A woman at the gallery where I show my photographs used to say, "Amateurs borrow ideas; professionals steal them." The idea of copying another's art has always made me uncomfortable, but I'm beginning to learn that the struggle to recreate an appealing concept can teach me a lot, both about what I want to paint, and what techniques I can use to achieve my objectives.
This painting, for example, which I finished yesterday, was inspired by a piece of art I found in one of the slew of catalogs that tend to show up in our mailboxes around this time of year. Does that mean it's not mine? The thickened sections underneath are uniquely my own, but the mirage-like shimmer of it is what happened when I tried to duplicate the other artist's technique -- and I really like it, so much so that I've already used it to soften some of the other works I've done recently which seemed to have too much texture.
So, in the end, allowing myself to be inspired by another's work was not only a way to take an old canvas I no longer cared for and turn it into something I could really like, but it has allowed me to reclaim some other pieces whose compositions I liked but whose execution seemed to me to be flawed.
Moral of the story? Listen to your heart, don't be afraid to bend the rules a bit, and trust that everything has something to teach you. At least -- that's what I'm thinking now. Ask me again later!
This is just to let you know: moments of enlightenment, however brief, can come in strange packages.
We have spent this past year and a half moving. We decided in the spring of 2014, given that my husband had gone from unemployed to retired, that we really could no longer afford to continue living in our lovely waterfront home.
So we began looking for a house: something smaller, cheaper, closer to town, with a studio for me and a view for him. After a year of looking, we were forced to realize that we weren't going to find everything in one house (kind of like you can't find everything you're looking for in one mate!) and we needed to compromise.
It turned out that we could have cheaper, closer, a studio, or a view; pick any three. So we chose the first three and sacrificed the view. Which is harder for my husband than for me, as it turns out -- but actually, hard for me as well: the artist in me misses seeing the water, the mountains, the shorebirds, the boats, the beach... But I thought I was doing a good job of compensating by essentially painting what I missed. And I didn't realize I was missing something more than that; that my ego had taken a hit.
And then came these boots. Taos (one of the few brands of shoes I can actually wear without orthotics) Pride, in midnight blue. I found them online by accident while doing my annual search for a pair of comfortable winter boots (I live in boots for three out of four seasons, so I go through a pair every year), and I fell in love. Ordered what looked like it would be my size; they came; they were gorgeous; and they were too small. Looked for the next size up (very hard to find by this time), ordered them, and they arrived but it turns out they'd not only given me the wrong color (teal, instead of midnight blue) but also that teal was really a dull blotchy gray.
Bummer. I was seriously disappointed.By this time I had purchased both a dress and a little cloth purse in midnight blue, and was very excited about this new and actually rather unlikely outfit for me. So late last night found me searching frantically online for some other blue boot to serve in this boot's stead.
Wrong. On so many levels. And I understood that, but I couldn't stop looking: at this point I was demonstrating some pretty serious addictive behavior, not that I could actually see or control that.
MEANWHILE, back at the ranch -- we are now living in our new log cabin in the woods, the old house will close at the end of this coming week (yay), we have moved the last of our belongings -- the really nice ones, that were being used to stage the house, into the new house (I spent much of the day yesterday arranging them and trying to find a place for everything) -- AND our daughter moved back in with us 2 days ago.
It turns out that our daughter has discovered Eckhart Tolle (hurray!) So, since I had finished the book I was reading and looking for something to reread, I picked up my own copy of Tolle's New Earth and began reading.
Funny thing about that. This morning's Tolle passage was all about how caught up we can become in finding our identity in our possessions. In the words of the immortal Sheldon from Big Bang, BAZINGA! Or maybe OUCH.
In one of those flashes of insight we occasionally stumble into, I realized that my identity was all tangled up with our beautiful waterfront home. And now that it's really gone, and we're trying to stuff all our "things" into this newer, smaller, less impressive log cabin, I was feeling ... I don't know... somehow... less.
So yes, it was the artist in me that was attracted to the boots in the first place -- hey, they're really pretty! And they're BLUE! How cool is that? But what was initially an attraction became an obsession because some part of me had decided I would feel... like a cooler person, if I wore those boots. Wearing a cool pair of boots had become, without my realizing it, a way to make up for the loss of identity, as if people might see I still had "IT" (whatever IT is) even though I no longer had my pretty waterfront home.
It's embarrassing, really, to realize how far off track you can get, and how quick the ego is to see an opportunity to jump in and take over.
I'm not going to apologize to myself for this. Or berate myself -- I'm human, after all. But it was lovely, having discovered the root of this obsession, to go into meditation with that knowledge, and to reach inside myself and re-awaken that larger me that lies beneath that boot-kicking ego; to feel again (after what has seemed like months of struggling with my busy monkey mind) that space and buoyancy that fills my cells, my bones, my veins; that vast and more connected self that looks at little me and my longing for pretty boots and chuckles gently and pats me on the head.
