Betsy Wilson-Mahoney and I were sitting at a restaurant having lunch about a year ago.
Most of you don’t need an introduction to Betsy, an eminently talented artist, singer and actress. Betsy had approached me and said she wanted us to do a project together. I asked her what kind of project. “I don’t know,” she said. So we weren’t exactly in the in-depth planning stages. We were at a starting point.
And, next week, we reach the finish line.
What started as a brainstorming session in a corner table at the Bowery will come out as a book next week, a collaborative effort titled “When I Think of Aiken…” We both came up with topics that resonated with us about our hometown and then trimmed the list to an agreed-upon 30 topics. For each one, Betsy did a painting and I wrote an essay. We considered switching off on occasion, but no one wants to see my poorly drawn stick figures.
The first phase was a lot of fun, as we both developed our lists. As I reviewed Betsy’s list, I saw that she had a lot of the same ones I did: Hopelands, Aiken’s Makin’, Hitchcock Woods, etc. Then I read more on her list: Liquor Stores I’ve Held Up. Chimp Fight Night. How to Handle Snitches.
Who had I gotten myself involved with!?!?!
Ha, I kid. Our lists were mostly the same. We settled on the topics and set off on our separate tasks. We tried to work on similar topics at the same time so that we could progress at a somewhat even pace. We quickly found out that she and I have very different work processes. Betsy took a slow and methodical approach, consistently churning out painting after painting. She would text me pictures and tell me what painting she had finished. I, meanwhile, took a different approach, and it is the way I have most always taken with my writing. I wait until I find myself up against a deadline. I have that deadline thought occur to me, often at the most inopportune moment, and then immerse myself into the writing. So, I’d be in the kitchen, putting dishes away and for whatever reason Betsy’s most recent text (“Nine paintings down! How’s it coming?”) would pop into my head.
“I’m going to work out on the deck,” I’d say to my wife.
“It’s 11:00 at night,” she would reply.
Around 2 a.m., as I was coming to bed, my wife would stir. “I got six written!” I would say. “The raccoons ate all our turnips,” my wife would reply. She’s a sound sleeper.
Every so often, Betsy and I would meet and compare notes. She’d show me some of her paintings, and I would share some of my writings. Betsy began assembling them, identifying the correct order and the like. She would ask my opinion. I would often nod and say, “Um, yes?” She would ask my opinion again, and I would respond, “Um, OK?” Betsy would summon her mom-tone. “Michael, I want your input.” I explained to Betsy that there were some things I did not have a strong opinion on, yet that made them no less important. It was hard for me to pick the order of our 30 topics, as they were all important. If the order was important to her, I stand behind her 100 percent. (Don’t tell Betsy that I used a very similar argument to get out of picking out china before my wife and I were married.)
Eventually, we both reached the 30-topic goal. We both wanted to make sure we were representing our individual visions of what we thought of, and that I was not writing captions for her illustrations, and she was not illustrating my words. We brought our two different mediums to the table, and we have produced a work that gives two perspectives of two people born and raised in Aiken and who are still pleased to call it home. I had a great time writing the book and a wonderful time working with Betsy. I look forward to our upcoming book signings. I look forward to talking with folks about what they think of when they think of Aiken. And, who knows, maybe I’ll even look forward to teaming up with Betsy for a second book. We can call it “When I Dream of Aiken…” I hope she can paint raccoons eating turnips.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website for the book is www.whenithinkofaiken.com.