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Serendipity at a hotel bar

I found myself alone in an Atlanta hotel room on my 47th birthday. I was at a portrait conference. I sent myself there as a gift – to myself.  I felt overwhelmed by the 800 attendees and inspired by the talented teachers. The event culminated on Saturday night with a ‘gala’. I didn’t realize that I had not ‘pre-registered and paid’ so I was without a ticket to the ball. Johan Cederlund, curator of the Zorn Museum in Switzerland was the guest speaker. I tried every angle I know to score a ticket, but “sold-out and overbooked” was the only response I could get.

I wandered back to my hotel room and looked out the window at the life happening all around me. I poured myself a stale glass of wine and sat at my computer.  “This sucks”, I thought to myself.  I pondered the hits and misses of my 47 years (mostly my misses) and wallowed in my own ‘aloneness’.

I need to shake myself out of this. “OK Kelly, knock it off!! Get off your sorry, self loathing butt and go do something, go make some fun…have a little faith in the universe”.  Off I went to the place that always seems to offer the most comfort when I’m far from home -the hotel bar.

There, sitting alone and wearing a ‘portrait conference’ badge was a chap that looked as displaced as I felt.  “Hi, can I join you” I asked.  “Sure, Sure” he said as he shuffled away his papers.  “I don’t want to interrupt”… “No, no, not at all, I don’t want to look at this speech again anyway.”  He was Johan Cederlund, curator of the Zorn Museum.

“OK, now it’s starting to feel like my birthday” I thought.  I had 30 minutes of great conversation with the man I came to see in the first place, but couldn’t get a ticket to.  We talked about art, travel, Sweden, Zorn, and me.  He seemed genuinely interested.  I explained my FingerSmear career.  “I’ve really just started diligently studying traditional methods of oil painting and I am absorbed by it”.   “But, do you want to keep doing these finger paintings” he asked.  “They are fun, and they pay well, and my ultimate goal is to create a global FingerSmear that depicts celebration in cultures around the world.” That’s wonderful, how interesting”, he prodded for more. I obliged.  He offered to be my liaison in Sweden when I get it off the ground.

He also suggested that a late slip through the back door might enable me to see the presentation I came for.   Off he went, and off I went, satisfied and smiling.

I wandered across the street to the Intercontinental hotel bar. I sat in the empty seat between two dramatically different men.  To my right, a 20 something black man with a diamond crusted watch, muttering directives into his cell phone.  “Yeah, yeah, yeah, just send a car” he said, and hung up.  “I own a record label in LA and I’m in town to make sure the stations are taking care of my boys,” he explained.  I didn’t know who the ‘boys’ were, but it didn’t matter. From the look of me he deduced that I was not their target audience.   Our conversation led to the blues bar that Tom and I owned in north Idaho, and my work that hung in BB Kings Blues club in NY. His lack of knowledge about the  history of  his ancestors, and inspiration that ensued was shocking.  He pulled up my site on his cell and started flipping through my work. “When I get back home I’m gonna call you and buy all of these musicians and hang them in my music room so I look like I know what I’m talking about”, he laughed.  Sweet.  Sounds Good.  Off he went.

The guy on my left had been speaking Russian into his cell for 30 minutes.  He hung it up and let out a frustrated sigh, shook his head, and ordered another drink. “I’m supposed to meet my ex-girlfriend.  When she found out I was in town she insisted, and she’s gorgeous…but she’s craaaaazy”, he said.  “Tough decision”, I thought.  “Besides,” he said, “it’s my birthday and I’m alone otherwise, so why not.”  “HA!” I exclaimed.  We toasted to mutually creeping toward fifty and still feeling fresh.  Moments latter his 20-year-old ex-girlfriend walked in. No wonder she’s crazy… you’re crazy, I thought.  Off they went.

I paid my bill and left, quite pleased with the level of entertainment thus far.

I arrived back at the gala, quietly slipped in the back door and took a quick seat in the dark on the platform behind the cameraman. From the happy shelter of my corner, I watched a great presentation on Anders Zorn.

Sometimes… you just need to change perspective.


5 Responses to Serendipity at a hotel bar

Kelly, if it didn’t provide you with such great stories, I’d say give up painting and stick to writing!

Posted by Diane Pool · via · 131 months ago

what a great story! How cool that you ran into Mr Cederland. I would have never gone into the bar, and I would have missed everything for certain!
But after talking to you, (and seeing other blog posts about this gathering) I am considering the one next year in Philadelphia. I would like to hear more of your impressions on the conference though.

Posted by mimi · via · 131 months ago

Hi Mimi – I will very likely return next year – but this time I will know a few people!! And I will be able to drive there. You should come. It would be great to finally meet you.

My Dear Diane – give up painting…??? I’ll take that in the warm spirit that you sent it in – but no – no giving it up. Looking forward to more time to paint and write. Both are an outlet that I crave, and one definitely feeds the other.

Posted by kelly · via · 131 months ago

Your commitment to return makes it all the more appealing. I plan to retire in April, I will plan to go to Philly in May. 🙂

Posted by mimi · via · 131 months ago

what a great story,,,,,just goes to show ya.
what a wonderful painting!

Posted by michael d · via · 131 months ago


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