The following are excerpts from the art journal I kept while visiting New York for a week.
The mediums I brought with were watercolors, oil pastels, and water-soluble wax pastels, as well as various pens and pencils. I also had a blank moleskin journal where my overall goal was to just fill up as many of the pages as possible and let myself experiment with different approaches. // I started with some background washes on a handful of pages, in case while wandering around the city I was struck with inspiration and wanted to add a drawing. // My process evolved into continually adding layers, sometimes going back to different pages to add something new. // Overall, it was a fun experiment and there were some concepts that emerged I would like to explore further, I hope you enjoy this glimpse into my process. ~L
“Lavender lattes” poured over a soft fabric reminding me of a warmer day when not uncovered in vulnerability, sometimes an unwelcome visitor, who stays for too long on your couch leaving your cupboards bare upon their exit
“Sparkling stars and the cityscape” give me a journey unlike the guilty rays of sunshine soaked up by my skin on a rooftop beach my brick-and-mortar bones raw and unfolding
I am currently on my journey back to the Midwest on the Lakeshore Limited Amtrak train, and have found myself blessed with a much better view this time around. The sun set over the Hudson River as the world whisked by, I held Charlie’s tag while finally shedding my first tears of the day, having somehow held them inside until I had made it to my sleeper car. This trip was heavy. I wasn’t sure how I would feel at the ending, if I would want to stay longer or if I would be ready to return to Milwaukee, and it has turned out to be a mixture of the two.
The veterinarian (or the angel of death as I’ve been referring to him), let me know his ashes would be ready the day I return coincidentally, synchronistically, like how the morning of his death I opened the cupboard to find it bare; after watching a monarch butterfly land on a freshly planted tree. Though I’m eager to have his remains back where they belong, I am not necessarily looking forward to being alone in that place again, the place that once felt like home but no longer truly does. I hope over time my heart will recognize it as a place of comfort.
During the past week, there were difficult moments, mostly when the quiet stillness seeped in, causing my mind to replay his final moments like a film I couldn’t stop in my mind, which is when I would turn on videos or music to fill my brain instead. I have been finding podcasts about grief helpful, and especially the ones where they acknowledge losing an animal companion can be just as painful as losing a close friend or family member. Our relationship was pure, no arguments, ultimately forgiving, and unconditionally loving. My darkest thoughts have included that I will never be unconditionally loved again and I try to brush those aside.
However, what was great about New York is that it’s the perfect place to stay busy and distracted, and unlike back home, I would get out every day to explore, walking mindlessly around Brooklyn admiring the graffiti art and shops. This trip was good for me, empowering, and it showed me there is a future and fulfilling life beyond what I have lost. I want to bring my sense of adventure back with me, and not only explore my own neighborhood more frequently, but also my inner universe, where the rivers run deep in my veins and stars appear beneath my eyelids, questioning why the films that play in my head repeat the way they do and what makes my heart sing. What makes me feel whole. I used to tell Charlie “it’s just you and me buddy” like it was us against the world, but now it’s just me. Though he has taught me so much about who I am and who I want to be, where I want to go.
While exploring the city today I stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant for a bite to eat and to add a quick sketch to my travel journal. I wasn’t overly impressed with the results, but the process is what matters the most to me. There was a young boy who couldn’t have been older than 7 years old hanging out at the patio as well while his mom was working. He was drawing at the table across from me and I was endeared by the shared interest.
After a while, the boy suddenly shot up and crumpled his paper, grumbling to himself. He ripped it up aggressively and threw the remnants on the ground, stomping on them and his marker in a dramatic matter that made me wonder if I should tell him not to give up. After his initial drawing was thoroughly destroyed, he got up and for a moment I thought he was done with art indefinitely.
Until he returned with more paper. This kid drew and destroyed several more sketches, each time ripping them up to stomp on in the same exasperated fashion. Wow, I felt that. What struck me about this action wasn’t that he was destroying his art, it’s that he kept getting up for more paper to keep trying. It was a beautiful reminder, you can hate your art, destroy it if you want, but keep turning more pages to try again.
Upon my arrival to NYC I was struck by the total chaos and confusion (and excitement) of downtown Manhattan. It was surreal, I couldn’t believe I was there. After pacing back and forth between signs and subway platforms to be sure I was heading in the correct direction, while also trying to appear confident and like I knew what I was doing, I finally arrived at my Airbnb.
