Fifty Cent Inspiration

As an artist and writer, I’m most interested in doing work that offers glimpses of transcendence in one way or another.  So inspiration for me comes first from those moments in my life when I’ve caught sight of something that opens my eyes, and heart. Here’s what I mean. Back in the 1960‘s, when I was fourteen, I got a job for a few weeks selling hot dogs and a sugary orange drink at a booth at an enormous summer fair in Toronto.  A girl named Frances, also fourteen, worked in the booth with me. We were underage—a friend of my father slipped me into the job; Frances lied about her age. Our booth was perched on the edge of The Midway, a stretch of ‘freak’ shows that sat next to the House of Mirrors and roller coaster. We made 35 cents an hour. From day one we talked and laughed like old friends. Streams of people came by and we served up hot dogs and drinks. One day, I asked Frances idly where she lived. ‘I don’t live with my family,’ she said. ‘I don’t have a father and my mother can’t afford to keep me.’ A look of sadness flitted over her face then she brightened. ‘But I get to visit once a month. I love my little brother—he’s only two and I love seeing how he changes.’ Then she smiled. ‘I’m going to give my mom some of the money I make here.’ I was stunned. How could a kid be taken from her family?  I asked her about the people she lived with. She wouldn’t say much, just ‘They’re okay.’  She saw I was worried and smiled. ‘It’s okay,’ she said. One afternoon a middle-aged man in a rumpled suit and greased hair came to our booth and ordered an orange drink from Frances. She chatted with him and he told her he’d lost his job. The next day he came again, then every day for a week, and every day he stayed and talked with Frances for an hour. Our manager worried he might follow her when we got off work but Frances was not concerned. She said he wasn’t like that, as if she knew. At the end of the week, he told her he was moving away, thanked her for being so kind and gave her fifty cents. We both lit up. ‘Fifty cents!’ We were never given tips. Then Frances handed me a quarter. ‘No!’ I said. ‘He gave it to you!’ And I knew how much she needed it. ‘We’re in this together,’ she said and pressed the quarter into my hand. For many years I forgot about Frances. My own family became more affluent. I went to university, then got a job I loved. A few years later I got married, had a baby and moved to the United States. There were so many events in my young life, and confusions, that I lost myself in them for a time. Every once in a while I would think of that summer but only in a fond and fleeting way and through cloudy vision. Then, maybe ten years ago, Frances began poking with crystal clarity. I’d studied a lot of eastern spiritual thought by then and there was Frances. The truth unfolds its wings in time. As a kid, I’d loved Frances and been moved by her situation and kindness. Now I’m moved by her wisdom and love her even more. She accepted her situation without rancor or trying to change it neither did she judge her parents. She was compassionate. I’m humbled by the greatness of her spirit. It’s that spirit I want to bring into my creative work. That is the ground of inspiration for me. But there’s more to the creative process, I think. When I sit down to do creative work, I’m aware that I need to slip out of my verbal, analytical, cluttered mind and into a space of openness where I can receive ideas from the great field of creative energy of which we are all such an integral part. I often feel the universe is waiting with a platter of deeper insight when I try to communicate what I’ve glimpsed but first I have to elude my thinking mind. Meditation is an excellent way to get into that space. For me, drawing is another. I’ve been a working artist all my life—an animation filmmaker and illustrator as well as painter. Drawing takes us out of our everyday minds without effort. It just happens and anyone can do it—even scribbling works. It can be a another form of meditation—a place where the things that matter speak to us. So often they arrive unexpectedly like a gentle knock at the door.  We need to be quiet to hear. Sometimes too, when I’m about to begin a new project, I look at the work of other artists or writers to get inspiration. It gets the wheels of possibility turning and often provides a jumping off place but it’s just a start. Deeply sweet experience is at the heart of things for me. That summer, so long ago, ended with Frances and I on the King Street streetcar sitting side by side laughing and rattling along the tracks—two kids with a pocket full of change. We promised each other we’d both be back to the fair the next year. When Frances got off the streetcar I stuck my head out the window. ‘What’s your address?’ I shouted. ‘I don’t know!’ She called back, laughing. ‘But I’ll see you next year!’ It was not to be—they closed our booth that year. Perhaps it’s because I never saw her again that I want so much to pay her back for the gifts she continues to give me. Twenty-five cents was a sweet gift once; it’s inspiration still. ©Cat Bennett 2010[For Lightworker Magazine]

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