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Adventures of a Water Sign in the Desert (Desert Dairy Artist Residency 2021) Chapter Three

As we walked back to the main house Anna told me about dinner plans and asked if I could bring whatever I wanted to drink. She told me where the grocery store was, a Stater Bros. off the main road. Anna gently told me that new resident artists often feel overwhelmed at this point, giving voice to what I was feeling as the adrenaline of the day started wearing off. My throat constricted with a knot, and I willed my tears to stay in place as I looked up at Anna and said, “I am overwhelmed.”

I’d never been inside a Stater Bros.; I’ve only seen their commercials on tv and figured they only existed in very rural areas and maybe in the Midwest. At this point of the pandemic wearing facemasks in Los Angeles was still mandatory, but it didn’t take long to understand that I was no longer in L.A. I was one of maybe a handful of people inside the market wearing a mask and I was the only one in the market with blue hair. As much I expected to find a small, backwards store with nothing I wanted in it, I was pleasantly surprised. It was no Ralphs Superstore, and the closest Trader Joe’s was at least two hours away, but I was able to find almost all the items I wanted to stock up on. I got tortilla chips to go with my Trader Joe’s chunky salsa, I got some bottles of drinking water, and other items that would be easy to eat as snacks or make into meals. As I walked up and down the aisles, I glanced up and saw a sign that read, “Quick Express, 15 Items or Fewer.” Fewer! I had to drive out to the desert to find a market that finally got the grammar right!

Then it was time to pick the drink. I walked up and down the wine aisle and paced in front of the cold beer section. Maybe a bottle of wine to share would be a nice gesture? Except I don’t know anything about wine. What if they know more about wine than I do (which would be just about anyone) and judge me for my wine choice? What if they like red and I bring white? What if they like dry and I bring sweet? I wouldn’t bring sweet wine, no matter how much I like it, it’s not really the impression I want to give. Is beer a bad impression? If I bring beer, am I low class or am I hip and cool? “Just pick something already,” I thought. I saw a brand of beer I had tried before and knew I liked, Black Butte Porter, so I pretended to be impulsive and quickly put a six-pack in my cart before I changed my mind.

Before dinner I drove my car still full of art supplies and unloaded them in my temporary studio. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing yet, so I just made piles on the table in separate categories: Paint and painting accessories, drawing and sketch pads, clay, and clay utensils, and all my tools and glues. I realized there were a few things I should have brought, like some spray paint and sandpaper, but apparently there’s a hardware store nearby that everyone uses so I planned to check that out the next day.

After the sun went down, the three of us, and Toule, spent that first evening dinner of Mediterranean food by an outdoor fire. Anna had wine, I had a beer, and Ted said his mother drank enough during her life for him not to have any in his life. Ted and Anna asked me a few questions about myself to get to know me. I talked more than necessary, info-dumping, anxious ramblings about my life that left me breathless at the end of a sentence, forgetting to slow down and breathe, afraid I wouldn’t say enough about who I was to let them know they made the right choice in choosing me as the Artist in Residence. There was no external requirement to perform, but I was overwhelmed and afraid, swamped in the newness of everything, having no script and poorly prepared for improvisation. They asked me about my art, and I told them my background, how I was getting my art degree at the local university and then took a class in Art Therapy that changed the trajectory of my career. Instead of graduating with a degree in art, I spent a year taking psychology prerequisites to apply to graduate school, eventually becoming a licensed therapist and registered art therapist, while continuing to create art for myself and entering into group shows. In 2009 I stopped creating art and entering shows when I took over as the Clinical Director at the special education school my family owned and operated. It wasn’t until we built a studio space in 2019 that I began creating art again. That ten-year gap left me feeling like the art world went on without me and I would never be able to catch up to where I felt I should be in the art community. Now, I explained, I have come full circle and feel like I am doing what I was always meant to do: Create Art.

Great, I sound like a TED Talk.

Outside after dinner I looked up to see what stars I could see, assuming I’d look up and see the milky way in front of my face, but instead I saw an almost full moon, so bright it looked like someone had turned a gigantic spotlight on it. The moon lit up the area around me, the gravel and sand, the old outdoor furniture, the trees here and there and the desert landscape beyond the fence. I used my iPhone to take pictures, each photograph looking like they were taken in pure daylight. I kept taking pictures at different angles and widths, continually amazed at the brightness of moonlight in every picture.

The first time I ever really paid attention to moonlight was when I was six years old, on a trip to Disneyland with my mom and dad. Our little family tradition during our annual trip to Disneyland was to ride the train as the very last ride of the night, so we could ride past all the things we did during the day. In one area shortly before the dinosaurs, we rode past a field of long, green grasses, lit up brightly even though were no lights around. “Is that light only from the moon?” I asked my parents, and when they said yes, city-girl that I was, I was truly shocked. I never realized the moon could be so bright to light up a whole field. Looking at the desert around me and looking at every picture I took, I felt six years old again. I wanted to share my amazement at the brightness of the moonlight, so I sent a handful of pictures to friends and my family, helping me feel connected to them and not as alone.

Even though I wore my blue winter coat I was starting to get cold, especially since I was still wearing my flowy pants. I was also starting to feel sleepy. I went into my new room and sat on the bed. I looked around at the mismatched furniture and could see the superbright moon through one of the two windows. I felt the adrenaline of the day leave my body and started to cry. I felt homesick for my family and my familiar bed – for my familiar anything! But it wasn’t only homesickness that brought on the tears, it was the newness of everything surrounding me, including the cloak of expectations I put on myself, unrealistic, of course, considering this was my first time here, my first time being an artist in residence anywhere.

After getting ready for bed and putting my own pastel pink Snoopy blanket on top of the others, I laid in bed trying to sleep. I watched TikToks, something I only do with my daughter at home, and then sent my daughter the ones I knew she would like. Eventually I realized I was fighting to stay awake, dozing while holding my phone, so I put down my phone and fell asleep.

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