My husband’s birthday and mine are one day apart in May (conveniently, mine comes first, so we basically get to celebrate my birthday twice).
Neither one of us is into astrology, nor have I ever analyzed or researched what this actually “means” beyond the fact that it underscores my certainty that he and I are spiritually paired. We share a unique bond, like Gemini twins.
On every birthday since we met, my husband surprises me with an unexpected gift that demonstrates he knows what I need, like a new iPhone, business cards for my writing and blogging promotion, or an artsy ring from a store he knows I like. I usually buy him clothes, because I’m lame, and because I know which store in Manhattan carries men’s XXL (Banana Republic, J Crew, no. G-Star, yes) and I’m too impatient for anything that requires craft.
He is the opposite. On my fortieth birthday, a few months after we had gotten back together, he surprised me with a “me” video montage that highlighted and celebrated my journey from divorcee to meeting him. When he proposed to me, on a beach overlooking Bermuda, his proposal came by way of a video card too. And for this birthday, I awoke to his most poetic card yet. Our story in title cards, set to a song with ethereal lyrics about how tiny and inconsequential we are in this vast universe, solitude imbedded in our DNA. And when we weave our souls together in love, like two intertwined DNA strands, it eases this solitude.
I assumed that was my present, until we got home that night from a party. I was recounting an anecdote from the evening, getting ready to wash up and he told me to come over to the couch where two large sketch pads and packs of charcoal and pencils lay. “I think you should draw again,” he said. “You’re an artist.”
An artist. I was. It was how I had begun. When I was a kid, I went through a vicious bought of insomnia, and would lay out paper and colored pencils on my desk, my comforting friends who I knew would be there for me later in the quiet loneliness of the night. I attended the School of Fine Arts in college. I see feelings in pictures and cheesy visual metaphors. But amidst life and my job, where I nurture and sell other artists, I had forgotten that I was one.
I stood there in shock, tears streaming down my cheeks. My reaction surprised us both. I hadn’t told my husband that I missed drawing, nor had I even had a fleeting fancy to buy some supplies. But I had been feeling frustrated with my writing. While my book is out on submission, I’ve been plotting other endeavors. Go back to revising my novel. Have it ready to go once the memoir’s fate is revealed. Write a new blog post. Write and publish an essay in The New York Times (as if the only thing that’s stopping me is writing it). Like Ann Packer wrote in a recent piece for the NYT, being between projects is a strange and anxiety provoking place – always feeling like you should be doing more, doing something. I had been feeling stuck in between indeed, but I didn’t know it.
But my husband knew. “I thought it might be good for you to be visual, get back to your basics. It could help your writing,” he said.
For a moment, I wished he had included some black pens in the gift, so I could make my typical ink designs, which are really just sophisticated doodles, but then he told me he left those pens out intentionally. Doodling is my crutch, my safety blanket, my nervous energy worked out on a page. But I wasn’t going to grow from that. Doing the same thing I always do wasn’t going to inspire fresh ideas or manifest a buried emotion in a new form.
So this year, a new light was shed on the meaning of our back-to-back birthdays. Yes we share a midnight between two days on a calendar, but mainly, we share something more rare – the intangible and ephemeral. The gratification and fulfillment of being seen and understood, sometimes better than you understand yourself. It eases the gnawing sense of solitude we carry around as not only artists, but as humans.
Oh, and by the way, I’m not promising to share any of those would-be drawings, as programmed as I may be to share my private life and feelings. I’ll save that urge for this blog.