Lightning Hunting

Tall books in Ella Arrow's library
When in doubt, go to the library. – Hermione Granger

I haven’t been writing as much as I intended on this blog dedicated to finding magic and wonder when life is hard. I keep having ideas and then rejecting them as not inspired enough. Feels like everything on the internet must be Pinterest-worthy these days. I realized I’ve been thinking about it wrong. It’s not that I need the answer, to offer tasty tidbits that will teach readers how to live a magical life. I mean, sometimes, if I’m lucky and lightning strikes, yes. But I don’t want this blog to turn too sweet, too optimistic, poisonous positivity. It’s about the struggle, right?

Yesterday was a struggle. For one reason or another I was cranky. I was feeling mildly unwell, like you do in early March/late winter, when the sky is grey, the snow is grey, and the people are grey from lack of vitamin D and too much worry about the latest flu virus. Yesterday I was Neville who died from ennui.

Neville Ennui
Gashleycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey, copyright Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997

My mental to-do list is always bigger than my time or energy, especially when I’m forced to do something unavoidable, like work or cook. That’s when the to-do list balloons, taking over the margins of my brain beside meeting notes or vegetables. And when work is done, the couch beckons, Gardenscapes or a word game on my phone rots my brain and then before I know it I’ve whittled away my afternoon, and my son is late for karate. 

Obviously I’m a terrible mother. No other mother in the history of karate lessons has ever taken her son to a 30-minute class 10 minutes late. The shame. The horror. How will I ever make it up to him?!? This is my inner voice until every little thing my daughter did evoked a snarl while we sat for 20 whole minutes in the viewing chairs at the dojo.

I tried to reset, sitting there taking deep breaths among the chatting parents and the shouting uniformed child army. I wonder why it didn’t work?

I tried to reset at home, making dinner, moving about in tedious tidying, feeding one animal after another. I wonder why it didn’t work??

I’ve been reading my book (shameless plug) to my children at bedtime. This is a one-of-a-kind joy, something I can never do for the first time again. It makes me want to write 10 more children’s books before they grow up, just so I could read them aloud to them. But lately, at pajama time, they’ve been playing together happily, sometimes for the first time all day. 

So there was no time for stories before lights out.

I sat on my gray couch in my blue living room feeling sorry that I’d wasted my afternoon instead of writing. I wondered how I could chase the clouds away while staying relaxed enough to wind down toward my own sleep. And that’s when I remembered sometimes it is a struggle. Sometimes you must seek out that spark of joy, not try to will the dark clouds away but run towards the sun.

When in doubt, go to the library.

I looked through my library, where I’d recently fluffed my books, rearranging them, and grabbed a tall heavy tome on Michelangelo. I’d inherited this book and didn’t know it well. I was disappointed to see such an abundance of text, academic for sure (though I didn’t read it) and far too many sketches to my non-art-student eyes.

But then there he was, floating on a parchment-colored page: a man’s face in profile. Sketched in red pencil, the lines of his stroke are clearly visible. His face was so clear, so detailed, so specific. I would know this person if I passed him on the street. A weight lifted from my shoulders. A lightness entered me.

Copyright Art Grafiche Ricordi S.p.A. Milan, 1964

Sometimes when I look on great works, I feel I’ve wasted my life. Like Alexander Hamilton, I used to write like I’m running out of time, but job and kids and house and friends and TV and Facebook, and, you know, life, take all my creative energy, and I let them.

But this wasn’t that feeling. What I felt was pure awe.

This was no masterpiece looking down on me from a chapel ceiling, distant and untouchable in its perfection. It was just a sketch. A human brain conceived it, a human hand had drawn it. I could easily imagine Michelangelo scratching this at his kitchen table, planning a masterpiece. (Did he even have a kitchen table? Guess I should try reading that book.) Even in that incomplete sketch, he had captured the essence of the real human in the drawing. 

Artists can turn ink into blood, so their creations pulse with life.

Writers, too, when lightning strikes. 

Sometimes you have to go lightning hunting.

Ella Arrow Author
Ella Arrow Author