Running Away From Sadness

“The Artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.” Leodardo Da Vinci

I spent much of my youth wanting a different family. Maybe everyone does, I don’t really know. But I wanted something different. All around me I could see happy families, families with both a mother and a father and smiling children. They’d play games together, and sing songs and help each other with homework. They always had clean clothes and clean homes and every toy they could imagine lined up neatly on their shelves. Not like our house with the mountain of smelly laundry on the concrete basement floor of our subsidized home, our welfare palace, our monument to poverty. Dirty faces, once weekly baths, home grown haircuts and hand me down clothes that had to last through four children. And a mother who was too tired from facing the world to see that our unhappiness was the same as hers.

So I created a dream family. We lived on a farm. And that’s where I wanted to be. A green place where I could listen to the quiet, rather than hearing the bedlam of the inner city. I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder, to live in the country with animals and great, broad expanses of prairie around me. I should have been born years ago on the rim of the great frontier, a pioneer full of strength and heartiness. Just like Laura Ingalls.

My greatest wish was to own all of her books. My mother couldn’t buy them for me but at the end of every school year there was a book fair. And if I got good grades, she let me buy one book. So I made it my focus in life to get them all. And through hard work, I got my yearly reward. I had already read them. I spent most of my time in the library. But I wanted a set of books for myself so I could read them whenever I wanted and not have to return them.

I remember playing at a friend’s house and up on a shelf by the door, I noticed a full set of the Laura Ingalls books. They were still in the original plastic. I pointed at them. “Wow, nice.” I said “Oh yeah.” She shrugged. “I got them last Christmas but I don’t really like reading.” And I placed a hand over my heart. How could you get such a wonderful gift and not read it? How could you not love Laura Ingalls? I did eventually achieve my goal. Seven long years and I finally had all the books. By the time I bought the last book in the series, the first book was tattered from so many readings.

Dissatisfaction with life is a difficult habit to break. It followed me into adulthood. So when I got married, I wanted to make things right. I clutched the opportunity to start a new life with my husband. We were going to be the perfect family I had always wanted. I tumbled into the promise of a wonderful future with arms open wide. My children would have all the books and toys they could dream of. We’d eat dinner every night around the table and the house would be clean and there would be enough for everyone so we wouldn’t have to fight over scraps. And when we moved to John D’or Prairie that was when my wonderful new life would begin. I couldn’t believe my luck that we were moving to the country. My life was going to be perfect. At least that’s what I thought in my sweet, optimistic, naive heart.

We moved with our baby son to a place that seemed like the end of the earth. No paved roads, miles from any town, living with strangers in a place flavored with generations of bitterness. And watching eyes wherever we went. No, people, but the feeling of eyes followed us everywhere.

My only solace during that time on the reserve was my art. Artwork puts me into a place of serenity. And that’s where my drawings live. And that’s where I go when I see them. When I make my art, I can feel the bottom. I can touch the source of all that we are, all that makes us the same, all that connects us with each other. I see art and I see infinity. On the reserve, my drawing took my mind away from my loneliness, and made me feel the warm wetness of life all around me.

I had to sketch this John D’or Prairie home. As soon as I saw it, I had to. The satellite dish sat right next to the outhouse. And much like all the other homes on the reserve, it was an interesting mix of modern and ancient.

We didn’t spend much time at John D’or Prairie. Four months or so. Long enough to understand that moving to new surroundings doesn’t change much of anything but our surroundings. If you’re running away from sadness, you don’t leave that sadness behind, you take it with you, the heaviest of baggage.

I’ve come home now, after many years away. Enough time has passed to put lines on my face and streaks in my hair. I’ve returned to the place I wanted to escape as a child, waiting in the starting blocks for the gun to go off so I could run away from it as fast as I could. I returned to this place and the place is the same but I am not. And the thing I discovered is that we are what we love, not what we fear. But here is the unique miracle of our existence. Of all the creatures that have ever risen and fallen on this tiny round stone travelling through nothing-we are able to choose. Imagine an alligator deciding one day to be a vegetarian. It can’t happen. Alligators don’t have the capacity to choose. But we do. We can choose. We can wake up every day and choose. So what do we choose? Some choose anger, some bitterness, some loneliness. But some, far too few, choose peace and happiness and love. And every day we all have the same day, the same now, the same choice. No matter what our outer circumstances, we can choose how we regulate the inner world where we live. And today I choose here. And I choose now. And I choose love.

