Risking the Unknown

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one identity, and the end of safety. It is only when one is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream one has long cherished, or a privilege one has long possessed, that one has set oneself free for higher dreams, for greater privileges.”

– James Baldwin

Tell me about a time you took a leap into the unknown, risking everything.


  1. says

    I prostrated on the orange shag carpet, my face pressed into the long, polyester fibers. I responded to Mahatma Fakiranand, an Indian man with a shaved head and a face like a skull. “Yes,” I said in answer to his question. “I would cut my head off for Guru Maharaj Ji.”

    I was fifteen. I had cut 10th grade and walked a mile to the Elberon train station. Caught the train to East Brunswick, New Jersey. Walked however many blocks it was to the premie house. How did I find it? I don’t remember. This was decades before smart phones and GPS, Mapquest and Google Earth. But somehow, I got there. I snuck out of the house, pretended to go to school. And I got on that train, determined to become a devotee of the living Satguru.

    My brother was already a premie. After majoring in LSD and driving a second-hand hearse around the University of Colorado, he had dropped out of college and gone to India, following the 14-year-old boy who promised we could realize God if we practiced the sacred path of satsang, service and meditation.

    I was an unhappy hippie girl with huge casaba melon breasts, living with a mother I hated. Every night after work, she came home from her job as a school social worker, made dinner and tried to talk to me, but I had already shut her out. I could feel her talons digging into my flesh. I was her last hope. My brother was gone. My father had abandoned us, moving to Esalen and later, San Francisco to find himself. The campuses were on fire. The world as we knew it was burning down. I was trapped at Long Branch High School and I wanted out. The ashram seemed like the way to go.

    I spent the whole day in that basement. Mahatma Fakiranand sat, wrapped in his saffron robes, on a silk-covered chair. Next to him were pictures of Guru Maharaj Ji, his mother, Mata Ji, his brothers Bal Bhagwan Ji, Rata Ji, and Bhole Ji, the Holy Family. The gilded frames holding their pictures were draped with garlands of chrysanthemums.

    There were thirty of us in the basement that day. Under sharp questioning by Mahatama ji, those not ready to receive Knowledge were gradually weeded out. “You need to hear more satsang.” “You are not yet pure enough to receive this precious knowledge.” But I was accepted. Maybe it was because I was the youngest person in the room, still innocent. Maybe it was because my brother already lived in an ashram. Whatever it was, I was one of the lucky 12 chosen for the Knowledge session, the secret rite in which we would be taught to taste the divine nectar, hear the divine music, see the divine light and feel the primordial Word of God. This was not a religion. This was not some theory about God. This was direct experience of the Divine and soon it would be mine.

    I don’t remember much about the Knowledge session. Mahatma Fakiranand came around and touched each of us on our third eye and I did see a flash of light. Nothing fancy, more of a glimmer than a lightning bolt. We were taught to meditate and instructed to do so two hours every morning and every night. I’m sure there were other important admonitions. When the endless ceremony was finally over, the premies upstairs celebrated our initiation with a homemade cake. It was our real birthday you see, our spiritual birthday.

    Somehow, I made my way back to the train station. It was already dark when I boarded the train to go home. I hadn’t realized I’d be gone all day. It was after nine when I finally walked into my house. My mother was sitting at our yellow formica kitchen table, crying. She looked at me with red-rimmed eyes full of a grief I was far too young to understand. “First your father,” she said, “and then your brother, and now you.” She had lost me and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.

  2. says

    Perhaps sleeping with three men in one weekend had a lot to do with being indecisive. At twenty years old, I was attached to no one. I was pondering my life, where it would lead, which direction I should head to find a meaningful living that was not just about me. It was June 1978, I was at the end of a bus line and could not decide where to go, so, I began to slowly pace back and forth on along the tops of a long line of secured logs that framed a parking lot at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I was doing a slow and silly balance-beam move with each foot as I dunked it down into the imaginary warm, tepid or torrent waters of life’s potential directions; all of which seemed very banal in those moments. I pondered, Is going to college right for me? Then I swooped my lowered foot up in a big arch until my leg was straight out from my hip then I lower it to the log and bent that knee to lower the other foot down in a dip and take the next step, dipping each pointed toe down like a gymnast. Would college change me? Dip, down step. To which one? Dip Step, and so on What if I do not get in? Am I a good enough student to get a degree? What if I just work and find a studio apartment? Will I make enough money? Will my life have any meaning and value if I live alone, and all I can earn only supports my working? What if I only had enough money to pay my bills and none to travel or make a difference for other people in the world? What about my dream to start a school or Community Center for Health and Well Being? Am I ever going to get married? Do I have a soul mate? If I do, how can I find him? Is he already close by or not yet born? What’s next?

