Saturday, January 01, 2011


by Zinta Aistars

My chow pup, Guinnez
And so it begins. Never quite what we hoped, not nearly what we wanted, but often what we need: the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the joy and the grief, the dip and the soar. We will accomplish some things, fail at others, learning more from the latter. May we learn from our history. May we love more—ourselves, each other and our earth. May we keep on, keep on, keep on trying to be our very best.

I’ve already managed to get in one disappointment, as my plans to camp in the snow with a couple of dear friends for New Year’s Eve had to be postponed. We were going to go dog sledding over the weekend. There is no snow. New Year’s Eve brought a heavy downpour of rain, even a rumble of thunder, and temperatures so warm—in the 50s Fahrenheit—that I had to turn off the heat in the house as it got too warm for my winter blood. The few dregs of snow washed away and turned into brown mud. With a very busy January coming up, including a couple weeks of house sitting for a friend in Grand Rapids, we won’t have a chance to snow-camp until February. 


But one sigh is enough. I don’t believe in regrets. What happens to us brings lessons, and every lesson in life is valuable. The roads I have traveled have all created the person I am today—far from perfect, but pretty darn durable, and much more creative than when I began on this road. 

I accept that I was meant to do something else with this weekend …

Since I am not out in the snow camping at this moment, I ponder other possibilities. Write? Always the first thought. I’m a writer, after all. I express myself in words. Yet I am drawn to all art forms. I think about having access to a piano again soon. David, owner of the house I will be “sitting” later this month, has graciously given me permission to plink around a bit on his piano. I tingle with anticipation. I haven’t plinked in years. 

Granted, plinking is about all I do … I have only had a few years of lessons before I balked, starting an argument between my parents. Mama argued that all properly educated young women should know how to play the piano. Dad argued that I had already chosen my art form—writing—and that I already had a good understanding of music and should be allowed to pursue what draws my heart most. Dad won. My sister went on to have 12 years of piano lessons, while (after only three years of lessons) I withdrew to whatever quiet corner I could find, writing, writing, writing, and had my first story published in a Latvian magazine by the time I was 13. I suspect, in part, to prove my father’s faith in me correctly placed.

Still, I enjoy music, I like to plink on the piano when Mama isn’t listening. I think of my grandmother at times, Valija, my mother’s mother, who never had a lesson in her life, yet often sat down at the piano in our living room and let loose. She would play for hours, never the same piece twice, because it was all wild improvisation. I would lean in the door, or slip into the room and sit on the floor, and listen. An undiscovered talent … perhaps even a prodigy. 

And then there was visual art. That was my father’s arena. I grew up watching him sketch and paint, and I was then, and am now, in awe of his talent and his passionately-honed skill. 

I rather enjoyed sketching myself, now and then even picked up a paintbrush, but I decided early on that the canvas belonged to my father and that, just as he had argued with Mama, I had to focus on one form of art in order to reach my full potential at it. 

These many decades later, I am comfortable with that decision I made as a girl. No regrets. I still tend to be a person of tunnel vision—focusing on one goal and putting all that I have toward achieving it. Even so, from time to time, I like to wander. Dip a little. Dip a paintbrush into paint, plink a key on a piano, and I still wonder about putting my hands in clay …

I will never be a painter. I will never be a musician. Nor a sculptor, I’m sure. But I’ve seen many artists do well at varied art forms, and I believe a creative mind can find various mediums and venues to express itself. Surely each medium brings out something else in our creativity.

So I dip. Now and then, I take up a paintbrush. Canvas belongs to my father, but for more years than I can remember, I have picked up stones. Couldn’t say why. Whatever beach I walked, I would pick them up and put them in my pocket. Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, the Baltic Sea. I like the silken feel of them in my hand, I suppose. Washed by waves, smoothed by sand, tossed in turmoil to come out with all their rough edges washed away … the metaphor for life itself is carried in these stones. 

