Two summers ago, I bought a new iPad. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it because, frankly, I’ve spent a long time drawing in a sketchbook with pens and brushes and the idea of making digital art seemed kind of icky.
But the Apple Pencil intrigued me, so I made it my summer project to learn to use it to make some art. I figured, worst case, I’d give up and just use it for Facebook and Netflix.
My grandmother won prizes for her gorgeous chrysanthemums. She had a huge rose garden that was designed like a Persian Carpet. She had two full time gardeners who kept her topiaries trimmed and her lawns like billiard tables. She taught me to love making things grow and to respect the endless powers of Nature.
One of her pet peeves: “Why must Americans call it ‘dirt’? It’s soil. It’s earth. It’s not dirty. It’s wonderful.”
Last week, I thought about her often as we watched a wonderful film about turning dirt into magic. The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary about the Chesters, a cooking blogger and a filmmaker, who worked for eight years to transform a mistreated farm into a Garden of Eden.
The last few months have been wonderful for me. And simultaneously rather awful. But the awful stuff has inspired me, perhaps more than the good. That’s the nature of the creative process, isn’t it? To take the manure of life and use it to fuel new growth.
So many of my favorite artists turned adversity into raw material. Van Gogh was fueled by his isolation and mental illness into a turbo–charged creativity machine that cranked out another startling painting virtually every day. Frida Kahlo, whose body was crisscrossed with scars from polio and from being run over by a bus, turned her disabilities, her awful marriage, her abortions and miscarriages into the sources for her brilliant work. Hockney faced homophobia; Basquiat racism; Bacon, Goya, Picasso were all inspired by the terrors of war.
A couple of years ago, I looked in the mirror as I struggled to button my trousers and said, “You fat bastard, get to the gym.” I dutifully signed up for a gym membership, got a trainer and vowed earnestly to show up. My initial physical assessment was depressing. I was fat indeed. But, energized by novelty, I showed up at my first appointment with visions of a lithe me doing handsprings in my head.
God, it was grueling. I was red faced and puffing a few minutes into the session. I clearly had an awfully long way to go. How would I stick to it rather than retiring to a pint of ice cream on the couch? The financial commitment was somewhat helpful; I’d optimistically bought an expensive package of training sessions so I couldn’t very well blow it off outright. Instead I just started to space the sessions further and further apart, from three weekly sessions to one that I managed to fill with chitchat rather than cardio.