    Between Friday night and Sunday noon, I had intimately shared my undressed body three different times, with three different men. I was not feeling particularly ashamed but knew it was something I would not likely tell anyone. Though it was fun to be that carefree, it did not have the meaning and depth I craved. And due to my feeling so seriously scrambled, I knew deep down I would not do it again. I was not unhappy, but I was definitely out of sorts. I could not feel my own rhythm, it was complicated by having been with different men, in such a short time. Their hungry hearts and groping hands left conflicting imprints on me that had not been properly showered off, nor had there been time to integrate the impact or flush them from my psyche. I felt as if my soul was trying to align with three different directions, rhythms or frequencies, I could not sense my own. My skin and hair was still scented with them, and their tender wet kisses. Memories of our horizontal mambo dances flashed through my mind; their rushed hands seemed too many, and their sucking mouths left shadowy bruises – scattered hickeys on my angelic flesh.

    What was clear: I was not drawn to stay with either of the two who wanted to me. I wanted the one who did not want me – which hurt so bad I started the other two fires. I had not considered at the time my experimenting with the other two – my being so quickly willing to be lovers with men I had known as friends, was how I sidestepped the pain of rejection after being dumped from an established romantic relationship that had just ended.

    I just was not willing to be sad, I would simply move on, where ever on was. If not to be with these other two men, then where I asked, “Where?” I said allowed. “What direction am I to go now?’ Unbeknownst to me, at the time, I had just made a call to the universe, (show me where “ON” is).

    I was so determined to be shown or know my direction that I decided to not go in any direction until something shifted and I clearly knew my direction. That is when I stepped up onto a long line of parking lot logs, that butted up next to each other. I walked those darkened creosote covered sacrificed trees that lay beneath my feet one direction and then the other, repeatedly switching directions per conflicting thought, or at the end of the log line.
    I will do this until I come up with what to do with my (‘precious’) life. At the time, I remember vaguely feeling, alone, confused and directionless. I was grappling with a swirl of unsettled energies within me that I could not reconcile. I was open to where life would lead me because I could not think of any one thing I really wanted to do. It never occurred to me then that my lack of brain creativity or decisive brain power may have been dampened by grief – and the confusing and befuddling result of loss.

    My sturdy waterproofed hiking boots with Vibram soles found secure footing while I gracefully danced my arms in the air. Impressively I did not loose my balance at all. At each at turning point I would swing my small faded army rations knap-sack made of worn soft olive canvas, around as I did a quick pirouette to change directions. My pack was so light I could dance with it. I was carrying minimal accoutrements for a young wandering woman. I had a pair of shorts, my already worn undies, a zip-up white sweatshirt with a hood, a hard bound black half-page unlined journal full of drawings and notes, my favorite rapidograph pen – which was my prized possession, a tooth brush a sample tube of paste, my hair brush, a hair tie, lip gloss and a small bottle of Lemon aide. I had a few bucks and some change in my pocket, just enough to buy a little food if needed and catch the north bound Marin Transit commuter bus back home to Lucas Valley. I could stay here all day.

