Last fall, every Monday I took my daughter to dance class. The class was held in a nearby recreational centre, where we had attended a parent and tot class before. She longed to return. At these classes, there were no clear and certain rules. No one speaks about the predispositions of players or insists on results. Children learn new dance steps in a relaxed atmosphere, with peers and motivated instructors.
At the beginning of this new session I was faced with a major change – parents were not allowed to participate. Until then, I was joining her in classes – from singing songs, building blocks, dancing and skating – and now the time had come when she would venture out on her own and become more independent. She accepted it without concern mostly because she already goes to preschool and has learned to rely on herself. Also, she knew I was waiting in the hall where she could reach me if it was necessary.
I decided to use the time to rest. I’d go to the cafeteria for a coffee or tea, read a book or take the magazine from the shelves and return to the bench in front of the door.
One Monday, while rushing to finish everything I planned before her class, I realized that I forgot to bring my book. I decided to skip my usual routine and I leisurely walked down the halls of the Centre. At first, I went and checked out an exhibition, then I sneaked into an art class and I finally picked up a calendar of ongoing events. As I was walking, I noticed a billboard at the end of the hallway. It was full of student paintings and creative artists thoughts. I slowed a step to read them until one quote grabbed my attention. I read it several times.
The quote was still on my mind an hour later, when the two of us played in the park. As soon as we got home, I rushed online to search for the text from which it was drawn. Unexpectedly, I came across a private letter from 2006. which luckily became public. A class of New York high school students had asked the American writer Kurt Vonnegut to come to visit their class and teach a lesson. He was moved by their affection but unable to answer their appeal. As an 84-year-old he was no longer performing in public, so he decided to write a letter instead. Very briefly, he gave them gold worthy advice, the quote I had discovered that morning. Without hesitation, I decided that I would place it on the front page of my future blog.
”Practice any art – music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage – no matter how well or badly, not to get money or fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. ”
The message contained the essence of what I had experienced while writing the book. It was an adventure. Although I wrote about the events and characters from my personal life, it seemed like an unknown place. At the same time, I was faced with mixed emotions: joy and sadness, forgiveness and resentment, self-forgiveness and self-judgment. It was a real struggle. There were times when I thought I should give up and do anything else. I didn’t understand why I had to deal with all of these emotions again. Meanwhile, I discovered a new piece of the mosaic, the one which I, until then, overlooked or misunderstood. I felt reassurance and returned to my desk believing that I was on the path of resolution. The same procedure repeated several times and I began to welcome it with less unease and impatience. I wrote dozens of pages and contemplated my thoughts around dozens of others. A tangle of emotions and events slowly unraveled, but what I needed the most, I didn’t find on paper. It was inside of me; it’s that feeling which was different than the one I began writing with.
”I don’t know how to explain it, but I know why I have to write this book,” I found myself repeating many times in the letter to a friend. I didn’t know then that, soon enough, Mr. Kurt Vonnegut’s message would make this clear to me.
He gave the students an assignment, ”Write a six line poem about anything, but rhymed.” They had only a few instructions: to give their best and not to show or recite their work to anyone. He went even further by encouraging them to rip the paper when they finished and throw it into a garbage can.
”You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem,” he concluded at the end of the letter. ”You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you and you have made your soul grow”.
Vonnegut knew what I went through and how I felt after all. Although I hadn’t thought of destroying my writing, for months I kept it away from myself and others, thinking over and over whether I should publish it or not.
Meanwhile, I become curious about the process of publishing. In many ways, for years I had been surrounded by books, but I never had the opportunity to witness one’s creation. I was eager to engage and, as it happens, I worked with ease and joy.
Not long after I was putting down ideas for the blog and I realized that the first one – to have a space for the book presentation – was just the beginning. Right on the front page, I could see my daughter’s artwork. Somehow I knew it belonged there.
She had drawn it last spring and she was so proud of it. She talked about it with the same zeal with which she created. I wanted to save that precious moment, so I went home to frame it and hang it on the wall in our dining room.
”Hey, what are you doing?” I asked when I went to pick up my daughter from preschool.
The children usually responded by shouting, but now nobody even turned.
In the backyard, on the concrete were some drawing boards. All the children held brushes and some of them wore hats, although these were sunhats. Like the real masters, they were immersed in the paper in front of them. I understood they needed space and silence. I passed between them and sat on the stairs, where I could watch them.
