For Thursday, March 17, 2016:
“In order to be created, a work of art must first make use of the dark forces of the soul.”
Chapter Four of my MA thesis started with this quote. I don’t remember the title of the chapter now, but the purpose was to explore the common perception that artists are – must be – at least a little ‘crazy.’ Looking back, it’s almost as if I knew what was going to happen.
As many people observe and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today, I remember a friend who was in the same MA program I was. Anne Marie used to love St. Paddy’s Day. Every stitch of clothing she wore on March 17th was some shade of green. On this one day of the year, it didn’t matter if the shades matched – if it was green, she wore it. She put jeweled shamrocks in her ears, on her fingers, around her wrists. She was half Irish – the other half was Italian – and proud of it. She even named her foundling dog Biddie, a nod to her mother Bridget’s nickname.
Actually Biddie found Anne Marie. At a particularly dark time in Anne Marie’s life, this little malnourished and partially lame dog somehow found the strength to jump into Anne Marie’s car in the middle of a snowstorm. Anne Marie did all the right things: she notified Animal Control and all the local veterinarians, she called and spoke to neighbors, she put a notice in the newspaper and on bulletin boards in her area. After two weeks of no responses, she and Biddie finally settled in and helped each other with pure shining love.
Anne Marie was one of the most creative people I have ever known. She had a lovely voice – both her Irish and Italian sides really came together there – and she played a beautiful guitar. She wrote songs and composed poetry, both funny and sad, both biting and touching. One room in her small house was filled to the rafters with her stash of fabrics for the stunning quilts she crafted (where all the greens and other colors matched and complemented each other) and materiel for any possibility of something creative. Her IQ had to have been off-the-charts high, and her imagination was right there with it.
Yet her brilliance was often shot through with bouts of despair. There were many late night phone calls where I spent hours trying to lift Anne Marie out of her declines into the depths. Sometimes all it took was a listening ear, letting her rant and cry out her frustrations or loneliness. Other times I could appeal to her comedic side with some shared humor or a little slice of irony. Still other times, I insisted she get something to eat – when she was really in bad shape, she would often forget to eat – because I eventually learned that low blood sugar made things twenty times worse for her. It was amazing what a difference a glass of orange juice and a few spoonfuls of peanut butter could make, and how quickly.
But eventually there was one time I couldn’t reach her, nor could anyone else. I had listened my ear off for days and many nights, cried with her, called and emailed, and no amount of peanut butter and OJ helped. When I got the call on March 18th all those years ago, those few short years ago, I felt as if I’d been blindsided with a brick.
Tortured and wounded as it sometimes was, Anne Marie’s brilliance was gone. Her humor, her songs and poems, her love for all creatures and most people, her overflowing creativity … the force that was Anne Marie was gone. I thought.
Once the immediacy of the worst of the grief was over, I started to see her all over the place. In the hawks and eagles I would see as I drove, in the small flock of geese that graced the day of her burial, in every silver Rav 4 I pass on the road, in the poems that emerged from my pen for months and years, in the silly dressed-up scenes of food that appear on Facebook, in the glow of someone’s beautiful quilt – oh, how she would appreciate that – in the tributes her family and friends share on this day and her June birthday, in the courage I sometimes feel when I contemplate some new form of creative endeavor – C’mon, Genie, you can do this! – in the tiny green surprises popping up in the early spring mud and the rattle of a pileated woodpecker at work …
Anne Marie is still here, wounded no more. I have no doubt she’s in heaven, enjoying St. Patrick’s Day with the astral equivalent of a pint of Guinness and shamrocks in her ears. She had to go through unbearably dark times, but her soul shines through again and still, in the memories and hearts of those who loved her.
And now you know her a little, too. She’s a beautiful work of art, isn’t she?