40 Days of Inspiriation: Origins

I can’t really start an extensive journey into inspiration without first going into the very first person to ever inspire me, and the event that precipitated everything.

I lost my biological mother at a very young age; she was only 27 when she died, I was five. My mother struggled her entire life with bipolar disorder and because of that, the state gave me to my grandparents to raise because she wasn’t able to care for me herself.

When I was a child I knew none of that, all I knew was that my mom was my world and she’d go away sometimes but would aways come back… until she didn’t. So, being so young when she died I have very few memories left of her anymore except for one, and that memory is one of the most important and cherished memories I have and is the reason I am who I am today.

When I was about four years old, my mother and I were at my grandparents house in Seattle. Even as a young child, I loved drawing and coloring. My family never had much money but I was always kept supplied with crayons, coloring books, drawing pads.

So that afternoon, my mother and grandmother were occupied elsewhere in the house leaving me alone in the livingroom to entertain myself with my crayons. Normally I would be entertained for hours with my coloring books, but that day I’d grown bored and restless with the supplies on hand and was enamored with the large, white, bare, empty wall in the hallway. So enamored in fact that with my trusty crayons, I sought to correct what I’d obviously saw as a glaring error– the wall shouldn’t be white, it should have color… lots of color!

Left alone to my own devices with a large expanse of wall to tempt me, I went to town. I don’t know what it was I drew on that wall, I don’t remember that, but I do know that whatever it was, it was the greatest thing I’d ever created in my very short life at that moment. I was so into my work that I’d forgotten that I probably shouldn’t be coloring on the wall. The world around me faded away and my whole concentration was wrapped up in my artwork until my mother came in and caught me.

Now, I think every adult has a memory of being caught doing something so naughty as a child, that they honestly figured that moment was going to be their last. That’s it, they’d pushed their parent too far and now they’re gonna die. When my mom caught me red handed, creating what was arguably the best mural in creation, I honestly believed she was going to murder me.

Her eyes were brilliant with anger, if they could have shot flame they would have. She. Was. LIVID. And as she charged across the room to stop me, I could see in her face all the things she wanted to do to me as punishment, and I cringed as she reached out to grab my arm. However, in the split second it took for her to reach me, something shifted. When I looked at her again, I saw her face change, soften. And instead of grabbing my arm and yanking me away from the wall, and administering the spanking I was sure was coming, she took me by the hand and lead me back to the sofa where she sat down and put me on her lap.

She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts and she said to me…

“Sabrina, I know that you’re going to grow up and become an artist someday, but we don’t color on the walls!”

That’s it. One simple sentence but that sentence and everything that lead up to it had such a huge impact, I don’t even think she realized how much. She went away again not long after that moment, and a few months later we’d heard that she’d died. So that sentence, “You’re going to grow up and become an artist someday,” became everything to me. Everything I did after that was to make that statement come true. She said I was going to be an artist, and come hell or high water I was going to become an artist.

Looking back on that day and that interaction so many years later as an adult and as a parent myself, I realized that there was so much more to that moment. As I said before, my mother struggled with mental health issues, and she wasn’t able to raise me herself. Well, some of those struggles made her an… unpredictable disciplinarian. When she caught me that afternoon using my crayons on the wall, the fact that she could have murdered me wasn’t entirely an exaggeration for effect. She had been very capable of administering sound, and effective physical punishment and whats more, she really wanted to in that moment. The fact that she shifted in the last second was nothing less than a miracle. Something greater than either one of us intervened in that interaction and made it so instead of beating me within an inch of my life, and ensuring I never picked up a crayon again, she said the single most powerful and impactful thing a child could ever hear.

Those words planted a seed deep within me. A seed that took root and over the years has withstood criticism, doubt, and so many challenges. I’ve been told by a lot of people I didn’t have it in me to make it as an artist, some of those were people I respected. No matter what anyone else ever tried to tell me, I’ve always held on to that one important  thing my mother said to me, and I’m not even going to speculate on where I would have ended up if that moment never happened.

Photo Mar 06, 7 50 15 AM
This is one of the very few pictures I have taken of me and my mother together.

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