Painting is just another way of keeping a diary. -Pablo Picasso
Interesting week. Last weekend I was chatting with a new acquaintance and the conversation came around to the book manuscript I’ve written and the fact that it was on it’s second edit at the time. I haven’t said much to people and it’s sort of exciting to tell someone, “I have a book coming out early next year.” Exciting and daunting.
The next day, our computer crashed. Completely died. Tech support couldn’t help me during the two hour call and we had to take it in for service. In the process of reloading the operating system, everything was lost. I did have a backup copy of the manuscript, but I’d lost my journal, my documents, my digital portfolio…everything. Because, of course, I hadn’t backed anything up. Completely my own fault. But I wasn’t worried, because the manuscript was with the publisher, I had a backup copy, and I would just have to let everything else go. I was reminded of my mother-in-law whose condo had been flooded and all her records were lost. She had been the family historian and baptismal records, birth and death records, ordination papers, and photos were all gone. While she was sorry to lose everything, she adopted the philosophy that she was coming out of that flood lean and mean. I am determined to follow her example.
A day later, I got a call from the publisher about book design. He’d like me to submit some photos of my artwork to incorporate into the cover design. I’d given up my art career to take care of Mom, and including a painting would tie the story into the design. I have the perfect painting in mind. It was a watercolor of my Grandmother’s crochet work and the type of roses she used to grow. Grandma raised my mother, and then she raised me. It seemed perfect. I no longer have the painting, but I did have photo documentation of all the paintings I did over a twenty something period of time. I did. Once. Can I find the slides and records? No, I cannot. I’ve lost my written journal and my visual journal.
I haven’t given up the search, but we may have to move to Plan B for cover design. Stay tuned.
Jane Rutherford has an excellent article on the Scribophile Writing Blog. The title is Writing Bootcamp: Writing Whenever, Wherever, Whatever. Whenever I’ve gone to a writer’s conference it never fails that I come away feeling guilty. Every workshop stresses that a writer needs to set a writing schedule and stick to it. I know there’s validity to that statement. As an artist I would tell my students the importance of spending time in the studio every day. Even if you didn’t paint that day, get into your workspace, spend time in there, draw, prepare painting surfaces, clean up the space, and just do something. Eventually, after putting in the discipline of setting aside the time the painting ideas will flow. I know that discipline works no matter what the creative medium is.
However, I am in a season of life where I simply cannot plan like that. Work might call and ask me to come in, or my in-laws may call with a crisis that cannot be ignored. If I find myself with an afternoon free, I most likely need to mow the lawn. Which brings me back to Ms. Rutherford. She observes that the popular technique of setting a writing schedule and sticking to it sounds great, but from experience she knows it can be rather difficult. Just seeing a professional writer say that in print was a massive relief. Her advice? Instead of setting up a schedule that won’t work and feeling guilty for not following it, write whatever you can, whenever you can, wherever you can. That advice is flipping brilliant in its simplicity. Be it writing or painting, just do what you can. Have a notebook or sketchbook with you at all times and do what you can, when you can.
With that in mind, I’ve pulled out a manuscript I’ve been working on for a few years and once more started working on it. It is in very rough form, but I’ve polished up about eighty pages (with the help of an editor) and it’s time to start working on it again. It’s my story of caring for my mother who was a very difficult woman. I stopped working on it because of all the things that were happening in my life and I had started to believe that my story doesn’t matter. Recently, I ran across a quote by Frederick Buechner that reminded me that idea was wrong. He said, “The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story”. My story matters. The story of forgiveness and care giving is something other people need to hear. We’re all in this together and we all need to share our stories.
It’s been ten years ago today that we moved my mother from her house in the Detroit metro area to Grand Rapids. It was an event that radically changed both our lives. While she knew her memory was failing and that she needed help, she also realized she was losing her home, her friends and everything familiar to her, and she was grieving that.
