Thoughts While Hiking

When Lowell and I met I was still fantasizing about what it would be like to go live in a Zen monastery. I had been out of school for a couple years. I was working at the bookstore and I spent most of my time by myself—painting, reading, writing—and getting more involved in Zen. Being alone for those years allowed me to reflect in a way that I had never been able to before, and the knowledge and experiences that I gained then changed the way that I think about my life and work entirely. But I also imagined that a life of isolation might be easier than managing more of the hurts that I thought were inherent in a relationship.

When Lowell and I started talking about what a relationship would look like between us, I was afraid of losing both my time alone, and the sense of peaceful autonomy that came with it. I knew that if we were to be together, and we were to be happy, the relationship would somehow have to be as important to my work as my independence had been. But I didn’t know what that meant or what it would look like.

This past weekend was our fall break and Lowell came out to visit during my days off. I was looking forward to his visit, but also nervous that I would not be able to be fully present for it. I have been feeling more comfortable in the program here, but I’ve still been working through a level of stress greater than I have since we’ve known each other. Since I’ve been in St. Louis I haven’t had much time to think about our relationship at all. And while it is comforting to be in a position where I do not have to worry about our relationship, the truth is that I feel better when I have the relationship to think about.

Writing these posts has been a really liberating way to talk about the things that are fundamental to my art practice, which I don’t normally get to talk about in art classes. I talk often about meditation, yoga, and other creative practices, but I don’t often talk about my personal relationships. This is, of course, because they are so personal, but also because  we don’t tend to think of them as a practice. If there is one thing I have learned with Lowell, it is that a partnership is work, and it is truly a creative collaboration: something made between two people.

Painting is important to me because the process itself is so liberating. Every day that I’m in the studio I get to experiment and have fun with material and color, and to be surprised by the experiences that come out of it. I chose to pursue painting because I thought I could spend my life exploring the possibilities of the medium. But it also takes work. Every day I have to look at what I’ve done and question whether it reflects the knowledge and understanding that I want to bring into the world. Being with Lowell is also liberating. I feel happier, calmer, more free, when we are together. And I am excited for the possibilities of what we can do together that I cannot do on my own. But we also continually ask ourselves what it is that we’re doing. What is this thing we’re making together? What do we want it to be?

On Monday Lowell and I drove out to Hawn State Park, about an hour from the city.  We walked through the Missouri oaks and limestone, and talked about what it’s been like living away from each other. And for the first time in weeks I was able to recognize my feelings and frustrations. What I mean to say is: being with Lowell allows me to see myself—and my work—better, because this relationship allows me to be something more than I can be when I’m alone. Thinking about the relationship isn’t just a reminder of my commitments, but a reminder of what is really important to me.

When I’m working, I constantly ask myself if what I am making is meaningful, but over the course of my life, I have no guarantee of its meaning. It’s not that being with Lowell is more important than my artwork, but as long as I am with Lowell I know that I am doing something—making something—that is worthwhile.