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“…my sketchbooks are very precious to me, and I can’t imagine losing one. It would be like losing a part of my memory.”  Lapin, French Illustrator/Artist

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We were about to leave Spain after two romantic weeks sketching and painting in the white villages of Andalusia.  I checked my computer one last time before shoving it into the backpack I’d brought along to hold art supplies. Among my Facebook messages, there was one from a friend announcing, “Boy, is someone going to be surprised.”

Generally, I adore surprises, especially when they happen to other people. But when they derail an otherwise stellar vacation, it can be scary. Take the time R and I, sketchbooks in hand, were basking on a rock at Tulum like two fat Yucatánian lizards.  There was a thing called “sun” warming our chronically cold Pacific Northwest fingers. We gazed at the turquoise Caribbean rippling by and we exhaled.  We watched a pelican dive for a dorado…and we exhaled.

“What time do we need to leave for the airport tomorrow?” I sighed.

“Let me check,” R sighed back, reaching into each of the dozens of pockets in his cargo pants until he found our flight itinerary. He studied the paper silently for a long time, so long that the clouds grayed up and the sea began to churn violently.  I started to feel queasy.

“R?”

“Oh, crap!”

“Crap, R?”

“Way beyond crap.”

Turned out our plane had left without us that morning, just about the time we’d finished our third cup of coffee and casually set off to see the great Mayan ruins of Tulum.  In addition to what we’d already spent on our plane tickets, the condo, car rental, gas, food and an abundant amount of cervezas, we ended up having to scrape together 12,740 pesos, or about a thousand U.S. dollars, just to get our pompis home.  Never again, we promised each other..

Back in Spain, things seemed to go well.  We stuffed sketchbooks, Lamy pens, and watercolor kits into our silver blue Peugeot and slid back to Málaga without a hitch.  When the guy at the car rental counter told us we’d already paid, we shouted, “Bravisimo!”

True, we had to wait a few hours for one of Lufthansa’s finest to jet us to Frankfurt, but so what? That gave us time to do a final sketch of the airport’s offerings, including a wonderfully protracted sign in German that read “Mehrwertsteuerrückerstattung.”  I painted it in brilliant amber on the last page of my sketchbook.

And then we were off, gliding over the toothy white Alps, landing on German soil in no time, meandering through the maze of the Frankfurt terminal until, by accident, we stumbled upon our hotel. Soon after, unpacking up in our room I discovered my sketchbook was nowhere to be found.

R and I rifled through everything like two thieves looking for an original Picasso. We gutted our backpacks, found a few missing euros and an old olive wood Rosary from Rome, but not my precious sketchbook. We jammed a couple of zippers tunneling through our suitcases and, in our panic, skipped over the early stages of grief until there was nothing left but acceptance.

R teared up first. “I feel like I’ve lost my own sketchbook. You did all that work right beside me, and now it’s gone.  I’m so terribly sorry.”

I was too numb to speak or even move.  My head had left the building and was flying non-stop through each of the nearly forty pages of my missing sketchbook, trying desperately to commit each visual image, each fragment of text to memory. Those pages had been my life for two weeks.

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There was my title page with “España” painted in smoke-like strokes of Payne’s gray and indigo, and under that a wild-eyed woman arched her back mid-flamenco. I saw the village of Casares whose houses I’d painted white enough to steal blue from the sky. The wine goblet of green sea glass that we’d spent a day collecting and sketching in Bahía Dorada was there, followed by the terracotta beach brick with deep holes bored into it where I’d stored my paint brushes and ink pens for easy use, and the mosaic of cockle shells painted hot in red and tangerine.  The Roman bridge at Ronda (shown above…I’d photographed those two pages, thank goodness), the composition of three oranges next to the cobalt bottle of mineral water from the mercado.  I could still taste the croissant with ham and cheese on a white plate at the sweet café in Mijas, where we could see the lilac outline of Morocco as we sipped hot coffee.

I remembered the images I’d sketched and painted as R worked in his own book and we shared the time, the place, and our passion for making art together. But I knew that without my sketchbook they would soon be forgotten.

The next morning, before we left on our nine-hour flight to Seattle, R raced through the airport while I hung out with our luggage.  He asked questions of every Lufthansa agent who would talk to him, and one finally contacted the department where anything found on a plane after the passengers exit is supposed to end up.  R was given an email address on a tiny business card and told to check back.

I sobbed a bit after that…not so much over my lost sketchbook or the slim chance of it being returned to me over 8,000 miles away. I sobbed because I realized that my husband felt the loss of my sketchbook as much as I did, and that I would have felt the same way if his book had been lost.

