What causes us to pause, to question, to forget where we’re standing or even that we’re breathing? What enraptures us, unnerves us and causes us to tumble down rabbit holes? These are the questions that fascinate me and unearth inner and outer landscapes.
That’s what I love to explore in my writing and art. I’m drawn to nature, faith or lack of, motive, risk, stories, color and coastlines. The French call it “vivre bien,” to live well, and that’s just what I plan to do. My hope is that my website and blogs become a vibrant and thought-full conversation between many people on many walks. We have much to learn.
I’m Carol O’Dell. I write, paint, sculpt, perform, read, and travel. I’m the author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir. I blog professionally and facilitate creative writing groups. I teach “Remember Me” memoir workshops and “Discover the World of Vincent Van Gogh and other artist’s journey classes for the continuing ed department of the University of North Florida.
I’m currently working on a novel, White Iris, based on a woman who quits her MFA program, leaves her fiancee and travels to the South of France to relive the life of Vincent Van Gogh–with an apparition of Vincent by her side.
Hope you’ll enjoy a short excerpt.
The V is generous, scooped like a vase, and the other letters stand individually, each lining up like cups waiting to be filled. The T is on an upward slant, like the skip of a child. He signed Vincent on nearly all of the almost 900 paintings, 1,037 drawings, 150 watercolors, 133 line sketches, and more than 900 letters. I know his name better than my own.
The train jolts. I look up from my sketchings. Paris, behind me. The South of France, ahead. So much is over. So much for plans. I’m not heading to Amsterdam. I’m not returning to the States. I’m not returning to college or to Charles and the life we were building. All that’s gone. I’m on my way to Arles. Did I decide this? Is this kismet? The red-headed man jostles down the aisle, stares at the seat beside me, his mouth pulled down in observation. He doesn’t say anything. We’re traveling companions, have been for months. That’s the best description. The one most people would buy.
What! I pick up my backpack from the seat and plunge it on the floor. I don’t need his judgment or his pity.
The train transfers rails as it leaves the station. He moves past me to sit by the window. Fine, take the window. He’s looking for sunflowers. It’s February I remind him, he ignores. He’s small and tired. I’ve worn both of us out living in two worlds.
I try to sleep, which is useless, all I do is twist and turn, too aware of the pull of the tracks urging me to an unsure future. I am two people. One, forever at the station. The other, forever moving forward. His arms are clasped high across his chest and his head leans against the glass. Paris trickles behind us. Office buildings give way to houses, farms blossom into fields, frozen fields merge into the countryside and then slide past the window. Steeples pierce the sky. A cypress folds its branches to the eternal.
The first time I saw him I was standing reverent in front of a painting, guidebook in hand, and the walls gave way. The damp spring air filled my lungs, the wood floors crunched and released the dank smell of old leaves and pungent earth. Green swords pushed through the soil and the edges of an iris opened and ruffled in the afternoon sun.
A flash of red hair—a man turned the corner walking fast according to museum standards. I have to find him, was my driving thought. I saw everything in that flash, the crinkles that fan out from his eyes like the opening of a sail, the scruff of red and blonde tufts on his chin. In that one glance his thoughts became mine. I rushed to the next room, then the next. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere.
Stand still. Hot breath on the back of my neck, his lips moved on my skin. He whispered, or maybe he didn’t and I just knew.
That was ten years ago. The train shifts tracks. I open my eyes. He’s buttoning his sweater and I see how meticulous he is, how each tuck matters. His reflection jiggles in the glass and there’s a calm to his features. His curious intensity and contemplative gaze unravel all my anger. Sixty-six museums, two hundred thirty-one paintings later, I’m headed to the South of France vacillating between resignation and anticipation. All I know is nothing else matters but this. I lay my head on his shoulder and stare out the window into the black. His blue eyes rest on sunflowers I can’t see.
What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?
Vincent Van Gogh, 1886