Such fickle weather, the sun chasing clouds across the valley (not scientific you say?) and my lush green bushes of basil scenting the herb garden but wilting for lack of rain. An in-between week, this hiatus between old and new years.
Well, the craziness had to sneak in somewhere. A drunken and aggressive (crazy) neighbour has taken to shooting at African ibises in the Norfolk pines behind our place. He is teaching his son to shoot birds with a compressed air gun, bellowing and incoherent, a nightmare. Several of us rang the police who have (hopefully) confiscated the air gun and warned him. Everyone except him knows he has a drink problem. Everyone tries to avoid him and the cloud of sodden angry fogginess he exudes like a nasty odour. But this too is reality, the shadow of violence and untreated illness amidst the sunshine and neighbourliness.
Tonight we are having a birthday supper with my former art teacher, imperious, difficult and lovable. Last year she was 83 and this year she is 79. She is painting a vast canvas in oils of waterbirds on a lake fringed with reeds, taking the details from an old photograph, working with a magnifying glass and a rod to hold her forearm steady, convinced as ever of her own genius despite the wavering lines and blobs of paint in the wrong places.
She has not forgiven me for dropping out of her art classes. The truth is that she is not a teacher, despairs of students who don’t get it right first time. She would prefer to work with natural-born geniuses. Despite her disapproval, I am very fond of her and endure her barbs and sarcasm each year with good grace. In fact I rather hope I have her vitality and determination when I am 79 or 83. We will cook supper for her and try to intercede in her feud with the sister who spends each Christmas with her even though they have never been able to get along.
‘We are completely different types,’ explains the art teacher. ‘I have the soul of an artist and she is rational, logical and a philistine.’ They are, of course, as alike as two peas in a pod and both highly creative as well as rational and logical when it suits them.
So I shall be making salads of roasted red peppers and a platter of Caprese with sliced summer-sweet tomatoes leafed with basil and fresh buffalo mozzarella. The art teacher doesn’t eat anything yellow and her sister will not eat food beginning with the letter C, so the Caprese salad will be nameless.
And as I potter around in the kitchen and listen to the magnificent arcs and falls of Bach’s music, I am grieving a sudden loss. All across the Internet there are circles within circles of blog communities: those of us who write or paint, those of us who live in Africa, those of us scattered into the diaspora, those of us dreaming of a better world, those of us healing from addiction or trauma. Bloglands united by love and sharing. Yesterday I heard that the lovely and gifted Tessa Edwards of The Aerial Armadillo had died after a long battle with cancer. I knew Tessa through mutual friends and came on her blog by accident only to find she was seriously ill, a reticent gracious artist who was also a chronically homesick African. She worked through her art and organizational gifts to raise funds for Aids orphans in Africa, ecological projects, humanitarian concerns. As one friend wrote in tribute: ‘Tessa was more of a bodisatva- a working moving loving meditation to better the lives of others, enjoying her own time here to the max — brief but jam-‘packed!’
When I read Tessa’s blog and look at her art, I remember again that creativity, like gratitude and hopefulness and compassion, are life choices: those intentions, responses and disciplines that orient us towards growth and depth.
Hamba kahle, Tessa, travel in peace.
“It is never easy to keep reaching for dreams. Strength and courage can sometimes be lonely friends, but those who do reach, walk in stardust.”