Monday, November 16, 2009

Run to the mountains

Waking from her nap, Hippie Me tucked Corporate Me away with the business attire and powerpoint presentations, hopped in the shiny blue rental car and headed for the mountains. I relished the thought of even just a few hours of pretending I was a free spirit again before flying home to family and obligations.

The closer to the mountains I got, the giddier I got. How can you not love the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains?

As I pulled into the town of Banff, though, a strange kind of melancholy settled on me. After stopping for a few cold photo ops, I took the familiar road toward Tunnel Mountain. When I passed the Banff Centre of Fine Arts, the melancholy grew and I started to cry.

I flashed back to the summer I used to find refuge from my chambermaid duties by hiking down Tunnel Mountain to the Centre to take in a concert or art show. It was a sad, sad time for me, that summer I turned nineteen. It was supposed to be the breakout summer for my adventurous spirit, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, but instead it turned sour.

I came to Banff with high hopes that summer, and left wounded and raw. Faced with an abusive boss who took chunks out of my fledgling self-esteem as often as she could, a job that revealed nothing but my weaknesses (cleaning, precision) day after day, a room-mate who didn't really like me, and other friends who I'd come with who were happier in each other's company and didn't really need a third wheel, I was lonely and depressed all summer long.

The Banff Centre of Fine Arts provided occasional escape, but mostly it just made matters worse because it reminded me how inadequate I was. I dreamed of being a student there, but never actually believed I belonged there. I was an incompetent, unaccomplished, unartistic outsider who could, at best, only hope to be inspired by other real artists.  Let's face it - I couldn't even clean a hotel room properly, how could I possibly be good enough to be an artist?

I had planned to continue my adventure after that summer by changing schools and moving to a different province, but instead, I nursed my wounds and opted for safe and small choices, returning home to what I knew. 

I'm not the same person I was twenty-four years ago. I've faced many of those demons and found ways of taking risks I didn't know I was capable of.  And yet here I was, crying over the memory of her sadness.

After parking in downtown Banff, I gathered my camera and the book I'd promised to find a place for, and wandered across the bridge at the edge of town. I found the perfect place on the railing of the old stone bridge in arguably one of the most beautiful locations in the world. I took pictures and walked away. It all seemed so perfect.

Suddenly, I felt like skipping. The book drop had done wonders for my spirit. Banff is full of not only tourists, but young people just like I'd been - coming from all over the world to work for a few months in the service industry in an interesting location before going back to school or moving on to the next adventure. I pictured a younger version of me finding that book just when she needed it most. I pictured the difference it might have made in my nineteen-year-old life.  I wanted to believe I'd been a conduit for something special happening for a young woman in the blossoming time of her life.

Fantasizing about the person who'd find it (and even imagining I might see her later walking through downtown with the book tucked under her arm), I crossed the river and killed some time in a Native arts centre. When I was sure I'd left enough time (quite a few people had crossed the bridge by then), I headed back into town.

The book was still there. Someone had torn open the tape on the paper packaging, peeked inside, and left it all behind. I was heartbroken. How could someone see such a beautiful book free for the taking and not whisk it away to a private little hideaway for some quality soul time?

I did my best to re-seal the package, propped the book back up, and walked away again.

About half an hour later, standing in a gallery staring at paintings and photographs that I was suddenly aware were no better than what I could produce, a thought flashed through my mind. Maybe I was meant to take the book. Maybe this was MY ordinary sparkling moment.

I didn't think the book would still be there, but I decided that if it were, it was meant to be mine. Pretending for a moment I was my nineteen-year-old self crossing the bridge to my forty-three-year-old self, I returned to where I'd left the book. It was still there, lying on its side again, like someone else had rejected it and assumed it was meant for someone else.

I took it, but not without HUGE reservations and a whole lot of arguing with myself. (Aren't you cheating? Maybe Christine will be angry. Shouldn't you fulfill your duties like you promised? You're failing again!)

Steeling my resolve, I marched back into town with the book tucked under my arm. The arguments didn't fully stop (I considered dropping the book on a bench, or giving it to a lovely woman in an art gallery or to one of the owners of the "Three Wild Women" boutique), but in the end, I chose to make it mine.

In a flash of inspiration, I walked into a jewellery store and bought myself a promisary ring. (I later learned that the blue chalcedony is meant to strengthen the body and mind and give the wearer a sense of clarity about what they like and don't like.)

In the Wild Flour café, I wrote myself a promise note.

I promise:
- I will take more chances.
- I will believe that I am an artist.
- I will trust my ability.
- I will look for opportunities to paint and make art as often as I can.
- I will sign up for another class or workshop that stretches me.
- I will honour the muse.

It's never too late to learn the things I should have known that summer I turned 19.

(If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see that I picked up a brochure for the Banff Centre of Fine Arts. Maybe... someday...)

I drove back to Calgary wearing my new ring. I am rather fond of the way it looks on my weathered 43 year old hand.

On the flight home, I read my new book. Perhaps, on my next trip, I'll pass it on to someone else who needs it, but for now, it sits on a shelf in my lovely little studio reminding me that I AM AN ARTIST!


leah creates said...

I love it. This post is so magical and wonderful and beautiful. I *love* the idea of buying a promise ring for myself, too! Noah bought me a ring recently - a silver ring with my birthstone (garnet) that I wear on my right ring finger. Maybe I should go buy a promise ring to wear on my left ring finger (until the time comes for that ringer to wear an engagement ring)...

This post was fabulous. Also, I love the look of your blog right now. Yay!

becky n said...

Heather, what a great post! Having spent some awkward years myself I could go right to that painful time with you. I love the idea that you offered the book but realized that maybe for now it is meant for you. And I, too, love the look of the ring on your hand.

Am so glad you share your stories.

Linnea said...

Aah, nineteen -- yours sounds as good as mine. Too bad we didn't know each other then since we're the same age.

I love this post. I love your being your own book fairy. I love the promises, and most of all, I love the ring. I think I need to borrow that idea.

Sheila said...

Oh my! How deeply moving, reassuring and uplifting this share is, Heather. The sentence about your 19 year old self and 43 year old self crossing the bridge to one another is SUCH a mental photograph in black and white - I can SEE the double exposure. And how lovely the ring and what it represents in an object of substance. I find it way too easy to break promises to myself - who'd know, who'd care. Thanks for the shift in thinking.

Anvilcloud said...

You are doing so well. You've taken your chances and launched out. You've won. Just keep on keeping on.

Gina said...

Oh wow. I would say you were right. The book was totally meant for you. And the ring looks lovely on you.


Olivia said...

What a beautiful story, Heather. I loved everything about it. I am happy that you had this experience! xo, O

Pamela said...

that last picture is so poignant!
I wanted to sing: rings on her fingers, bells on her toes.

doorways traveler said...

what a beautiful post. a beautiful process. and beautiful promises.

and i love the canadian rockies. my daughter learned to walk at lake louise and my son's middle name is jasper. i appreciate the reminder that it is a potent place worth returning to.

much love,

Kel said...

Beautiful, brave and inspiring post. Thank you so much for sharing and reminding us that we can be our own fairy godmothers.

ccap said...


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Jamie Ridler said...

Yes, beautiful, wild, free, rebel you! You are an artist indeed. I can see you sparkle.

Carmen said...

Such power in this story. Thanks for sharing and for being brave enough to listen when your spirit was whispering.


postcards from... said...

for me, your story is the best of the 100 books project so far. the whole thing just really strikes a chord in me, as being so perfect and with such a brilliant realisation... your ring, the promises, all of it.

thanks for sharing such a beautiful story.

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