    I was wearing my favorite creamy-white Dickie’s – painters-pants with the hammer loop and long pockets down the side. They sat high on my waist and snug around my ‘bubble butt’ because I had altered them to fit me perfectly. I had on a blouse I had sewn years before, that was short and flared in a baby-doll style. I made it out of a nearly white material with a Laura Ashley like print on gauzy cotton fabric, and sewed ties to gather the short sleeves in a puff above my elbows. Instead of a bra beneath my blouse, I had a white tank top undershirt on which I had painted some bright yellow daffodils. My long hair was freely blowing in the wind and I could not help wondering if anyone was watching me. Then I wished a photographer would catch these moments of unfettered grace and ease in a movie; me and my indecision, dressed in angelic white, meandering back and forth on huge pieces of a dark fallen forest. I imagined him wondering, What is that precious young woman doing – thinking?

    Just then, two young men got off a city bus that stopped at the end of the street and they immediately walked straight towards me with intention and light in their step. What struck me most about them was their bright eyes that glowed at me from twenty feet away. They were the most brilliantly clear eyes I had ever seen. Most of my friends and the people I knew or saw did not hold a gaze. And when they did, all I could see in them is that they did not sleep well or, enough, had allergies, drank, or smoked too much pot, or stock piled their unfelt feelings which clouded the clarity of their eyes; the window of most souls were dirty. In contrast to what I usually saw, these people were pure; their soul windows were clear and open. I could recognize that intense clarity anywhere. Many people commented on the clarity and depth of my eyes when I was young – they often wanted to know what I did to have them that clear. I never had anything to say in response to that because I did not know for sure. Perhaps it is spirit they see in my eyes because I do not cloud the view. In my heart I suspected it was eating good food, exercising and not imbibing substances that interfere with clarity or connection with others. Many looked in and saw my soul – I had nothing to hide. Yet I had so rarely seen or enjoyed that open of a window, in viewing another. Much of my enjoyment of life depended on unhindered access to unmasked souls. When I found a source I was inclined to follow people who had that clarity. At the time, I thought, I will do what ever they do to be with and feel that welcoming gaze the rest of my life.

    What followed was a brief greeting, a short conversation and an invitation I accepted.
    “We are presenting a slide show of our farm community tonight at our house, would you like to join us?”
    “Sure! Where is it? How do I get there?” I said with sincere enthusiasm.
    (A direction has been revealed, I thought: Yes!)
    “We’re headed there now, we’ll show you.”
    My only concern was not spending the bus fare I needed to get home from the city. We took a cab they paid for and I do not remember the address. The house was a huge victorian, with steep and tall stair wells going up a few levels to a fairly well kept abnormally large living room full of chairs and lots of people who came for the same reason. Food was also served, but I do not remember what because by shortly into the slide show, the whole presentation moved me to tears and I was sold on their direction and purpose. I knew participating on the communal farm was my destiny. It felt perfect and just right for me to join the happy sun lit pictures of people working together in harmony with nature and each other. I wanted to be in on what ever they were up to, it just felt like an answer to all my yearnings; my need for direction. They had and were offering me and others a place to be comfortably within a community of people who were not doing drugs, they were happy and well, and patient and giving. In fact their whole direction was aimed at service to others and the greater whole.
    What a perfect place to meet a soulmate and go create a happy coupled life within community. The slide show and talk took a few hours. Then people hung out for answers to any outstanding questions regarding the group and their intentions. In being there, I felt completely chosen, hand picked by god, to share this life of goodwill and truthful living. They presented their venture like a commune of like minded people living off the land and creating supportive structure for people to be who they are naturally, full of love and thriving. Who could want for anything more than that! I thought. After all, I really have nothing else to do. What a perfect answer to my life! I will be fed good food and it will not cost me any more than work hours I can put in while I am there. Perfect!

    Being asked to sign a legal release of responsibility form, before we drove off did nag at my conscience, but my enthusiasm over shadowed my concern. I am not certain I even had time to thoroughly read or make sense out of it.
    “It is just a formality” They said as I watched so many others sign it with no hesitation.

    Having been through many communes in Oregon as a child, while on family vacations with my mom, I knew there were many around, and this one was by far was the cleanest and most attractive of the ones I had seen. The ones we were invited to visit by the people we picked up hitch hiking, consisted of raw plywood walled buildings built by stoned hippies that looked just a step up from the extensive seventeen room drug-dens – connected huts – snaking through the trees along the creek that my brother and his friends built with a few hundred dollars of plywood and a hole mess of twelve foot, two by fours, stolen from a new housing track construction site. The contractor’s building materials were stored in a open field much too close to the wooded creek along Lucas Valley Road; the boys helped themselves, but once their fort became a mansion, it made the news and they got busted.

