Reflecting and Projecting 

Art is my mediation and today I’m looking at the very first watercolor I created. It came to me naturally without the boundaries of formal instruction. That’s not to say that formal learning of techniques isn’t good, it’s essential for progress, but there’s something to be said for creative moments that spring unannounced from your being. 

 Paris ’98 
I did carry on with being unschooled in this artistic medium, and sketched many scenes that caught my eye and spoke to my heart. I also remember vividly this year of being jobless in a foreign city. I was lost and art saved me or found me rather. I stared in the mirror each morning and whispered to myself “so really, who the hell are you without your higher education and your books?” Despondent, once I stopped burying myself in science assignments, projects, and exams, I came up empty. Chris (husband/best friend) was happy and working, and never lost himself. Le sigh.

  
That first year in Paris I turned myself upside down, inside out, insane, and exhausted searching for meaningful work. I wanted the job that would make me sing each morning. Nevermind that I had no work visa. I reasoned that if I got the job, I’d get the visa somehow. A year went by….no job, but my sketching and painting were taking root nicely. 

 Corsica ’98  
 Etais La Sauvin (Steve’s House) ’99  
L’Hirondelle, France ’99

 These sketchers are part of my travel diary. There’s many, but I loved these places the most. They are only second to my precious island; Newfoundland.

Here is the most precious place in the world to me! It was my place when there was nowhere else I could go. It grounded me so that I could dream freely here.

Middle Cove, NL ’02

 My partner Chris asked me to marry him here one cold July evening, five years before I painted this landscape, as we lay on the cliff -pictured in the middle distance here. Star gazing in the grass and wrapped together in love my best friend and lover thought he would like to stay forever with me. I agreed wholeheartedly. It was magical. 
The journey to find myself and silence my ego had begun without much time to blink. Did I enjoy this task that was shoved in my face? No. Was it critical for my true self to emerge? Yes. Was it painful? Most definitely; lots of pain. Have I found myself? Partly. Am I finished with this intimate seduction that my dark side, my ego keeps thrusting on me? No, but I’m so close! So very close.

  

Love, so simple. 

XArby

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The road: Well travelled

I started a journey with my partner long ago and could never have imagined where it would take me. I’ve learned that no matter what…I took it, I had no idea where it would go (still don’t), but the most important lectio, lecon, or lesson, which I have yet to master, is to not care where it’s going, only that I’m on it; the road.

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Happy New Year!

Paris, Red Sonja and ME

My first drawing was of Red Sonja. Not a terrible subject; just not typical! That defines me in a nutshell! Haha. So what do you think? Not too bad for a novice! Trust me, I was equally shocked I could draw. I always loved art and drama. It was my best subject in school along with biology. My cell drawings were top notch! But no one ever saw a talent that would send me on an artist’s career path; I certainly never did. We weren’t an overly artsy family. My family were hard workers, blue collar I believe, although where I come from we don’t use terms like that.

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When I was less than 10 years old my sister and I would write plays and have shows. They are some of the clearest memories I have of being a kid. On the flipside, I also had a science lab under our basement stairs. I was proof that art and science can go nicely together. I asked my mother to give me the chicken liver, kidneys and heart from any roast chicken that was on the way to our table. I dissected them :)) Man did I know how to have fun or what??? Forget Barbie, give me a chicken heart! I was odd, did I mention that? Ha!!!

Ok, so let me explain how Red Sonja came to be…

Recall “Bored in Paris”? Well, armed with my first sketch pad, a few carefully chosen graphite pencils, and a new found sense of excitement I hadn’t felt in yonks, I quickly made it back to our freezing, yet cute, in a poor student way, French “closet” – It was so small that it came to be known as our closet rather than our apartment. The building was typical early 20th century French architecture next to the corner of Ave. Andre Morizet and blvd Generale LeClerc in Boulogne Billancourt; Adjacent to the metro exit Marcel Sembat on the M9.

