Pen, ink and watercolor, 2013, Molly Larson Cook
Forgive me, but today’s post is somewhat more personal than most of what you’ve seen here. It comes in part as a response to a recent health issue – nothing serious but painful day in and day out.
Oddly enough, it also comes after receiving a particularly fine award and publication for my poetry, a gift I’ve hoped for all the many years of my writing life. And it comes after a struggle following that award with the big questions of how I’ll spend my remaining years.
Since childhood, I’ve wanted to be an artist. But – also since childhood – encouragement came for my writing, not any childish drawings. Writing came easy – poems, essays, plays – along with awards for them and praise.
Over the years, I had secret sketchbooks in which I drew pictures that never saw the light of day except for my eyes only. I continued to write, but it was the world of art that tugged at me. In college, I boldly signed up for an art history class, a move that boggled my parents, but I loved every minute of it.
I followed other creative paths in addition to writing – dance and theatre at the top of the list. I finally took my first art class in my early 40s and was encouraged by the instructor to “consider art school.” When I heard her words, it was like the moment in the old movies when the homely secretary takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, and the boss says, “My God, Miss Fenster, you’re beautiful.”
Yeah, it was that powerful. Someone, someone who knew about art, had recognized my heart’s desire.
Over the years, my desire to be an artist was sidetracked by one thing or another – relationships, the need to support my family as a single mom, once by an art professor who took pleasure in making me feel small and incompetent, and not least – by all that praise for the writing.
Praise is not a bad thing, and I’m grateful for every word of it, every award, every note from others to let me know I was accomplishing something worthwhile in the world.
The problem was inside me. The problem was that the desire to be an artist was powerful, and feeding it in a half-assed way by creating posters for poetry readings and greeting cards for friends wasn’t doing the trick.
After I received the award for my poem, I decided to enter a competition for a poetry chapbook. This meant that I needed to write another dozen poems to go with the best of what I had, and I turned to that during the month of March. I painted a little, but most of the time I was writing and editing and organizing poetry.
It was about that time that the health problem kicked in. I didn’t make the connection immediately except to note that I was now spending most of my time at the computer which meant a completely different posture from the one I had when painting. It also meant that I was spending much less time with all those tubes of colors that I love.
Happily, two pieces of wisdom crossed my desk during that time – one from Rumi and one from Joseph Campbell.
From Joseph Campbell, his wise words that became clichéd in the 80s and 90s – “Follow your bliss. Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it…It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent.
“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”
Writing is important. Words are powerful. Poetry is beautiful. None of my pictures may be worth a thousand words. They may not be perfect. They may not be worth trying to sell. But they’re mine, and I know I’m on “the track that has been there all the while, waiting for me.”
I don’t plan to get derailed again.
With love to all of you who are happily doing art, and encouragement to all of you who are hesitating. Go ahead – bring your whole heart home.