Tangled Up In Blue – Mary Christopher, artist
Inspired by Bob Dylan.
I had a job in the great north woods,
Working as a cook for a spell.
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell.
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix.
But all the while I was alone,
The past was close behind.
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue.
–Bob Dylan, Tangled Up In Blue
Mary Christopher graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree in Art Education in 1977 and then earned a Master’s Degree in Management and Supervision from Central Michigan University. After working in the fields of social work and corporate marketing for many years, she decided to return to her love of art education. She is currently in her tenth year of teaching art to students in kindergarten through third grade at an elementary school in Slidell. Mary says her students continue to teach her about the importance of exuberance, spontaneity and personal pride during the process of creating art.
In the artist’s words:
Art and teaching are by far the most meaningful things I do. Nothing else gives me a greater sense of curiosity or purpose. For me, art is an expression of gratitude. It serves to remind us of what a truly magnificent world we live in.
I have found it hard to talk about Katrina because I have a low level of guilt about getting through it so unscathed compared to so many others. Seven little holes in the roof and a little water damage, no big deal. I remember I absolutely hated the line in the Walmart parking lot full of all those kind souls from all over the county handing out MREs, ice, and their personal time and money. My aversion was not because it was a long line, but because I wanted to be the giver and I couldn’t stand being the receiver. it was painful and humbling.
I remember tearing up at the post office when overhearing people’s conversations. They were supporting each other at mail call–they had no mail boxes and I will never forget their faces: such kindness for each other and strength to keep going.
I felt such a loss as to how to help and yet I knew they would persevere. Their faces showed such anguish and such determination–so remarkable. I’ll never forget those people on that day. And the lady in Walmart whose husband had a heart condition and he was sleeping on a hard floor and she couldn’t get any meds for him. It broke my heart.
I remember thinking the storm brought out what was already there in everyone–the inner being surfaced and it was mostly so much good. The traffic was unbearable but seemed so completely insignificant; I remember people letting others into their lane even though they had untold hours of endless waits, and people would just yell out, “God Bless You!” to strangers. It was awesome! That lasted for such a long time. It was a major culture shift: almost overnight everyone knew what was really important. Such a feeling of comradery.
I also remember the awful physical devastation. I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures, even though I knew I would regret that years later.
Funny thing is, I can see those pictures as clearly now as ever. My memory has a very distinct photograph album and I remember it very, very well. I still don’t want to look at it. The vastness of the devastation affected everyone in a profound way and our lives will be forever changed for the better, I believe. We saw the worst and the best and the best took over and ruled the day. Pollyanna lives!
The healing power of the arts.
Recently, when stopping by the East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce’s Marketplace to pick up some of the artwork for the Hope for Habitat: Katrina X exhibit, I had an opportunity to speak with Sarah Landry, whose organic soaps and lotions are available in the artisan shop. As we chatted about the upcoming exhibit, the artists’ works, and the signatures we were hoping to obtain as a show of support for the ten years of recovery and rebuilding, Sarah lit up when hearing that one of the artists had created a work inspired by Bob Dylan.
“Oh, my God, if you are able to get a signature from him, I would love to come with you,” she said. “Please! Please! I have to be there!”
I’m not sure which surprised me more, her impassioned plea or the fact that Sarah, who is in her 20s, knew who Bob Dylan is. Then she shared her story, and it became perfectly clear.
In the same way that hearing a certain song can transport us to another place and time, to a treasured memory, so, too, can the arts. So after I picked up the piece that Mary Christopher had created, inspired by and named after Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue, I placed it in front of Sarah. Immediately, her face lit up and her eyes welled up with tears, which quickly turned into a free flowing stream of joy and nostalgia. Clearly, Mary’s artwork had touched something deep within Sarah’s soul. It was a beautiful testimony as to the transformative power of the arts.
Here is Sarah’s story:
When I was growing up, my dad, John, was my best friend. He taught me many things, and because I was home schooled, I spent most of my time with him.
Dad was very passionate about music, encouraging me to play whatever instrument my heart desired. As a teen and young adult, he traveled many places, and even lived on The Haight for a spell. He was very proud to tell his stories of travel, and of all the people with whom he made acquaintance.
One day, while playing guitar in a coffee shop in Cali, my dad was approached by a man who said, “That’s the worst guitar playing I’ve ever heard in my life.” That man was none other than Bob Dylan.
My dad chuckled and invited him to sit down, and they spent some time playing, talking, and drinking coffee.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, my dad’s health began to decline. But he still loved to play guitar for me, and brought up that story many times when he would flub a chord progression or completely forget what song he was playing. After his passing in 2012, I felt that a part of me was gone that would never return, like I would never have a friend as true as he was.
I still like to just close my eyes and remember his voice, his hair, the way he would put a lit cigarette in the strings of his guitar if there was no ashtray around. He always did want me to learn to play the harmonica, which he called “the noblest of all instruments,” so we could play and sing Dylan songs together.
Over the past two years I’ve been so hurt and at times lost as to where I should go. Seeing Mary’s work brought life to Dad again, and that means the world to me.
It brings me great joy to be able to tell his tale again, and it’s almost as if he lives on through me when his stories are shared. And now he can live on in the memories and hearts of everyone reading this. He will live on through you, and his soul will never truly die.
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