Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Sometimes when your life changes in drastic ways, you make deals with yourself. “I’ll get such-and-such accomplished as soon as he gets his sh*t together;” the problem being, of course, that first he’s never going to get his sh*t together, and second, you have no control over when that might happen anyway.

My basement studio is one of those perennial deals I make with myself– I’ll start using it to make art when [fill in the blank]. The latest is “when my husband moves his massive amounts of stored music and filing cabinets out of the basement.”

I’m taking a few days off– to write (hello! here I am again!), to draw, to fulfill a promise to myself to be an artist if only for a few days. But like preparing for any vacation, you have to do the work first– the packing and the cleaning and the calendar clearing. I want to do some drawing with pastel, which meant that I had to find the pastels.

While I’ve kept my studio space reasonably free of the inevitable detritus that accumulates in an unused space, entropy sets in and things pile up. Since the pastels were not in the accessible place that I first looked for them– an easily reached drawer– I had to start excavating.

I’m good at cleaning– I don’t have emotional attachments to things as a rule (there are exceptions: don’t get between me and something that belonged to my mother) so it’s easy for me to throw things away. The general rule of throwing stuff away is that if you don’t know you have it, you don’t need it.

Except the stuff you do need. Someone listening to me clean would have been hearing “lookitthat!”, “oh this thing!”, “Oh, man, so glad I didn’t buy a new one of these!”, “I wondered where that was” and “Oh I LOVE this!” (respectively a photo of me with my gradeschool best friend, taken about 15 years ago when she looked me up; a blue pashmina that I’d completely forgotten I had; a clamp-on pencil sharpener; a piece of art I traded with the artist maybe 20 years or more ago; and a wonderful portrait I drew of my daughter when she was about six.)

I also found the pastels.

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Since everyone is talking about goals and resolutions for the New Year, I’ll let you in on two very big ones I’ve set for myself, and how each year I am usually able to achieve them (or at least get close!)

My first resolution is to stop letting external situations affect my happiness. Sounds very Zen, right? I’ve tried many times over the years to meditate, but I lead a very active life and have a hard time sitting still. When I’ve tried, I always become too aware of physical aches and pains. And I find in trying to detach myself from outcomes I become too much of a zombie, feeling neither the highs nor lows of life.

Years ago I heard a radio program about Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who later wrote the book “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  Because of the suffering he and others endured in the concentration camps he came to his most important conclusion that even in the most dehumanized and painful situation, life has potential meaning and that therefore even suffering is meaningful. Specifically, he realized that no matter what happened, happiness was the one thing no one could take away from him. This profound idea has stuck with me, on the backburner of my mind.

Honestly, 2011 was one heck of a year: narrowly missing getting shot by a stupid neighbor’s stupid hunter, our well going dry and having to haul water for six months, having sudden bouts of debilitating bursitis, losing our aged pet wolf dog, accidentally catching the kitchen on fire, a young guitar student carving her name into my coffee table, just to name a few highlights of my personal distress. Maybe these things are worthy of anger, fear, depression, sadness. My usual outward response is trying to be humorous, but inwardly I had given permission to these events to rob me of happiness.

Do you let life’s troubles rob you of your happiness? What is your coping mechanism?

Secretly, I had hoped 2012 would go easier on me–but no such luck. I started the year with a head cold, and just two days before our trip to Chicago to visit family (from where I am writing) my husband cracked a molar and had to make an eight hour round trip to an oral surgeon to have it extracted (I told you we live in the boonies). The same day our heat pump stopped working and the repair people said the compressor is shot and the repair would be 7,000 dollars. The day before the trip our farm sitter had some heart trouble and was taken to the hospital, so I had to train a friend the hour before leaving how to care for 90 animals. The icing on the cake was the blizzard that hit Chicago the day we were to arrive, a five hour delay boarding three different planes, only to be de-planed and put up overnight in Memphis.

Welcome to Chicago

Amazingly I have not let these things rob me of my happiness. I recognize something in me has shifted by simply setting the resolution. I was thankful there was a doctor that could work my husband in, and glad he has experienced so little pain. I realized we have plenty of dead trees from the drought we can cut down and burn in the fireplace, and that we’d even bought ourselves a new chainsaw for Christmas. I was thankful to have such a kind and trustworthy friend willing to take on our farm at the last minute. I found a lovely -12 degree coat on sale and felt quite rested after a night in Memphis. I felt empathetic for the harried airline employees, and the airline comped everything, and even gave us vouchers towards our next trip. By the time we arrived in Chicago the blizzard was over, the snow beautiful. The car rental agency was out of econo-cars, so they gave us a sports car! I’m having a nice time. Nothing can rob me of my happiness!

My second lofty goal is to start earning my living as a fine art painter. I’ve never doubted I could do it–if I only could find the time to paint enough pieces. But I always found excuses of why I didn’t have time. (That’s very easy to do when you let life’s troubles affect your happiness). When you stop and look at all the tribulations that great writers, artists, inventors, and scientists have gone through and yet still been able to produce movingly beautiful, ground-breaking, and incredible works, you realize it can be done. These people didn’t have life any easier or let excuses get in the way of their passions.

You might say I’m on my own search for meaning. On New Year’s Eve, I had the great fortune of meeting a woman that has been making her living as a fine art painter, and she’s graciously been encouraging me and telling me how to get my foot in the door. To my own astonishment I ordered 50 blank canvases of various sizes and amid all the current chaos was able to lay the foundation work of two paintings in just two days before we left.

Do you let excuses get in the way of following your passion and aspirations?

Red Admirals underpainting by Sage Austin

Ripples underpainting by Sage Austin

I’ll be sure to post the finished versions of these soon.

One of the ways I’ve been able to stay on track with my resolutions and goals over the years is through accountability. My best friend (who lives in another state) and I decided about 15 years ago to act as life coaches for each other. Each new year we email our goals and resolutions to each other and set up regular phone or email sessions each month to check up on how we are doing, and to encourage one another. We have been doing this for so long we’ve learned that we achieve most of our goals when we stay on track, and the years that we’ve strayed from our accountability sessions we don’t usually reach our goals. I would highly recommend this method to anyone serious about their resolutions and goals.

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