Waking from her nap, Hippie Me tucked Corporate Me away with the business attire and powerpoint presentations, hopped in the shiny blue rental car and headed for the mountains. I relished the thought of even just a few hours of pretending I was a free spirit again before flying home to family and obligations.

The closer to the mountains I got, the giddier I got. How can you not love the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains?

As I pulled into the town of Banff, though, a strange kind of melancholy settled on me. After stopping for a few cold photo ops, I took the familiar road toward Tunnel Mountain. When I passed the Banff Centre of Fine Arts, the melancholy grew and I started to cry.

I flashed back to the summer I used to find refuge from my chambermaid duties by hiking down Tunnel Mountain to the Centre to take in a concert or art show. It was a sad, sad time for me, that summer I turned nineteen. It was supposed to be the breakout summer for my adventurous spirit, surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, but instead it turned sour.

I came to Banff with high hopes that summer, and left wounded and raw. Faced with an abusive boss who took chunks out of my fledgling self-esteem as often as she could, a job that revealed nothing but my weaknesses (cleaning, precision) day after day, a room-mate who didn’t really like me, and other friends who I’d come with who were happier in each other’s company and didn’t really need a third wheel, I was lonely and depressed all summer long.

The Banff Centre of Fine Arts provided occasional escape, but mostly it just made matters worse because it reminded me how inadequate I was. I dreamed of being a student there, but never actually believed I belonged there. I was an incompetent, unaccomplished, unartistic outsider who could, at best, only hope to be inspired by other real artists.  Let’s face it – I couldn’t even clean a hotel room properly, how could I possibly be good enough to be an artist?

I had planned to continue my adventure after that summer by changing schools and moving to a different province, but instead, I nursed my wounds and opted for safe and small choices, returning home to what I knew. 

I’m not the same person I was twenty-four years ago. I’ve faced many of those demons and found ways of taking risks I didn’t know I was capable of.  And yet here I was, crying over the memory of her sadness.

After parking in downtown Banff, I gathered my camera and the book I’d promised to find a place for, and wandered across the bridge at the edge of town. I found the perfect place on the railing of the old stone bridge in arguably one of the most beautiful locations in the world. I took pictures and walked away. It all seemed so perfect.

Suddenly, I felt like skipping. The book drop had done wonders for my spirit. Banff is full of not only tourists, but young people just like I’d been – coming from all over the world to work for a few months in the service industry in an interesting location before going back to school or moving on to the next adventure. I pictured a younger version of me finding that book just when she needed it most. I pictured the difference it might have made in my nineteen-year-old life.  I wanted to believe I’d been a conduit for something special happening for a young woman in the blossoming time of her life.

Fantasizing about the person who’d find it (and even imagining I might see her later walking through downtown with the book tucked under her arm), I crossed the river and killed some time in a Native arts centre. When I was sure I’d left enough time (quite a few people had crossed the bridge by then), I headed back into town.

The book was still there. Someone had torn open the tape on the paper packaging, peeked inside, and left it all behind. I was heartbroken. How could someone see such a beautiful book free for the taking and not whisk it away to a private little hideaway for some quality soul time?

I did my best to re-seal the package, propped the book back up, and walked away again.

About half an hour later, standing in a gallery staring at paintings and photographs that I was suddenly aware were no better than what I could produce, a thought flashed through my mind. Maybe I was meant to take the book. Maybe this was MY ordinary sparkling moment.

I didn’t think the book would still be there, but I decided that if it were, it was meant to be mine. Pretending for a moment I was my nineteen-year-old self crossing the bridge to my forty-three-year-old self, I returned to where I’d left the book. It was still there, lying on its side again, like someone else had rejected it and assumed it was meant for someone else.

I took it, but not without HUGE reservations and a whole lot of arguing with myself. (Aren’t you cheating? Maybe Christine will be angry. Shouldn’t you fulfill your duties like you promised? You’re failing again!)

Steeling my resolve, I marched back into town with the book tucked under my arm. The arguments didn’t fully stop (I considered dropping the book on a bench, or giving it to a lovely woman in an art gallery or to one of the owners of the “Three Wild Women” boutique), but in the end, I chose to make it mine.

In a flash of inspiration, I walked into a jewellery store and bought myself a promisary ring. (I later learned that the blue chalcedony is meant to strengthen the body and mind and give the wearer a sense of clarity about what they like and don’t like.)

In the Wild Flour café, I wrote myself a promise note.

I promise:
– I will take more chances.
– I will believe that I am an artist.
– I will trust my ability.
– I will look for opportunities to paint and make art as often as I can.
– I will sign up for another class or workshop that stretches me.
– I will honour the muse.

It’s never too late to learn the things I should have known that summer I turned 19.

(If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see that I picked up a brochure for the Banff Centre of F
ine Arts. Maybe… someday…)

I drove back to Calgary wearing my new ring. I am rather fond of the way it looks on my weathered 43 year old hand.

On the flight home, I read my new book. Perhaps, on my next trip, I’ll pass it on to someone else who needs it, but for now, it sits on a shelf in my lovely little studio reminding me that I AM AN ARTIST!

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