Look up: Amy the Artist
I arrive, as I usually do, about 50 minutes before the rehearsal was to start. She is there, as she generally is, comfortable behind a bush next to the wall of the school where the events are held. I see her shoes and part of her backpack before she emerges as if from a cloud.
“Hey,” I say. “Happy Friday.” I start to unlock the door of the conference room, as she gathers her possessions and brushes off leaves and pollen. She only waits there on nice days—not too hot; not too cold. In the rain, she stands huddled in the doorway, or if too hot, she finds some shade.
I enter the room, leaving her outside. My job at this moment is to arrange the chairs for the meeting to come. I know she will enter when she feels safe and ready. It is an OK neighborhood, full of interesting shops, but sometimes it attracts washed-out hippies and those who could use a good detox before they make sense. I’d be there by myself if it wasn’t for her. She has her horn, ready for the rehearsal, in one of her three bags. She comes early for the rehearsal because that’s when the bus comes.
I start to move chairs, as she claims her seat for the night. “Too much stuff”, she says as she finds places for the items she has with her. She helps me arrange the room. Tonight, it’s a little difficult; she sighs and takes breaks. “This seems a bit harder” I say, “when the weather starts to warm up.” We have a routine. She takes one end of a table, I the other. It takes two of us; if she hadn’t come, it would have had to wait until another orchestra member showed up.
“How’s your week going?” I ask, as I usually do. “Alright. I guess.” I tell her she needs to work on her delivery; her tone is not convincing. “I couldn’t get permission to serve on the committee,” she says, “There are an awful lot of rules.” I’d asked her about joining the planning committee last week, she was going to “see”. She’d been on the Board of Directors of the orchestra some years ago, when I first came to town, and always had good ideas, I’d thought. A couple weeks ago, she’d told me she lived at a “shelter”, quite to the east and south of where we now were. She’d gotten permission to come to the rehearsals, but they were pretty strict about curfew. “I can understand why”, she’d said, “Some people there need that kind of structure while they’re rebuilding their lives. If they were allowed to stay out all hours, who knows what trouble they’d get into?”
“Drugs?” I ask. “Or running around with the wrong crowd?”
“That, and just sort of forgetting where they live and why they want a better life”, she replied.
She: Besides, there are all sorts of things I need to do in order to live there. I have to clean, and attend all these prayer services. I’ve always been sort of an agnostic, but, anyway, I don’t really embrace their kind of religion.
Me: Have to pay the price one way or another, I guess…
She: One thing I really like that they do, though, is feed people.
Me: Oh yeah? Who do they feed, and where do they do it?
She: You know that vacant lot on Willow and 23rd?
Me: I know the general vicinity.
She: Well if you drive by there most days, you just see the lot. But on Tuesdays and Fridays it becomes a portable kitchen! We all have to work there, but I really like it. We feed anyone who wants to come up and get food, and then we give them each a food box, asking them what they need for their families that week. I like being able to help in that way, particularly the children. The food is donated, and they have toys for the kids. It’s funny, though. It seems the kids don’t really value the toys. You’d think kids that had so little would be thrilled to get a new toy.
Me: I wonder if some of that is because of feelings about their situation.
She: Maybe. These homeless kids are pretty hard on their toys. You might be right, maybe it’s suppressed rage or sadness or something.
She: I like working there, giving to the community. The part I don’t like is we’re all required to have a prayer together at the end of the day. None of the words are ones I would say, and it’s kind of embarrassing to have to stand in a circle and hold hands.
Me: Sounds really good, though, helping people.
She: Yeah. Makes me feel like I’m doing something.
We’re about to move a table out of the way, There’s a glass and a bowl on it, and I go to move them off, first, as I’m afraid they’ll fall as we’re moving the stand.
She: It wouldn’t be good if we broke their stuff!
Me: No. Another group I work with has meetings at a church. One of the members broke their offering bowl when moving some stuff. The group is a science organization, and I found it was sort of ironic that we broke their collection plate.
She: What did you do? (clearly alarmed).
Me: Oh, it was only kind of bent, really. One of the members was able to straighten out the metal, and polish it up. It looked pretty good, and the church wasn’t too mad at us.
She: What kind of science organization?
Me: Well, it presents various topics to general audiences. The goal is to provide speakers and discussions even a non-scientist can understand.
Me: We have guest speakers, and we just had one from the U. (named the name) getting ready for the science conference there.
She: Oh, I know him (she’d attended the U. Graduated from there.) There’s a science conference?
Me: There is! They have it every other year; all the even-numbered years right here, sponsored by our University. They study brain science and consciousness, and they’re very interesting.
She: I never knew. Are you going?
Me: For part of it. It’s kind of expensive…
She: Oh, yeah, that is a consideration.
Me: The lobby and exhibits are free, though. You could wander around and read cutting-edge research if you want. Just the seminars are kind of pricey.
She: I might get a place in my brother’s house in a couple of weeks. He had his kids living there, but they’ve moved into their own place now. His house needs some work, but he will eventually get around to painting a room I can stay in.
Me: Weren’t you living with your brother a few years ago?
She: Yeah. I had to leave when the kids moved back in.
She: Did you see those framed embroideries in the lobby? They remind me of Byzantine mosaics depicting the twelve disciples. (She’d been an art and music major at the University. She often offered up these gems when something in her awareness intersected with her education.)
Me: Really? I just knew I liked them. Though modern, they have a sort of old-world quality.
She: Sculpture in that era was also often….
She leaves off. A guest cellist has come early to the orchestra rehearsal. I introduce myself, and him to her. She greets him, but I know this is the end of our conversation for the night. As the Arts Administrator, I will be busy for the next 2 hours. I draw the cellist further into the rehearsal hall, a little anxious that he not notice her next activities. We have a deal. I pretend I don’t see her using the microwave oven in the small kitchenette, and she pretends I don’t notice her heating up what she’s brought for her dinner. (The use of the kitchen is not included in our contract with the school.)
I welcome our guest; show him to his place. More members start to show up, and I introduce them as well. The rehearsal proceeds; she plays very well. I catch her eye a couple of times, but, as is usual, I am approached by members as soon as the rehearsal is over. They need information, or to tell me how I might possibly do an even better job. By the time they’ve left, except for a couple who help me move the chairs back, and wait with me as I turn out the lights and lock the gate, she has disappeared into the night. She generally finds someone to give her a ride home. I have never done this; her shelter is miles away from where I live.
A friend who sometimes drives her home tells me that she has to be dropped off several blocks from the house she lives in. The administrators don’t want to alarm the neighbors with a lot of coming and going.
A couple of days later; I send the group an email about some vital information for the upcoming concert. She’ll get it today, or maybe tomorrow. She makes a point of going to the library to check her email several times a week. I hope the room at her brother’s works out. Things are looking up.