I walked into a class of 15 other people in a space no bigger than a walk-in closet. My first impression was: Crowded. I didn’t know anyone. But the 2 tables were perfectly and invitingly set-up for each student – paper, pen, nib, and ink in a teeny, tiny well.
With only 2 seats left, one at each table, another woman and I arrived simultaneously. I sensed the woman was nervous and being courteous and offering her first choice at seats felt important, but at the same time, I kept feeling like I should sit at the table nearest the door, but didn’t know why. So, I offered either open spot to the other lady to be polite. She chose the table nearest the door and I sat next to a gray haired woman with pink bangs. A right character that one.
Seated elbow to elbow, we were supposed to practice writing fancy, flourish letters in calligraphy, the old art of the written word. I began class thinking, "This will be exciting. I’ll make a perfect alphabet. I wonder what we’ll learn."
As we got started, it became glaringly apparrent to me that my classmates were not in a joyful space. In fact, many were determined that their work was the worst and no amount of encouragement from the teacher, Caitlin, nor admiration or comment from other classmates would disuade them from how awful their work was. The funny thing is that when I looked at them, the letters were all the same height, width with only a few wobbles here and there.
Caitlin was really amazing with everyone. She always found something nice to say, "I like the energy you have coming out of your pen." or "Oh you've gotten all flourishy here that's nice." No matter what people said, she stayed positive and encouraging. I applaud her. It is so easy to catch a train to negative town and get lost wondering the streets of "That's not fair" and "I'm so awful, aren't I?".
As Caitlin showed us different ways to make letters, a young boy about 12 was asking questions and very inquisitive, rather curious about the methods of handwriting. He came with his grandma; so much love between them and so much joy to create things together. I would love to see the things they created. "There's something special about that boy." I kept feeling. Whoa! Where did that come from?! I don't even know this kid. "Kayso anyway. Focus on the class, Gwen. Everyone's gonna think you're weird." I told myself. (Like they don't already know that I'm weird. This is not news.)
Back in my seat, post demo, as I sat listening to the other students whine and complain, an amazing thing happened to me. While I was practicing A, B, C, C, C, D, D, E, E, W, E, F, F, F, F, G, G, ... I recalled all the times I had whined and complained. I thought about the questions I asked Caitlin earlier - "did I sound like that?" I thought about how many classes I'd taken and how hard on myself I'd always been when I didn't get something right. How many crocodile tears had I cried? How many fun things had I given up and "thrown a fit" because I didn't get it on the first try? Because, no matter how small or if only the fit was felt inside my head, the energy of it was still there affecting me, coloring the rest of that day or affecting my ability to create.
And as my mind slipped into the pondering, chewing over an idea and processing how I'd been able to handle learning in the past, my hand just kept writing, H, H, H, I, I, J, J, K, K, K, K, K, K, L, L, L, L... No letters were perfect. None matched the example. No two even looked the same. But for the first time in ages, maybe ever, I didn't care. It didn't matter to me that I didn't get it. It didn't matter if my letters looked right. I was practicing Spencarian and some parts of each letter had a slight resemblance to the master. Wow - I saw my potential. And the more the other students complained, the more I fell into this meditative, don't care, not affected, letter-practicing zen state. It was pure magic.
Then, I started feeling antsy and yawning like crazy. So I got up and walked around. The longer I was at the class, there, the stronger the feeling was that I had a message to deliver to the young boy. If I’d sat at the other table, I would have sat next to him and been able to joke and converse with him, learning what motivated him to learn calligraphy – aren’t we all just a bit curious about a young teenage boy who is interested in art? There’s something special about them. My brother was the same way. Fortunately, my mom encouraged us both to create art. Supplies were always available and we were given free range to follow our muse.
I went back to my seat and practiced with the silver and gold. I knew I had to comment, but didn't want to be weird, shunned, or come across as kinda freaky, cause some random stranger telling you things can be so unnerving. I know because I've been on the receiving end! This boy was commenting to the teacher that his pen was catching on the paper. Voila - universe gives me an in. I was using the oblique pen, one that took away all the catching and turned the pen strokes into a single fluid movement. It was SO freeing. I turned to him and offered the oblique pen. He took it eagerly and went to work.
Then, later, I asked him and his grandma what they intended to create with the techniques they learned - writing letters to family. How nice. I kept seeing a picture of a pirate map and a letter. Now, I haven't thought about the pirate map that my friend Shannon made for our pirate party in years! As I started talking, words tumbled out of my mouth unfiltered (scary!) and direct as though I was channeling. "What ever you do, you need to continue to study and learn and follow what interests you about calligraphy. Because you are going to create something very special that will bring joy to lots of people." I told him. (brings tears to my eyes as I write. He's going to change the world, you know.) He and his grandma listened, then he jumped right back into writing. His grandma thanked me and I recollected to her about people saying similar things to me when I was a kid and didn't understand then, but do now. I told him about the pirate invitations and map Shannon created and he looked inspired. So, little man, follow your heart and you will discover your art.
And that is how, the universe can work through you for the greater good. I don't know why I was to give him this message. I don't know what he will create. But I do know he is a special human being and I wish him joy and happiness.
Then, a day later, I looked up calligraphy practice sheets so I could achieve a more uniform look and discovered, IAMPETH, The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting. On their site are several old books on everything from quotes to practice sheets to bird flourishes. Did you know most of those old fashioned frilly birds are all pen and ink?!?! I know! AWESOME, huh? And now I can learn how to do them by practicing examples from these early 1900's and older books IAMPETH has posted. I got one out last night, grabbed the pen we got in class and just started playing and practicing. The result - a pretty darn fascinating and vintage looking flourish occurred (below). And in the middle of it, I realized that I'd made an eye lid with lashes. So I filled in an iris and voila! Gwen's vintage modern flourish. Oh the fun I'm going to have, my friends. My creative juices are dancing and bubbling!
Yeah, uh, you like my new inkwell? It's a depression glass doll-teacup I picked up at a local sale. Tre inspiring, no?