    Once I was out and spent months reflecting on why I did not question how large of a group they were, how they could accommodate so many of us, nor the kind of financial support it would take to afford a victorian house in San Francisco, nor if there was any tie to any particular faith, religion, or leader, seemed to point to my being familiar with communes created to accommodate alternative life styles. What these people were up just felt right, perfectly good to me, so I blindly agreed to join them on their drive back up to their farm community that night.

    The trip up was not a few of us piled in the back of an old hand painted VolksWagen van. We lined up to board a large school bus, that was waiting for us on the street when we came out. We sat, three on a seat, with no seat belts. It was a bumpy fun ride. They kept the lights on in the bus, when we looked towards the windows we saw each other reflected, not the road or indicating signs.

    At the time, it did not occur to me that every invited guest had a person within the group tagged to them to keep them engaged in conversations or songs. We were laughing talking sharing our life stories with each other with the bright engaging eyes of the inviters stead fast on each of us. It was a brilliant way to distract guests from noticing the route. We sang for the 3-4 hour drive up… to where? None of us knew what roads got us there, we were not paying attention to the roads nor directions, it was late at night. We arrived about 1:30 am tired, only looking forward to sleeping where ever they put us.

    We were not even told the closest town we would be near. I only understood why these details were strategically withheld later, after I got out a few weeks later. The words they avoided using were well known buzz words that everyone had heard, words that would prevent scrutinizing youth from boarding a bus to an unknown destination with happy people who give out roses on San Francisco street corners. I missed the roses part; they had already given all their roses away by the time they met up with me on the logs, so I did not have that clue.

    Without finding me walking aimlessly on that log they would have come back to the presentation that evening empty handed – with out a potential additional devotee.

    • Heather V. says

      Wow. I was left wanting more. I definitely resonate with the “search for self moments” in nature, the cry for help from the universe, the “answer” from the universe being as bizarre as, I guess, necessary and the feeling of hindsight. Thank you for your gift.

      Heather V.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      I liked the motif of walking on the log, contemplating your future with every gracefully executed step. Lovely picture! And coming back to it at the end was a nice touch.
      As a parent of children “coming of age” in the late seventies and early eighties, I sometimes felt anxious that they might be similarly wooed into a commune that was really a cult and be forever lost to those they left behind. I’d love to know more about what happened there and how you got out. Did you have freedom to leave or did you have to be rescued?

  3. Marlene Anne Bumgarner says

    Since I was a child I’ve always thought of myself as a writer. Writing down my feelings and observations is as natural to me as breathing. Drawing, now, that’s another story. Never a doodler, I did carefully follow my 7th grade art teacher’s instructions in class, and obediently completed the homework he assigned us. But, after much pain, I walked away from that experience with the only C of my pre-college years, and the certainty that I was NOT an artist. I never tried to draw again.

    A decade later I watched in awe as my daughter wrapped her fingers around chalk or pen, pencil or stick, and soon began to draw nearly everything she saw – and eventually also much that she thought, felt, and dreamed. Strangely, it never occurred to me to wonder how she was able to make these lovely images; when I had found it so difficult the one year I had attempted to do so. I simply accepted that she was an artist, just as I was a writer. No problem. That was just the way it was.

    So it was somewhat out of character to find myself in the Crafter’s Workshop in Santa Cruz one day (might I claim that I was looking for the cooking store next door?), and even more so to realize that with very little hesitation the woman behind the counter had convinced me to register for a Watercolor Journaling Workshop. (I suspect the “Watercolor” part escaped my notice. “Journaling” was what I saw, and what I thought about in advance of the class. If I thought about watercolor at all, it was that perhaps we’d be using watercolor paper for our journals, which indeed we did.)

