A Little Canvas Square

After any major change in life, there are certain days on the calendar that you know need a little more mental preparation than others – birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays, among them – but there are other days that come at you sideways and catch you completely unprepared. That was Friday. I have no idea what it was about Friday, whether it was the fact that I’d been cooped up inside for 4 days due to the weather or that I’d worked almost non-stop during that time, but Friday was a beast. I felt tired, and alone, and sad.

My only respite during the long week was walking to the mailbox every day, imagining that I’d open it to find that USPS had delivered all my wildest birthday wishes. Now, I should probably note here, I was in no way expecting anything in the mail. But…because I’m a sucker for a sappy story, I had created some very interesting ones in my mind as I trekked to the box. Some days I would get a birthday card with a plane ticket, some days it would be a mysterious package full of clues that led me to an exotic locale, and some days it was just a beautiful handwritten letter. Like people who fantasize about winning the lottery, I’d spent an entire week daydreaming about what I’d do if any of these things happened to me. I don’t know if I was actually expecting to open the mailbox on Friday and a Hallmark movie roll out, but when it was empty again, I’d had just about enough of myself.

So I went back inside, disheartened, and attempted to make cookies. They were god-awful! I cannot even begin to describe them in words that are appropriate for general audiences. I don’t relish wasting food, but I could not bring myself to eat them either.

But this is not a post about the sucky day I had on Friday or the terrible cookies I threw away. This is a post about an 8 x 8 canvas square and how it turned things around for me that day.

A couple of weeks ago, when we were putting away the Christmas decorations at my Dad’s house, Fran handed me a blank canvas square. She had gotten it at church and was supposed to draw something on it but (long story short) that never happened. “You can have this,” she said, “but I want it back when you’re done with it.” I looked at it and turned it over in my hand, this 8 x 8 empty white canvas, and wondered what in the world I was supposed to do with it. I hadn’t painted since I was a kid, and even then it was only watercolors on cardboard.

But that’s the awesomeness of Fran. She knew me when I was a kid. She had watched me draw and write and paint and create throughout my childhood…and she didn’t care that it was 30 years later, she believed I could put something on that square worthy of her wanting it back.

So on Friday evening, I poured myself a glass of sparking water, draped an old shower curtain over the coffee table, gathered up all the empty applesauce cups from recycling, and I set about painting. Never mind that I’d only ever painted landscapes before, I decided my gift to Fran would be to paint a portrait of Bella, her little Chihuahua-Beagle that I affectionately refer to as my sister-dog.

I printed off a copy of my favorite Bella photo and Googled – how do you mix brown paint? Then, how do you mix tan paint? Then I picked up the brush.

When I finished at 9 PM, I was too hyper to even think about going to bed. I was so proud, and quite frankly, astonished. Honestly, even the next morning when I saw it on the table, I couldn’t believe I was the one who painted it.

Now, this is the part where I feel like I’m supposed to say something like, no, it’s not worthy of an art museum or it’s not masterpiece but I’m kind of tired of doing that to myself. That’s the kind of negative self-talk that my mom’s expectations of perfection left me with, and I shouldn’t have to caveat my feelings or pretend I’m not tripping over myself with excitement that I did something I’ve never done before. So, yes, I think it is a masterpiece, at least worthy of being in the living room.

There are a lot of “blank canvas” metaphors that I could use here, but I don’t want to talk about another “fresh start” or “new beginning”. I’ve done enough of that to last me for a while and sometimes, I long just a bit for the old life I had. As harsh as it sounds, I don’t miss my mother. I do think back to the good times we had and keep them close, if only so that my memories of her are not all tainted by her behavior. I do miss my best friend, and I’m unashamed to say that.

Painting Bella brought me joy on a day when I was down. But more than that, knowing that Fran believed I could do something I wasn’t sure about, gave me the courage to try. That’s the real lesson here. There are going to be days that suck worse than others, no matter how long it’s been or what good now surrounds me. But I know those days will pass, leaving behind a fresh canvas to be filled with all manner of wondrous things. It just takes a little courage to pick up the paintbrush.

PS – the next day, I remade my cookies. They were freakin’ delicious this time, and I ate 3 of them with a big mug of chamomile tea, and got the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a while.