Being an artist is about being raw and true to yourself and to your vision of the world around you. It requires you to be both fearful and fearless simeltaneously. I tell that to my students all of the time, but they are just words. I had forgotten what it was like to live in that limbo of being brutally honest, yet hidden in the depths. I had forgotten what it meant to be someone who creates because there is no other alternative.
You see I couldn’t stop creating if I tried. It’s built into me, into my genetic code. My grandma was the same way. Up until the arthritis curled her hands and bit into her hips she would sit for hours and paint or sew or crochet or string jewelry: anything to help create something in the world.
She passed away this week, and I didn’t realize until then how much braver she was than I ever gave her credit for. I had spent my life looking at her through one lens, that of grandma. To me she was someone who raised her family and lived a typical housewife existence and who loved to craft as a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I loved her any differently because of this perception.
I just didn’t see her. I didn’t appreciate her fire, didn’t see her as a young woman who put her dreams on hold only to go back to college later when her children were grown so she could follow her dream. I didn’t see how much courage it would have taken for her to do this, to branch out into a world she didn’t really know and go back to school with people half her age in order to learn more and grow as a person.
After school she took her art on the road, going out with the items she created and putting them up for people to look at and criticize. This is the hardest thing for any artist to do, and she did it with grace and style. She never lost her love of her art or her desire to create.
One painting has always stuck with me. It was a Bengal Tiger standing in wispy blades of yellow grass against a coal black sky. His eyes were not filled in but he stood strict and at attention, his entire body poised against the unknown. When I was younger I used to stare at it for hours and beg her to finish. She never would. She told me once she just wasn’t sure if she could. I didn’t understand it then, couldn’t understand why someone would invest so much in something they could not finish. I understand now. In fact, I’m fighting with some of my own demons on my unfinished stories. This painting is with me now, a constant reminder to not leave things undone.
I was going through pictures after the service and all of a sudden I saw my grandma as she had been, a fully formed person. There were smiles and laughter, tears and doubts, and through it all the story of her life. The story I had always missed because I couldn’t take off my glasses and adjust my view. I see it now, though. I’m sorry I missed it before, Nene.
I see you now.