Viva is exhausted in a way only comparable to final exams in college. But still, her face has color and her eyes light up when we greet. We agreed to meet at the photography studio in SmallTown, NC where her final work is being professionally documented. Tonight she leaves for BigCity, NC then onward to Athens, GA for a UGA interview, then Atlanta for a flight, and finally, San Fransisco.
“I have a gift for you,” she says, handing me a bubble wrapped package that bears the weight of a ceramic object, no doubt. I look at her at first surprised, then flattered, then red-faced.
Slowly, I uncurl the wrapping as she watches. Before I have even peeled away all the layers, I cannot help but say “Thank you, Viva,” as I consider for a moment the layers or our friendship.
The object emerges from the wrapping: A hand-thrown ceramic vase with a carved inlet shelf upon which a miniature clay mouse rests. The outer glaze is stone-ivory and the mouse is light brown with a playfully curling thread of dark hemp for the tail, which winds up and away from the mini-shelf. The inside is glazed a brilliant turquoise high-fire glaze and sparkles in the light.
“I like the inside best,” she says, running her fingers along the lip of the vase. We hug again and I check to see that she has signed the bottom Viva 2006. I start to choke up a little but stop myself and just squeeze her hand. Although exhausted, she is beaming.
We leave the photographer to finish the shoot and walk up to the square for coffee. The sun is shining through the clouds and she suggests we sit outside once we order. To our dismay, the barista closed shop early and attempts to send us on our way. Milling around the counter like caffeine vultures, determined in our mutual sleep deprivation, Viva gets a determined look on her face and begins to speak. She sweetly bribes the barista with a $5 bill (which she accidentally tears in half) and we exit the coffeehouse with our double soy lattes in hand.
On the square we sit knee-to-knee straddling the brick semi-circle monument. Viva faces west and the sunlight illuminates her face and hair. She is dressed for a night on the town – which requires totally different attire than her usual studio wear (which of course, was also frequently stunning). In a bold move I show her the Nikkon I inherited from my grandfather and start taking photos of her in the sun-setting light. She works quietly on the final draft of her artist’s statement and lets me shoot at will.
“Besides,” I say, “photos of famous artists never actually show them looking directly at the camera. That will be you someday!” At this she smiles and Click! – I hope that one turns out.
We spend over an hour visiting and touching up the final draft. When it gets too cold we sit in the car, for lack of any place to go. We munch on spelt crackers and talk about craft school dynamics. We talk about her father, who died eleven years ago of pancreatic cancer. I tell her about Nana’s cancer. At one point she laments about a mutual friend of ours who does not seem to be able to take life by the reigns and make things happen for herself. “I tried to tell her that if she would just do what she wants to do and ask the universe to support it, she’d be a lot happier.” Viva speaks from experience; her new artist’s life already bears a fullness rarely achieved by those practicing for a decade.
And for a moment, I want to touch her hair, brush it out of her face and tell her how much I’ve appreciated her wisdom these past two months. But I don’t, that would be a distinct gesture meaning perhaps more than I am ready to take on.
Just before I leave, she tells me about a close friend of hers. “You know how when you first meet a friend and it’s so strong that you kind of just fall in love with each other a little bit?” We are still sitting in the car and I turn to face her directly. She shifts her torso toward the center of our two seats and we face each other. I nod for her to continue. “Well, I noticed I started laughing a little bit like my friend Lindsey,” she says “and she started picking up on some of my phrases.”
“Yeah, I know what that’s like,” I say slowly. “It’s a way of trying on that person’s shoes for a day, so to speak. It’s a way of appreciating someone or embodying them. It’s like, really feeling their influence.” She smiles in agreement and I wonder of she senses the irony.
When it is time for goodbye she reminds me she will be back in four months for summer classes at the craft school. In the mean time, I am charged with delivering her largest sculpture (which takes up half my trunk) to Cristina Cordova as a gift, partly because it won’t fit on the plane and is too expensive to ship but mostly because, as Viva says, “It’s Yard Art. I had high hopes for that one, and it just didn’t pan out. I’m not attached.”
We kiss goodbye and hug several times. When I drive away in my car my heart sinks a little. I can see now that it is her energy and spirit of generosity that draw me to her the most. And the more I got to know her the more beautiful she became. Certainly, I think to myself, she has left me with enough kernels of wisdom and grace to keep me busy until July. Au reviour mon amore.