Did I mention how small our apartment was??? While perched on the toilet you could soak your feet in the shower basin. Wait, was there a basin? Ok, maybe my feet were in on the shower tiles cause I’m pretty sure there was a hole in the floor to drain the water. The kitchen (and bathroom) was basically a hallway between the front door and the “living room/dining room/bedroom”; our bed, dubbed “the hammock”, doubled as an extra chair for our “livdinbeding room” – my brain likes making up words and this one truly classifies our only living space that was maybe 2.5m x 1.5m. The bed was a single bed without proper structure to hold one person up, let alone two! Hence the hammock! And yes, we both slept in it. Good thing we were madly in love! And I literally mean that the kitchen and bathroom were in a short hallway between our livdinbeding room and the front door; Someone decided to throw a kitchen and bathroom in the hallway and call it an apartment. We developed a habit of knocking on the front door before entering because if you opened the front door and someone was coming out of the shower or toilet you could whack ’em, bonk, right in the mind! Haha

Europeans amaze me in that they really know how to make good use of every scrap of space. It was beyond tiny, maybe minuscule is a better word, but it was home for 3 months. One amazing thing was the procession of people that came to stay with us. This was astounding given that there wasn’t anywhere for anyone to lie down and have a sensible sleep and we all had to dance around each other to move! It was glorious all the same and we had the best time. We paid 5 francs for our wine, Le Gamay! Ahhhhh! Good times indeed.

When visitors were with us it was fun and exciting, but alone there, while Chris worked, it could be dreary and dull. Which brings me to the point of all this mundane detail describing our Closet, besides to entertain you! There wasn’t much to do in our little bitty Closet; our small slice of Parisian living. It was a boring, cloudy and grey day like most days in the Fall and winter, and it was freezing too. Plus, there wouldn’t be heat in our building (radiator) until November and it was only the end of September! Now that you are familiar with how draughty and icy cold our Closet was, you’ll see exactly why I needed to get out and find a warm cafe and have a cafe creme bien chaud!! Honestly, I’m not exaggerating, it was THAT cold that a barrage of complaints poured out from all the tenants, so the owner decided to install electric heaters. Now we would have to pay the bill for any heating outside the “normale” season! Sooooo French!! But on this day, when I found the art shop, I was blindingly bored and frozen down to my toes; they couldn’t move! Isn’t it amazing how such mundane things can lead you to events that change you forever?

When I finally returned to our Closet bursting to use my new art tools, the only thing interesting to sketch was Red Sonja on a book cover, or so I thought. There were only two books in our petit Closet, The Hobbit and Red Sonja. I read both on my first day of utter boredom – ok, just know that I was coming out of work mode and I failed to see that exploring a new city was more exciting than work. Also, I didn’t know I’d become obsessed with art! A whole city filled with art lay before me and I was ignorant. I was also alone and paralysingly afraid that I’d be robbed or worse!!! I might get lost! GAWD!! I had very little money and without Chris or my lab work I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was a shell, a hollow vessel needing to be filled.

Within days I had moved on to drawing still life. We had nice cookery and Parisian flowers, produce and wine were cheap, but made nice still life….for a beginner. I framed some things using our only French-style window in the livdinbeding room. Here’s a couple of drawings I still enjoy looking at…

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The mirror started speaking to me every time I saw myself. Initially, it was a whisper telling me to really see myself for once; to WAKE UP! I had to stop pleasing everyone and live my own life. I put it off as boredom, but it was just me slowing down finally. I began trawling all of Paris for things to sketch and found a love of exploring the unknown. In the 19th arrondissement I did get rocks and tin cans thrown at me in the deserted park des Buttes Chaumont. I survived! ha! I hunted down the cheapest ways to get into the best museums and drew everything that caught my eye….mostly subjects that were painted or sculpted from the masters. Sadly, I lost a good bit of my early work.