I knew I was putting my entire life aside to help the woman who gave me birth, but didn't raise me. And though I had already stepped into her life after not hearing from her in over a decade and done the hard work of forgiveness, now started the day to day grind of walking it out.
Throughout that journey, my life kept shrinking. I quit painting, I quit volunteering, and I quit working…bit by bit I had to let things go until all I did was look after my mother, who was increasingly resentful of me. Frankly, I was resentful of her as well.
We all long to have a destiny. I think that’s why Rick Warren’s book Purpose Filled Life was such a big seller. People long to have a deeper purpose than just getting up every day and going through the motions of living. As my life shrank more and more and I became invisible to everyone around me, I grieved that I no longer had a future. I had no idea how long this season would last, but I knew the world wasn't waiting for me when it was over. Life was moving steadily on, friends and acquaintances were moving ahead in their careers and lives while I shepherded mom through the last years of her life.
A rather startling experience occurred a couple years into caregiving. I was at a conference when a young woman I’d never met came up to me and said that God had revealed to her that I was an artist of some kind and that God wanted me to pick it up again and use it for Him. It took my breath away, and gave me great hope. But back at home, the day to day grind would continue and a couple years later I’d wondered if I’d missed the boat. God sent another stranger to say the same thing.
It’s exciting to have a destiny, and to have had the supernatural experience of people coming up out of the blue to confirm it. But I think we may forget that a purposeful life is filled with insignificant things. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, computer crashes, power outages, paying bills and other nagging, boring details make up our lives leading up to other times of great satisfaction. The graduation of a child, becoming teacher of the year, publishing a book, giving a presentation, receiving a contract for a gallery show, or any number of wonderful things are made up of really insignificant times. Changing diapers, making lesson plans, writing and re-writing, practicing in front of a mirror, working on fundamental skills over and over. All this and more takes place before the big things come to pass.
As a result, our thoughts can wander into dark places. “I’m a failure. This is useless. I have nothing to contribute.” These thoughts are poisonous. It is good to remember when Jesus was baptized and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, in Whom I am well pleased,” that Jesus hadn't done one miracle, hadn't called one disciple, but had just put in His time growing up, learning a trade and developing a relationship with His Father. Could it be that the insignificant things that feel like wasted time actually matter to God?
It is good to ponder on this as I’m transitioning back into art and writing. I’m back to working on fundamental skills. Every day is a reminder on how far behind the curve I am.
I’m right on track.
Note: The observation about Jesus' life comes from a CD series by Francis Frangipane called Holiness, Truth and the Presence of God. Here is a link to purchase that set. It also comes as an MP3 format. Used by permission.
I have so much to do. I know you do, too, but this is my whine.
I’m taking the summer off to try to get things done. Work has been slow, so there’s no hardship on my co-workers.
I’ve been frantically trying to work in the studio, edit a manuscript and complete projects in the house. Mike and I were up late last night working on trying to complete an herb garden. We worked until a storm came in – or rather Mike did. I saw it coming, packed up my tools and went to soak in the tub. My husband is a diehard and kept at it.
Even with taking time off, I can’t see how I can get everything done. So when the going gets tough, the not-so-tough play computer solitaire. So much so, that now I have tennis elbow and am getting acoustic compression treatments to get it to heal. I’m not really impressed with myself, to be honest.
It is time for some serious prayer, but I seem to be rather lost even there. Me – the woman who loves prayer, who has spent hours in prayer, and who has received supernatural healing through prayer for crying out loud.
What is up with that?
Fortunately, I’ve stumbled on a book that seems to be helping me find my way again. It’s a work of fiction. I heard the author at a conference at Calvin College and made a mental note that I wanted to read her book. The title is Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown.
It’s the stories of four woman going through a spiritual formation class. I can see bits of myself in each woman. As I read their journey, it’s guiding me back to a place of deeper prayer and contemplation in ways I’d forgotten about. This book is filled with spiritual insights and gentle truths.
I think I’ll set aside my panic attack for now and read another chapter.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.