Somewhere back in my years’ worth of blogs, I know I’ve written about Julia Cameron’s classic book on creativity, THE ARTIST’S WAY. It’s been a few years since I read the book and completed its intense series of exercises, but the habits I learned from it have stuck with me for the most part. One habit that I haven’t been so great at sticking to is The Artist Date. The Artist Date can be anything you want it to be, as long as it feeds your creativity, or similarly, your soul.
I used to be pretty good at feeding the artist inside me–before I had children. (Sometimes my kids read my blog and worry. So I need to say right here that I ADORE them, and would give up every artist-feeding moment I had in my years without them if I had to in order to have them in my life. They are my life and feed my soul every day.) Back then I spent a lot of time taking long walks, going to films and art museums and galleries, and I loved to hear live music, and take photographs. When my youngest was three or four, I even took an evening drawing class at university. (It was a good experience, but my hands are better employed on a keyboard, or with a pencil.) Fortunately my kids are a tolerant pair, and as they grew up they learned to love to experience many of these things along with me. Now that they are nearly grown, I find I have time to do these things again on my own. It’s a hard thing to get used to–being alone. Being quiet. Watching and listening. Soaking it all in. My life has changed dramatically, and I’m looking at life through a lens focused by time. I am hungry for the profound and the sincere, and I can tell pretty quickly if what I’m experiencing is feeding my soul, sucking it out of me, or only pausing briefly on my consciousness before being forgotten.
Living in the country, my artist dates are mostly limited to the occasional play or film, and lots and lots of nature. We’re surrounded by both woods and meadow, and there are orchards nearby. (Which reminds me that yesterday my husband and I noticed that the rows and rows of peach trees are wearing their early spring growth. Their newest branches are a redder shade of brown. My husband said that, together, they look like a cloud. And it is as though some earth-borne cloud has risen up from the ground to hang in the trees. A kind of colorful breath. I meant to go and take some pictures, but I know that by tomorrow they will look different. Perhaps at the end of the week, there will even be buds. The moment is already lost. But we saw it, and noted it, and experienced it together, so perhaps that is enough.) It’s not that one tires of nature. Sometimes there’s just an awful lot of it. I do love the small changes, though, as I mentioned in my last blog. There is an entire universe at my fingertips. And in a few weeks my flower and herb gardens will be waking.
Last week I drove the two hours to St. Louis alone to take a dear friend to lunch for her birthday. We had a wonderful time at a café that serves lovely French food, eating and talking and talking–things that are very good for the soul. Although it meant I would have to spend almost an hour in St. Louis traffic to get home in time for dinner, I took myself on an artist date after lunch. Often, I’ll drop into the magnificent St. Louis Art Museum to spend an hour or two in my favorite galleries, but this time I took myself to the Missouri Botanical Gardens Butterfly House at Faust Park in Chesterfield to see the Blue Morpho Butterflies that are only there during March.
The Butterfly House is like a garden conservatory–hot and tropical. I took only my camera and a little cash with me and wore my coat from the car, though I wish I’d left the coat behind. Outside it was some forty degrees, but inside the air was so humid that I found myself a bit breathless. It was worth it, though. The butterflies were amazing. Trying to take pictures in a butterfly house is a comical thing. Unlike birds, butterflies don’t light for long in any one place unless they’re feeding. They chase each other like tiny Star Wars fighters as they navigate through big-leaf plants and clumps of blooming bushes. But they are utterly silent, and so fast that I found myself focusing my phone camera on spaces where I had seen them moments before to catch some video. I felt ridiculous standing there, waiting. But I was hopeful. While I came away with not much in the way of useful footage, I hope to edit it together to come up with something cohesive.
Here are some of the photographs I took. My favorite one is of the butterfly with the broken wing. Even broken, I found it more striking than the fabulous Blue Morphos (when their wings are folded, you only see brown, with eye markings).
I hope there is a Butterfly House near you. And that spring comes quickly to us all. I can’t wait to see butterflies in my garden–a tiny artist date, every day.