On my way to my weekly dance class yesterday, I passed a convoy of police cars, sirens blaring, lights flashing, hurtling down the highway. It is a sad statement on today’s world that my immediate thought was “There must be a mass shooting happening somewhere near here.” I turned on the radio to discover that UCLA was in lockdown mode, with an active shooter. This morning, the news reports had more details – the victim was William Krug, a professor of engineering and a father with two young children – the shooter was an aggrieved former student, with a gun and a hit list.
It has been an intensely emotional week - from the poignancy of celebrating my son’s high school graduation to the excitement of planning a much-needed summer trip. The senseless tragedy at my alma mater- the reminder that nowhere is really safe, not even a college campus, hit me hard. I took a cue from Rhino, and stomped and shook out a little of my grief in dance class. Today, I needed to buckle down and be a grown-up - tackle all those responsibilities – the revision of my latest draft, the piles of laundry and dishes, the need to pay bills and buy groceries - but I was in massive resistance. I needed a little tent time with my inner child first.
No goal, just me and my paintbrushes and scraps of paper I keep in an art basket in my “office” (a big canvas tent in my backyard). When I paint, it’s not about the end result. I am not striving to be the next Georgia O’Keefe, I just need to let those turbulent feelings OUT. In this case, a ragged piece of recycled cardboard fit my mood, along with one of my favorite mediums, watercolor resist. Scribble with crayons or oil pastels, and wash over them with watercolors. Cheap, easy, meditative. I put on calming music and let myself drift in reflection, dipping the brush in the water, letting the paint and my tears blend on the paper in a swirl of colors that reflected my emotional state. After that, I started painting strips of watercolor paper – letting each strip represent a different feeling.
There has been – and always will be – death and destruction in our world. As Papa Mouse tells his daughter in The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, “Bad things happen, and we can’t always control that.”
We can only control how we respond to the storms in our lives. Some people have so few resources in their emotional toolbox that they get stuck in their anger and fear and turn to violence to solve their problems. In the process, they create an even bigger storm for everyone around them.
Let’s teach our children to reach for paintbrushes instead of guns...to beat on drums instead of each other...to sing instead of screaming insults. Let us all find safe creative spaces to express our feelings, where we can unload our sorrow and rage onto canvases, not campuses.
Today, I am wearing orange. Today and every day, my thoughts and prayers are with those touched by the tornado of gun violence.