WOW! I had found happiness and it had been in me all the time. The missing parts of me were found, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Only, I knew I felt contented and peaceful for the first time in my life. What’s the moral of my story? Don’t be afraid, especially of taking the time to go where your feet want to take you. Give up planning even for a short while because you never know what’s waiting for you around a corner. I was looking for a cosy cafe and I found an art store and was forever changed. Like a magnet, it drew my metallic-like feet inside. I had never been in a real art store before and I felt like a fake. It was like wearing square shoes that rubbed and felt uncomfortable, but you wear them because they’re gorgeous and you feel great inside. Plus, it takes time for new shoes to mould to your feet. So put on those square shoes and just go!

I hope you enjoyed my short story. Thanks for reading!!

Oh! And our hammock got switched out near the end of our three month stay, but that’s a whole other miraculous story to come. When I get around to telling you about it, you’ll know why I chose the word “miraculous”!

You are “zee wife” and he is “zee worker”

Paris 1998

Notice the title? This is exactly what an astute French woman said to me, while pointing her beautifully manicured finger at Chris, my husband, at Le Mairie de Boulogne Billancourt (town hall of Boulogne Billancourt, France). She was the one woman standing between me and my freedom. I was not a happy wife. I just spent 10 months in Houston without a work visa and the only thing that kept me sane was knowing that I’d get a work visa in Paris! I had envisioned myself working in a posh research lab, maybe at the Currie Institute….ok that might have been an unrealistic fantasy, but the sheer joy of dreaming about the possibilities was the pinnacle of life so far! This was my big chance to finally make something of myself!!

We had just received back our passports with our visas at the Mairie. I had examined my passport and the visa laminated inside it, but it didn’t have the word “travail (work)” on it like my husband’s had. I knew instantly that I had been duped! “Ou est ma carte de travailler (where is my work visa)?” I calmly whispered through my clenched teeth. “Non, c’est une carte de famille (no it’s a family visa)” the French woman sharply stated staring down her nose at me behind her lunettes. “There’s some mistake, I’m suppose to have a work visa!” There was no interpreter there this time to convey my meaning as this woman was obviously confused or deranged!! We were only picking up our visas so we didn’t think we needed an interpreter. I needed more than an interpreter! I’d need a lobotomy if I didn’t get that work visa!!! I blabbed on and on in French and English and back to French trying to tell her there was some mistake. I must have gone over the line…..

Within that span of about 15 minutes max. I was launched into a blinding vortex and my Grandmother’s words screamed in my ears. I was being utterly destroyed within that short period of time, but I see it all now slow motion. All my dignity, independence and all my hopes and dreams for my chance to prove what I could do out here in the big world was being peeled away; like my skin being ripped apart to expose core in that dark cold Mairie. All I could do was seethe in anger as we walked away because otherwise I’d have been washed away in my own tears. The Executioner Lady (as I had nicknamed her because she killed my hopes) spelled out clearly for me what my Nan had tried to tell me nearly a year ago, except this woman said it as if it was the guillotine she was throwing down on me, and in a very bad English accent: “NON!” she exclaimed while pointing and wagging her impatient finger at me, “you are ZEEEE wife and he is ZEEEE worker.” Luckily there was about two inches of plexiglass separating me from her bony neck that I wanted to strangle! That was that. She slammed her window closed.

HEY!!! Did my Nan call you or something??? I was defeated that day.

Flashback to the summer of 1997 just days before our speedy little wedding (no bun in the oven!) when I was having a nice cup of tea at my Nan’s house and talking with her about our upcoming nuptials. Truthfully, I was bitterly complaining about how suddenly old fashioned my husband-to-be was being about marriage etc….imagine! Me taking someone else’s name just because we decided mutually to spend our life together!

Unexpectedly, my Nan stops drying the dishes and looks me straight in the eye and says “Rhonda, your marriage is going to be like the taming of the shrew”. Damn! I never read that piece of Shakespeare!!! I knew I’d regret it someday! I also knew it couldn’t be a complement by the look in her eyes. Well, I wasn’t about to give away the truth that I really had no idea what she meant by that. Besides, my Nan was one of the most loving and caring people I knew, so I wasn’t about to have a hissy-fit and be on the outs with Nan before my wedding.

