Sarah Smile

Some days the ideas just won’t come. The morning feels stale, with little possibility for creative inspiration.

I want the words, the ideas, to percolate and drip down with my morning coffee. I crave a jolt to my brain that will flow down my arm and distill onto the page. I cast about for any stray whisper of an idea to get the process brewing.

But sometimes I can’t get a conversation going, there are simply no stories in my head.

I imagine all people who try to create art experience this.

I think about my niece, Sarah, and how she writes and paints. How young she is, but how wise she is in her knowledge of this creative tension – she gets it.

She is brave in the way young people are brave, in this world that scorns art over money. This world that values making a living over making a life.

Today Sarah is graduating from college and this is when society will tell her that the carousel stops.

And she will be asked to check her dreams at the door. Or at the very least, to slide them quietly under her bed while she gets a real job.

She will have to choose: to put away childish things, or to defend her art and just keep on creating anyway.

Of course, I hope she keeps seeing the wide, open canvas before her.

I hope she keeps the messy paints and brushes on the kitchen table of her new apartment. Better yet, I hope she has an art room of her own.

I hope she continues to see herself as an artist first, no matter what job she gets.

When Sarah was little, she was a professional eavesdropper. When her mom and I used to gab on the phone, sharing all of our domestic dramas, we could always hear her soft breathing on the other line.

And sometimes when we were in the same room, talking privately, her ears were tuned in our direction. We could always tell when she was listening, because she would become completely still, and a glazed look would come over her face, and a tiny, knowing smile would crimp the corners of her little rosebud mouth.

But we understood. Who wouldn’t want to be in on our soap opera? We knew she just wanted to be privy to the juicy secrets, the gossip, the dirt.

Such was her appetite to know all about what was colorful, and dramatic, and worth knowing and repeating.

And now, years later, I look at her paintings in the gallery, and I see the secrets are all there – laid bare.

And I want to tell her this: that as she leaves the safe haven of her academic life, I hope she doesn’t outgrow her eavesdropping habit. I hope she doesn’t stop paying close attention, or scrutinizing the world around her.

That’s what it’s there for. For her – her curiosity and passion.

The world needs that paradoxical, hyper-focused little girl with the dreamy look in her eyes, and that soft Mona Lisa smile. That rare collage of fierceness and fertile imagination.

And today, it’s that Sarah smile that I remember best. And it makes me smile inside. And it inspires me to keep writing. That sly look that insists that the words and tidbits are worth sorting through, grappling with and even passing along.

And that the elusive whispers are worth everything if I’m willing to listen hard enough.

I waited until I was over fifty to start writing about all of the scraps that I’ve gleaned through my years of eavesdropping – and I really wish I’d started sooner.

So Sarah, don’t stop now.

You may choose to put it all aside for a while, like I did. And the stories will wait. But they won’t wait forever – we know how time escapes us all too quickly.

Just remember that there are many interesting rooms that beckon – corners that are just waiting to be filled up:

In a cozy coffee shop, hearing intense lovers murmur while you sip your mocha.

In a waiting rooms at a doctors’ office, where an exhausted family argues while you wait.

At an adjacent restaurant booth, where a lovers’ quarrel grabs your ear.

On a late night train, where you overhear a teary confession.

On a hike in the mountains, where you witness a friend’s life changing epiphany.

On your blanket at the beach, where you marvel at the tender banter of a retired couple strolling past.

These are your moments.

The universe is holding its breath, just waiting for you, Sarah, to listen in. It’s diligently dropping clues for you to decipher and explore – like breadcrumbs in the forest.

If not you – the artist – then who?

And if you follow, the stories you unravel will be all yours.

But I’m really hoping they’ll be ours as well. Because, honestly, I’m counting on you to spill all your deep secrets – all the bits of of contradiction, of brilliance, of dazzle – the original art of you.

Your artistic vision is just too juicy, too irresistible. And so I hope you continue to invite us into your gallery, to share your work with all of us here.

You’ve definitely got our attention – we’re listening.

And now it’s our turn to eavesdrop, Sarah – and I’ve no doubt there are many more amazing stories to come from you.

And I’ll be right here listening, taking in every word, every bit of your artistic vision.

And on a day like today I’m counting on it.

Koppelkam_S_2015#011Art by Sarah Koppelkam, Wesleyan University, 2015

2 thoughts on “Sarah Smile

  1. Beautifully written and delivered last night at our pre-graduation dinner. Your talent with words, and Sarah’s with an artist’s brush, make for a grateful and happily blessed father and grandfather. Debby added to that feeling last night with her beautiful handmade quilted blanket. I am surrounded by artists.

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Beth – I’m still working on the last thing you wrote and here you write this wise and beautiful tribute to your apparently amazing niece. I wish someone had encouraged me years ago in just the way you encourage Sarah. Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

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