Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.
Each of us has a purpose - an ecstatic one! When I came across this quote it immediately resonated with a story I've been thinking about writing. Let me share its discovery with you.
Last October three girlfriends and I took off for a quick 5-day trip to Amsterdam. It's become something of a tradition for us -- every few years we find a good flight/hotel travel bargain, push aside family/work ties and take off. Amsterdam had risen to the top of our choices -- a direct flight from New York, none of us had ever been, good shopping and Belgian chocolate -- perfect.
It was at the start of our second day that I stumbled across the story.
A 15-minute walk from our hotel was the green expanse of Museumplein (Museum Quarter), a beautiful park fringed by a number of Amsterdam's major museums. One is the Van GoghMuseum, which owns the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings in the world. When Vincent Van Gogh died in 1890, he'd not yet been discovered as a major artist. Literature describes how his brother Theo, an art dealer, safeguarded 200 of Van Gogh's paintings, 500 drawings and an 850-letter correspondence between he and Vincent. It's this treasure trove the Van Gogh Museum dips into and displays.
The Van Gogh Museum has a fantastic layout. If you follow its plan, the route starts on the ground floor and moves up floor by floor. The course takes visitors through Vincent's life story. Beginning with landscapes of farm scenes he likely experienced as a boy, the exhibit traces Vincent's life as a teacher and theologian, of love and heartbreak, then of art and mental instability. Display by display he comes to life in the museum. Gradually, his original creativity and emotion break through and I imagine glimpses of the man through his priceless paintings. Here is one of the world's greatest artists.
It was after about three hours that I saw it. At the very end of the exhibit, on the top of the third floor was a panel that listed Van Gogh's family members. I remember I'd just glanced at my watch and knew there was only a few minutes remaining before the time my girlfriends and I were to reunite. Hurriedly, I scanned the family tree. Next to Theo was a reference to his wife, Johanna, Vincent's sister-in-law, and then an astounding, almost casual reference.
Here is where I found my story.
Theo did not bring Vincent's work to public attention. Grieving over his brother's suicide, Theo became ill and died about a year after Vincent. It was Johanna -- married just 18 months and with a new baby -- who inherited all of Vincent's work. Many of his paintings were still wet, heavy with their multiple coats of oil paint. When Theo died Johanna's family implored her to return home where she and the baby could be cared for. Instead she decided to move to Bussum, a quiet town, and to pick up her husband's trade as an art dealer. Taking in boarders and housekeeping to earn a living, at night Johnanna wrote letters to galleries and collectors promoting Vincent's work. It was her tenacity, not Theo's, that ultimately gave the world Vincent Van Gogh's art and letters.
Standing in front of that panel, I marveled. Without Johanna, Van Gogh's work would likely have been undiscovered, lost.
Since that trip I've gradually been reading the letters between Theo and Vincent and seen excerpts from Johanna's diary. Her first entry begins, "Tout n'est que reve!" (Everything is but a dream!) She writes, "Theo taught me much about art, no let me rather say - he has taught me much about life... Besides the care for the child he left me yet another task, Vincent's work -- to show it and to let is be appreciated as much as possible." So began the years of her laboring to make Van Gogh's work known.
(I have the best sanctimonious art-critic quote from Johanna's time, "Mrs. Van Gogh is a charming little woman but it irritates me when someone gushes fanatically on a subject she knows nothing about...It's a schoolgirlish twaddle, nothing more." Ha! I wonder if he lived long enough to know he was wrong?
I have much more research to do but this story tugs at me. I have a mission statement I've been thinking about for my writing: "To share stories of perseverance through challenges, and how this connects us to what matters and each other." Johanna seems to fit.
What do you think?
Update on exploring steps to write a book:
Writing 30 minutes/day: Today is Day 57.
Research similar authors: Airline travel this past week enabled me to finish Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees, which I loved. Now I can watch the movie! I'd read Kidd's The Invention of Wings, and found that both of these books have the theme of tenacity in common. Kidd gives her protagonists time to work through the change their characters need to make -- years of time -- and doesn't rush the hard work of their need to let go of insecurity. One last point - as part of my research I follow the authors I'm reading on Twitter. About a week ago Sue Monk Kidd tweeted, "The power of a typo!" She'd been invited to speak at an event calling her the author of The Secret Life of Beer. Ha!
Mastermind writing course: Just finished Week 4 of this 12-week virtual class. So far the biggest transformation the course has given me is feeling as though I've moved from a holding pattern into forward motion with my writing. I'm grateful.
It seems fitting to end with a quotes from Vincent, "What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? "