    But inside a watercolor workshop I was a month later, for six hours that felt like three. Surrounded by magical tools I had never seen before, I very quickly became consumed, obsessed by the behavior of a brush holding liquid, paper when folded, and paint when applied. I took my notebook to the levee at lunchtime, and sketched a plant, the bridge, a bird. Not too great, but you could sort of tell what they were. Convinced when we began that I would never be able to draw anything that someone else would be able to recognize, by the end of the day I was putting pencil and paint to watercolor paper and realizing that I was actually beginning to express emotions in this visual way. Almost without knowing, I had been led gently through baby steps designed and explained by skillful instructors, and I had left behind forever the belief that I could never be an artist.

    Thinking back on that amazing day, I wonder if this is what it feels like for an expert swimmer to have finally conquered the high dive. Now I have two ways to express myself, not just one. And by learning to see, and to make visual representations of my world, I can improve the way I write about it.

    © Marlene A. Bumgarner

    • Beverly Boyd says

      I loved your image of your little daughter wrapping her around the chalk, etc.
      I hadn’t thought of my own experience at fifty-five of discovering the “artist” in me as “risking the unknown”, because I sort of backed into it and it came as a surprise. You have inspired me to write that story!

  4. Garia Gant says

    I don’t know that there was ever a time when I took a leap into the unknown, risking everything because, I think, always there was an expectation of outcome, a premonition, something that propelled me in my decision making. Of course, I don’t know if that was really so, or only in hindsight, in a moment of clarity or a futile effort to justify the mess I found myself in. That’s because I rarely look back at the times that were successful – only at the times when I ended up stepping into the equivalent of fresh cow pies.

    Like the time when I was sixteen in March. Passed my Junior year in June and was to begin my Senior year in September. But a lot happened between March and September of 1953. I was in Children’s Theater, my third year, a very exciting intro to the world of theater arts. I was acting in several of our productions, most notably Cinderella where I was playing the wicked step-mother. Able to legitimately express some of the feelings of angst that were building inside of me. Possibly normal growing up pains, but looking back, I’d have to say “Probably not.” I was also draining a lot of that energy into creating and making all of the costumes for the production and applying for scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts for six weeks of the summer.

    The play was well received. There were kudos for the costuming. I got the scholarship. I spent the six weeks basking in the glory of classes with the prima ballerina of the Winnipeg Ballet, studying with professional actors, landing a bit part in House of Bernarda Alba, strolling mountain paths with an older couple, about the right age to be my mother and father, and generally being a sixteen year old immersed in a passion.

    But with the underlying yearning to belong.

    Then summer was over. My senior year began as did another season of Children’s Theater. More acting, more costuming. Taking Cinderella on the road to nearby towns. So much fun to feel the excitement of the kids – most seeing live theater for the very first time. To hear their squeals of delight and to feel them so present, so with us.

    It was a heady time, and then it was December.

    My aunt Belle was my guardian and she was going to New York for a week long conference. She asked her long time friend, Mrs. Reeves, to look in on me occasionally, but other than that I was on my own. We were getting a lot of snow that December and the days were very short, the nights long and dark and many of the rooms normally rented out were empty. Then, mid-week, came a long and insistent knocking at the front door. I peered out the parlor window but could not see by the weak porch light who was standing there. So I left the comfort of the warmed rooms stepping into the chill of the central hallway that gave access not only to the stairs above and below but also to the doors of the front vestibule and front door and the impatient visitor.

    I suddenly found myself engulfed in the thick chill of the visitor’s coat and a passionate warm wet kiss, tongue forcing itself between my lips, my teeth. I struggled. He let go saying “Where the hell have you been all day?”

    I was totally taken off guard. This was the uncle who was supposed to be in California. This was the uncle who “got his finger wet” in my privates when I was three months shy of my third birthday (or maybe my fourth). Time does strange things to the memory, making it imprecise, untrustworthy some say.

    No matter. I wasn’t thinking about that then.

    I was trying to reclaim some sort of semblance to my world. But he would have none of that. He couldn’t keep his hands off of me, nor his mouth. He kept telling me how much I liked his advances. How good it felt when he put his hand down there – even as I was trying to push it and him away. And some how, in some ways, he was right. It did feel good to be touched in some places. To feel the giggles that welled up when his tongue sought out and found the inside of my ear. To feel the urgency of penetration and the messy wetness I could not control.

