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by Jean McGuire in My life

When I was in grade school we had at least one recess every day. There was a large open space behind the school along with a lot of playground equipment. Back in those days, there were jungle gyms, seesaws, tether ball poles, along with a couple of huge swing sets. I now realize it was a necessity for all of the youthful energy contained in that school to be burned off in regular intervals.

Being a huge tomboy, I loved playing outside. I played flag football with the boys and could fly across the monkey bars with the best of them. Feats of acrobatic splendor were achieved almost daily on the now too dangerous jungle gyms. Pounding the tetherball was an amazingly cathartic undertaking.

Back in the 60’s we were sent outside for recess pretty much regardless of the weather. Whether it was hot or cold and snowy out, we went outside. The exception to those recess sessions was when it was storming outside. In the Midwest that means torrential rain usually accompanied by thunder and lightning.

As much as I loved going outside for recess, I loved the indoor recesses just as much. While other kids may have been disappointed about not getting to go out, I looked forward to the rainy days. Those indoor recesses allowed me to spend unsupervised time drawing.

One of my favorite things was the graph paper that only seemed to show up during those recesses. Give me a sheet of graph paper and a box of crayons and I was happy. Square of the grid cold be filled with a different color, challenging my ability to create while planning ahead.  The play of colors and patterns was fascinating.

As I’ve gotten older I have frequently joked with my daughters that if I ever get dementia and have a cranky day, all they have to do is bring me graph paper with a box of crayons. I have been very clear with them that they can’t get by with going cheap: I want at LEAST 64 colors in that box of crayons. It makes them laugh and it makes me smile to think of. Deep down though, I am serious. I hope they remember this and follow through if necessary.

Between first being sick and then having snow days that made driving a challenge, I have spent a lot more time home alone the last few weeks than I am used to. When I was sick, I didn’t have the energy to be creative. Then, after feeling better for less than a week, bad weather hit. I have missed my studio time but didn’t feel justified going clear across town to paint when the roads were dangerous. I could have sketched, but I have come to prefer sketching with charcoal, which is at the studio. At the same time, I knew I needed to keep my creative practice up.

As far as I know, dementia has not hit yet. However, the memory of those happy hours playing with graph paper came back to me. I found a sketchbook and some colored pencils and I went to work. The only restriction I put on myself was to not work with a pattern. My need for symmetry is strong and I know that working against that is good for my brain. I drew loose intersecting lines and started coloring.

Not surprisingly, I found myself grinning as I colored. I felt myself relaxing and enjoying the process. The end result was of little concern as I watched the colors filling in the empty blocks. I was happy.

I love being an artist and I love where my art is going. I love the thoughtfulness and planning that goes into my work. Sometimes though, it just feels good to color without worrying about how it will turn out. It’s even okay if you color outside the lines. I enthusiastically endorse doing so.


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