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Week #1: Creative Writing Challenge – Waiting

January 10, 2021

Write a story about waiting – but don’t reveal what’s being waited for until the very end

I sat there in my old beach chair watching a parade of people wander the rows of chalk filled beauty. The brittle plastic poked into my back where the chair had broken the last time I went to the beach. I could smell the gentle wafting scent of roses, as the slowly building breeze carried it from the small garden toward the mission. The Santa Barbara Mission stood before me, a simple white building with classic terracotta tiles along the rooftop. It was a familiar style for the area, a holdover from the Spanish as they created Missions all along the California coastline. The building face held two bell towers, looking out over a large asphalt lot. It was a lovely building with accents of dark wood and pink rock that drew attention to the doors and bell towers. As good a place as any to spend an afternoon on Memorial Day weekend.

It was Monday and the weekend was almost over. I had worked hard on my square of asphalt for the last two days, and had been planning the intricate scene of the Ellwood Mesa butterfly grove for the last couple of weeks.

This was the third year in a row that my friends had tried to convince me to join the fray at the Mission. There was obviously a competition for the best creations in a variety of categories, but art schools and co-ops came to check out the new talent and make connections too. My best friend Chloe had said to me, “Eloise Marie Lautner, you know you want to do this, not just because your grandmother wanted you to, but because you deserve to have some recognition for your talents. You’re the best artist I know. You know as well as I do that all its going to take is for someone to see your work. I know you are scared, but I also know you are courageous.” I knew when she used my full name she was serious. I also knew that she didn’t mention my grandmother without putting some thought into it. The pain of her memory was still so fresh in my mind. I had signed up and paid for a square in the competition that day, with Chloe looking over my shoulder to make sure I did it.

I rose my close-lidded eyes to the sky as a spot of sunlight sailed over the Mission. When the shadows fell, I glanced toward the ocean and could see clouds building over the Channel Islands. I thought about my grandmother as I idly gazed through the crowds. She had died two months ago from pancreatic cancer. We had been close growing up; sharing a love of art and traveling and museums and ice cream. As I got older she pushed me toward careers in art, recognizing my talents. She always said, “Eloise my dear, it doesn’t matter how much money you make, you have a talent and with that talent you have an obligation to share your world with the rest of the world.” She was always saying poetic things like that. Over the years I pushed back hard enough for her to leave me alone about going to art school. I didn’t think there was a living to make with art. There weren’t enough people that appreciated Art anymore to make it worthwhile.

Sitting there in my ratty plastic beach chair watching the people, I started contemplating that notion. There were a ton of people here. The cute old couple shuffling between asphalt squares smiled at each other when the other pointed out something lovely on the ground. Small children stared at the optical illusions in black and white chalk, trying to make sense of them and the world at the same time. The art students and professors stuck out like beacons as they analyzed the chalk representations; large sweeps of their arms and critical eyes giving them away easily. The people here were enjoying the art, interacting with the art, appreciating the art. But all of that was a far cry from making a living in the art world. I would just stick with my few art classes and prerequisites at City College until I decided what to actually major in.

As the clouds drew closer and the breeze picked up, people started dispersing, but I stayed relaxed in my chair. It wasn’t too cold yet, and I had this feeling like I wasn’t done with the day. I was waiting for something.

A middle-aged woman approached me. She had long wavy graying hair and bright, curious green eyes. I raised my head in her direction and got up from my chair, thinking to field some question about where the nearest bathrooms were, but before I could speak she asked, “Do you happen to be Ms. Lautner?”. I quickly replied, “Yes ma’am. Can I help you?” and smiled at myself for the good ole southern manners my grandmother insisted I learn as a child.

“I am Trisha Campbell. I am one of the art professors in the College of Creative Studies at UCSB. I know professor Standish at City College. He mentioned your name the last time we met for drinks and said your friends might have convinced you to enter a drawing this year, so I came to check it out. He speaks very highly of you, and after seeing your drawing I know why.” She explained.

“Thank you. I didn’t know he thought so highly of my work.” I responded, a bit lost for words at the compliment.

“Ms. Lautner, you certainly have talent, but professor Standish also mentioned your aversion to committing wholly to your art. That aside, I am interested about your thoughts in creating your piece this weekend, if you don’t mind sharing.”

I had been asked this question during critiques about other pieces I had done at City College, but never had the answer involved such a personal explanation. I longed to tell this woman about how amazing my grandmother had been, how inspirational she was to everyone she met, and about my deep distress about losing her. But another part of me wanted to hold onto the magic I felt as I swept my golden chalk across the asphalt, the tears that mixed with the bright oranges of the monarch wings, the ocean of hope that welled in me as I traced breaking waves across the shore. So I sighed at Ms. Campbell and said only, “A woman I once knew said that art was magic and hope and courage all mixed together and then shared with the world. The Ellwood Mesa butterfly grove was her favorite place.”

Ms. Campbell studied me silently with those green eyes for a moment as the breeze lifted her waves of hair around her face. “There is a full scholarship available at The College of Creative Studies for this coming year. It’s yours if you want it. Here is my card. Just call if you have questions.” She handed me her card and strode off into the dwindling crowd before my tongue could untie itself and say something in response.

As I stared in the direction she had gone, I felt the first drop of rain hit my forehead. And then another hit my nose. There were shrieks from the square as parents herded their children toward cars, artists hurriedly cleaned up and secured art supplies, and picnickers packed up their snacks in the park. I walked slowly to my Ellwood Mesa and gazed down at it. The rain wasn’t too cold as it ran down my cheeks and fell onto the golden mesa and ran into the now smearing ocean.

I realized that I had been waiting for this. I had been waiting for the clouds to come and wash away whatever was holding me back; sadness at losing my grandmother, fear at losing the dream she had for me, and the insecurity to chase what I truly wanted. I looked down at my chalk creation. It contained all my hopes and dreams, and even though it would soon be washed away, I felt a deep realization that I was filled with a yearning for magic, a hope for kindness and love, and quite possibly the courage to share it with the world.

As the blue and gold chalk blended and I couldn’t tell where the cliffs ended and the ocean began, I realized I had waited long enough. I silently thanked my grandmother, made sure that business card was secure in my pocket, and walked toward the next chapter in my life.

**For more information about the I Madonnari Italian Street Art Painting Festival held every year at the Santa Barbara Mission and where the header photo was found, click here.

** For more information about Ellwood Mesa and conservation efforts, click here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Yael Kisel permalink
    January 22, 2021 4:28 am

    This is lovely! I particularly love the answer she gives about why she made her chalk art piece, and the way this story is about grief but doesn’t approach it head on. Nice work! I love that you are doing this weekly writing project and am looking forward to reading more ☺️☺️☺️

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