In the last few days I have been thinking about essence- not the magazine- but the meaning of the word. Reconnecting with school friends after thirty years has been a rare opportunity to view essence- the unique combination of attributes which make us individual. In the case of my very talented friends, I am having a glance at creative essence.
Climbing stairs was a big part of my childhood. I lived in a six story "walk-up" in Greenwich Village and I recall drawing curleques around the numbers on each floor landing. I got in big trouble for that nascent expression of creativity. Memories aside, I am still at it with curleques. As I find childhood friends, they too are still at it and it is breathtaking to behold.
I do not endorse falling out of touch but I made breaks with friends and places to enable growth. In 1981 I moved from the East village to a then beleaguered Riverside Drive and with a husband bought a coop. The building had a wood paneled, manually operated elevator and a doorman named Henry who had been minding the lobby for forty years years. Then we moved to a flat in London with a big Victorian mail slot in the front door. One day I locked myself out and my two year old daughter in. The genius of mail slots! I opened it, called her to the door and explained how to open the latch. Open a door. Greenwich Village was a distant memory but inevitably I returned home and not without a few doors closing.
One door that closed was marriage, another was perfect health. Sudden illness and plans for my funeral released me from normal considerations; I decided to "really live." Damn if I know what I was waiting for? I had lived under a veil of ennui, thinking, "tomorrow." To "really live" involved setting aside all the reasons that prevented painting: criticism, financial practicality and finally indifference.
People say things like, "illness is a wake-up call." I understand what this statement is aiming for: in dealing with illness and loss we face all that seemed effortless and therefore a sort of "baseline" for living. I picked up a little more medical slang- "buff and turf," which I understand as, charting for a patient in a manner which facilitates a discharge. I have "buffed and turfed" myself enough to understand the underlying condition remains. As we handle loss, we redefine our baseline. Finally we face our essence- that which we are. In the case of artists, it is the expression of creativity.
I am happy to report, I am quite recovered and have again moved on. I no longer have stairs, a doorman or a mail slot, but a woodshed and a farmhouse door that rarely is locked. Inside, a modest studio- a temporary place for expressing my essence.