Sometimes they do—use what you hear as a guide for the new year
The act of what I call “keeping a wall” began in 1974. The bed in my room was underneath the finished stairs, so I had this private nook where I would sleep, read, and write. One day I made an unintentional mark on the wall with a pencil and no matter how hard I rubbed, it wouldn’t erase.
After many days, the allure of transforming the errant mark into something of beauty overwhelmed my fear of punishment. This time, the pencil on the wall was deliberate.
The mark bloomed into a flower; the stem sprouted some leaves, and by the time I stopped, an entire garden had sprung up along the length of the mattress, which was now officially a flower bed.
Every day I added more. Word art, scribbles, quotes. The way the graphite interacted with the chalkiness of the flat paint and the contrast of dark grey lead on a soft pastel yellow background became an obsession.
Eventually the work became too big to hide, and I confessed to a grandmother who already knew what I was doing and with her blessing, I continued with giddy freedom. Over a few years, the nuggets of art and words I could not contain in my head covered the walls as high as I could reach.
I surrounded myself with hand drawn creations of all that mattered. Each one a piece to the puzzle of my life and how I did, or didn’t, fit. Every picture or message a reflection of who I was and who I wanted to be. The space expressed positive energy and became my sanctuary.
Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on.”—Hal Borland
Over the years, every place I’ve lived, I’ve kept some version of the original wall. Spaces filled with eclectic ephemera. To the casual observer, the collection may appear as meaningless chaos, but that would be far from the truth. Every item I have placed there with purpose. Every thing has a story.
My current wall has an OBX (Outer Banks, NC) license plate, and it’s a reminder of a vacation we almost didn’t take in 2002. The day before departure, my doctor called and said I may or may not have Hodgkin’s disease and it would be several weeks before I could see a specialist or know for sure. After much debate, my husband and I went. We figured if the outcome was the worse case scenario, it might be awhile before another getaway could happen.
We camped on the Pamlico Sound and spent most of the week dancing around the “what if” conversation. We woke one night when our tent felt as if it was about to take flight. Rain pummeled the nylon walls. The radio was static and there was no cell signal.
We held hands in the dark and together weathered both Tropical Storm Arthur and the inner cyclone of our greatest fear. It was here I learned of a place within I hadn’t known existed. A place of strength and peace.
Next to the OBX plate is a printout of an excerpt from the book “We Are Called to Rise”. When I first read the paragraph, I was alone, yet out loud I said, “This.” The message resonates at my core. I transcribed the words and keep them in my line of sight. The gist of the passage: Even the littlest act of kindness is of great importance and it all matters.
Near the excerpt is a photocopy of an essay I wrote. It was the first time in my life my writing earned money. My husband woke me one Sunday in March of 2003 and presented me with a heavy newspaper. I flipped to the West Virginia Life section, where I knew it would appear. When I couldn’t find it inside, I felt ill and closed the paper. And then I saw it. It was on the cover. Above the fold. With a graphic. “You are what you drive, what does your car say about you?” By Bex Hall for the Sunday Gazette-Mail. My first published piece.
Above that relic is another—a pen and ink drawing I created in the fall of 1987. It is a lighthouse with pine trees, a scene that’s haunted me as long as I can remember. A few weeks after its completion, my dad calls to say his father, my grandpa, had ended his life that Christmas Eve. I packed the picture in my suitcase for the trip south to the funeral.
When I showed it to Dad, I expected a compliment, some approval, but he patted his pockets and found his checkbook. He flipped through the decorative blank checks and stopped on one in particular. It was eerily similar to the one I had created, only in color. It was of Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Where he grew up. Where I’ve never been. Where Grandpa’s ashes were eventually spread.
Below the lighthouse picture is a signed, limited edition art print of Switzer Bridge surrounded by trees in autumn glory. It’s a covered bridge no longer used by vehicles but open to foot traffic in Stamping Ground, Kentucky. I bought the print at a nearby bookshop the same day my husband, who’s from that tiny town, took me there, in autumn, to show me a small piece of where he had spent his youth. It’s also where he professed his love. The drawing reminds me of the beginning of our 21 year marriage.
Beside that print is an index card and on it is a hand drawn copy of the cover art from a Dan Fogelberg album. Its music was the soundtrack of my tumultuous life at age 17 and the phoenix rising from a heart, the perfect representation of the next chapter in my life.
I water colored the sketch at age 57 as a reminder I chose a new life once and survived. And I can do it again. I’m not too old, and it’s not too late.
These things are among a hodgepodge of sticky notes, print-outs, and clippings. There are goals and dreams and quotes I will write on my heart. Author’s names and book titles to be read. A list of accomplishments I use to shush the inner critic. An upside down, dried rose from my father’s funeral nine years ago.
If only what hangs on this wall could talk — what do the items I keep say?
When I look at the OBX plate, I hear a reminder I can find strength in a dark storm, tap inner courage to fight battles, and have the grace to understand survival is a team effort.
When I read the excerpt about how kindness is important and how it all matters, I hear the tuning fork of my soul vibrate a pure tone.
I hear the wall say I can create work that connects with others. That I value the wisdom of those who have come before me. My dreams and goals exist. And best of all, I am loved.
As this year ends, I’ll not make any resolutions. Instead, I will listen to what’s on my wall. It’s a living, fluid reflection of who I am, what I think, and where I want to be. And unlike a resolution, it won’t disappear by the end of January.
Happy New Year, every one.