This drawing and many more can be downloaded at dalegreenearts@bigcartel.com

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The Masks We Wear

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” Claude Monet

I used to walk.

I put my son in a backpack and walked. When I was lonely or bored or sad, I walked. An the walking took me outside of myself.

We lived on John D’or prairie Indian Reserve and I had the strange experience of not knowing one single person other than my husband and my infant son. My husband was a teacher on the reserve and the teachers were a tight knit group. But I wasn’t one of them. The natives were a tight knit group but I wasn’t one of them either. So I was lonely and I walked. I saw all kinds of homes, some only shacks, some larger all in various stages of repair, some abandoned. I saw few people. But I always had a feeling of being watched. 

I saw these two houses standing together in a sea of long grass that turned and waved in the wind. My son sat in his pack looking at everything in silence. He was the quietest, most studious child. I watched his eyes looking around in awe and I thought how special it is to see something for the first time. And then I realized, it was my first time seeing them too.

It was only after many years that I realized the painting was really a portrait of my husband and I. The pink house in the foreground is my husband, more open, more interesting. and more vibrant. And the yellow house was me, standing in his shadow, drabber, more closed off, plainer.

But much like houses, people’s interiors can’t be seen from the outside. My husband’s effervescent exterior masked his sadness, and my reserved nature covered over a rich imagination and strength that he didn’t have. It took me many years to understand this fact And now that he’s gone, I think back to those times and I wish I could live them again so I could be the kind of wife he needed and we would have been happier.

Find this drawing and the subsequent painting at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com available for download. 

A Place of Moose and Muskeg

northern-lights-low-res-watermark

“Art is not what you see but what you make others see” Edgar Degas

Northern Alberta, the land of rolling hills covered with the stubble of aspen and spruce. Spiky branches pressed up against the blue sky. Landscape thick with wild rose and saskatoon shrubs. Standing water crowded near the edge with thousands of pale, green blades. Miles of disheveled terrain laced with dirt roads. A place where, if you get stranded by an unreliable vehicle, you might have the minor inconvenience of hitch hiking back to town or the major inconvenience of fighting off a bear. A place of moose and muskeg, of bald eagles and wolf calls. A place where the trees remind us what it’s like to be wild.

I lived in Northern Alberta for a short time just after the birth of my first son. My husband took a remote teaching job and we moved, towing all our meager belongings in a poorly maintained red Capri to a place where I knew no one. And what is a lonely woman to do but draw pictures of her surroundings?

This painting was originally drawn when we lived on John D’or Prairie Indian Reserve. Even though it was a June night, the air was crisp enough to send my breath upwards in frosty plumes of vapor. And I could still see the sparkle of frost on every surface.

That’s when I saw the northern lights streaming across the sky.

I tucked my infant son into a baby carrier, wrapped a warm jacket around us both, and headed into the chilly night.

The lights were so unbelievably beautiful. Some things in life are beyond the confines of language. I sat in awe beneath them, so grateful to be its witness. My son wrinkled his forehead as he peered upwards. Not yet able to smile, he leaned his head back to study the crackling lights, looking, for all the world, like he was analyzing them.

We sat there in the cold, watching the lights as our breath disappeared into the air as silently and heart breakingly as the days pass away, as the years and even our lives pass. All of them drifting upwards and melting into nothing. I held my son and knew that nothing could replace that time with him and that those moments are the glue and mortar that make up our lives. All we can do is appreciate those moments, to own them. As I looked down on my son’s beautiful face, I felt that ownership. And that’s why I paint, so that I can own those times that I love. He has such a lovely face and he will endure hardship because we all do. But at that moment, we owned the time together under the northern lights.

Time is our most precious resource, nothing can replace it or bring it back or buy us more. We can only sit and enjoy the majesty of the world and be grateful for the gift of sight. That is our reward.

That’s where I drew this picture. Sitting on a mound of dried grass, holding my son with one hand while I drew with the other.  Only my baby and I, in the darkness, sitting silently and breathing air just cold enough to make us feel alive.

The finished drawing and painting can be downloaded at dalegreenearts.bigcartel.com and the video below shows the creation of the coloring page.