Wednesday, June 2, 2010
The Trees on My Block
I have been thinking a lot about being present. I've been reading some books about "mindful" parenting and "mindful" living. I've had a few conversations where I tried to explain what "mindful" really means. It's a funny word and one, I think, that gets thrown around an awful lot lately.
For me, it means being present. It's the act of standing on the ground, with your eyes open and looking around at your world. It's about taking in an experience before reacting to it. Being mindful is not knee-jerk. But it isn't so relaxed that you're letting the world wash over you. It's about being alert and aware and ready. Sometimes I think we confuse being ready with being in action. Ready is not pulling your jacket on as you unlock the car. Ready is having your jacket on before you open the front door.
At any rate, a dear friend of mine has an art show up for just a few more days and her paintings make me think of being "mindful." She has painted all the trees on the block surrounding her house in Pasadena. When I am feeling like my head is about to pop off with stress and fear and anger, I like to think about Elizabeth walking around her neighborhood looking at the trees. She's given each tree (or bush or artfully carved shrub) its own place on a small square of plywood. These paintings are so small they invite you to come closer, to participate in Elizabeth's mindfulness. They ask you to take a moment to admire the curve of a carefully carved topiary or register the starkness of bare branches against a winter sky.
Because I am lucky enough to know Elizabeth, I know that her paintings are always this specific. I know that being "mindful" is part of how she defines being an artist. In other series, she has paid careful attention to all the bits of trash in the vacant lot across from her studio and to the things she sees on her commute. In this way gum wrappers and streetlamps and the shiny handle on a car door are all elevated. These things are part of Elizabeth's world and part of ours.
As I type, I am aware of the way the keys press against my fingertips, I hear the whir of the refrigerator and the shrill peeps of the young birds nesting in the magnolia. I see dust bunnies in the corners of my office and I resist the urge to spring up and grab the broom.
If you have time, take a trip to the Pasadena Armory for the Arts and check out Elizabeth's show. It's only up for a few more days and it is worth the trip.