Artsy Smartsy

First published in WNC Woman Magazine Friendship Issue

I have a friend whom I turn to when I need insight into the burning questions of my life. She’s great at all things intuitive, though not in a Tarot-card reading sort of way. She just seems to be able to paddle her inner surfboard into whatever muddled confusion I happen to be in, rise to the pinnacle of the wave to view it from the grandeur of the sky, then dazzle me with her twisty-turny surf-nastics as she rides that wave in to wisdom’s shore. You know, that place where, when you get there, you think, “well, duh, this is what I really thought was true, deep, deep down, all along.”

 I like unknotting my soul with her not just because she helps to clear the occasional foggy mess, but also because watching her maneuver the surf-board over the conflicting emotions of my mind and my heart is like watching Jackson Pollack painting—it starts out with a bunch of willy-nilly splatters and deft flicks of the wrist, and ends up, somehow, as a coherent work of art. For the sake of privacy and clarity, I’ll call this maven of the inner world Lily.

One reason that Lily is so good at getting to parts of my muddle that I cannot is that she travels a very different route than I. I am, in many ways, a linear problem solver, at least when it comes to my own life. I am much more imaginative when it comes to friends and clients. For myself though, I know the problem that I want to solve, and I know the scape and scope of the solution, even if the solution itself eludes me. From there, I walk through the dilemma, calling on the resources of the head, heart, and soul that I need to untangle along the way. Very simple really. And very linear. Even my art tends to be linear. Mostly I sew, lean straight lines and clear beginnings and endings that provide me symmetrical therapy and a sense of ordered peace, as well as a pillow or a bag or a newly altered pair of pants.

If Lily were a travel agent and I asked the best way to get from Los Angeles to New York, she would pause and ponder for a moment and then say something like, “I think that the best way would be to go to Argentina, because surely the way to New York will become evident from there.” And because she is who she is and I am who I am I would exhaust myself trying all the direct routes to New York, only to find that the best route does in fact lie in going to Argentina. I would then crawl on hands and bloodied knees to the plane and hand over my ticket, let go of control and have a ball in Argentina, and find that I drift to New York without effort. I know I could just get on Expedia and buy the first ticket to Argentina, but I just can’t seem to do it until I’ve tried every logical alternative.

I have yet to figure out how this system of hers works, but it does work. And it’s fun. She called me up once saying that she had been pondering something like the nature of evil in the world, and so she wanted to take a woodturning class, did I want to come along? I did, and we chatted about evil on the way to and from, I got a neat bud-vase out of the deal, and she seemed much more settled in her relationship with the world’s ills. It’s not the way I would have wrangled with the issue, but it worked for her. This summer, Lily was struggling with the issue of suffering in the world, and so asked if I wanted to go kayaking, as she felt the answer lay somehow with water. We ended up getting drenched in a thunderstorm while drifting down the French Broad and later considered the problem while paddling around Lake Lure. We each came to a peace about suffering along the way, though we each came to it via a different route. Lily came to kayaking with the intuition that water and movement and nature would shake loose for her the deep inner stuckness she had surrounding the issue for her. I just came to kayak, but because of some great conversation and my predilection to pondering, I got to wrestle with an issue that for me skims life’s surface like the time-toughened eyes of a gator.

The way from an aching question to an authentic answer is generally shadowed, and the most direct route is often to drop into the miasma of the deep unknown, that mingling place of art and nature and angels and our quirky threads. Letting go of the outcome and submerging yourself in the process really can make deep, life-altering connections that a linear journey can never do. The difference between artsy-smartsy people like Lily and line-skating people like me is that Lily’s tribe will go to that mystery party first, and mine will often only accept the invitation kicking and screaming when all the other avenues are tried and lost.

So I was a little miffed, but not surprised, when I asked for her guidance in a new, more public career phase that I was trying to plot. Since she had walked along this particular path, I anticipated some solid, logical, step-by-step mentoring. But no. She paused and gazed toward the sky before saying, “I think you should take up painting.”

Knowing that once we started down that road, getting to the logical was pointless, I said, “Any particular kind of painting?”

“Watercolor, I think,” she said. This was good because at least I have some watercolors—probably dried and crusted from disuse, but I knew they were in a drawer with other ignored art supplies.

“Anything else I might try, too,” I said, angling for something more rational.

“No,” she said. “I think that if you paint, the answers you’re looking for will come to you.”

Part of me said that I should march home smartly, dig out the paints, and start right in, but, true to myself and my line-dancing tribe, I started searching out more straightforward roads to those answers that I am still half-convinced may be accessible to me that way. Every once in a while I think about digging those watercolors out to speed things up. But then, when I venture a toe on wisdom’s shores, I know that taking out the paints too soon would spoil my process.

The way of the artsy-smartsy is a grand and colorful commentary on the dramas and absurdities of life, full of the heart-heaving and soul-tickling that make for great art, and we would have no Sistine Chapel without them. For those in my tribe less drawn to colors and paints and the murky miasma of creativity, the way seems much more straightforward—but that true path is deceptive. For us, the straight line is so very appealing and yet so very shallow without a dose of the miasma; the straight line is a utilitarian I-40 bridge over the French Broad, with a plunge into the murky depths, it is the Golden Gate. 

For me, like many of my tribe, this means that my process is that I research, journal, ponder, set goals, and make plans that seem so good at the time but don’t quite get me where I want to go. Then I ask knowledgeable, logical people a lot of practical, rational questions, and listen to what are always well-reasoned but inadequate answers that tug wider a yawning void that pulls my feet, legs, and soul in contrary directions. I studiously avoid looking at that void until it’s so wide that I lose my footing and fall right in. In this cavernous and desolate place, there is only the miasma, and I have only the option of breaking out the watercolors or whatever Lily’s prescription, and losing my heart and soul in the process of something swirly. I know that eventually in the swirls and colors of painting with no agenda the lines of logic and research will tangle and untangle, unhook and re-hook into an answer that makes my whole body hum with truth and joy.

I’m almost there. I’ve spent two months now searching out the rational since that watercolor conversation, and I can feel the ground beneath me giving way. I’m at the point in which I am looking forward to crawling up the stairs, spent in my previous efforts, to the dusty art drawer and losing my mind in paints. I wish I could schedule this break with ordinary life so that it would come on a weekend, or when I have a planned vacation, or at least not interfere with my schedule. Sadly, plunging into the miasma rarely happens when it’s convenient, and yet the timing is always perfect. I know that when I finally come up for air, my life will look much different than it did when I fell in, and I will, for a few unabashed moments, dream myself an honorary member of the artsy-smartsy tribe.

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Kristine Madera

About Kristine

Pushing the edges of my consciousness has been my passion for as long as I can remember. This has flowed me into writing, podcasting, and becoming a hypnotherapist to help others push past limiting perceptions and expand their awareness and possibilities, too. Welcome to my world. Thanks for visiting!