On Art & Heart / Nikki Thompson
Describe the scene before you right now.
I love this question! Okay, I’m sitting in a café in a waterside suburb on the outer edges of Brisbane. It’s humid, even though it’s officially winter, but there’s a lovely breeze coming off the bay that makes the palm trees above me nod their heads in a gentle, unhurried sort of way, like sleepy old men. Even though the café I’m in is well-known, it’s very quiet right now. It’s just past lunchtime, but Queenslanders are morning people. Right now, I’m sipping a chai tea with almond milk and writing in a notebook my husband gave me. I’m snatching this moment to write between work and school pick-up. I used to resent constraints like this on my creativity, but lately I’m finding that the words appear more readily under pressure than they do if I have excess time to get all introspective and self-focussed.
Describe a moment from today that you want to remember.
Hmm. There are several, but there’s one that stands out… Our two youngest boys like the company of each other, plus their room is very small, so we pulled their two single beds together to make one big double bed. Last night as I was reading to them, my seven-year-old daughter crawled in under the covers as well and fell asleep. This is unusual for her as she finds it hard to go to sleep. (She has her parents’ restless mind.) This morning I came in to the rare sight of all three of them still snoozing away. I love how you can see someone’s personality, even in sleep. Each child lay sprawled, or curled, in their own unique pattern. I know it won’t last forever, this innocence and inhibition with each other and with us. I try not to forget this, and to treasure it while I can, even when they exhaust me.
What fills you with joy?
Definitely the little stuff. The in-between moments. I find it much better to feed on these often, than to feast on the one-off, mountain-top experiences, although these have their place too. Also, people being themselves, leaning into their own particular oddities and quirks, and not feeling like they have to apologise for it. I love meeting different sorts of people and hearing their unique stories. Good music also fills me. The sort that makes your soul soar. And grace. Always and every day and eternally grace. The scandalous, freest form given us in Jesus, that is.
What fills you with hope?
That we can’t stuff it all up at the end of the day, not really. Not totally. Jesus has our backs; we just need to lean into him more.
What makes your heart ache?
Oh, a lot of things, too many. For better or for worse, or both probably, I’m one of those highly sensitive people. I feel things. A lot. Sometimes it seems like other peoples’ emotions radiate off their skin and seep into mine. Maybe I need some sort of emotion-repellent to try and tone it down. But I guess my truest answer would be when I see people, myself and my loved ones included, carrying burdens we were never intended to carry. Everyone does it, and the older I get, the more I recognise it. Even those fabulous, shiny, sparkling people who seem to have it all together, have dull, unpolished spots in their armour. It makes me sad we feel like we have to hide this side of our humanity when, really, it is in the sharing of our common weaknesses that we all become both softer and stronger.
Describe a piece of art that is precious to you.
This is an easy one. My brother Greg’s poetry collection. Greg died when I was nineteen, and I lost my best friend and my best mentor in one go. Until that point, I’d looked up to him in all things: art, life and God. But he left behind a bound copy of his unpublished poetry. It was as if he knew we’d need it. When I read it now, it’s like he’s still talking to me.
Can you name a few artists who inspire you?
Well, they are all writers, I’m afraid. I call them ‘The Annes’. Anne Lamott, Ann Voskamp, Annie Dillard, and Anne of Green Gables (yes, I know, she’s imaginary). These women all write like angels and do so in such a way that their words read like music. When you read them, you feel you’re in the company of treasured friends.
Are there any books about art that you have found helpful?
Referring to an Anne again, Anne Lamott’s memoir and instructional guide on writing Bird by Bird is my favourite. I’m reading it aloud with my students right now and it’s jumping out afresh to me all over again. I love books about art that are works of art in themselves.
Is your art driven by heartache or hope or both?
Definitely both. Hope in the heartache, might get close to it. There are so many aching, burdened, broken hearts out there. I never want to deny the reality of pain in my words, but I also want to always be pointing ahead, as it were, to the light. The tagline of my new website is, ‘Crafting story, Leaning into light.’ This is why I write. I forget so easily that there is someone always there, called Jesus, who offers to take the weight I stumble under. He is The Light. Every story I tell is told as part of his bigger, brighter story. It’s like my pen is always just poised under the shadow of his wings, if you know what I mean?