goldfinch painting

 

Late Bloomer

 

In the eighties, my mom read me a book that really spoke to me. I still have “Leo the Late Bloomer” and have read it to my son countless times. Leo is a lion who doesn’t immediately catch on to things, but, at the end, when his parents stop worrying about if he will “bloom” or not, he just does. Even as a small child, I knew I was Leo. 

late bloomerI was bad at school before I wasn’t. I didn’t make the basketball team in junior high, and now, well, just ask my fourteen year old stepson who loves when we hustle the neighborhood kids in two on two. I started painting in my twenties and not as a young child. I didn’t read early or particularly often. My love of books was a slow burn– a hint of smoke that rose slowly into a comforting fire in my bones.

I didn’t get on social media until way after it was ubiquitous. I was shy for most of my life. I avoided crowds and parties before I learned to delight in them. I went through a divorce before I married my person.

I’m writing this down more for me than for any other reason– a gentle reminder because sometimes I think of my life, of my art, as some place I have to get to and I’m not even close. I catch myself saying things like, “Certainly, by now…”  and think of success only as on some linear track. I’m either running forward but through peanut butter or smoothly backtracking. I forget that there’s a version of myself that would never have dreamed where I am now was ever possible. How upset she would be to learn that very often I take both big and small successes for granted.

 

Lingerer

 

“Do you have time to linger?” Mary Oliver asks in her poem “Invitation,” “for just a little while out of your busy and very important day.” She then invites us to watch goldfinches that have gathered in a field of thistles. Their songs compete, yes, but “not for the sake of winning but for sheer delight and gratitude.” 

 

It is a serious thing

Just to be alive

On this fresh morning

In the broken world

 

Fresh morning. Broken world– how simply she describes that gut-wrenching and hope-filled dilemma. 

To linger is not to race, multitask, obsess or pull out each newly graying hair from the sides of my head.  To linger is to notice, to enjoy, to be present in a broken world. 

Since I met Leo as a child, I’ve quite happily thought of myself as a late bloomer. Just because the blooms take a little longer, doesn’t mean they won’t come or won’t be spectacular. But even though the term was always comforting rather than derogatory, I’m wondering if maybe I might swap late for “lingerer.” Part of being late is lingering, and lingering, Oliver reminds me, is good.  

I’m trying to remember that how things start isn’t how they have to end, that there is an ever-present open invitation to linger. Slowing down is often harder and more important than speeding up. Truthfully, I started this post from a place of disappointment and needed these reminders. I’d just received a small but meaningful art rejection, the kind that somehow, insanely, holds more weight than a thousand successes, a million compliments. 

I’m ending with the hope of the goldfinches. The ones whose invitation I have whole-heartedly accepted. The painting that starts this post is from a couple years ago. The new series I am working on is about goldfinches too, primarily Mary Oliver’s poem and the invitation it extends. The images are a bit different than the ones I’ve done before. And even though they are inspired by the goldfinches of the poem, some of them don’t include literal birds at all. I am excited and perhaps just a little nervous to start sharing them with you in the upcoming days and weeks.

In the meantime, I would absolutely love to know if there is anything in this post that resonates with you– if you have ever felt late to bloom, eager to linger, full of both disappointment and of hope.  

 

 

Invitation by Mary Oliver

 

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.