I was a college girl at 3 a.m., lugging a telescope to the end of the driveway of a rented duplex, searching for something meaningful in the sky after working all night at the campus newspaper, wanting all day and night to discover for myself some truth and share it with others. Other people – normal people – went to keg parties in college and drank cheap, vile potions from tubs and trashcans. No judgement. One time my roommate and I overindulged on Captain Morgan’s spiced rum and painted each other with finger paints, which may have been a sexy thing if we’d chosen a different drink, but instead was just a messy one.
I was antsy tonight – at the age of 40 on a regular weeknight, owning a very small television but no cable subscription and not knowing where the remote control was anyway, nor the “on” button – and as I scooped cat boxes and heated a leftover casserole made of vegetarian “meat” crumbles and tater tot crowns – the kind of thing my former sister-in-law wryly observed as something she never made until she had small children – I felt compelled to take a walk around the neighborhood as it grew dark and began to drizzle a bit.
I grabbed my teenage daughter’s puffy coat and slipped on the shoes she’d discarded near the front door, and I left for a bit to wander around our neighborhood in the dark – the night after Halloween – rather aimlessly until I heard the crack of a baseball bat and followed the sound to nearby softball fields where grown men were playing to empty bleachers as Houston was winning the World Series on their TVs at home. I circled the perimeter of the fields and picked up foul balls, thinking I might return them to the men playing, and also thinking about the things I am good at – hitting baseballs, games involving pitching, making money, taking chances, writing essays, keeping a meeting flowing, traveling alone, hiking, riding a bike in traffic, making important decisions, figuring out how to do new things, solving problems, and pointing out bullshit.
I am good at some things at which all people need to be at least passable, plus a few additional things that come in handy, plus one or two things deemed by many as completely useless but which are the essence of who I am.
I look at the moon at 3 a.m. I paint my roommate, drunk on rum. I search for foul balls in the dark.
I watched a solar eclipse this summer and cannot get it out of my head, so I painted the eclipse on a stretched canvas and attached it via velcro to the ceiling in my living room. This same ceiling also has fastened to it paintings on which I have depicted the following: vulvas, the American suffrage banner, a pink tree with jewels on it, and my grandmother’s patio, among other things.
There have been many other times, though, when bursts of creative enterprise remained closeted away, unshared – such as the rendering of the Big Bang I did on a 20×20 in acrylic, the dolls I made from tiny wooden dowels (or the hand-woven beaded gowns I crafted for them), the dried lasagna noodles painted with cityscapes, the essay I wrote about being an ugly teenager, the short film I made about death, the rocks I’ve painted, the origami boxes I’ve folded, and the notion I’ve had off and on lately that when I’m working on something and the wind picks up, it means God is listening.
When we are little and do interesting things, people say we’re cute.
When we’re old, we’re eccentric.
For all the rest of our time on earth, the line between creative and weird is hazy and cause for sequestering of talent and desire.
Tuck it away. Turn on the TV. Stay inside. Follow the crowd. Ask permission. Join the party. Stop working. Go to bed.
There must also be a time to nurture our weird, searching souls.