(Judith, at Ad Lib)
(Judith being artsy, taking photos at Cabrillo Point last Friday, taken by moi)
My friend at church, Kitty, (another extremely talented friend, now working on her MFA in poetry, but that's another post) told me again and again about meeting her friend Judith who also lived in my small town. We apparently had a great deal in common: writing poetry, loving art, having autoimmune issues (hers is Lupus, mine Rheumatoid Arthritis), and Kitty drove all the way up the mountain to pick me up from my house and physically dragged me to Judith's home. Once Judith and I started chatting, however, Kitty barely got in the proverbial word edgewise while the two of us discussed the different writing conferences we had attended, the books we read, the magazines we like, and etc., and etc.
Not long after this first meeting, Judith presented an idea to me: she wanted to start an arts council in the backcountry, a council that would provide a place for artists to rub shoulders, network, learn from each other, plus would provide a creative outlet for our small-town young people who often get bored and thus in trouble. When she asked me to be her sidekick in this artistic venture, I immediately agreed. We put up flyers around town to advertise our first meeting and gathered with a few artsies at Major's Diner, the 1950's restaurant where both locals and tourists hang out in our little village. Soon we heard of a similar arts group starting up in nearby Campo, and we merged our two groups into a single arts council which then worked together with the Southern California Center for Youth, Nature, & the Arts in Alpine which added us to their 501 (c) 3 non-profit status.
The resulting arts council, now known as the Mountain Empire Creative Arts Council (MECAC) is still going strong more than three years later; in fact, Keith will be doing a stained glass presentation tomorrow night for the whole town. We've now hosted two series of art classes for kids in the summers, one full-on musical production, dozens of monthly artist presentations, plus a Needlework group and a Writers' group, both of which meet monthly. We have a readers' theatre (of one of Judith's works) coming up this summer, plus our third annual summer program for kids. Our budget doesn't allow for a website, so we have a blog now that provides all of the artistic information for our region: MECAC Blog.
A few years ago when I first attended the PLNU Writers Symposium by the Sea with Judith, I discovered that she knew quite a few writers and poets: Calvin Miller, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, and many others. Plus she also knows many important people in the San Diego Christian writing scene as well. In addition to writing poetry, Judith co-edits our town's monthly newspaper, The Valley Views, for which she also writes a wonderful column, "Coming Together," that expresses the sense of community in our small town.
For the past twelve years or more, Judith has been a founding director of Ad Lib, an annual retreat for Christian artists in Colorado, set at different retreat centers that focus on "Sabbath Rests" for ministering artists. In 2006, she kindly allowed me and her daughter to lead the kids' program at the AdLib, an experiment in allowing young people the opportunity to learn the arts in several dimensions such as photography, watercolors, writing, and pottery. Photography also interests Judith, and she has recently shown her work in the County Building in downtown San Diego. In past years, she has been more involved in the visual arts of sketching and painting and has shown me some remarkable pencil/charcoal sketches. In addition, Judith is also a speaker, having spoken at many gatherings and retreats (including our women's retreat for Lake Murray a couple of years ago) besides teaching Sunday School classes from time to time in her Presbyterian Church.
And Judith has published three books, most notably a wonderful collection of poetry called Living with What Remains in 2004. She has allowed me to use a poem from this collection to teach poetry to my writing students from time to time, and I handed out her poem today to my Advanced Writing students along with fourteen poems by writers from Shakespeare to Seamus Heaney. Her wonderful poem, "The Way the Soul Arcs" is an examination of the way in which simple things in life can raise our soul to new heights.
And here's a poem from the Excerpts page of Quiddity Press where Living with What Remains can be purchased:
And He Turns
God looks over His shoulder,
and He sees us in our waiting,
sees us hem-and-hawing, standing there,
needing Him, not wanting to disturb Him.
Then He turns — so slow and simple,
like a rainbow at its bending,
like a great, brown river curving,
like the reaching of the eagle in the majesty
He turns, like the warp and stretch of seasons
in their cycle — February melting into April,
March slow-greening into May.
He turns, the way He taught the earth
to balance on its axis;
He turns like the eager flex of sun come forth
to cover us each morning.
He turns, and all things stop their spinning,
stop their churning; all passing things created
cease their racing and their fretting.
He turns, and all things wait for Him,
and wait with Him, and yearn with Him.
He gathers up our wanting in His voice.
And besides being a visionary writer and artist with a heart of a missionary who serves God and others through the abundant talents He has bestowed upon her, Judith is simply a generous, wonderful person. She seems to always have a little something for me every time we meet: some trail mix, a bag of cherries, a bunch of tangerines, a jacket. When our funds were really low last year, she asked me to help her clean out her pantry and to take whatever I thought we'd use. Judith also pays the boys to do odd jobs and gardening around her house, and she took E out for ice cream at the nearby outlet center for her birthday, just to get to know her better. Judith knows everyone in our town so well, meeting many for coffee to check up with them, see what's going on in their lives, encouraging them in their talents and endeavors. In a way, because of her investment into so many other artistic lives, Judith has created more than artwork: she has helped to mold living people. She's one of the most unselfish and giving people I know.
Besides being an enormously talented writer and artist herself, Judith helps others become the artists they can be: the mark of a true artist.