I remember being small, rubbing my hand over the smooth Crayola wax left imprinted on a piece of paper. The force it took to make it smooth.
The way words connected to perform tricks on the blue lines of an open journal, rolling and diving, juggling confusion and hurt into the air and catching it behind its back.
I remember the way quiet actually had a whisper and could hold me in its arms when I would sit down to draw.
I applied months ago to several art fairs. I've never been in an art fair. I am a wobbly business woman. Tragic, actually. I give everything away and I don't keep track. Somewhere, someone told me I had to keep track. And I have to make money. And I have to use words like profit and marketing and distribution. And that little voice made an office in my heart and starting pushing papers around, writing up invoices and purchase orders. And my heart got tired of all the business. And my heart didn't want to create anymore, for words like profit and marketing and distribution. My heart pouted and stood in the corner and waited for me to get back from my "meeting."
Then somewhere I found this speech. These words from Neil Gaiman about art and making and showing up to a blank piece of paper and one extra large desk of uncertainty. And in his words he spoke of success and failure and what it means to be an artist in the world. And he spoke of bottles and the tiny messages we put inside every time we make something and set it free into the deep seas of this world.
And to give it away is to never fully know whose small or large heart swelled or beat faster for the words written, the paint brushed, the forms danced in that bottle.
I woke up every morning for three weeks at 5:00 a.m. to get it all done. To frame the giclee prints, to color the originals, to make myself feel like it was enough.
And I broke my toe. Right there in my studio. At 5:30 in the morning, with quiet hallways and children nestled under waves of rest. And I wondered if it was a sign. And I hobbled through worry and memory.
I gave into the dark cloud that said it wasn’t good enough. That the message inside the bottle wasn’t enough. It was too small. Too self-taught. Too amateur and naïve.
And I sat in the quiet of our house, with broken crayons and opened and loved journals and I wondered. I wondered if this was what he meant. Neil Gaiman and his 19:54 speech to a group of green, art student saplings stretching their limbs to the sky.
And their little feet would wake my heart again. Would gently help my heart back up from the office floor where it was buried under receipts and order forms. And they slid beside me and helped me prepare with the whispered reward of a new P-518 Mustang, fighter plane model set.
And sometimes work looks a lot like sleep.
And I tried to control the waves, tell them which way to bend, where to place their foam and force. I tried to create a breeze to push my little bottle further. Distribution. Queries. Proposals. And my arms burned with exhaustion, holding this sea up with my imagination.
But it was in these old frames, the ones I found discarded and broken and alone, waiting for some kind of new life, that I found a message. One left long ago, pushed out into the sea, that secretly came back to me in this studio.
And the painters brush, with its secret passage acrylics that lead to an open bottle with messages encrypted and branded on the aged canvas.
And these messages are made in the moments, the places where the pen meets the paper, where the brush gently glides over stretched canvas and bumpy cold pressed watercolor paper.
And this thing, just arms length away, touching the tips of my fingers with its recollection, passes quietly over sunset waters to create wonder and faith in the watercolor sketches and broken fragment prose.
And the dancer’s back arches, pulling a pointed toe to her knee and her outstretched hands give back, pushing the small bottle further out into the world.
And this need to make it all mean something, with margins and deposits, marketing and distribution. It’s gone. And my heart is whole again. And I’m ready for that thing that waits for me, over there, behind the closed gate, between firewood and burning matches, where I can’t see.
And there’s no control, no warning signs or red flashing lights to lean upon for direction or assurances. Just a simple ring, a note played in a well played song. The poem I left on the dining room table or the heart he made in the shower door frost. It comes. It goes. Tiny glass bottles with quietly scratched messages.
We filled two cars with display boards and price tags. We drove four hours with two rest stops. And I cursed when the display board pinched my finger. And the bead of sweat sat poised on the edge of my eyebrow like a cliff jumper contemplating his fear. And I stood in front of a little booth that held all of my heart and I watched them walk by and nod, smile briefly and step closer to the painted yellow street line.
And she walked in slowly and stood in front of the framed pictures, the four corner wounds that hung in the vulnerable June light. And when she turned, her eyes met mine and she held my hand. Glossy tears fell from her white corner pupils and her head found my shoulder.
"I lost someone too."
And my eyes burned like puffs of smoke and I squeezed them shut to hold it all in, the waterfall that held my little bottle.
And the tiny message, the one I sent out to sea, the one I pushed through the rough sea waters, came back to me and rested on my heart, the place it once lived in quiet prayer. And her fingers squeezed my hand. And the heart that I left buried under receipts and purchase orders climbed out from under the dark to claim the very message it had created.
And her eyes bowed, reverent. Her fingers opened.
And there in her hand,