“I put down my paintbrush about a year ago,” she exclaimed as we waited to place our order at the downtown tea shop. When we had settled at the table by the window, me with my green pot of Darjeeling and she with her coffee mug piled high with whipped cream and smothered in caramel, she gave me her reason (I hope she’ll correct me where I’m wrong).
“I figure that if you really love something, you’ll miss it when it’s gone,” she explained.
I asked the obvious, “Do you miss it?”
“Yeah,” came the noncommittal reply, “but I learned other things I didn’t expect to during that time, which is often the case.”
On my drive back home I gave that a lot of thought. A few months ago I uncovered a poem I wrote my senior year of high school in which I talked about my need to write as a way of making sense of my world, but something happened shortly afterwards that caused me to lay down my pen for anything other than college essays. In my moves I’ve uncovered some overly sentimental scribbles I wrote about this or that in between dreary literary analysis, but for the most part I gave my pen a rest.
Did I miss it? Did I learn anything?
I didn’t really pick up my pen until my broken heart had mostly healed. I was living alone in an apartment abundant with character, and I was trying to endure a horrible job. It was write, I decided, or buy a Dachshund puppy. Everyone I know is probably better off for me realizing the puppy was an absurdly impractical idea. So I wrote, and I felt a whole lot better about life which is when I fell in love again.
Down went my pen. I had to live my life: marriage, a baby, a full-time job. I missed writing, but when? What about? We lived life breathlessly, but it was painfully predictable. The journal my sister-in-law bought me for my first Christmas with the family lay blank on my bedside table.
Our baby grew into a toddler, and in the middle of chaos we began to make memories with her. The camping trip when she first slept through the night; the Sand Dunes and waterfall; the Penny Arcade; field trips with the American Heritage Girls. Suddenly I could write again. My parents used to make me keep a family journal every summer. They aren’t anything special to anyone except my mom, written in my elementary handwriting and illustrated with cheap colored pencils, but oddly enough they prepared me to write down memories for my family as a mother.
Then we turned our lives inside out again, but I continued to write, this time about my experiences inside the prison. It was my coping mechanism. As we moved, practically sight unseen, to a different part of the country, I had to fight the urge to record the craziness, the daily lessons about the new culture we were supposed to call home. There was no time to process the changes, just to live them.
When I am not writing, I miss it; but sometimes you just have to live. I suppose writers, readers, artists, photographers–the list could go on–have to grapple with this dichotomy their whole lives. Maybe my student will find her peace with these questions and pick up her paintbrush again. The world will be a prettier place for it.