I would own a Maggie Woycenko.
I live in a stand alone room, the Shed, there by the grace of friends on whose property I live. I am working to pay off my bills and all debt. This will be finished soon. I am going on a road trip. I will be in the dream of bigger sky all the way to Texas. And I could not stop thinking about that painting. There had to be a reason for this, something more I needed to pay attention to. In a moment of fervour and optimism I had written 1 Maggie Woycenko on my wish list, just as I joyously crossed off pens and stamps and a heater. Just as I continue to believe that I will have an atlas in the glove compartment of the vehicle for the road trip in the Spring.
But if we listen to our hearts, and my heart yearned so loudly for that painting, well, what of that? There is spartan (always leaning towards frugality) as opposed to simplicity, and bare subsistence compared to the feeling of abundance. I had never, ever put an art work on my list of sustenance.
There was an art show coming up on the Friday, a party that I was not going to attend. I wondered if Maggie’s painting was going there and would leave with someone else. Every ticket buyer was guaranteed a piece of art. I had to know, I emailed Maggie. Yes, she replied. Her painting was still available and did I want her to include it in the Blue Plate Special? In a rush of words I said no, no, no. I said that I was working on a Plan, and had been under-employed quite a bit, and had to really pick and choose where I went, what I did, what I bought. That I was the kind of person that would go see Leonard and then gladly eat eggs for weeks. Or keep the same things for years in exchange for time to wander without a schedule. I said I did not consider myself hard done by at all, but extremely fortunate. My choices are my own, but I had never wanted oh wanted a painting like I wanted her painting. I don’t even own a wall to put it on! But then I did it, I asked if she would consider me a secret buyer (because Lordy I did not want my friends and family to know of this “extravagance”). I asked how much it was, and if she would let me pay in installments. I would take it when it was paid in full.
It’s taken me a long time to tell this story. To tell you that the painting, Listen to the Poets, lies on my bed by day and is propped against two chairs at night. I can see it from my bed. Maggie wrote back. She said that she was giving it to me. That she had seen the effect it had on me and wanted me to have it. No cost. She said that she often painted over paintings, but this one could go to a home where it was really wanted.
My initial reaction? Joy! And then came the feeling of shirking unworthiness. And a cringing horror that Maggie may think I was being manipulative, and writing in a “poor me” way, coercing her into making this incredibly grand gesture. I felt desolate that I could never have that first feeling and believe that it was the true feeling. That I immediately go into an argument with myself over what is the right thing to do. I knew, I knew deep down that I was not honouring myself or Maggie now by second-guessing. Staying small. I knew she was a smart woman, intuitive, deeply gifted, and I was sorry that my fears now cast shadows on her decision and what was taking place. That unloving yammering voice in my head was trying to shame me into silence once again.
My daughter Sarah was with me that night and bless her she was lovely, she was clear. She said, say Yes. And so I did. I shook the dirt off my feet and said yes. Yes to me, to Maggie, to her art that spoke so loudly, to the radiant response of my heart to that call. I embraced believing that there is more that is food than food on the table, and there is nothing frivolous about feeding a hungry heart the beauty that it needs.
My table has always held the overflow of books. They run the length of it where it meets the wall. In the Shed there is one wall only that will hold the size of the painting, above that table. Today I walked to the hardware store and spent 25 cents on nails. I will dismantle the collages, the sticky notes, the piles of books stacked up the wall, and I will put my Maggie Woycenko in its place of honour. I have never, ever expected to own a painting so wondrous to love, and now I do. There are layers and layers of meaning in the lesson I’ve learned in this give and take.
Rumi always helps me with the last word, and the child in me is smiling yes, listen to the poets indeed.
Children Running Through
I used to be shy.
You made me sing.
I used to refuse things at table.
Now I shout for more wine.
In sombre dignity, I used to sit
on my mat and pray.
Now children run through
and make faces at me.
I am learning about abundance and the beauty that I have yearned for so secretly, so quietly all my life. I am learning that there is more than just enough. There is more than enough. You’ve seen those teddy bears and garden gnomes in people’s travel photos. They are posed before the Eiffel Tower, and on the Great Wall of China. I am taking my painting with me when I go. No walls. If I need company on a side road in Wyoming, or leaned against a picnic table under the skies of the Dakotas, what a reminder. To listen, and to live, out loud.
For Maggie, in gratitude, for your many leveled gift.