An Artist’s Date

If you’ve read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, you may recognize the phrase “Artist’s Date.” It’s basically a block of time you spend by yourself to fill up your senses and restore your creativity. Her website puts it like this:

Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. . . .they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.

I play fast & loose with Julia Cameron’s idea, because I love to do these excursions with my husband. I’m an introvert, but being with him is as restorative as being alone.

Today was our last free day this holiday week, so Doug and I decided to head to downtown Washington for an adventure. The air was cold and the sky overcast, but clearing as the day wore on. I wrapped my scarf around my head and neck and was grateful for my gloves.

We began at the Lincoln Memorial, where I read everything chiseled into the walls — the Gettysburg Address on Lincoln’s right side and the full text of the Second Inaugural Address on his left side. I love Abraham Lincoln and his words. The monument was thronged with visitors of every nationality, and I heard many languages spoken. (I hope that Obama keeps his Second Inaugural as short and poignant as Lincoln’s!)

We walked to the nearby Korean War Memorial, with its larger-than-life statues of soldiers moving through juniper undergrowth, dressed in combat gear.

I listened to a grandmother explain the memorial to her granddaughter, about 7 years old. The child had a hard time understanding what, and who, the men were fighting. The grandma did a good job with the explanation. The child was quite aware that the expression on the men’s faces showed terror, as well as resolve and courage.

I noticed a park ranger who was handing out pamphlets. He was one of the most gorgeous men I have ever seen — not on a screen but in real life. He was a black man with the most dazzling smile and sculpted cheeks. He was too beautiful for me to look at, I feared I would stare. But beauty is mesmerizing.

The monument’s epigraph, chiseled into the sidewalk, reads: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters, who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” The statistics for the war are inscribed, as well as the simple words: “Freedom Isn’t Free.”

From there we walked over to the Vietnam War Memorial, and just moved silently along it’s reflective black wall, reading at random the names of those who died. I thought about an old boyfriend of mine who fought in this war, a fact which shaped everything else about his life. He died not long ago, and I wondered if it had anything to do with Agent Orange.

I listened to another mother explain “the draft” to a boy who looked to be about 14. The boy didn’t seem to believe her. I also overheard a tall, older man speaking in German to two young blonde men. They were all quite intent.

We quickly walked through the World War II Monument (you can only manage so many wars in the space of a few hours) then around the Washington Monument, to end up at the American History Museum. Perhaps one of the best parts of living nearby Washington is that it makes sense to go to a Smithsonian and see only one exhibit at a time, rather than having to inhale the whole enchilada.

Why do I say “enchilada”? We saw an exhibit on “Food.” (This is where they have moved Julia Child’s kitchen, by the way.) The cases showed all the ways that food packaging, shopping and cooking has changed since 1950 or so. One display held virtually every wedding present we received in 1984: a pasta maker, fondue set, souffle dish, barbecue tongs, lemonade glasses. It also had an early Cuisinart, which we much coveted but never owned. We both laughed when we saw that.

Yes, we are old enough to be museum pieces.

As a footnote, the part of the exhibit about Prohibition was interesting. It filled in some holes in my knowledge about American winemaking. I still feel sorry for Kansas whenever I think about Prohibition. I believe there was an established grape-growing industry which Carrie Nation destroyed, and which was never rebuilt. We didn’t learn nearly enough about Prohibition in school. The process of American legislation is really an enigma, isn’t it?

Then we walked quite a distance looking for a place to have lunch. We walked through some hotels. The Willard was too hoity-toity, and the Hotel Washington has changed management and is now the “W,” and is way too Las-Vegas-y. We ended up in our usual haunt: Old Ebbitt’s Grill. You just can’t go wrong there, and we split a sandwich at the bar.

Renewed, we walked to the Renwick Gallery, which has to be one of the overlooked gems in the Smithsonian necklace. If you do go, don’t miss “Game Fish” which is a statue of a marlin, made out of game pieces. I’ll post a picture. The statue is whimsical and fun, and you have the little thrill of recognizing various pieces, like dominoes and colored pencils and dice and bowling trophies.

The traveling collection was of current art called “40 Under 40: Craft Futures.” I need to return some time soon, to give it its due. I was feeling rather full of art.

By the time we made it back to our car, our feet were tired, our cheeks pink, and our creativity stoked.

What do you do to recharge your creativity? I’m always looking for ideas!


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