There is a joke about a guy who jumps off a 100-story building. As he hurtles past the 50th floor, he’s heard to exclaim, “So far, so good!”
We all began that nosedive to the pavement the day we were born. But like the objects dropped by Galileo from the Tower of Pisa, as we “fall”, the rate of falling accelerates. In our twenties, thirties — and even forties and fifties — the idea of mortality is just that: an idea. But I’m now at a stage where I can rather accurately count the days I have left (or at least count the ones I don’t, by estimating the maximum I could possibly live and realizing that most of those days will be decreasingly productive as I run out of steam). I have to make serious choices as to what I will do with those days while I still can. As my body begins to creak in protest, I am beginning to understand the meaning of Bette Davis’ famous obversation: “Getting old aint for sissies!
However, there’s good news here too. Last night at PaintNite a girl brought her mother to the class/party (it’s actually meant to be more of a party than a class). Mothers can be a problem: they worry more about “getting it right” and “following the rules”, and this one began as no exception.
But toward the end of the class, as she was furiously brushing the paint in red-orange chunks all over the top of the canvas (ostensibly to simulate autumn foliage, but really just for the sake of spreading paint) she exclaimed, “Just dabbing the paint on the canvas like this is really fun!” She had hit upon the key to the whole process, and I don’t mean just PaintNite.
After all, there is no right and wrong to “foliage”. You simply bang away with the brush and whatever appears is “right”. The surprising thing is that about halfway through the evening, the party noises start to subside, and everyone (including me) becomes engrossed in the process of pushing paint around with a brush. Our breathing slows and (at best) becomes synchronized with the motions of the brush, water and paint. Our egos largely fall away, and we become the process without any judgments attached. We (hopefully) taste our food and wine, we breathe; we ARE the painting process.
Once or twice an evening I disturb them by shouting out, “Are we having fun?!?” And the answer is invariably a resounding “YES!” I want them to know they are experiencing joy (disguised as fun) and that it’s just that easy to come by. (Brenda says we are “discovering our inner child;” but I prefer to think we are “coming back to life”).
When the two hours are up and they slowly “wake up”, they invariably find that what they have made with daubs of paint experimentally distributed around the canvas is something truly beautiful, and they are sincerely awestruck by this unexpected by-product of the evening. Each one of them has made something unique, yet all of the paintings are clearly of the same subject. (There is, of course, the exception of the one or two who decided to do something completely different, which is fine, as there are no requirements here except that we all have fun).
When they hold up their work in groups to be photographed for Facebook, their eyes are shining and their paintings are all magnificent. It is truly humbling to see how the model I have walked them through has evolved into something so much more interesting in each of their hands. If there are birds, some of them acquire bow ties. If there is a landscape, squirrels, birds and other animals may appear. Some of them may have hats and canes, à la Fred Astaire. The old World Trade Center has been known to pop up in the background. One woman discovered that there was a bear behind one of the trees: but of course, no one else could ever see it, because it was hiding. She, however, would always know it was there, waiting to come out when no one was looking.
And this is why I do PaintNite. I start each evening naïvely believing that I am “teaching” them to do a painting. But as the evening progresses, I discover that they are teaching me; and the less I interfere with the process, the happier they are, each totally absorbed in his or her own world or his/her own making.
It’s sublime! And I give thanks every time to Brenda who (virtually) kicked me until I
joined her in this enterprise. Even as the students give thanks to the two us for facilitating this delightful process.
As they say, “So far, so good!”