“My brother’s the artist,” I said to Denise, an old family friend.

“There can only be one?” she asked.

Labels. They’re gonna getcha.

The Smart One. The Pretty One. The Dancer. The Singer. The Mathematician. The Physician. The Engineer. The Performer. The Professor. The Good Girl. The Good Worker (Reliable, Dependable, Trustworthy). The Starving Artist. The Flaky Musician. The Writer. The Liar. The Cheater. The Storyteller. The Rich One. The Poor One. The Owner. The Renter.

Pick one. Then discard. Why can’t we all be all of them? And none of them?

Two days ago, I was reading Through the Dark Forest by Carolyn Conger. In it, she related a story about 50-year-old Gerald, a dying man she was working with, using what she calls Voice Dialogue dreamwork. The basic idea is that we each have many selves, and some of our selves get more attention than others. She spoke with five-year-old Gerald, and he responded as his younger vulnerable self. “What do you want Gerald to know about you,” she asked. “I want him to remember me,” he replied. “I want to be happy, to play more.”

I suddenly flashed on my five-year-old self. My mother was pregnant and bedridden. If she got out of bed, she’d die. So every day in kindergarten, I painted her a picture.

Painting was a major source of happiness for me then. I was swept away, into color and form and texture. I was free to experiment and play. I did not worry about my very sick mother, or miss my dead brother or my absent father. When I played with paint, I was completely absorbed. Completely free. Anxiety didn’t return until I was on my way home, wondering whether my mother would be there or not, alive or not.

Paint, I realized as I put the book down. I need paint. I need art supplies.

The next day, Labor Day here in the USA, I drove to the nearest big box hardware store. I needed options. LOTS of options.

Why a hardware store instead of an art supply store?

    1. I knew where it was and how to get there, only 11.5 miles away.
    2. I didn’t know where there was an art supply store and I didn’t want to spend time looking or asking around.
    3. Price, which leads to …
    4. Low pressure / fool the inner critic. I’m a writer. I buy cheap notebooks to write in (yes, long-hand), so that my writing doesn’t have to be precious or worthy or good. This frees me up to write whatever the hell I want, all the time.

What a happy hour I spent in that big-ass store! Grins galore.

I found small bottles of acrylics in many delicious colors; wood, cut to my specifications (big!); red rosin paper and pale green masking paper; brushes of various sizes and shapes, and round yellow “pouncers” made of sponge; masking tape; and brown “eco”  tarp (big sheets of recycled paper).

Just writing about it slows and deepens my breathing.

Back in the car with my booty, I sat and laughed. Already an excellent return on my 60 bucks, and I hadn’t even used them!

Yesterday, I cleaned off two shelves and rearranged my closet to include an area for art supplies. Happy again!

And today, well, first I turned off the phone. Then I set up an art studio in one corner of my apartment. Laid down the tarp, set up my paints, opened the packages of brushes, filled an old cinnamon jar with water, used an old shea butter lid as a palette.

And played.

Stars Fall by Elizabeth Shé, circa 2009
Stars Fall by Elizabeth Shé, circa 2009

One thought on “paint

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