“Well, we still have your sketchbook, R,” I told him as we walked hand-in-hand down the ramp to our plane, knowing that what we have could never fit on the pages of one sketchbook, anyhow.

Below is a page from R’s book, the Puente Nuevo, at Ronda.

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27 thoughts on “All the World’s Not Necessarily a Page

  1. I Love THe Prose And Hate ThE Loss. I Am Sorry Beyond Words. I have Faith That The Book Will Turn Up.

    I Also Hate That Every Word I’m Typing Is Being Capitalized After It Appears InThis Comment Box.

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  2. I Love The Prose, But I Hate The Loss. I Have Faith That The Book Will Return, With Tales Of Its Own.

    I Also Hate That This Comment Box Is Capitalizing Every Word I Type After I Hit The Space Bar On My Phone. I’mGlad You’re Back.

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  3. Your loss is enormous but your grace is even greater. With all my heart, I hope your sketchbook finds it way back to you.

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  4. I grieve with you for your loss of your sketchbook.BUT it could be the start of something NEW!whydon’you work from memory?The experiences are still fresh in your mind get the feeling of the experience it will produce a different sort of work.Good luck-warmly Elizabeth Simson.

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    • Elizabeth, beautiful lady, what a lovely idea! You’re right that the memories are still intact, including the one of meeting you as you were sketching in Ronda. I will do a portrait of you, first, in my new sketchbook. Love to you.

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  5. Muy Horrible—cannot imagine what that feels like–and the fact that you are able to write about it the way you did—blows me away—such consciousness and spiritual elevation—at some level this is tremendously inspiring—and humbling beyond words…that you have been able to tap into a mode of grace so few of us could ever hope to access. Blessings to you–and thank you for sharing your world with ours.

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    • jdawg, you’re so full of love and I so appreciate that right now. Yesterday, I worked on the title page of a new sketchbook and it felt like painting in a dream, an indigo, sepia and tangerine dream with a beautiful glass bottle in the center that needed to be filled. The colors were a bit darker than usual, but I noticed that my style was looser than in the book from Spain. Perhaps this loss has propelled me toward a new path so, in a sense, I am grateful for it.

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      • That is deep—and you saying this makes me think of how important it is to be open–that maybe that is the key–behind the Zen teaching that loss and gain are all the same…feels so tricky and fragile…and are you tapping into that vein—pray tell what else you are discovering.

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      • Well, the world is just so mysterious and I don’t have a road map. But one thing I know is that fear and rage keep us from seeing behind the veil. I say, embrace what your drawn to and screw the rest. Fear takes up too much energy and is not worth wasting your life over.

        You, Mr. G., are a dazzling force of literary greatness. Listen carefully to your song. Below is a poem I found on GOOP by an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church, Martha Postlewaite.

        Clearing

        Do not try to save

        the whole world

        or do anything grandiose.

        Instead, create

        a clearing

        in the dense forest

        of your life

        and wait there

        patiently

        until the song

        that is your life

        falls into your own cupped hands

        and your recognize and greet it.

        Only then will you know

        how to give yourself

        to this world

        so worth of rescue.

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    • You’re so right, Katie! I emailed Lufthansa several times before getting a response back yesterday that they had launched a search and found nothing. When I asked how the system of cleaning their planes works, they told me that they have no control over the process. Guess it’s time to move on.

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  6. As someone who’s lost something very dear, something that can never be replaced, I send you my deepest sympathy. After my loss, someone told me “this is meant to galvanize something in you. It’s your job to figure out just what THAT is.”

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  7. You’re so right, Jilanne. I believe the message here is something like, “It’s not about the product, girlfriend. It’s about the process.” I loved every stroke of the process, for sure, and that’s what I will remember. Thanks for connecting with me.

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  8. Thanks, Patti. You have clearly had great loss yourself and I appreciate being able to connect with each other. I love the honesty with which you approach your blog posts.

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    • Thank you, Kate. It’s curious how loss keeps popping up in one’s head…you believe you’ve let it go, that you’ve moved on, you’re over it and BOOM! The image of what you’ve lost explodes into your consciousness, along with the pain. I’ve started several new journals, though, and am mostly moved on. I appreciate your support.

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  9. Hello, Dennis. Good to meet another artist, and thanks for reading this post. Life is strange, eh? Sometimes what we love most is lost. This journal was, I believe, some of my best work and yet in a heartbeat, it was gone. I guess it’s good to be somewhat detached about life. I am enjoying your posts, as well. S

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