A midlife epiphany
My life was full.
Full of responsibilities & commitments, full of friends & family, full of laundry to be done, full of weeds to be pulled, full of bills to be paid, and evidently full of food (as I was more than 100 lbs. overweight)...let's just say "I was full"...in more ways than one.
My jobs, and their subsequent responsibilities have always been creative. I count myself lucky in that regard. I would tell people on a regular basis "I love my job, and there are days that I don't want to go to work, so I can't imagine what it would be like to work at something I hated".
Whether I was constructing garments for Broadway productions, writing musicals for children's theatre, creating costumes for dance, or designing large scale social events; on a daily basis the right side of the brain was making 9 to 5 "withdrawals" on the "bank account" of my creativity. In addition, since I appear to be physically incapable of answering in the negative, when asked to take part in any form of creative endeavor, my leisure time was soon allocated. The inability to say "no" quickly filled my free time with other people's plans.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed at least some part of every single one of them. They allowed me to sharpen my technical skills and discover a joy of teaching I didn't know I possessed. There is also a definite ego boost in being asked to help because "you're so good at it"...it just left no time for me. No time to explore my goals. No time for the challenge of self-improvement. It also left me "overdrawn".
I tried to explain to a friend once, that I often felt as if I were allotted a weekly amount of "clever" that was direct deposited in my "account" of creativity. People often gush about how talented I am, so at the risk of sounding conceited, I'll acknowledge that I may get an above average contribution. It's usually been more than enough to cover the "costs" of work, with enough left over to pick up the creative "tab" of my extracurricular projects...usually. There's just nothing going into "savings"; no "investments" of creativity were being stored away for a rainy day.
More and more I found myself not wanting to work, and remember, I'm the guy who loves his job! I needed something to inspire me, something to spark my creativity, something to fill up my "account" with plans and ideas...something to challenge me, a chance for growth and self-improvement, and all the benefits that come with that.
For years I talked about taking a painting class. I've had basic art in school, even life drawing classes in college...but my focus was always performance (theatre, music, and dance), and there are only so many elective or non-major courses they'll let you take. I've painted...let's just call it "self-taught". I cheat, melding together logic, techniques from home improvement shows, observation, "how to" books...serviceable, but I didn't feel like I could call myself an artist.
So, every year, around New Year's I would make a resolution to take a class and find a teacher...but we all know how those usually go...until a couple of years ago.
I had been home visiting with my extended family for the holidays, relaxing on the couch and watching mindless television. While the Golden Girls bantered back and forth, I found myself repeatedly staring at a painting my grandmother had done, and that my parents proudly hung in their home.
Grandma started painting after she retired. She started with Bob Ross and his "happy little bushes", and quickly found herself hooked...but it wasn't enough. She sought out a teacher, covered the guest room in tarps, went to every brush sale at the local craft store, and dived in.
I looked again at the painting. A shaggy, off white dog, of undetermined breed, sat in the middle of a pale blue background, pink tongue a lolling. The painting is flawed. There is no depth of field, no attempt to incorporate the subject into its surroundings...the dog, while realistic, and a good representation of the original subject seems to float in space. In addition, the painting lacks a sharpness of focus that we would later come to realize was the precursor of the macular degeneration that would eventually claim her eyesight. What it does possess, is joy. Pure unadulterated joy. You can see it in every stroke, you can feel it radiate off the canvas...not just the gleam of the pup's eyes, not just the jaunty tilt of his ears or his silly tongue...I could feel her joy in the actual process, in the whimsy of brush strokes...and then I felt something else. I felt the "deposit" of inspiration as it tipped the balance in my overdrawn "creativity account".
While I stared at the painting, from the TV in the background, I heard Blanche say that she was "middle aged", and Dorothy quipped back "middle aged, how many 120 year olds do you know?"
On my mother's couch, staring at my grandmother's creation, with the wit of an 80's sitcom ringing in my ear, I laughed...and then I panicked. I was 50, and I didn't know anyone pushing 100.
Time was of the essence. I knew that I could not let another New Year come and go with a failed resolution dogging my heels... I prowled the art supply stores, I searched online, and I perused the continuing education classes at the community college. One name came up from multiple sources, so I wrote a politely desperate email and waited. In the end, I found a teacher, with a group of likeminded souls on their own journeys in her wake, and an unending font of creative inspiration. When we gather to paint, when we banter via facebook and email, when we casually converse on the state and nature of art, I can literally feel the "deposits" being made into my "creativity account".
I feel creatively rich.
My life still feels full...but not bloated. At the same time, I haven't lost the hunger in my soul...in my body less so...my new found focus finds me 50 lbs lighter (both figuratively, and literally)...an added bonus!
My first piece, under the tutelage of my new mentor, was my own version of a dog in front of a blue background. I put aside everything I'd ever done before, and followed the rules, no cheating! She laughed at me, informing me that "there are no real rules", but she knew what I was striving for, and why. The end result is flawed, my perspective is off, some might question the validity of the subject and how I chose to present it...I don't care. It hangs in my home, and I feel joy when I look at it. I feel inspired when I think about what I might try to do differently...and when my young niece comes over and repeatedly looks at it, giggles, and through a smile, tells me "it's silly", I feel more than a deposit in the creativity coffers...I feel a link, an echo, a ripple back in time to my Grandmother...a little older than I am now, brushes in hand, at a crossroad of creativity, her life about to change as she falls in love with painting, comfortable in the knowledge that she won't be "overdrawn".