And another year goes by that I don’t have the piano tuned.
I was an artist once. I was good at it, too. I won competitions and awards. You could even call me a “professional,” if you define professional as having sold your work once (to my brother).
I used art to define myself as I labored to fit in at a new high school. When the drama teacher asked me to paint the landscapes for the set of the school play I was Michelangelo commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel. Soccer didn’t define me. I sucked at soccer. My smarts didn’t set me apart. No, I was the preppy, hippy, artist.
I also used to be a musician. Not professionally, but I wrote. I began playing the trumpet and piano in the first grade. Playing in the high school band as a junior higher for our Christmas concerts in front of thousands of people was exciting. But I had a different dream.
Where I grew up, there was no room for my dream. I dreamed of becoming a drummer. My education was conservative and religious. Drummers were frowned upon. And while I have never owned a drum set, I did get a gift once from my father that has always made me wonder “What if?”
It’s a Saturday morning and I’m first to wake up. I head downstairs. The sunlight is just beginning to be strong enough to lift the dark of dawn from the rooms. That’s when I see myself sitting at the kitchen table, except she’s 40 pounds and has shoulder length blonde hair. She’s leaning over a piece of paper and focusing on the details left behind by the marker in her hand. The amount of crafting supplies spread out in front of my daughter tell me she’s been up for a while. Crayons, glue sticks, staplers, these things are the air she breathes. This isn’t the first time I’ve caught her in that very spot so early on the first morning of the weekend.
She will create something for almost any occasion. In her bedroom is a “Reading List” with check boxes next to the words “Book” (check) and “Bookmark” (check). When she was three-years old, she colored and glued strips of paper to her walls as decorations. She once made a sign labeled, “That” (I love that). And if we’re imagining that we’re pirates, she’s more interested in all the prep work to make signs and swords than in the actual play. Visitors to our house are now greeted at the front door by a picture of a smiley face and cross-bones that says “Arrrrr.”
I see myself in her need to create, but I don’t want her to see the “me” I’ve become. A man who used to be passionate about art and music who has let these things slip from his life.
I decide that I’m going to take her to the art museum.
Before we left for the museum, I had a talk with her about art.
“Sometimes you’ll like it, sometimes you won’t, and that’s OK. We’ll look at each piece and talk about how they made it and how it makes you feel.”
True to her nature, she made this in preparation for our date.
The first giant painting we saw was a man’s face. Really it was tiny squares of color that combined to make a face from a distance. When we got up close, she said, “I like it. It’s kind of like magic!” and then she checked the box on her clipboard.
This is how most of our date went. We saw art from all over the world: Egypt, Italy, Africa. She did not understand the portrait of a man that was only in black in white. Her life is colored in rainbow. Still, she did not check the box for “I don’t like.”
Finally she saw it. The best.
We stood and stared at the use of light, how the clouds reflected on the water. She loved the red. This was clearly her favorite. We stood there for a very long time before moving on to the next room. When it was time to leave the museum, she wanted to take one last look at the sunset and asked me if I could take a picture of it for her.
Her eyes had been opened. I wanted to open them even more, so we visited an art supply store where I told her we would get an art supply that she didn’t have. Her eyes widened at the thought.
“What art supply don’t I already have?!?”
I bought her oil pastels and oil paints and threw fuel on her passion. Not because her talent is guaranteed to pay the bills when she’s older, but because passions and dreams are who you are. They are part of what makes life beautiful. I wanted to give her a gift, just like the one my father gave me.
What was it that my dad gave me so many Christmases ago? Even though I knew they were never going to buy me a full drum set, and even though there was no way that I would be allowed to stop taking piano lessons to learn the drums, he gave me a practice pad and two drum sticks. I didn’t understand why at the time. Looking back, I remember that my dad used to be a drummer in high school, and so I wonder if his gift to me was meant to say, “Keep your dreams alive” the same way I was trying to tell Ella?
I know Ella may be too young for any serious discussion about how she will use any of her talents in the future. Last month she wanted to be a veterinarian (she loves puppies). Today she wants to be an audiologist (she wears hearing aids and wants to help other kids who wear hearing aids). Tomorrow, who knows?
Whatever her future holds, I don’t want to see her dreams die and be buried in the plot next to mine.
Soon, we are going to paint a replica of that sunset that she fell in love with at the museum. And it’s going to feel good for me to pick up a paint brush again.