by Judy Westergard
available as a print at FineArtAmerica.com
I invested today in a couple of expensive water color brushes. Very expensive water color brushes. I do not recall ever having spent this much on brushes. And now I'm scared to use them. Investment like this requires, maybe even demands commitment, and I don't know if I'm ready for what that means. After all, the potential for mediocrity always looms. (Never has what I've attempted lived up to my vision, whether it was a new recipe, an original design for a hand-knit sweater, or my attempt at the perfect summer.)
But as I write this I'm thinking about the Carnegie library building that's near my favorite art supply store and I'm taken back to that first day of summer vacation in 1956 when Karen and I looked gleefully at each other with the sudden awareness that yes, we had indeed read each and every one of the three shelves of what was yet to be termed "young adult literature" at our neighborhood's Carnegie library. This achievement mattered because it meant that we had finally earned access to the second floor and what we called "the grown-up books." With our 11-year-old shyness, we approached the children's librarian and told her that we'd achieved the goal. Did she really drill us to confirm that yes, we had indeed read every Dr. Seuss, Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis on those shelves? My memory bank has a distinct image of a kindly smile on a woman with tightly permed salt-and-pepper waves asking us questions about this, that, and the other book. But like many of my childhood memories, this one is nothing more than the creation of my fears of not living up to expectations. The next slide in this memory bank, though, is real: Karen and I walked through the door that led to an ominously dark and steep flight of stairs and into the blindingly bright sunlight of the second floor. There, on his raised dais, sits Mr. Name Escapes Me, the Head Librarian. His face is in shadow, the sun that shines through the 20-foot arched window behind him illuminates his head as with a halo. He holds all the power of Oz's wizard as he asks, "And just what do you girls want?" What I wanted was to look in the huge dictionary for the meaning of words like "menstrual" and "genital." What I said in my small, timorous voice was, "Do you have Gone With the Wind?"
Over the next few years I found what I wanted and more, much of which were ideas of what I could do and whom I could be, most of which have not lived up to my hopeful of expectations. But I also found a home in literature and essay, and a place in my head that tells me that my journey is a lot more important than my destination.
I've got a lot to learn about water color. But I know now that the journey will teach me more than I ever could have hoped, and while the work I create with those expensive brushes will not -- cannot -- meet my self-inflicted goals, the journey I'll take with them will get me to places I'd never expected.