Right now I’m sitting on my bed drinking homemade sangria out of a jar, because none of my glasses are big enough. I’m thinking of an old friend who died 18 months ago. It was his birthday last week.
He was one of the most prolific artists I’ve known. I envied that, my own creativity being so stop-start-and-then-stop again. He loved absurdity and art, people and places. He was curious about and inspired by everything, and it showed up in his art. He was always welcoming, he always had time for hello.
I met him in my early 20s at his market stall – I often used to detour through the night market on my way home from work. I’d buy a plastic cup of sangria and sit at his stall for hours, chatting, people watching, heckling passers by to come in and buy his art. I bought a lot of his art – he started giving me frequent flier discounts because I bought so much of it.
Sometimes I’d meet friends at the market and we’d all sit at his stall and drink sangria and take up space until our leaning tower of empty cups fell over and we scattered like the ice cubes all over the floor.
He gave me the greatest of gifts a few months before he died – a text message out of the blue to keep me in the loop about his diagnosis. There was no treatment. He told me I’d been a part of his life, and that he’d loved watching me grow over the years.
I don’t know that he realised (or maybe he did) the gift that message was to me. It gave me the opportunity to send a message back. He gave me the chance to tell him what he meant to me, while he was still alive to hear it. To tell him how he’d inspired me to hold onto my creativity, even by the smallest thread. To tell him how comforting it was to me that the world contained him in it, even after I’d moved interstate and only saw him rarely, the times I visited home.
I think of him more often now he’s gone than I did when I knew he was there. He still inspires me. In a way I feel like I owe it to him to keep picking up paintbrushes and crayons and chalk, keep making marks on paper. I owe it to him to keep going, until stop-start-stop-again turns into an open flow and I swim like a fish around whatever the block was that stopped me, as prolific an artist as he was; as prolific an artist as I’ve always dreamed of being.
His not being in the world is like a jigsaw with a missing piece. Except this is the full picture now – the piece that was his bright aliveness isn’t under a couch somewhere, or unknowingly sucked up the vacuum.
The ache will probably always be there. A reminder of who he was, his charisma, his generosity, his encouragement, his particular brand of unique magic. I’ll keep missing him, and that ache will keep inspiring me to make more art, and live a creative, curious life.
Wherever you are, I hope the beer is cold, the company is good, and there are endless opportunities to appreciate absurdity and make good art.