The lockbox, empty, and the host, seemingly unbothered until he appeared from upstairs pale as a ghost. Oh no. The loft apartment had been vandalized the night before and he had been frantically repainting and trying to clean the damage. Why was I just then hearing about it? Who knows. I wish I would’ve gotten pictures of the insanity, but the moment was rushed and I was operating on little to no sleep.
Lately I’ve been working on being more “go with the flow” and he assured me I would have a safe space to sleep that night and there was a discount coming my way, so I hung out on the rooftop for a handful of hours. A couple mini panic attacks and one bag of popcorn later, the flat was live-able and I was in Brooklyn baby.
It took about two full days to get comfortable and used to the quirks of my new surroundings, exploring the nearby area‘s cafés and shops, I had already thrifted some amazing used vinyl and clothes. The grief of my recent loss comes and goes but always lingers just under the surface. Crying on the rooftop of an artist’s loft in NYC was not a bad place to be, though I would much rather my dog still be alive, only healthy and young of course.
My plan today was to distract myself and explore a little further into Williamsburg. It was a beautiful day, with perfect thrift finds and my one fancy meal of oysters and absinthe crème brûlée in the most beautiful patio garden. I don’t mind eating at restaurants alone, especially restaurants like that.
Afterwards I went to see the cityscape at the riverfront, there is something so magical about it. While heading back to my temporary home, I stopped at a Rite Aid to pick up nail polish remover and a Topo-Chico. Then I spotted it, a little Lamb Chop toy, only with the ears still on. Charlie loved to rip the ears and other parts from his toys. I couldn’t help but touch the fur. I got out of there as fast as I could.
Part of me felt guilty, how could I let myself have a good day? The betrayal. But Charlie was happy when I was happy. The pain of his absence and joy of my experiences exist simultaneously. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m going to be okay, and my emotions are valid. I love and miss him every day. Maybe Lamb Chop was a sign that he’s still here with me, always inside my heart.
About a week ago I decided I needed to escape my usual surroundings after the death of my best friend and companion, my dog Charlie. I booked a train ticket to New York for a creative sabbatical and decided taking a sleeper roomette was one of those bucket list things I wanted to try.
Watching the world pass by and the landscape slowly changing with the weather felt like watching a visual manifestation of letting my emotions come and go. Mostly I cried, eventually wiping away my tears to try to distract myself with podcasts, picking at a blueberry muffin or spending some time in the dining car for the 360 views. The Lakeshore Limited is a beautiful route to New York that would probably be even more enjoyable if one was not in a state of emotional disarray. Yes, I spent much of the time coping with my recent loss and subsequent existential crisis, but the views. The ambiance.
There was also an incident around 7:30am this morning where I realized our sleeper car was locked from the rest of the train by accident, and to my horror there was no coffee in our car, and let me tell you it’s difficult to sleep on a moving train. Eventually myself and a couple other passengers turned on all our call light buttons on and about 30 minutes later we were let out, very exciting.
It isn’t possible to heal yourself with one trip, and I’m not sure that “finding yourself” on a getaway is a healthy concept, the work is never done, but I do think there is importance in getting outside of your comfort zone and gaining a new sense of perspective.
Since Charlie’s death I’ve been struggling to feel connected, wanted, loved, needed, he provided so many of those feelings of comfort and the emptiness he left behind has been almost unbearable. In a way this trip is a test…if I can learn to be gentler to myself, be my own best friend, build self reliance. All things I feel could be improved.
It is true after all that no matter where you go, there you are.
For the past 15 years my beloved dog Charlie had been at my side, ready to take on the world with me and whatever adventure I could think of, he traveled exceptionally well in the car, and we drove all over the country. He was just happy being with me. During all of our adventures and camping trips, touring my music, exploring new places, Charlie was there for me through thick and thin. It was with great distress that I had to make the decision two weeks ago to say goodbye to my best friend and let him pass as peacefully as possible. I’m still heartbroken every day, there is nothing like the unconditional love and companionship of a dog. We understood each other telepathically, I anticipated his every basic need and did the best I could showing him love and care. I was 19 years old when I got Charlie and my life was never the same. This year despite Charlie’s elderly state we went on three different local cabin adventures, then to my dismay I had to cancel our last trip to NYC, due to his ailments finally catching up to us. After spending the past two weeks in my home, getting used to the silence, moving things around, desperately trying to save and hold on to every last memory of Charlie, I’ve felt the need to escape. Go someplace new, do the thing we used to love doing together, travel. So, I found a couple cheap cross country train tickets and plan on leaving after one more show for 10 days, I hope to be able to clear my mind, gain some perspective, and get inspired to create new art. I love and miss Charlie every day ❤ ~L