    I had school. I had rehearsal. I had him. Not completely – but finger fucked to a fare thee well. Oh, Mrs. Reeves dropped by once when he was there and remarked on what a surprise to see him and then she left. And we went to a movie. An adult movie, with Maggie Smith. The Moon is Blue. Pretty exciting but I missed seeing a lot of it because his head was in the way. And afterwards, in one of the quiet moments, I told him of my distress at the plans my aunt had for me following graduation.

    And then he left. My aunt Belle came home. Christmas was just about here. We got a letter in the mail addressed to both my aunt and me from my aunt and uncle in California inviting me to spend a year with them studying with a famous set designer at Mills College. I was so excited at the prospect. I begged and I pleaded. “It’s only for a year.” “They think I can get a scholarship!” The week after graduation she and I loaded up the Henry J. and headed south.

    But what of the prospect? Which prospect? That of avoidance of her plans? That of more exposure to the theater and the possibility of an escape into my dream of the Guthrie Theater in Chicago? Or that of his prolonged access to me, making me feel wanted, desirable?

    I don’t really know. Even now. It was a great and vast unknown that I stepped into, and I did so willingly. Premonitions of questionable intentions? Yes! Dreams of a desired outcome? Yes! Control over that which was to unfold? No way!

    • Heather V. says

      Honest and descriptive . Delicate and raw. How familiar. Thank you for sharing. I think I healed a little bit.

  5. says

    Garia, I’ve heard parts of this story before, but it sent chills up my spine to read it here. Thanks so much for your courage and your voice. And for posting your story here.

  6. Susan Vessels says

    Tell me about a time you took a leap into the unknown, risking everything.
    Was back in 1994 when I heard I had Breast Cancer and was going to have to have it removed…when I had the surgery it came back Stage3 and I was going to have to take chemotherapy…..I went to Louisville Ky and stayed with my cousin..who got me in to see her Oncologist there..I was so so sick….and then came home when they opened the Cancer Center 12 miles from here and finished it up..Next my my other breast had to be removed..since then it has went from my breast, to my colon, my lung, and now my bones….When I had colon cancer had to take radiation…got me wigs preparing for my hair to come out and turbans as well…It never did fall out….but my teeth got a real bad infection and I got deathly sick from such a low immune system that they had to be pulled……..
    I am still taking chemo today………I go every 3 wks..I get Zometa to strengthen
    my bones….and Faslodex…My Dr’s are amazed I am still here…they say my cancer is so unique and different they have never saw any other like it…leave it to me to be an odd one..they say it stays dormant a few yrs then spreads to somewhere else….leave it to be to get an odd one……..but if it is keeping me alive I will stick with the odd type one for sure….I am still going and still surviving after 14ryrs of having cancer..I am so thankful I am still here and wake up each day..Some days I don’t feel good at all and stay in bed…but that was the worst scare into the unknown I have ever taken….The only thing I don’t know and another scare into the unknown is that it may come back….but until then I am thankful I can still wake up every day and enjoy a few thing in life
    Susan V.

  7. Beverly Boyd says

    When I read this prompt I could not think of any risk I had taken. Thank you, Marlene, for your post on this prompt that reminded me of this one.

    Risking the Unknown—Discovering my Muse!

    “Of course I know what it is? It’s the only big building over there!” was Mother’s distracted assessment of my drawing of St. Josephs Hospital on the hillside across the city of Syracuse from the Park where I sat and recreated its image in my lined school tablet. Daddy was more encouraging. “Do you know what it is, Daddy?” “Of course,” he answered enthusiastically. “It’s St. Joseph’s hospital!” He added something about it being a good drawing but it was Mother’s reaction that stayed with me.

    What Mother started when I was ten, Mrs. Feeley finished at thirteen when she gave me a “C” on a wooden pen and pencil holder I had painted a pleasant decoration on. I thought it was quite good and objected to the “C” grade. She acknowledged it was nice enough…”but it’s not art.” Teachers were not concerned in the fifties with the developing self-esteem of a child. Creative efforts were ruthlessly judged by the same standards as grammar and correct answers on a geography test. So now I knew I was not an artist. While Mrs. Feeley’s pet students created temporary murals on brown paper to decorate the cafeteria for the dances, I joined other helpers hanging the crepe paper streamers and balloons.

