When I was around 10, one Saturday I went to the county fair with one of my best friends and we had one of those completely magical days. I don’t mean just perfect weather or a nice time with a friend, but one of those where life pulls out one really good surprise after another and then throws confetti over the whole thing.
At 10, it meant the woman running the booth with all the glitter stickers gave us a bunch for free and the man running the booth demonstrating mini trampolines let us just jump on them, laughing, for at least 10 minutes and then the bakery guy gave us a bunch of leftover broken cookies. For the grand finale I won round after round of bingo.
You get the idea. I’m sure there were other things too, but what I actually remember the best about this day is what happened afterwards.
We were determined to return to that amazing fair on Sunday, but our parents agreed that we weren’t allowed to go. So we lied, took change out of our piggy banks, and took the bus over there.
And had a completely miserable time.
The sticker lady was gone. The trampoline guy wanted nothing to do with us. The bakery guy was annoyed when we asked about more broken cookies.
Worst of all, we got mad at each other for how the day was going and had no change for the bus home, so I remember walking all the way back (I just looked this up and Google tells me it is 2.3 miles) separately, with me walking grumpily a block behind her.
My friend and I made up eventually, of course. And I can’t even remember if our parents found out!
But I never forgot this lesson or how I learned it: Magical moments aren’t things we can create…or recreate.
And of course there is nowhere this is more true (at least for me) than in painting. I will repeat the cliche, which is a cliche because it is so universally true: All of my best work, I have no idea how it happened. And each time I have to find that magical place a different way, anew.
Here are some words I love on exactly this conundrum from Cary Tennis, in his Citizens of the Dream: Advice on Writing, Painting, Playing, Acting and Being:
Maybe you don’t call it your creative spirit. Today I am calling it the singing engine. It is that place you go that no one else can go, the place you can never remember how you got there last time, the place you go to every time and every time it’s new; every time you find a new way; there is no worn path and you can bring no guests.
Sometimes after going there you can’t remember what happened but people are astounded by what you bring back. They give you money and say, Do it more. And you say, Do what more? And they say, Give us more like that, whatever, that thing you did that was so amazing, do it again.
And you think, How could I do it again? I don’t even know exactly how I did it or what I did…Do they know that?
So this is what I was thinking about this week, as I dipped my toe (not literally, though…hm, that’s an idea) back into oil painting. And here I am, still trying to make my way back to the fair.
Have a wonderful weekend, filled with magical moments (or at least glitter stickers), everyone!