At home I am constantly surrounded by sound: my chatty classroom, my own boisterous children, tv, podcasts, and music that fill the space while I multitask. Moments of silence are few and far between.
During the week as I worked alongside Esther in the studio, the only sounds to be heard were wind, birds, and her neighbor’s footsteps crunching back and forth past the small window as she dutifully and lovingly tending to cows, chickens, and her garden. During this peaceful time, as we massaged and matted fibers to make felt, we struck up conversations. We talked about parenting and scheduling your time. We talked about friendships, mental health, and loss. We talked about K-dramas.
On this remote mountaintop, life was narrow. There were commonalities, connections, and a familiar way of being.
The final day of my VAWAA, our foursome took what had become our usual relaxed hour-long lunch. As we chatted, nibbling cheeses and fresh melons, I felt an interior stress slowly building. Finishing yet another caffè, Massimo suggested that now we go rest. I resisted and laughed, “We’re American! We don’t take breaks. We push through.” Their eyes widened. I had already taken a long lunch, how could I possibly take more time away from work that needed to be completed today? Navigating tight schedules and seemingly unforgiving deadlines were deeply ingrained, even in my summer respite.
We headed back down the alternating wooden steps to the bright basement studio and proceeded to start the shrinkage process: kneading and rolling wet felt to push air out, tighten the negative space between the fibers, and make sturdy this new fabric. Esther inspected my work approvingly and began to explain the next step. Eyes heavy from writing late into the night before, I finally admitted, “Italy is telling me to take a break." She smiled and nodded knowingly, sharing that her younger self would also push her body until her body pushed back and demanded she rest with regularity.
I headed back upstairs, and crashed into bed. Porch door ajar, the winds whispered that the work could wait. The trees moved gently in agreement. Georgia O’Keefe clouds drifted me to dreamland.
On this remote mountaintop, life was wide. There was space, time, and a different way of being.
Our wonderful hosts, who opened their homes, shared their histories, and nurtured our humanity, were our ultimate teachers. They work in nearby cities, yet chose to root and re-energize in their tiny town. They chose to build deep community with quirky Gilmore Girl-esque neighbors. They chose to pursue what brings them joy. This has been my final lesson, for myself and to share with my students.
We can choose.
What invigorates? What distracts? What provides rest and care for our minds and bodies? Beyond teaching art-making skills, I see my role in the classroom to guide students to understand how to identify and make these decisions for themselves.
The world is both wider and narrower than we know. We can choose the life we lead.
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by Lindsay A. Johnson
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