Week two of The Artist’s Way: On my first artist’s date and paying attention

In working the Artist’s Way, I have written my morning pages each day. I continue to ponder the privilege of uninterrupted time, something foreign to me and (I imagine) moms everywhere.

The sticky-stuff in this week’s reading was on attention. There were other themes that author Julia Cameron devoted more time to, but those didn’t pull me in in the same way. At one point she writes, “the capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” I thought of the expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and with that formed the intention to pay attention so that I might learn to better describe a place or an experience during my artist’s date, which the Artist’s Way prescribes as a weekly practice in addition to the daily morning pages.

As kismet would have it, today I was gifted with 4 hours of unclaimed time. I had originally planned to hang out and “watch” my nine year-old Max’s math tournament, having no idea what a math tournament looks like I figured it would be just as good creative fodder as anything. As it turns out, math tournaments aren’t a spectator-sport and I could not stay, so paused for a little while at Milli Joe to finish my morning pages and watch the traffic and runners pass by. I didn’t realize that the timing of the below picture cut a car in half in the center of the image while I was taking it, but here it is. The only picture of where my adventure started from. Then I took a drive to see the (also unobservable) snow-covered mountains from the Blue Ridge Parkway.Before I made it to the Parkway the fog got so dense that it was difficult to see any distance, so I veered from my initial path and rambled down route 250, which runs parallel and just below interstate 64. I pulled over at an “overlook,” from which I could only see the brush and craggy rocks so close that I could reach out and touch and then faint outlines of trees that disappeared into the fog beyond.There were images I saw as I drove down Afton mountain that caught my breath, but that I could not capture. Many of these were of the snow laden canopy, creating a monochromatic cathedral arch over the winding shiny cement road. One particular image that made me smile, once I made sense of it, was of a pile of cows. My brain first coded the multi-hued brown shape as a pile of dirt, leaves or manure. And then I realized the gentle faces and broad curving backs. They huddled together for warmth. I don’t know how many. Maybe a dozen in varying shades of red-brown.

I thought about stopping at another coffee shop, Mudhouse in Crozet. I drove into Crozet and was enamored with the railroad in the snow and stopped in the nearby IGA parking lot so that I could get out and admire it. The wall of the parking lot was painted with a mural of the Blue Ridge mountains in colors that are common to the local landscape, which today’s perfect silvertone gave no hint of. After poking around the parking lot and losing the confidence to walk across the road to the railroad tracks, I headed out of town and skipped the second cup of coffee. I pulled over at a little country church. I’m a sucker for little country church buildings. When I look at my pictures, I notice that I didn’t get up close and personal in the details of things I might have liked to get a closer look at. There was a little church graveyard at the little country church and the dusting of snow on the headstones was lovely and serene. The larger of the headstones was inscribed with the name Wallace. I didn’t go up to them, feeling like I was intruding there. The same with the railroad tracks, my perception of boundaries kept me from seeing the details I wanted to take in.

But often it was the overall composition, or the big picture, that blew me away. There was another photographer there, at the intersection pictured below, with a very official looking professional camera. He had just stepped out of the frame when I took my picture and I wanted to tell him about the cows near 151, so that he could take the picture I missed, but I didn’t. Back in Charlottesville, I took a walk at Mcintire Park. The sound of wheels clicking and gliding across concrete created an ever-changing tempo to the faint music of adult chatter from the skate park. I took no pictures of children at Mcintire skatepark, though there were so many lovely pictures of emotion, of attempting. Children turned away from their parents, arms outstretched, finding their balance. Parents watching, holding their breath, not calling out, allowing their children to try. Both being courageous. As I was not going to photograph the young skaters, I meandered around the field and enjoyed a brief visit from one of two dogs that were enjoying a romp. The dog’s person, a white-haired man wearing a thick coduroy jacket, gruffly called after him. When I returned to my car, I felt both successful that I had 4 hours of uninterupted time, and also aware that I missed opportunities to give my attention to the extent that I wanted to by virtue of timidity.

I thought about taking a sentimental journey, revisiting all the houses I have lived in in this city, Charlottesville, to sit with them and see what memories come up. Longwood Drive, Meridian Street, Stonehenge, Poplar, Bennington, Wilder Drive. I wondered how they’d look now in the snow. There are feelings and stories that belong to each place. Maybe another day, a different artist’s date.

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