As soon as my daughter finished, she approached me and said:
”Look, mom, what I drew.”
”That’s nice! I love it,” I complimented.
I saw on that drawing all sorts of things, but I wanted to know what she had to say.
”And, what is it?”
”Can’t you see?” she said returning to the board. ”It’s Canada.” She used the brush, holding it a centimeters away from her work, to point.
”Really?!” I added showing my interest.
She continued explaining her work.
”Take this orange colour, for example, those are the beaches. They’re so many, all over. And look at that blue. That is the ocean. We can’t swim in there, because it is very cold.”
I looked at the paper and, all of a sudden, I had the same view. For a few seconds, we stood without saying a word.
”And what represents that green in the corner? ” I showed her to the line on the left side of the drawing. It wasn’t that long but it was different.
”That is a restaurant. The one where we eat cakes. The best are those with chada.”
She pronounced word chocolate that way. I laughed though she remained very serious.
”And on the other side, the long black line and the smaller ones on the top?”
After the previous explanation, I wouldn’t even try to guess. I realized that I’d get it wrong.
She stopped for a moment before she answered.
”These are the streets in our neighborhood. Can you see, they are full of Cherry blossom trees?!”
That spring they charmed us again. As soon as we saw them on the streets, despite the fact that we were waiting for the moment when they would flourish, we felt excitement and bliss.
”This is the Sun, I can see that,” I said and she agreed. She didn’t want to tell me why it was brown, so I pretended that didn’t surprise me.
”And yet, this circle in the centre of the canvas, a black one, what does it represent?”
It looked like a kite to me.
”Mom, that’s Sooke. The place where Avery lives,” she explained transferring me right from the sky to the place where we spent our last weekend.
Sooke is a lovely place located less than an hour’s drive from our apartment. Last summer our friends bought a house there. Avery’s grandma is from my home country of Serbia and my husband ran into her in the local park. Since then, we became close. Sometimes they come to our apartment, but more often we go to visit them. They have a big house with a garden. They are in the middle of an almost untouched natural landscape, where you feel instantly rested. The kids enjoy running, jumping, swinging, sometimes even swimming.
”Mother, what is the name of the place where Avery lives?” she asked me this several times before we got into the car. We were just on our way home from visiting Sooke.
”Sooke,” answered dad. ”Do you like it?” he knew what she would say, but he still asked.
”Yes, it’s very nice,” she replied. In a second she was back on what she, in fact, wanted to know. ”So, Avery lives in Sooke and we live in Canada?”
”No,” I intervened. ”The place where we live and Sooke are both in Canada.”
I turned to her and proceeded with an explanation. ”The lake where we spent the previous weekend, the island across from our beach, the place we went for the train ride and even further and further, it is still Canada. Canada is a big country.”
She was quiet while looking out the window. We were driving down the road that runs along the ocean. It seemed, she perfectly accepted the ocean, because she never asked anything more about it. The presence of the vast water didn’t bother her.
”Sooke is not in Canada,” she broke her silence. ”You see how far it is. You probably don’t know yourself, but I do. I asked Avery and he said it’s only Sooke,” she finished her story.
I let it be. I noticed she acts like this when she is met with new things. I wouldn’t say she is resistant to them. She just needs some time to think and adopt the knowledge. I spoke about this with her preschool teacher. She told me, every time they learn something new, my child listens carefully. While participating, she takes her time before she asks anything. The teacher was surprised when I mentioned she will, within a day or two, repeat at home everything they do and explain to us what she has learned.
So, there we are, I thought while looking back at the drawing. It was clear that she accepted the fact that Sooke is, indeed, in Canada.
At that point, I was delighted; I just found out how the world around us looked for her. Like it’s natural, Cherry blossom tree and chocolate cookies stand alongside each other. I became aware that she will forever carry in her mind the image of sandy beaches and the blue Pacific Ocean. A new world was born with her, I was thinking to myself when I put the drawing on the wall. I wanted to have it in front of me all the time! Every day, despite the fact that I sometimes forget, I want to remind myself how unique it is. And magical.
Later, that summer I noticed that her drawings were full of shapes and colors. She painted everything she saw, from lollipops, flowers and houses, the sky and rainbows. One time I would recognize the details from the cartoons we watched, the others those she learned in her preschool. Her world was getting bigger and more complex. Finally, when she asked me a question, one of those wise ones which only a child can ask, I was again surprised. As if I didn’t already know that she was in the process all of her own.