We are so much more than our homes, our clothes, our boots, our jobs, our possessions, our talents, our families, our lives. We are so much more. And it's so incredibly easy to forget that.
So I bless the occasional moment when enlightenment hits; when I finally stop looking outside myself, and look instead for the space INside myself, that vast expanse of soul, and breathe into it, rest in it, and feel the buoyancy of love and acceptance that lives there. And now, at last, though I have to confess I'm still looking for a pair of boots, I can chuckle a little at the silliness of my obsessions.
Yup. I'm still a work in progress. And it's all good.
It was a hot sticky summer night in my grandmother's 4th floor walkup in Hoboken. All the windows were open, so we could hear the neighbors arguing, the kids playing down in the street below, and the ships bellowing in the harbor a few blocks away.
I had just turned 8, and my very special birthday present would be happening the next day: a trip across the water to Radio City Music Hall to see a performance by Fess Parker, star of my very favorite TV show, Davy Crockett. The thought of possibly acquiring my very own coonskin cap, just like Davy's, had me too excited to sleep, so even though my parents had tucked me into my uncle's old bed, that lay just beyond the curtain from the living room where they would sleep, I kept popping up to ask: what time would we leave? Could we buy the hat beFORE the show? How long did they think the tail would be?
And finally my poor parents, desperately trying to cool down and sleep in the relentless heat, told me that if I bothered them ONE MORE TIME they would not take me to the show. By this time I knew my mom could be fierce, so I tried really really hard to go to sleep. But then one more question popped into my brain, one that I just could NOT got to sleep without having answered, and so I poked my head out of the curtain one last time to ask -- and she followed through on her threat.
I never got to see Davy Crockett; never got my coonskin cap; and for years afterward the sense of hurt and betrayal from that incident haunted me.
So this morning, when I read in Liz Gilbert's wonderful book about creativity and fear that "No doesn't always have to mean No," I heard a voice saying, "Yes it does," and I was instantly taken back to that 8-year-old's disappointment. But then another word caught my eye, in Gilbert's next sentence, and that word was persistence -- which took me, as words can sometimes do, to another key point in my life history.
You see, when I first met the man who has now been my husband for over 31 years, it was clear he was attracted to me, and I was, like, totally -- NO! I'd been married before, for one thing, and it had ended very badly so I was pretty much off men. But the few who had managed to sneak under my guard were all very much like my first husband: tall, slim, long-legged, dark-haired, smooth-skinned, articulate, intensely creative and very spiritual.
And this guy, whose first words to me were "Hi, I'm Christian, but in name only (heh, heh, heh)!" was under 6 ft. tall, a bear of a guy with huge pecs and shoulders, short legs, kinky light brown hair and a full beard -- and it was clear that none of those last three adjectives applied. So I was WAY far beyond no, well into the zone where hell freezes over.
But he was -- and here's that word -- persistent. Not in a creepy way: he wasn't a stalker, he wasn't pushy, he never tried to overpower me, but he was consistently present in a way that was impossible to ignore -- and eventually I came to realize that his brand of respectful, constant appreciation was exactly what I needed to recover from the wounds of my first marriage. Once having allowed myself to open a bit to those constant beams of affection I eventually realized I could relax around him in a way I'd never been able to elsewhere, and that sense of being fully myself and fully appreciated became a kind of healing magic, to which I've been addicted ever since.
My point is -- sometimes no DOESN'T mean no -- even for me. And now, after spending my younger years nursing the hurt from the Davy Crockett incident, and then spending my child-rearing years thinking my mom probably did the right thing (even though I found it hard to put it into practice with my own kids), I realize that though it's possible that without consistent consequences children never learn discipline, it's also true that sometimes, when a no eventually converts into a yes, it's a sign of love, and of openness, and of presence.
What I learned, from that early no, was not to buck the system; that rejection was rejection and unalterable -- in fact, I learned, remembering the pain of that early no, to watch for early signs of rejection and walk away before the real no could come, so it wouldn't hurt so much. What my children learned, from watching me struggle to be flexible around consequences, was that sometimes no could become yes, and that I loved them enough to allow that to happen. Not all the time. But often enough to give them hope -- and confidence. Because they were occasionally rewarded for persistence, because, occasionally, I loved them enough and cared enough to change my mind, they learned, like my husband, the potential value of persistence. It's a good thing.
It took me a lot longer than it took my girls to learn that lesson, to learn that no doesn't always mean no. And for me that learning has come, not at the knee of my parents, but at the knee of the universe. As a result of the infinite kindness of fate and circumstances, because years of experience have taught me the truth of that old adage about one door slams and another door opens, I, too, now understand that no doesn't always mean no. Sometimes it means not now, or not yet, or not in this way, or not with that person, or simply -- wait for it! It -- whatever it may be -- may come in some unexpected guise, stocky and bearded when you were expecting lean and lantern-jawed, but it will almost always prove to be more than you ever could have asked or imagined -- and definitely worth the wait.