I loved my Nan. She was better than a mother, like all good nannies, because she could be someone other than my mother. She made me tea and toast, listened to my woes, fed me some more, tucked a blanket around me and let me watch TV and then sent me off home, eventually. When I was much younger and Pepsi was banned by my parents, in large quantities, she let me have as much as I liked. Sally, my Nan, was the smartest woman I knew, and if she said Pepsi was ok, it was. Now I know that she was spoiling me because she loved me more than anything in this world. I loved her too, more than anyone. Still do, even though she’s gone from this world. And in parallel, because I’m a mother now, I know my parents banned things like Pepsi because they loved me more than anything in this world. Funny isn’t it! But parents have to be parents and grandparents can be otherwise, that’s the beauty of having Grandchildren I guess.

Sometimes I wish I had discussed marriage with Nan a bit further, but I figured she wasn’t modern enough to understand. In hindsight, she might have passed on some good advice about how to live equally as husband and wife, not that she lived it, but I learned over time that she was wise beyond her own life’s circumstances. She might have saved me from a few battle wounds whilst fighting the war on marriage equality.

Hey, what can I say? I’m a dreamer and what appears to be “reality” is not my thing; I find it ugly and distressing most of the time. Usually, I live with my head in the clouds, it’s much more entertaining and everyone is happy; funny. Is it so wrong to want equality? For all people regardless of what it is? Live how we want, love who and how we want and accept that we are all here under the same sky just living and dreaming of a good life. Inequality brings doom and disaster to all of us. Well! That was quite a tangent! If you knew what was in my mind, you’d go blind! ha! It overwhelms me most of the time.

Ok….so back to the discussion at hand…

You have just read (if you’re still with me…) a very small sample of writing meant to indicate how much I desire equality between the sexes and especially within a marriage, and yes, I did keep my pre-married family name. The idea that we would not be equal in marriage has been a point of contention for me from day 1 and it’s why marriage scares me to death (even though Chris has truly wanted us to have equality, I think). If I’m honestly divulging the truth here, I’d have to admit that my first thought upon waking – in the most beautiful room in a Victorian Heritage Bed and Breakfast – the morning after our wedding was “what the hell have I done” and then had a complete panic attack, quietly so that Chris couldn’t hear me. However, I must clarify here that I was also taking off to Houston in less than 48 hours to live away with my new husband for, quite possibly, the rest of my life as we didn’t know if we would ever return home to stay. As it turns out we didn’t return home to stay, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. So, please allow me a little wiggle room here for panic post I-DO’s. That said, here I am today, still married and most definitely financially dependent on my husband. Can you imagine then, how much that French woman’s words has bothered me, taunted me and haunted me for years even to this very day. Perhaps writing about it will give me closure and I can let go. Letting go is my trouble.

No other words uttered in my lifetime were ever truer. I am “zee wife” and Chris is “zee worker”. I believed she had cursed me to living a life of marital inequality, not that Chris wants it that way or likes it that way, it just is that way. At the very least, she put into simple yet cutting words what I feared the most; the loss of my independence, of myself and to live a shadowed existence as someone’s wife. What I know now is that it was the first of many lessons in letting go; to give up control and just let it all be….

It was a gift to me not to be able to work. My curse was a gift! I was literally given the time to find myself and really live my dreams, not the dreams I thought would get me the approval and praise I craved, not the kind that proved I was clever enough, but the dreams I had been creating since I knew I existed.

Just a year after our wedding, Chris surprised me with a 2nd honeymoon! All I knew was that I was going to Ajaccio. Not having a clue where that was, I was utterly delighted to see that we were in Corsica!!! I was in heaven and for the first time that year I forgot about not working and my loss of independence and just allowed myself to be happy: This is what came from forgetting who I thought I was and what would make me happy and just enjoyed my gift!

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The beginning of a watercolor life and so much more!