I opened my front door on Tuesday to let in a little fresh air and found a package from Globe Pequot Press. My heart jumped with excitement because I knew that this was not something I had ordered and was watching for, but a copy of Patti Digh’s new book: Creative is a Verb: if you’re alive, you’re creative. As excited as I was in August to get my copy of Four Word Self Help, this book is even more special to me.
The call for art for Creative is a Verb came in just as my cousin Leslie went on hospice. The submissions were due the week after she died. Needless to say, as my personal and professional worlds were colliding the last thing on my mind was making art. The only reason I made myself try was because I knew Leslie would have told me to go for it. I ended up submitting two pieces.
One piece came quickly. Patti’s essay is titled “Carry your own tuba.” It’s a wonderful reflection on what girls are told they can and cannot do. (And, serendipitously, a great selection to send to a woman who became a rabbi a long time ago when there weren’t a lot of female clergy role models.) A piece of my own hand-dyed fabric forms the sky and an old picture I took of my niece Rachel helped me shape the body. The second piece was more difficult. The essay spoke of following your dreams. It’s called “keep looking up.” I was trying for a galaxy. I couldn’t make it work. My original art was star shaped. I didn’t like it. It needed more . . . something. Finally I took a fabric postcard I had made and worked with it, reshaping it and reworking it into a galaxy on a field of stars on top of a brighter field of stars. I sent it in the day of the deadline.
This summer I got an email saying my art was selected for the book, but the email didn’t say which one. I figured that the tuba piece was in and the other – perhaps.
The book came Tuesday. I opened it from the back. No reason. (Perhaps that rabbi thing – right to left, why not?) Almost immediately I saw my second piece. It’s not with the essay that inspired it. Even better – it’s with the epilogue. The epilogue speaks of aging, of nursing homes, of becoming who we are, of the texts of our lives; a much better place for art from a hospice rabbi.
I look at the second piece of art and I can see much more clearly in the picture what I miss when it’s in front of me. My stitching, holding the galaxy in place, forms a mouth or, perhaps, an eye. It reflects the galaxy that is each of us, set against the stars of possibility and the stars of experience – the universe that each of us takes and makes for ourselves. It’s my art, illustrating Patti’s words, reflecting my life.Both pieces are in the book. I’m more excited about this than I am of any sermon or essay I’ve had published. And I’m doing a happy dance of joy and memory. And once again I am reminded of the power of art to transform life.