I live in Nashville Tennessee, where on May 1-2, 2010, enough rain to cause a 1,000-year flood radically interrupted the Tennessee landscape, and Tennessee lives. My house is on the side of a hill. Rising water was not what I was thinking about on that May Sunday morning when rainwater runoff pushed over the retaining wall right behind my house with a thunderous WHUUUMP—the wall that had held back the hillside for the past fifty years. Hefting rubble away from my car in the now buckled carport, I escaped with a few essentials to the safety of a friend’s house. May 2 was the exact anniversary of the day I had bought my house five years before. I didn't move back for 1 1/2 years.
Like many others, I was shocked by the estimates to repair the damage and by the news that homeowner’s insurance does not cover what I needed covered. So, in the aftermath of the May 2 flood, my art-making went something like this—
1) Anxiety Management—short bursts of color to make me feel better, which sort of worked.
2) Humor Reclamation—By May 13, I was smiling to myself at the idea that-my-eight-month-old, next-door neighbor, Henry, was now an antediluvian, Nashville style. I did a drawing of him with that title to welcome back my sense of humor. The wild look in The Antediluvian’s eyes is not about Henry, who is a pretty laid-back guy.
3) Moving On— I started adding sunflower seeds to the images, to represent new beginnings. Someone later mentioned that sunflowers are a symbol of hope. Planting New Seeds III has a lot of seeds.
Mow is in a special category all its own, a combination of 1) and 2). It's my counterpoint to the lawn guys showing up when I wasn't at home and weed-whacking back to dirt the native grasses I had planted to keep the hill beyond the former wall out of my house. Those were the grasses I had been watering and praying over through a long summer of 100+-degree days. The humor arrived on discovering the archaic definition of mow is 'a wry or derisive grin.'
Nashville is still full of people who will tell you that the flood was all their fault, in the same way that washing your car brings rain, only bigger—they had just finished out their basement, just re-landscaped their lawn, just moved into a new house and decided not to carry flood insurance. My contribution is this: exactly one week before May 2, I asked myself what changes I needed to make in my life to better sustain me as a writer and artist. Et voilá—rain, in epic proportions, that forced me to change; a flood that tore down a wall of old beliefs that was blocking the light and limiting the possibilities of who I thought I was.
After a decade of preferring to live on my own, I went to live with friends for that 1 1/2-year hiatus and enjoyed the heck out of it. I found a part-time job that required me to stand in front of large groups of people and talk, something that I had always been terrified of. And I drove every day to my studio in my old neighborhood to keep a rigorous schedule, a discipline that had been hard for me while living and working under the same roof.
Pushing over the retaining wall on my property was the flood's guarantee—the kind you are absolutely sure you don’t want, but maybe are grateful for, after the fact—that I would notice I was getting the changes that I had asked for. A friend said to me, "Now you know how powerful you are."
Oh No...the wall fell down! Yay, the wall fell down! Oh No! Yay! It’s both, and it’s all of it.