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Seeing Slowly

It’s been a long time. I apologize for my absence!

In the madness of my cookbook photo shoot, I became a totally visual person and stopped writing. It’s like there are two completely different parts of my brain, and they don’t function at the same time.

After a month of cleansing recovery, to heal myself from a ‘challah-only’ diet, (there’s a reason we eat this food only once a week!) Pesach arrived, and the challah cleanse just led me right into it!

On chol hamoed pesach, as I started shifting back into writing mode, I met a fascinating old man, a painter who was first an anthropologist and then a professor of theology and finally made landscape painting his life’s work.

He looks something like a cross between Gandolph and Dumbledore, complete with long hair, flowing white beard and peaceful aura.

We spoke at length about his passion for painting, and for teaching others to paint.

We converse about the speed with which we take in information these days, the super highway of imagery that zooms past our periphery in a near constant barrage of visual information.

And the pressing question . . . how to counteract this blinding speed which prevents us from seeing the world for what it is?

My answer, at least in the past decade or so, has been to make challah.

His answer is—to paint. When we paint, he tells me, we see slowly. I get it, on some level. But I want to understand this more deeply.

I put on the spare painter’s coat that he so thoughtfully provided, spattered with splashes of color from countless painters and paintings past, and I feel his words in real time.

I pick up the brush (you really only need these 2, he tells me, evoking the words I so often tell my challah students – you don’t really need all these fancy tools, if you have a bowl and a working pair of hands – you are ready to make a challah.)

He teaches me to squint and see the overall tones of the painting, I squint and I see the whole picture. This is enlightening for me, as I tend to get distracted by details. I paint using big strokes, not really seeing a result, but trusting the process, as he ensures me that soon this will be a real painting.

An hour passes, but it seems no time has passed at all.

He has me step to the back of the room. I stare at the painting I have just created – and it is real. Those large strokes, some vertical, some horizontal, others in an ‘infinity’ shape, have created a landscape. I am humbled.

I have always felt drawn to paint, all my life I have been creating art in some way or another. For many years it was with pencil and ink, these days, as a graphic artist, it is mostly on a screen. Then it was the shaping of challahs.

Now that I have ventured into the written word, it can manifest as writing.

But painting has always intimidated me. I now have a new appreciation for it though – for it’s ability to slow time down, to show me the bigger picture, and for the sheer pleasure of creating beauty on a blank canvas.

It reminds me of the meditative quality of challah making, the slow buildup, the process which seems to be nothing at first, but becomes more than the sum of its parts.

I hope to sit down one day, (when life gets quieter . . . ha!) with a canvas, some beautiful colors, and brushes (only 2!) and paint to my heart’s content.

In the meantime, I will continue to bring this slowing down of time into my life through the act of making challah each week, and try to remember to really, truly look around me and see that beauty which is always present.

May all our creative endeavors bring more beauty and light into this world, and may we—and our creations—continue to Rise.

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