(This is the letter that I sent out with the May/June Joy Center mailing.)
Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes, your easy smile is your museum. Ansel Adams
Raja returned the book to me last evening, the one that I had shown to him at a gathering during the holidays, a book published in 1920 and given to my mother by her father on her sixth birthday in 1924. It is the first in a series of six My Bookhouse books, In the Nursery, and it is the one most treasured by three generations of my family. We loved it, all four hundred and thirty-two pages of nursery rhymes and fables; we loved it to pieces, literally. “I think I can restore it,” Raja said. So, four months ago, I handed him In the Nursery with its broken spine and scattered torn pages, and before reading poems at Joy Center last evening, he handed it back to me, in one precious piece. “I feel as though I know this book intimately now,” he said. “It was an honor to bring it back to life for you,” he added.
Raja and his wife, Amber, are poets and book artists. But that’s not how I introduced them last night at their poetry reading, that’s not what has touched me so deeply and inspired me as I’ve gotten to know them both as individuals and as a couple these past few years. I called them artists of life. That’s how I see them. A year and a half ago, this young couple attended a Joy Center Out Loud open mic event, and, instead of reading poems like they had done in the past, they ran out to their car during the break and returned with a bag. And when it was their turn to share, they pulled from the bag two or three books. And with lit-up faces and a world of enthusiasm, they shared how they had made them, these books in their hands, from paper and glue and thread and cardboard, how they had spent the past few nights staying up late and playing at this new hobby.
And that was the start of it, how they followed this passion, allowed their happiness to lead them, first into a book-art workshop at Joy Center a year ago and then to a book-art club each month and then to the Farmer’s Market in Marquette last summer and then into a full-blown business and a life centered around their love of language and books and art. And what is beautiful about these two is that they bring this passion and delight into their living; it is all intertwined. A walk in the woods becomes a poem. A late night dinner is art in itself. A trip downstate to visit family is holy and wholesome and food for their business. And you feel it, the holiness of their lives, when you listen to their poems, poems written with care and passion and heart, poems that contain the whole world in their lines. You feel it when you hold their books in your hands, the care and love that they put into each one of them.
It is the way I want to live, as though my whole life is art because it is. What greater creation could we give this world than our own precious living? Sure we have our hobbies and our passions, our poems and our songs. Sure some of us paint on canvas and some of us etch into metal and some of us twist our bodies into magnificent living sculptures. But what about the rest of the time, when we’re not picking up a crayon or a gluestick or a paintbrush or a pen? What about all those other moments in a day? Can’t they be art too? Of course they can, and it is up to us, each one of us, to create the kind of art that brings us happiness. So, I’m going for it, not only calling Amber and Raja “artists of life”, but also becoming aware of and celebrating this “art of life” in each one of us.
I love Joy Center, this safe beautiful place that welcomes us all. It is a sanctuary where we can play with the arts, where we can stretch and strengthen and experience the poetry of movement in yoga and dance, where we can create a book, a painting, a piece of writing, where can share our stories, our songs, our dreams, where we can journey around the world through movies and slide shows and travelogues, where we can expand our perspectives and feel ourselves grow, where we can embrace ourselves more fully and freely and recognize that we have nothing to prove, that we already are a piece of art and that our lives, this process of living, is the greatest art of all. Happy spring!