Wherever I have lived, these stones have lined my windowsills. I have baskets of them on the floor. They are on my bookshelves, arranged in a ceramic dish on the coffee table. They are scattered between the books on my nightstand. I brought more stones back from my return journey to Latvia last fall, and now those too are added to my shelves, baskets, ceramic dishes, nightstand, pockets. 

Hm, a day open and waiting. I could write, or … I could dip a paintbrush into paint and apply it to stone. I have several painted stones, too, on my shelves, but most of them I have given away as gifts. I have always believed that what we create ourselves is far more meaningful and heartfelt than what we buy at the store. So I have painted pets, flowers, fish, insects, tiny landscapes on stones. Whatever catches my eye and inspires.
Painting stones brings out something else in my creativity than does writing. No plot to weave, no storyline to unfold, just a captured image. Color, composition, a moment in time.  For a few hours, I lose myself in another art form, and although it will never go beyond a hobby, it pleases me. Sometimes it even feels like a creative meditation, easing away other stresses.

Such as disappointments about a winter weekend lacking snow. 

Here’s to a good new year for us all. May we toss our stone into the great sea of time and watch the ripples expand from it until they touch on all other ripples, touching us all. Whatever we do, even the smallest something, eventually touches all others in some gentle way. May that touch be one formed in love. 

And may all changed plans turn into moments of opportunity. 

And snow.


  1. Love this. I too feel the need to pick up stones on whatever surf washed shore I happen to be on. I like running my fingers over the smooth surfaces but I also like examing the rough ones and wondering what secrets they hold within. Looking at them in the sunlight I catch glimpses of sparkle winking at me from their depths. I like nothing better than to spend a whole day on a rocky shore picking up stones.

  2. Anonymous3:37 PM

    Dear Zinta,

    These are quite good. Especially for not being a painter. But then again I have no ability with drawing or painting whatsoever. My drawings, if more than just squiggly lines, look like child's work.

    I think other artistic hobbies are good. Especially visual ones for writers. I read once that being able to create something that is finished and out there, gives one writer (I can't remember who) a very happy relief from never ending edits and rewrites.

    Also, you could come dogsledding here. We have plenty of new snow. So much that stores and highways have been closed for nearly three days. That's Fargo. :)


  3. Every time you write, my whole self enters your world and I feel to be walking along side you as you spin your words and dip into paint pots, or plink on piano keys. There is such an ease and comfort to reading your words. Lovely!

    So many similarities continue to emerge between us, it's always a happy surprise. The Baltic archetype perhaps? Or rather the displaced Baltic archetype. Stones, yes. Aborted piano lessons for writing, yes. And while you plink, I pirouette as best as I can.

  4. Reading you is much like what I suspect it would be like if I was visiting: sitting across from you before the fireplace, holding a cooling cup of herbal tea while I patiently listen to the rich ramblings of your life. Thanks for that image.

    As for for the shipping and I'll send you all I can find the next time we are hit hard with it. But I wouldn't hold your breath. We haven't had much where I live. Mostly cold, until this warm spell wiped most of it away. No tears at my end, Zinta. I gave up longing for snow some years ago. It's yours for the taking.

    The art is amazing -- and yes, one can read as well as envision that you are your parent's artist. It's in the blood, after all. It doesn't matter how you extract it. :)

  5. Thank you, all. Jeri, I have a few rough stones, too, although only a few. I identify more with the stones that have traveled through the watery storm of an ocean or large lake. Lake Superior is still my favorite for rocky beaches. I have rough stones that I have brought back, too ... most recently, a chunk of brick from the deteriorating home of my forefathers that I visited last autumn.

    Libby, Paolo, if you could somehow share your snow, I would be grateful. Ship it on over. Right now, the temps here have dropped but still no snow ...

    I do enjoy tea in my evenings, Paolo. And the fireplace is lit now, too.

    Maryte, by now no surprise. Soul sisters.