On November 26, 2013 I arrived in the city of Saskatoon in the province Saskatchewan, Canada. It was close to midnight when I passed through security. The agent looked at my passport and asked about my business in Canada. I told her I was speaking at the university. She asked for proof. I was taken aback as I have never had to prove what I was doing before on a speaking engagement. I responded, “Are you asking to see my speaker’s contract?” She smiled a tight smile and said, “Yes, unless you want to come with me to the back office.” Fortunately, I print out my speaker’s contracts and take them with me on trips. So I handed over the correct papers.
Then she noticed I had declared that I had tools with me. She asked what type of tools. I responded paintbrushes, as I am an artist. She looked at me.
“I thought you were a speaker, “ she said. I said, “I am both.” She asked if I would paint while in Canada.” I told her yes. She then said, “You won’t be leaving any paintings in this country will you?” I responded, “No.” I usually leave paintings where I create them; but I could see discretion was the better part of valor in this situation.
So now it is February and I am preparing to mail a painting to the Academic Health Sciences Network at the College of Health Sciences in Saskatoon. My contact asked me to explain the painting entitled: “Tomorrow.”
At most venues, I get to listen to other speakers and I paint about their words and the thoughts of the audience members. At this event it was a pre-conference day and I was the only speaker. So I set up in the hallway outside of the university library. I began to paint on a gallery jacket to bide my time until the students spoke to me. After painting for a while in silence, the custodial staff came over. They asked some great questions and I told them about patient empowerment. The students mostly walked by. They occasionally shared shy smiles and quickly averted their eyes.
I have painted in pathways and hallways in South Korea, the United States and Australia. It usually takes folks a while to walk up and start asking questions. In Saskatoon, I spent most of my hours in the hallway alone.
So I painted the hallway. I painted it with rapid brushstrokes as though life itself is zipping by. I painted the snowy expanse outside. There is little difference between the snowy ground and snowy sky. I painted myself painting.
Then I added the janitor who spoke to me. He stands indistinct with one hand clenched and the other holding a mop.
Finally, I added the scholar behind me diploma in hand. She stands where I cannot see her. The wind of the corridor whips at her hair and robe. Her cap has been blown away. She firmly grasps her diploma high above her head, as if to say: “My eye was on the prize. I never lost sight of the goal.”
The scholar is based upon the twitter stream.
I tweeted my dismay that no one was stopping to talk to me. One student tweeted back saying I should not judge so harshly. She had seen me painting but did not want to interrupt.
I later spoke before a room filled with students and faculty. Many people tweeted to the hashtag #sahsn13 that day, quite a few were professors, medical providers and patient advocates. I even got to see a dear twitter friend @bonnycastle live tweet in person. Thanks to @symplur you can still see those tweets. I looked up all the handles that were tweeting and it looks like only two students tweeted to the hashtag. Only two students shared their thoughts publically with wider world during this opportunity.
So if this painting can tell you one thing let it be: Please interrupt! Please speak out to the world that wants to speak with you. Please set aside raised hands and patient waiting and embrace your voice. Life is passing by so quickly.
Before you know it, it will be Tomorrow.