I went on a cruise through the Gulf of Mex­i­co, down into the Caribbean, with stops in Cozumel and Belize. Now, let me point out very clear­ly that I am not a cruise kind of per­son. But a very good friend point­ed out to me that this was not a typ­i­cal cruise–it was a music cruise, more like a float­ing music fes­ti­val, real­ly, and as part of my heal­ing process, she said I absolute­ly had to go. This friend, whose name is Lor­na, knows me well. I trust her implic­it­ly. So I lis­tened, and for almost a year, we planned and made pay­ments, and it became a real­i­ty. This would be her 9th time on the ship, so I knew I would be in good hands and she could show me the ropes.

Turns out she was right. It was an absolute­ly incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence. Some of the per­form­ing musi­cians were also good friends, so that made the time even more spe­cial. Along with those whose music I love and play often, I also got to hear incred­i­ble acts I’d nev­er before seen that are now becom­ing favorites. And I got to have din­ner with Bud­dy Miller, a guitarist/singer/songwriter whose album Uni­ver­sal Unit­ed House of Prayer I absolute­ly adore (one of my top five favorites), and whose wife, Julie Miller, is a bril­liant song­writer whose music has touched me deeply in my own life. Bud­dy was love­ly, hum­ble, kind, and a great con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. I thor­ough­ly enjoyed the time I got to spend talk­ing with him, along with Lor­na and her hus­band, Joe, and Nashville friend/singer/songwriter extra­or­di­naire Jim Laud­erdale, who made the whole occa­sion pos­si­ble.

So, there was that.

What I didn’t expect, though, was how trans­for­ma­tion­al the cruise would be for me on so very many lev­els. I’ve worked hard on my grief heal­ing jour­ney for many years, espe­cial­ly hard dur­ing the past year, and I knew some­day some inter­nal break­throughs would come; I just had no idea they’d explode into being the way they did. I sup­pose that’s how it works, though, sim­i­lar to how plant life evolves. Lots of qui­et, deep, slow work under the sur­face, then a ten­ta­tive reach­ing up toward the sun, and final­ly, a burst­ing of bloom that is glo­ri­ous. That was me on the cruise–blooming, com­ing into my own, at long last find­ing my new voice, my new self.

Spend­ing morn­ings on the bal­cony out­side the cab­in, writ­ing, med­i­tat­ing, watch­ing the water and being soothed by it before ven­tur­ing forth every day, lulled me into deep heal­ing, pro­cess­ing, and syn­the­siz­ing. Spend­ing time on the beach, feel­ing the warmth of the sun, swim­ming in the Caribbean — all of these were such balms to my heart and soul.

photo of "Taught by Thirst," original artwork by Dawn Boyer

Taught by Thirst,” 24 x 24 x .75 inch­es, acrylic on cra­dled board, orig­i­nal art­work by Dawn Boy­er

And the water! The col­ors cap­ti­vat­ed me. I could not stop star­ing at them. I have nev­er seen ocean or sea water like that of the Gulf and the Caribbean–striations of deep indi­go, turquoise, aqua, and an almost unnat­ur­al pale metal­lic blue/green that the ship churned up–and I was more than a bit child­like in my delight. How many hours I spent envi­sion­ing how to mix col­ors in a way that would depict what I saw, felt, expe­ri­enced. As much as I enjoyed the music and some very spe­cial times that also opened me up fur­ther, I could not wait to get home and start paint­ing. I need­ed, craved, to express what that open water did for me emo­tion­al­ly.

It goes beyond words. There is no way to say it with words.

I’ve been explor­ing abstract­ed works more and more to convey/process the many emo­tions I’ve been expe­ri­enc­ing, as well as my inter­nal growth and the way nature con­sis­tent­ly plays a pow­er­ful part in giv­ing rise to it all. This was true for the paint­ing that made itself known the day after I returned and plunged in. I had no idea what would appear–I pur­pose­ful­ly set about in a play­ful way with no set agen­da, using few col­ors and var­i­ous tools I don’t nor­mal­ly reach for, such as an old cred­it card, crum­pled news­pa­per, a spritzer bot­tle, and more. I lis­tened to moody music–in this case, John Paul White did the trick. I moved both col­or and the can­vas around, and even­tu­al­ly, “Taught by Thirst” emerged. It shows not so much the col­ors I’d ini­tial­ly envi­sioned, but instead con­veys the emo­tion­al impact the week had on me and where I’m at right now. And that’s exact­ly the way it should be.

I named it after Emi­ly Dickinson’s poem, which some­how fit the many lay­ers of mean­ing per­fect­ly.