This week I received two notes from readers concerned that they may be slipping into the ranks of former painters. One is overwhelmed with work. The other is struggling with grief at the end of a long relationship.
Coincidentally, I also talked with several people who said things along the lines of, “How do you do all the things you do? You must never sleep.”
Of course, neither extreme is true.
Out-of-work actors are sometimes euphemistically described as “resting.” If acting is as mentally and emotionally tiring as painting (and it probably is), it’s no surprise that actors’ down times are very down indeed.
There were years when I was too stressed to pick up a paintbrush. I worked, raised four kids, volunteered and drove to Buffalo every week to see our parents. I sublimated my creativity into gardening because I could watch my kids play at the same time. When I could paint, the results were pretty bad. I was rusty. I stopped thinking of myself as an artist, although I never stopped thinking as an artist.
Then there were years when despair and illness had me firmly in their grip. I had cancer twice. The first round disabled me for more than a year; the second only put me out for a few months. Major illness kicks the stuffing out of you and it took a long time for me to be able to work joyfully again.
I feel badly if my blog has created a false impression. Yes, I work a lot of hours, but lots of people do, including my husband. I get up very early, but I also go to bed very early. I take a day off every week except in very rare circumstances. There is something about set-aside time that is infinitely more refreshing than a few hours here and there in an endlessly revolving cycle of work.
“The difference between now and before you had cancer is that now you won’t do anything you don’t want to do,” my husband says. That overstates my affection for folding laundry, but in the main it’s true. It’s too bad that it took a near-death experience to get me there.
I don’t do lots of things normal people do, like go to movies, dine out, shop, play games, or watch television. I join absolutely nothing. If I do something for you or with you, it’s because I have a direct heart-connection with you, not out of any sense of obligation. It’s amazing how much more free time one has when one gives up on social convention.
For those of you who can’t paint right now, I can only hope that you are kinder to yourself than I was. Someday, you too will move past whatever is blocking your painting. You will look back and understand that the problem was never you; it was just how life is.