The room I stood in may be 13’ by 13’. May be. It’s hard to size this room, because it holds a grand piano, and any non-grand room holding a grand piano (even a baby grand) seems doll-house size. 

Yet, in addition to the grand piano (don’t ask), the room manages to hold a bed, bedside table, two chairs, a tray table (kept, when not in use, with several alternative pairs of soft shoes under the piano), small book shelf, extra clothes, extra heater, humidifier, and the splayed green leaves of what was, a couple of weeks ago, a stunning Amaryllis. 

I have mentioned that I am helping to care for a family member with cancer right now, and this, for various logistical reasons, is the room she is staying in. 

As I stood by the grand piano, I was (in my mind) keeping her company while she ate, digested, got ready for the night. But I was also taking a zoom drawing class (in this case, Peter Hristoff’s wonderful drawing marathon, in which participants attempt to do over 100 drawings in approximately three hours).  

Obviously, this was not ideal.  My drawing pad was on top of the piano’s lid, wedged between small stacks of card/letters/ tax documents, clothes, framed photos, and various small bottles and tubes sent home by the hospital staff an emergency stay this week.

But my ill family member has a huge reservoir of patience and I have a probably oversized amount of determination.  

What am I determined to do?  Well, I would like to learn how to draw better.  But lately, I feel that a part of my determination is oriented simply towards self-care.  We all need some these days, what with the ongoing illnesses of the pandemic, our body politic, our planet.  Plus February! 

In my case, of course, there’s also the specific illness of my dear family member, which I don’t feel is wearing me down, though it is stressful.  (Chemotherapy is chockfull of nasty surprises.)

And then, on the other side, there’s art!  (Also, of course, nature, family, friendship!) 

But I write of art right now—of how nurturing it feels to draw with both focus and abandon on a newsprint pad on the top of a grand piano.  Especially when doing it in a community of other draw-ers, and with a kind and inspiring teacher.  The engagement of the teacher, the group, and one’s own activity, can be felt through the air waves, and is itself a wave.

Yes, I felt guilty!  Squinting into my phone to do one-minute drawings of various models, no matter how wonderful they are, while in a room with a cancer patient feels immensely selfish! But there is a fair amount of monotony in illness (despite the nasty surprises), and overhearing the energy of people drawing and talking about drawing, without worrying about their germs, animated our small room in a way that, thankfully, did not seem to bother my ill family member.  (My hope is that she even found it kind of interesting.) 

And, of course, I did stop drawing at times in the three hours. In fact, I partly justified taking the drawing marathon by a self-pledged willingness to interrupt it at any moment, to step away for what was needed, and to take care not to rush those needs (no matter how my head was racing.  Rather like the portrait of the lady with the beehive above, who keeps her face insouciant despite the bees swirling around.) 

But the whole weird experience, of drawing at the crowded piano, of knowing that I might be called away at any moment, actually allowed for a certain freedom. No. The urgency of the experience did not allow for freedom, but rather mandated it,. Knowing in advance that I might have to stop at any moment made me feel that if I was going to do it at all, I should try to do it, as Peter urges, boldly.  

At any rate, thinking about the experience later gave rise to a few specific “lessons”:

The first is to be grateful, if you are taking care of someone ill, that your someone is very sweet. (Honestly, gratitude is a boon in any difficult situation.)

The second is to keep in mind your hope that your caretaking will be a marathon, not a sprint. (This wonderful comparison is from my daughter.) Again, this relates to my ill family member, but it could apply to the illness in our society too.  Difficulty takes time; it is important to figure out how to keep going.

Third, half a loaf is better than none!

Fourth, the benefit of just “showing up.”  This one seems especially important if you are someone interested in making art, or who is nourished by making art (of whatever kind.) 

It is hard to put ink to page. Not just to find time and space, but also to find belief that what you’d like to do is worth doing, and you are worthwhile enough to do it. 

But you can’t make anything if you don’t simply start; and the act of starting, “just showing up”, can be very very hard.

Having a structure–a class or a group–is of course helpful. Thinking of this afterwards brought up my father, and the way he would drag us to church when we were children. (Please read on, even if you are anti-religious!) 

It was very difficult to get my working mom out of bed on a Sunday morning, and my brother and I would try to use (i) her slowness to move, and (ii) her perfectionism about what she was going to wear (my mom was not a half-loaf kind of person) to avoid the whole process.  

But my father would persist, and often, eventually, would get us to that little neighborhood church, albeit the service might be half-way over by the time we tiptoed in.

And he’d absolutely grin for a little bit. He didn’t really care if we were particularly attentive (he himself would regularly nod off.) He was just happy that he’d gotten our feet through the door.

I am not a regular church-goer, but I am quite religious in my own way, and I am sure this is in part because of the resonance of those Sunday mornings, particularly of the service’s closing benediction. (We always got there in time for that.)  The part about may God bless you and keep you, make His face shine upon you and give you peace. 

Words like these are so important when you are with the unwell. 

I don’t know exactly how all this relates to Peter Hristoff’s drawing marathon.  Or to the use of time.  But I do know that believing it is worthwhile to at least  “show up” for an activity or a person—even when you doubt your capacity to do whatever is needed in full—can be far more resonant than one surmises.

With or without a grand piano. 

(Apologies for the length of this post and thank you, as always, for reading. The image above is from a word prompt Peter Hristoff gave in the marathon. I post a few others below, some based on his wonderful models. I will likely post more in coming days. Thanks again.)

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One Comment on “Beehive”

  1. M Says:

    Just show up… so key. thank you for the reminder, K ~

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