It was two years ago, in June. I grabbed a coffee from Starbucks then carried it across the coastal highway to the picnic tables overlooking the ocean.
My grandma Dewey had just passed away a month shy of 105 years on this earth. Five months earlier, my best friend Donna had died. She was only 49. We used to pass the time on this picnic table, drinking coffee, sketching and talking about everything under the sun. Talking about art, God, our kids and simply laughing at each others daily stories. Yakking, she called it.
Sitting on top of a table, I gazed across an empty sea. I opened my sketchbook and started drawing. A cow began to take shape. A hill on Hoot Owl road in North Carolina came to mind. Early one morning, I had seen a lone cow pressed against a June sky like a paper cutout—or perhaps an illustration in a child’s storybook.
I thought of Donna, how she set a luminous example for her children, and inspired her friends. I thought about my grandma Dewey, the lullabies she sang to me when I was a child. Remembered how happy I’d been that fairy tale summer in the mountains. Reflected on the years I raised a family on the river. Swimming through lifetimes in my mind.
I started thinking I think too much, then thought about how thinking inspires meaningful paintings. . . I started drawing again.
I thought about all the people loved and gone. . . How our residual memories of them inspire and influence our lives. Memories are like molecules in the sea. Molecules make an ocean, memories make a life. Life is Art.
I drew a hill under the cow. Looking up from my sketchbook, I saw a pale moon riding the blue. I drew it beside the cow. My grandma’s low smoky lullabies from another era drifted over the yellow dune flowers. . . Hush little baby… Later in my studio, this sketch evolved into an egg tempera painting Hey Diddle Diddle.
Many years ago, standing in the back of my truck beside a tidal creek, Donna and I painted another moon. I painted a green sky surrounding a yellow moon. She saw a purple sky circling a silver ball. In the twilight water below us, five white birds moved through the shallows.
I can not say where inspiration comes from. I’m certain I will never understand why love is withdrawn—or why some people turn pain into acts of destruction while others create works of tremendous beauty.
Nowadays, instead of sitting at picnic tables—after yoga—I go down to the ocean and swim out beyond the breaking waves. I lay on my back and float over the swells, relinquishing my thoughts to the infinite sky, letting senseless questions seep into the sea. The poet Rilke wrote: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions…
Life, like nursery rhymes, sometimes makes little sense. But I’ve been thinking. . .
We may believe we move through life like shadows of birds cast upon the water. Thinking our words and actions are unabsorbed, unseen like a sea wind. In our daily interactions, we shape, inspire and influence each other in countless ways.
Somewhere at this moment. . . someone is thinking of you as an inspiration.