4 a.m. at Cell Block 316
OK, I'll admit it. I may be a mom, but I'm not a nostalgic one. You won't find me weeping at preschool graduations. (It's preschool, people!) I remember my daughters' first words, but not their second, third, etc. I don't keep lace-bound scrapbooks filled with their macaroni necklaces, tickets from the zoo, or scraps of fabric from onesies that they spat up on for the first time as babies.
It's not that I don't have any maternal instincts. It's not that I don't care. While others are shedding tears over the last day of school, baking cupcakes, packing up for vacations, or wondering what to do with the mountain of classwork now piled on the kitchen table, I'm also taking time to pause. To recollect. To reflect.
A few weeks before school ended, I sat in the music room with the other first-grade parents to see our kids perform a play -- entirely in Japanese. My older daughter's school offers a language immersion program in which math, science, and health classes are taught in Japanese. Over the course of the year, she'd learned all the hiragana characters and moved on to kanji. Numbers, animals, and simple words progressed into phrases, sentences, songs. It hadn't been easy. We'd both thrown the pile of hiragana flashcards into the air occasionally out of frustration. But here she was now with her classmates, acting out the tale of Momotaro, rattling off lines I could only fumble to pronounce. There she was, jumping and twirling a hula hoop on stage, while bantering back and forth with her classmates. Weeks before that, she'd been adamant about practicing the hula hoop every night while muttering to herself in Japanese. Now I knew why.
The same week, I sat among another group of parents, this time from my younger daughter's ballet class, to watch their final performance. Because my husband had usually accompanied her to class each week, it had been awhile since I'd seen her dance. There had been a time when she'd hear the music and insist on doing her own thing, then suddenly sit down and refuse to do anything. And here she was now, listening to and following instructions at the barre, dancing across the floor in time to the music. There she was, landing a jump that I'd seen her try at home many times before, only to fall.
No, I didn't tear up on either occasion, but I was proud of my girls. Damn proud, to see them pushing their own limits, to see how much they've learned, how much they've grown.
Pushing limits -- whether it's their own or those of their parents -- comes naturally to some kids, maybe because this is one way they learn. With adults, it's a lot harder. We get stuck in our routines, our schedules, our mindsets. For whatever reason, we don't often venture out of our comfort zones because it's simply easier not to.
But that's how we learn, too. That's why it's all the more necessary for us.
And that's why I entered Cell Block 316 last weekend at The Soundry. Artists, poets, and musicians agreed to be locked down for 24 hours while they started and finished an original work onsite. On one hand, the challenge excited me. I'd chosen to work on a 24"x36" canvas; normally I work on smaller pieces. Also, I wanted to experiment by working backwards from how I usually work in terms of technique. I felt inspired to work out of my comfort zone. On the other hand, walking through the doors of The Soundry at the start of the challenge, I also felt uncertain. Many of the other artists had brought more than one canvas; I just had one shot at mine. Also, I'd planned to take a short nap earlier, but of course that never happened. It would be a long night.
So I set up shop in the classroom where I'll be teaching in a few weeks, pulled out my sharpies, oil pastels, and a stash of paper towels that my daughters and I had dyed with acrylics awhile back, and cranked up Lady Gaga on my iPod.
Awhile back, at a local gallery that has since closed, I'd attended an art reception where the artist spoke about her work. Although her name escapes me, one of her practices resonated with me. Hidden in each of her paintings, she'd said, was a personal intention or message.
So I started writing on the canvas, stream-of-consciousness style, why I choose to create art.
Next, I ripped up the paper towels and collaged them onto the canvas, then stenciled on the word "create." Collaging them took several hours. Around 12:45 a.m., when the collage step was finally finished, I realized that I'd been working for over 6 hours. Time to walk around and grab a coffee! Some snapshots of the other cellmates at work:
Then it was back to work. I decided to sketch out a peacock on one side of the canvas...
...and added some stencils and details to the tail.
After 5:30 a.m., after a few color washes, the painting was finished!
Evening Muse, 24"x36" graffiti fusion collage painting
Just before dawn, I was "released" from Cell Block 316 feeling exhausted, but also more alive than I had felt in awhile.