TITLE: Unexpected Deliveries
DATE: 3/15/2006 04:00:00 AM
One morning when I was in college, there was a knock at my door.
I opened it and found a pair of keys and a note shoved into my hand. The note simply said: "Alisha - Had to leave early for winter break. Please take care of plants. My roomate also had to leave early. Look after his pet."
Ok. I can do this.
I had only been living in Baltimore for 6 months and would refer to the person who wrote the note as "a friend", but only in the way anyone would look to embrace a city full of strangers. I had never been to his apartment. I didn't know where "home" was for him. All I really knew about him up to that point was that he was a nice guy with unbelievable drawing and painting talent.
I went through my morning trying to put off the new responsibility that had been pushed into the palm of my hand. I tended to my errands and watered my plants. A set of keys and a crumpled scrap of paper stared at me from the dining table.
Somewhere just before nightfall I reluctantly grabbed the keys, threw on my coat, and slammed the door shut on my way out. I moved quickly, before I gave myself a chance to find another diversion.
The apartment was 2 blocks away, just around the corner. I had walked past his building everyday on the way to classes. It was an old, dark row house. His apartment was at the top, on the third floor. Inside, every board on the staircase creaked. The building was old and uncared for. At the apartment door I found myself fumbling through a set of keys to open 3 locks. Why would a poor art student need to lock up like Fort Knox? As the last lock turned, I pushed my way inside.
Two big rooms with 2 large windows. A wall of stereo equipment, cd's, records, a sound mixing turntable, and the weighty smell of incense. Two old couches, an assortment of pillows on the floor, a tall bongo drum, and a stack of sketch pads sitting in what should be a dining room.
There was 1 plant.
I searched for the "pet".
In the kitchen I found the reason bachelors frequently eat out. A sink overflowing with dirty dishes. A stove that didn't appear to have ever been used, also covered with more dishes. On what I recognized to be counter space had been tossed half a dozen empty tuna cans.
Where's the cat, the dog, or the snake?
I was anxious to hurry in AND hurry out.
Then, I saw it.
Sitting in the living room, squarely in the center of the coffee table was a fish tank. My stomach knotted as I walked closer. The fish tank did not contain fish.
Sometimes, even now, I find myself with that same feeling. "How did I get into this situation?" I don't know of any artist who asked for the hand they were dealt. But, whether you asked to become consumed by the need to create art or not, there it was in front of you to confront and react to. In the studio I feel that knot every now and then.
I don't remember what it was that nudged me towards making art. There was no flash of light or big build up. One day, like a knock at the door and a pair of keys being shoved in my hand, I just looked around and found art as something I "had to do", something I "had to make". My path changed and, no matter how much I dragged my feet, it was inevitable.
At a certain point I started thinking of artmaking like an errand or an expected dot on my schedule. Water plants. Feed cat. Brush teeth. Make art. Open mail. Pay bills. Check email. Make art.
You can work in an office or tell yourself that parenting is your true path in life but if creativity is something you've been hit over the head with, there is no greater or lesser priority. It's simply something you have to do. So make time for it.
What was on the coffee table? Well, it's even hard to belive now, but in the fish tank in the center of the room was yet another empty tuna can and a dark, black thing. The top of the tank was covered with metal mesh and, sitting on top of that as a weight, was a brick. I leaned closer and my mouth dropped open. An alligator was inside! Filling the full length of the tank, from tail to snout, the alligator had no food and no recognizable water.
At that moment, I was yet again handed another responsibility I didn't ask for. I ran out of the apartment and back down the block to my own. Inside I didn't even take time to peel off my coat. I threw open the phone book and started calling anyone and everyone I could think of who could help me, or at least tell me if an 'apartment alligator' was a legal pet! After almost an hour and a half of phone calls and repeating myself over and over... I spoke with an employee at the Baltimore Zoo's reptile house. He knew of a daytime employee who would perhaps be able to help me.
The next morning I called at spoke with the man I had been referenced to. He drove to meet me that the apartment on his lunch break, armed with a large container and a friend who also worked for the zoo. Together we all went upstairs to look at the animal again. He was thin from lack of food, angry (probably from being crammed into a tank the same size as him!), and in clear need of rescue. We loaded him into the new, larger container and they slowly and carefully carried him down to their truck.
The "friend" who put me in the situation and forced me to make that call? Well, I left his keys in the mailbox, said a prayer to his 1 plant, and never spoke to him again. I don't even know if he returned to campus after winter break.
What's the point in me telling you this story? Well, the key is in how it BEGAN. Something was shoved into my hand. And something was, likely, shoved into yours.
Don't avoid what's in front of you. Take what was thrust into your hand and do something with it. Make art with meaning. Make art with intention and purpose. Be creative and don't look back. And, above all, stop asking why or what you're supposed to do with this passion... and just do it, already!