    For a few years I continued to make doodles of a 1938 Chevy going through a giant redwood with a road through it in Yosemite National park and faces patterned after Brenda Starr and Dick Tracy characters. Then I stopped and contented myself with filling in the corners of pages and non-objective quiggles. I was pretty good at hearts, Christmas trees and pumpkins to help the children with seasonal projects; but nothing someone could look critically at.

    It was after my second husband died, when I was fifty-years-old that I had the courage, in the privacy of his library, to try again. As an art dealer Paul had many contacts with successful artists and was an excellent judge of good art and what would sell. Even though he loved me unconditionally I didn’t dare open myself to his diserning eye. He was also a frustrated artist and writer and, though he spent many hours experimenting, not very good at either. He left me a cupboard full of art supplies of many kinds that he had purchased on his road trips to try his hand with some media that fascinated him.

    One day I took out some watercolors to try to catch an amazing image I had in a dream: an elegant floor length “poodle skirt”. It was like an orange and blue flame with six fluffy white LIVE poodles prancing around the bottom edge. My effort was not very successful. I was disappointed, though not surprised. Instead of giving up I realized that I needed to know how the body under the skirt moved to bring the skirt to life. I decided to take some figure drawing and watercolor classes.

    Now, here I was with some paint left in the pans. I began idly playing with some gray white on another piece of watercolor paper. Hmmm—Looks like clouds. So I mixed up a bit of green to create a hillside under the clouds. In a few minutes my left over paints had become a small jewel of a landscape complete with California Oaks following the hillside’s contour and a small brook wending its way through a meadow below. Fascinated, I realized it was familiar. It looked like the hillsides I had driven through for many years on the road between Vallejo and Napa. The picture in my memory was as true as if I were actually sitting at the side of the road looking at it.

    That little landscape started me on a journey that included taking a few classes in figure drawing and watercolor painting with some delightful results. One Monday night I realized I had an ideal source of figures to draw on the TV. Those muscled football players with their shiny skintight pants were as good as naked. Even though they moved a lot, often the same positions were repeated and I worked on five different poses. It has been one of my favorite figure drawing exercises.

    One night when I came home from work I had such a powerful need to move my arms that it was painful. At first I was puzzled, then I realized something in me was eager to make big sweeping strokes. I had a long “todo” list in my head: not a good time to get lost in an art project, but the feeling persisted. Finally, I went to the basement, selected some oil pastels and a full sheet of brick red mat board and threw it on my bed. With the ardor of lovers caught up in the urgency of passion in the moment, leaving a trail of clothes on the way to the bedroom, I selected colors and my arm happily created large free strokes. In a few minutes a dialogue had started. Something, (my Muse?) had taken possession and I was willing to cooperate. In half an hour, “Bluebird of Happiness” lay finished with not a bit of the oil pastel on the bedspread.

    I had several similar experiences over the next two years though I haven’t done anything more with visual art since then. I have channeled my creative energy through writing, which seems to be fine with my muse. I had learned something about being a partner with those inside urges and intuitive choices that are such a valuable part of the process. I learned to recognize what that space feels like and to be the one who holds the brush, or the pen and sometimes makes a suggestion. One time I thought I knew better when I was “told” I was finished with the work “we” were doing. I thought I had some good ideas, forged ahead and quickly realized I had ruined it. A valuable lesson! I call that one “Ego gets in the Way!”

    I learned to call myself an artist! That was the risky part: to call myself an artist, first to myself and then to the outside world! But I did. I even had a piece or two hang in some group art shows with my name on the line that said “Artist”. I treasure those pieces I created in that two years. I also call myself a musician and a writer and the same muse is often there to eagerly join me. And all because I was finally willing to risk.

  8. Laura Davis says

    Yes, Beverly, you are an artist! I love the way your wrote about the courage it takes to claim our creativity.

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