I have had what I hope is an epiphany. That is to say, I hope I don't move back into the cave of my own reticence and fear. Please bear with me here, my mind is running in two circles.
I am 52. I became a grandmother for the first time last December and the second time in January. I wanted to be a grandmother while I was still young enough to chase them and spend time with them. I had an excellent grandmother and I wanted to be an excellent grandmother. It is a distinct, marked point of transition in one’s life, being a grandparent. It is a rite of passage of a sort, and as my oldest son is 29, it is one I had waited for a bit longer than anticipated.
I had another life mapped out for myself at 21, and it didn’t include getting married and having children. I wanted to be an artist. I knew this was my life’s work, my ambition, my passion, my direction, my life’s calling. Because of some complicated family drama and a controlling boyfriend, I ended up pregnant and married, in that order, at 23. I went on to have six children in all, being a single parent before my last child was born because he walked out on the family. I was kept too busy to paint even during the marriage, I think because my ex-husband was jealous of my abilities and of the art degree I had earned that he had not. Once we were separated, I scrambled to make a living to support my children by myself because I knew I would not have his help in that direction or any other. I ended up building a career where I have been successful, reasonably happy, but after 17 years, bored and unfulfilled. This is not my life’s calling.
I faced turning 52 in February 2013 by finding more than a few white hairs sprouting from my temples to be glints of light amongst my red curls. The irony of this time in my life is that I’m a grandmother, “graying” and still frequenting the feminine hygiene aisles and trying to decide if I’m still young…ish, or if I’m sliding past being a middle-aged woman to be a wrinkled old crone. Of late, I ask myself again and again about what the rest of my life will be like; long or short, happy or in despair, or dreaming more dreams that will be unrequited like a high school crush, or will I continue to live in fear without the confidence to follow my passion?
I continue to paint, read every article, blog, newsletter, book about marketing I can put my hands on…and being too afraid of rejection to move on much of any of it. My work has gotten progressively better, and on a personal level, better than I thought it would be even if I painted every day of my life for 50 years, which I have not done, yet and won’t have the chance to find out, at this point. I have three days off from the drudgery of my full time job to paint, and paint I DO. The process is incredibly satisfying because I’m producing something I’m proud of, to a point I suppose, but the finished product holds no glory, no expectation, no appreciation in me. This fact is all twisted up with the above-mentioned family drama and the fact that my own parents refuse to hang my artwork on their walls and always have. I had to be about the process, that was the only pleasure I was ever going to experience. Until this week.
In December of 2011, a local family commissioned me to paint a memorial of a much beloved German shepherd. The dog’s name was Kia and the summer before she had had to be put down, owing to ocular cancer. There were many photos taken her last day, and these were handed to me for reference. Her right eye was clouded over with the cancer, so naturally I didn’t paint it that way. It is not a special piece, not one of my best. The eyes are my usual effort and have some life to them, but I was not overly enthusiastic about my work. This piece was to be a surprise Christmas gift for a local man as Kia was his dog. I could not post it online, but I could share with the family who commissioned it. I sent them text photos as I moved along. They kept assuring me I was spot on. I did the framing myself, cutting mats and making it what they wanted. I took it to them, was paid and didn’t hear anything more about it. The gentleman who received this painting is someone I know on sight, but I had not run into him in this time since and he wouldn’t know my face to put with my name. I didn’t know what I would say to him when the time came. I was not particularly thrilled by my efforts, even though I understood that my instincts and work were correct.
This week, my opportunity came.
Me: Your name is J____ isn’t it?
J: Yes, it is.
Me: You have a painting in your home of a special dog named Kia.
He looked up and met my gaze, eyes beginning to fill with tears.
Me: I’m Lynne Hurd Bryant, and that painting is my work.
I held out my hand to shake his, as is polite. By this point, he would not take my hand. Instead, he grabbed me, held me tightly and told me that I had no idea how special that painting was for him, how very like her it is, how it is like having her there to keep watch, what a special dog she was…and wept openly, apologizing for doing so.
Me: She was your “life dog”?
J: Oh my, yes; yes she was. I miss her so much.
Me: I can absolutely understand that. I’m a dog person myself. I wanted to capture her just right, for you.
J: You certainly did!
Me: It was a labor of love.
It was a labor of love…yes, all my painting is just exactly that, but my love and respect ends when I sign it. I suppose I take for granted that my signature is the end of it, but it can be just the beginning. For every hour, every stroke of midnight, 3 a.m. that I have spent with a brush in my hand, for every time I think I have tried and failed, for the sales that are there or not, hit or miss, for all the sighing over the portfolio of beautiful orphans who don’t find homes, for all the defeat, futility, inadequacy, fear and disappointment…I honestly had no idea of the power of my work that it would ever, could ever, touch another human being quite that way.
This is a game changer.
It doesn’t matter that I have grandchildren, except that I’m blessed with more subject matter and a lot more love and joy in my life. I can exercise artistic license and color the white hairs of betrayal. The zigzagging hormones that bring tears at all the improper times are actually opening my heart and making me the more emotional artist I have wanted to be. The job that is sucking the life out of me doesn’t have to be full time anymore and I can semi-retire, work rather part time at any point of my choosing.
The brushstrokes we leave on the lives of others never fade, but I didn’t know that was literal as well as figurative. It is time to put my fears aside and move forward with understanding and faltering confidence. It is not too late to follow a 30-year-old dream and to paint like there is no tomorrow until all my tomorrows are gone.