meet the artist

For a long time I wasn’t myself, but I was happy. And that was fine, that worked. Then a series of problems with my heart – the irony of having a broken heart is not lost on me – created a need for instant and overarching change in my life. I had to stop riding my bike, which up to that point had taken up a good fifteen hours of my time each week and had been the primary activity I shared with my then-husband.

I was devastated, depressed, and angry. Before I was forced to quit, I had been at the top of my fitness, and I could almost touch the fruit of all my dedication and ambition. Then, it was done. Just like that. I had no idea what to do with myself except stew in my disappointment. Then I remembered things I used to enjoy before I found bicycles. I made art, I explored, I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. So I started doing those things again. In two months I finished two journals. I wrote stories for the first time, and I liked what I wrote. My voice sounded familiar again.

As I felt more and more like I was becoming the person I am at my core, I tried to share this new life with my then-husband. I wanted to bring him into my fold the way I’d been brought into his for the past ten years. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen, and after a while I couldn’t do it anymore.

I knew my marriage was finished; my own therapy wasn’t helping, couple’s counseling wasn’t improving anything except our ability to find things that weren’t working. I’d been trying for months. I needed to leave so I didn’t destroy myself, and I wanted to stay so I didn’t destroy anything else. Happiness and obligation are not good bedfellows, so I was doing everything I could to make my own needs irrelevant.

Then one morning, I opened my RSS feeder and found this comic:

All Over Coffee #582 by Paul Madonna

The image pinged around inside me, settled. I felt calm and clear about the direction my life was taking: I did know exactly what I had to do. With that little bit of cosmic reassurance, I believed I could really do it.

And I did.

After I moved out on my own and signed the papers that would someday make the divorce official (you can walk into a California courthouse and walk out married five minutes later, but if you want to reverse the process you have to wait at least six months for the state to catch up), I had a friend over to my apartment. I’d bought a print of the comic – the first art I’d purchased for myself – and hung it near the door so that I see it before I go out and as I come home.

She noticed the image. I told her the story, how I’d been struggling to stand up for myself and do what I knew was best for me, and this picture showed up at the very moment I needed a shove out of the nest. How it felt like a perfect little gift from the universe.

“Who’s the artist?” she asked.

“Paul Madonna.” I answered.

Her expression changed; surprise, disbelief, surrender. She knew him. In fact, he would be at a dinner party she was taking me to next week. I’d meet him, and I could tell him the story of how he made something that impacted my life in a pretty big way.

It’s rare that you get an opportunity to tell an artist that they reached down deep inside you and pulled out part of you. But in the same way that the comic arrived so perfectly, so did the opportunity to tell my story in return. Cosmic. We had a great exchange about art and connection and creative process and ways of seeing. The experience was almost profound; to have a stranger touch your life from afar and then be able to come in close and touch them right back. It was so profound because there wasn’t any doubt about what I had to do, the sequence laid itself out:

  1. see art
  2. move forward
  3. meet artist
  4. tell story
  5. pay attention.
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