I’m halfway through my week-long artist-in-residency at The Balsams. It’s an absolutely beautiful place, one of the last of the “grand hotels” so popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This is the second year I’ve been invited to stay and teach little workshops for the guests.
It’s always a big sea change for me. Most of the year I’m usually bopping around my studio, listening to techno music, happily making my little horses and great bears and crafting the most beautiful jewelry and wall hangings I can imagine.
Then I go through utter panic preparing for the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s annual fair at Mount Sunapee Resort–digging through the barn attic for my halogen lights, my ProPanel walls, my necklace and earring stands, getting postcards printed and mailed, wailing, “Where did I stash all my extension cords??” and worrying how many trips I will need to make to carry everything up there. My booth does NOT fit into my little Subaru Forester, not by a long shot.
Then nine days at the Fair, with my long-time customers and new collectors stopping by my booth constantly, sharing their stories of the pieces they bought last year, and adding new ones to their collection. Stories of love and hope and laughter and gratitude abound. There are many tears shed, and hugs and good wishes shared. And with luck, enough sales to keep me in business another year.
Then it’s over. We break down the booth in a rush, and I immediately begin to plan and pack for my “Balsams gig”.
It’s a totally different place here. Meals are served in a beautiful ballroom, with glorious views of Dixville Notch and the surrounding forests. Countless staff members make sure every need is met, often before you are aware you even HAVE a need.
Every effort is made to keep the “real world” at bay, and provide as wonderful an experience as possible, with as little visible effort as possible. And many, many people work here to make that happen, from the incredibly talented team of chefs to the guy who found me table lamps for my class table, from the doormen who greet each arriving guest and carry their baggage to their rooms to the musicians who play during dinner and also double as sales clerks in their off-stage hours.
It’s a little daunting to be in the midst of so much luxury and service, especially when my own breakfast the last few weeks has been a box of cinnamon Pop Tarts; it seems unreal to be dressed up every day in my “artist” clothes when normally I live in cut-offs and t-shirts. It’s different to be teaching kids how to make polymer beads and buttons in between tee times and riding lessons instead of making my own art and hoping I sell enough necklaces to pay for my own riding lessons back home. My husband came up with me this year to bike and hike in the White Mountains. But he stays with friends or at local motels–because even with a reduced room rate for him, we can’t afford for him to stay here with me.
But finally, I get it.
I hear the stories behind some of the people I’ve met here and there; I hear about this one whose beloved aunt nearly died last week during surgery; a grandchild born with unbearable health issues; the person who has just finished chemo, and another recovering from debilitating injuries. Life doesn’t care who you are or how much money you make, it just happens–good and bad, wonderful and sad.
Then I remember the words of Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian, whose book of memoirs, “Composed”, was published earlier this year. She writes with dignity and respect, in words so graceful and elegant and so full of compassion, that I am moved to tears:
You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…
Little courtesies and small kindnesses….. They abound all around me this week.
And suddenly, I realize it isn’t about who has what and who doesn’t have enough. Suddenly, I realize that we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive or unshaken.
And that all we really need and crave is love, and acceptance. We all yearn for the recognition that inside each of us is something unique and wonderful that just needs a little opportunity to shine in the world.
That we all have a story to tell.
And somehow, though I don’t always understand how or why I can make that happen, that’s my job today–to help someone make something that brings a little joy, to give something that lets someone else know “I hear your story, and I care”.
It’s my job today to provide a little experience a family can treasure for years to come, and to be a small part of those memories. To share the joy that comes from making something with your own hands.
And it’s my job today to keep making art–my little horses, my great bears, my sweet birds and happy dogs–that causes someone else’s heart to leap up and want to sing, just a little, just for today.
And that’s when I know I really am at home and at peace, here at The Balsams.