By Andre Cormier
At the time I was living on a boat, on a slip, in the heart of the Old Port of Portland, Maine. And at the time I bought the tickets, I thought for sure I would not be going alone. Instead of a romantic date, I found myself striding up the aluminum ramp alone. The gong of my footsteps rang hollow as the clock coming correct on Cinderella. From the dock to the city, I proceeded to my destination. Paint Nite. Date night. Solo.
I had soaked my loneliness and lament in a solo cup or two of four dollar wine. I found the new establishment on Congress Street, a smock, another plastic cup of wine. There were high tables, each with four easels supporting blank canvases. A brick wall, splashed with dimmable recessed lighting, and a stage for the instructor that would try to inspire and enlighten. Three brushes, gobs of five selected hues of paint for our suggested end goal: a dandelion gone to seed silhouetted against a full moon in a purple sky.
I started off feeling confident. I got a good canvas covering and was really happy with how my full moon was looking. Then I went to make a little adjustment to get my moon to be a perfect circle. Oops. Oh well. I’ll just add a little more to smooth out that mistake. Oops. Okay. Leave it alone. Move on to the dandelion stalk. Loosen up a little.
I traced my hand up through the violet gradient background, bringing to life the line of my mind’s imagination. Now to trace that line with the light of my imperfect moon. In this mess of amateur hour amusement, surrounded by couples, I felt my heart sinking. I can’t paint. I can’t do anything. My dandelion looked more like a disheveled court jester. My steady hand wavered into novice deviations. Bob Ross happy accidents and sad murder scenes of light and line. In the bottom corner of the canvas, I was encouraged to sign my work. Do I really want to put my name on this?
Discouraged, a single cormorant amongst a flock of love birds, I was made to wait for the paint to dry before I could escape to the now darkened street. At least it was dark. While I was waiting, making sure to keep my wine cup and my rinse cup separate, my eyes drifted up. On the wall, above the large bay windows looking out onto Commercial Street, was a quote stenciled on the wall.
“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow…”~Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. If you don’t know the definition of satire, don’t read the dictionary. Read Vonnegut. The natural rhythm of his prose feels more like conversation for me. It may not for you. I think for each individual, one of the things that makes an author your favorite is that their voice is similar to the voice in your head. And there was that voice, black in a stylish serif font, reminding me of an essential opportunity of life and to not take myself so damn seriously. I had never seen the quote before. Even more evoking was the ellipses ending. There was more to the quote.
The paint dried enough for transport. I set off back to the boat. A quick google search and I found the quote in its entirety.
“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” -Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country
So much of my life had become caught up in the pragmatism and rat race. For so many, I think, art is viewed as something you have to be really good at for it to have any value to engage in. Art may seem expendable. Art isn’t pragmatic. Or perhaps, there could be nothing more pragmatic than taking the time to grow your soul and know that the end product isn’t the only thing of value.
I looked at my painting again, propped in the rear berth of the boat, already stowed away. I thought of the woman I had wished had accompanied me on the date. (My future wife) I couldn’t un-paint. But I could add, I could blend and accept. Life is revision. We often think of it as something we can’t go back and change. And we can’t. But we can revise. We can learn. We change what each moment has meant and continue to create. We can grow our souls.
I gathered a scrap of envelope from a utility bill. And sat down to write a lousy poem.
~If you don’t want to read Vonnegut, but want a sense of his humor, check out this video of him describing the shapes of stories