Two weeks in a row I spent Atlanta’s tornado watches in the cardiac care waiting room at Emory Midtown Hospital. There’s nothing quite so destabilizing as waiting for test results, while watching the sky turn dark and the fog get so bad I couldn’t see the building across the street, and wondering if my house would be standing when the wait was over.
And then we did it again the next Thursday.
The patient and the house are still standing.
And then there was the terrifying nighttime emergency room visit the following week.
All is…sort of ok, better than it could be, but not great.
Which, of course, has my stressed out overloaded brain in high gear while my aging body tries, somewhat in vain, to keep up. The caregiver might be leaning a bit.
There are a few pages of wonky pencil lines on my sketchbook pages that saw me through. I’m not someone who copes with waiting by staring at a screen, especially not the screaming one that flitted between a soap opera and emergency weather updates in the waiting room.
There’s never been any question that my whole way of being in the world is by making things. When people debate about being versus doing, deep down inside I have no clue what they’re going on about.
To be, to exist, is to do. To be without doing is to be bored out of my freaking mind.
Fortunately, as a child my mother recognized the value of art supplies, classes, and craft kits as the perfect fusion of mind stimulating education and baby sitting. She used our meager resources to fund my supplies and classes for everything from macrame to furniture caning and all manner of needlework from when I was seven years old onwards.
Most summer days and every Wednesday during the school year I went to my art-mom-godmother’s house. Bobbie, she whom I credit as being the reason I don’t reside in a padded cell, was an abstract expressionist painter and sculptor in addition to being quintessentially Southern in accent and cuisine, and the best example of kindness, unconditional love, and inclusivity this planet has ever seen.
Every week was a new adventure in oil painting, canvas stretching, print making, and so much more. One day I’d barely made it through the front door and the gleeful three-dog reception when she handed me a zinc etching plate and a stylus. Bobbie told me to draw whatever I wanted but fast because her Civic Art Leauge group had borrowed a huge etching press for their monthly meeting, and we were due there in 2 hours.
The pristine blue of the plate’s peacock colored surface fascinated me. I remember not wanting to mess it up as it seemed perfect the way it was.
“What do I draw?!
“Whatever you feel like,” Bobbie replied.
“Do I have to mess up the surface?”
“Yes, that’s how you make it print.”
I had no idea what Bobbie meant, but she was, so rightly, always pushing me to draw. I defaulted to my Beatrix Potter fueled obsession of small critters and drew from memory my interpretation of Peter Rabbit, post clothing loss.
At the meeting was an enormous machine with a huge roller that looked like it would be fun to turn. Bobbie and one of her friends set up my plate and helped me turn the crank because I wasn’t quite tall enough. I stood on tiptoe to peel off the damp, cream paper and on it, from my blue plate came a sketchy, black bunny that I carefully laid out to dry. To this day, I regret not thinking of a more original subject, but I try to cut myself some slack since I was only 10 years old at the time.
Many a philosopher or spiritual leader touts the value of being over doing. Certainly doing without being fully present isn’t all that exciting, but for me the opposite is equally true. To be awed at nature or a work of art is to still be engaged in a process.