Friday, March 25, 2011

Crossing the Finish Line, Part II

I'll begin with our field trip last week. The girls came back to the studio after lunch and we drove over to Montclair to meet Jennifer at her studio. She was waiting at the door to her building when we arrived and she was laughing. A small glitch--the elevator had stopped working two minutes before we got there so we would have to walk up the five flights of stairs. No problem! The girls were so excited to meet her and see an artist's studio that they were walking on air at that point! They practically ran up five flights. Jennifer and I had never actually met each other before. I admired her work from afar and we had exchanged emails, but it was our first time officially meeting. She was everything I expected and more. She was gracious and welcoming and kind and ridiculously talented. In fact, I began to feel like she was a plant. What I mean is, I felt like someone was going to think I paid her to do and say all the right things. She had a cat (who loved the girls and they loved him), her studio was bright and sunny and full of pieces of her work--even the furniture is covered in beautiful colors, and her amazing paintings surrounded us. She began to show them some of her commissioned pieces and to tell the girls exactly how she created them. She showed them her kitchen table, which was painted to look like it had place settings on it, and she told them about the materials she uses to collage in her paintings, including pieces of her daughter's artwork.
Then I asked her to tell the girls how she got started. I knew she had not been painting for very long, but her story is amazing. She told them how she won an art contest with one of her paintings when she was 8 years old. How she was such a shy young girl that she turned down the prize because she was afraid. Her painting would be hung in a museum in NYC and she would have to go to a ceremony where there would be a lot of people. And she might have to do another painting. She couldn't do it. So she said no. And she stopped painting. Just like that. She stopped doing something she loved because she was afraid. And then she went on with her life. She grew up. She became a teacher. She did lots of other things, but she didn't paint. Until a few years ago when, due to a variety of circumstances involving her job and a puppet show she had created, she was painting sets for the show when someone asked her why she didn't paint. Actual paintings. On canvas. Or wood. Or anything, but real paintings, not just sets. And so she found an art teacher and signed up for a class, and then she picked up her brush again and realized what she had been missing all those years because she had been afraid.

See what I mean? I couldn't have scripted it better. There were 7 sets of eyes glued to her 7 sets of ears listening carefully to her story. And she was telling them not to be afraid. She was telling them even if they are afraid, just do it. Do what you love.
Because that's what really matters. And when you do what you love, it doesn't seem like work. It's fun and fulfilling and amazing and doors open and your life is your own. (Well, maybe she didn't say all of that exactly this way, but it's what I believe and what I have been trying to tell them for the 8 short weeks that they have been a part of my life.) So thank you to Jennifer from the bottom of my heart for being brave and sharing your story and giving the girls such an important gift!

And then it was time for the coolest part of the visit, when she said she would take them to one last place, a place she likes to paint when it is warm enough. So we walked up one more flight of stairs to the rooftop of her building. You can see the whole town of Montclair and the surrounding area, and in thedistance you can see the skyline of New York City where her journey as an artist began when she was 8 years old. Life sure is a circle....

Tomorrow a finish line of sorts will be crossed. Our last class for the first session of BraveGirlsArt will end. I know I'm not moving across the country. I know I'll see the girls often at school or around the neighborhood. But our official time together on Saturday mornings as a group will end. I also knew when we started that they would teach me. I knew they would get under my skin and change me. I just had no idea how much. I love them fiercely, and like your firstborn child, there is something special, something magical about being the first. Because it's all new and fresh and like nothing you have ever experienced in your life before.

I just want to thank this group of girls for sharing themselves with me. For being brave and reminding me how it feels to create without inhibitions, without fear; to discover new things and to bond with other girls who want to do the same.
I hope they always remember our time together, how incredibly special each and every one of them is, and most importantly I hope they never forget how to be brave.

I know I won't!


  1. b.r.a.v.o.
    i am kinda across the country and i am
    going to miss these girls. because of their
    way of putting themselves out there and
    taking the bull by the horns, it has been
    a joy to sit here in middle earth and what them
    and their trusty mentor grow.

    now ihave to check out this jennifer.

    love you tingle. yes i do

  2. wow, what an amazing experience for them and you too. I so wish I could of been there to hear her story. And double wow for making this happen for 8 weeks! what a gift and you so totally rock! you really really do. you totally inspire me and remind me to teach what I'm learning to my daughters. I haven't been present enough for them and I need to be. so much love to you honey, so much love!