Tuesday, September 11, 2007
It's September 11th, I've been thinking of grief and comfort and how the two, paradoxically, create each other. For me, my first soul-shaking grief came with my first true heart break. I was in my early 20s. I'd dropped out of my Ivy-league college, moved to San Francisco, and taken up with a poet whose eyes were the color of green sea glass. He was older than me and he was going to be such a great writer someday that he couldn't waste time with a regular job. Sometimes he worked under-the-table construction jobs. Most days he wrote while I - confused college kid - went off to work eight hours a day on my feet at Cliff's Variety store on Castro Street. The job was tedious but the place and time were amazing.
We moved in together, to a dark desolate apartment in a bad neighborhood. Our upstairs neighber grew pot and dealt drugs. I got mugged once, walking home one evening. He cheated on me routinely but I didn't know. Except that I was in a constant state of paranoia and hysterical jealousy. He told me I was crazy. I remember one night he never came home. I sayed up late waiting. At 2 am i heard a woman outside screaming on and on and I wanted to help her but I was too scared to go outside. I remember weeping because I couldn't help her and I couldn't help myself.
After a year, I decided to go back to college, this time at Berkeley. I got accepted and moved, by myself, across the bay. (The boyfriend said, "This apartment, this city, is my furnace. I need to hammer out my art here." ) And slowly, back in school, I came to my senses. And we broke up. And I was fine. And he took up with another woman and I was, idiotically, inexplicably, devastated. for months I couldn't sleep, I barely ate, I wore black all the time. In Spring I took a studio art course. It was just for fun because I thought I couldn't really draw. Our teacher sent us outside into the greening California Spring to draw the world. When I drew, I focussed completely on the tree, house, hill I was looking at. My self dropped away and I was just a hand tracing the shapes and colors around me. For that time desolation was gone and the ridiculous, excessive beauty of the world filled every part of me. It was rapture, it was worship, it was peace.
After I got my degree in English, I got a second degree in studio art. I still felt I wasn't a natural at it, but I worked hard and it gave me joy. My high point in art school was when Elmer Bischoff (famous CA artist) told me in a critique that drawing was too easy for me and I should try to challenge myself more.
I don't know what became of the green-eyed poet (or the "lying, cheating, scum bag," as I now refer to him). But I've been making art ever since and in times of despair it's still what I turn to - the world around me, imperfect as it is, offers me, every day, its careless gorgeousness. it is, for me, a sight of God's hand, a refuge, a comfort for all the greater heart breaks that have and will come my way.