It is strange the way smells can trigger memories.
I try to paint the smell of bread.
That smell of grass fires that lingers in the air for days after the flames are gone.
And it reminds me of those vermillion sunsets that come in fire season.
I watch the color spread over the white gesso and run down the canvas.
I listen to a song and I am lost in it. And I try to paint what I hear.
And the intensity of the color in coming from the tubes reminds me of why I paint.
I can’t handle it. I am at my end, and I have nowhere else to go.
Not today. Today is where grief is. It can feel so empty.
I think about a tear rolling down my cheek… and how it feels and what it looks like. What path it takes. How it catches the light.
It isn’t about running away. It is about finding something.
Maybe it is about finding God. And I look. I seek.
Maybe it is about feeling like I used to feel.
I can’t go back to those memories. It hurts. But the smell can bring me back.
those smells, make it impossible not to go back.
And tomorrow? I can’t think of that future. That big empty future…
They say that smells trigger memories because the olfactory bulb, which runs from the nose to the base of the brain, is right next to the amygdala and hippocampus which is where memories are encoded and where emotions get their spark.
It is a deep part of the brain… in a very old neighborhood.
And emotions and memory… they are a part of me.
So I take out a fresh canvas and I paint.
I paint because I hurt inside. And this helps.
I paint to find the goodness of God.
Painting takes concentration… and when I paint, I don’t hurt. At least for a moment.
And I can think about yesterday
And the smell of rain
And not be sad.
And I can look at the brush strokes and the color
And focus on getting the feel of fur just right
And trying to make those eyes come alive.
I talk to God. And I fill a container of water.
When I paint, it isn’t about grief
It isn’t even about the koi on the canvas… or the multi-colored rocks
It isn’t about light and shadow
Or creating depth and dimension..
It is about creating an emotional spark…
But I do think about those things. About making it work
Color, composition, tone, texture, shape
Creating some sort of order
Maybe some kind of image in a world I want to visit
And I know it smells like mountain air in the morning
And I can hear the crow calling
And that sound of wind rolling through the pines.
It’s quiet, but not silent… and I feel okay.
And I listen for God. And He is quiet, but not silent.
But maybe, you got to smell for God.
Maybe he is closer to the amygdala and hippocampus, the two areas implicated in emotion and memory… near the olfactory lobe.
And I paint.
I mix paint and spread it with a small round brush.
I make a wash and dull those bright colors
And then add back in the darkest shadows
And I choose the spots where the whitest whites will be…
Only this one place… the whiskers and the light in the eyes…
And the thinnest of lines around the eyes.
I can remember the day Ethan was born.
I remember the point where the delivery began to go wrong
And his heart rate dropped
And the floor was slick with blood
And I almost fell down. And I couldn’t really panic, because Marquita needed to hold my hand and push one more time… and hold so hard my thumb dislocated.
And there was this tiny baby boy. That gasped. That cried. That made it.
And on the window sill now is a vase with my father’s ashes blown into the glass
And a glass duck. And three glass frogs.
And a perfect vase that is holding Ethan’s ashes.
I watch the color spread.
I can smell old smoke from a cold fire.
I listen for God.
And he is quiet, but not silent.