There is an expression whose origins I cannot recall, but that resonates deeply within me:
“We learn the most from the things that hurt the most.”
We need joy in our lives to carry us forward, but the experiences that drop us to our knees are the ones that cause us to look deeply within and to ask questions whose answers can change us for all time. “What did I do wrong? Could I have done anything differently? Was it me, or them? How can I fix this? Should I even bother? I am lost…where am I? Who am I?” In our search for answers, we find pieces of the puzzle that make us, us.
So I’d like to tell you a little story about how I fell in love with art, the many mistakes that I’ve made over the years that kept me from living my soul’s purpose, and how I eventually came full-circle to rediscover who I really am.
All the same, looking at that canvas and those little pots of paint and brushes ignited a little flame inside my young soul that I had never felt before. It rippled through me like a wave of goosebumps on the underside of my skin. I didn’t know it back then, but at that moment, I fell in love.
So I began to paint, one tiny section at a time. The holidays came and went, and I returned to school, getting through all of those classes while my thoughts kept returning to that painting. I couldn’t wait to get home each day to add more paint to that canvas. I finished it in about three weeks. My brothers and parents were so proud of me, you would think I had painted the thing from scratch or talent…or something. The encouragement was like a drug.
Let’s fast forward. I was a teenager, interested in teenage things, but mostly the arts. I bought a guitar and dove into music. Wrote songs. Sketched things that, in retrospect, were really quite shitty. Then in my early twenties I decided to go to university to study art. I sought funding to pay for tuition and accommodations (because I’d have had to go to a larger city to study) and ended up receiving grants that would cover the entirety of the tuition and housing for the full four years. Manna from Heaven! It was meant to be, I thought. Only glitch was that I had to get some upgrading in certain subjects to meet their enrollment requirements. So I arranged to attend adult school to get those.
While I was doing my upgrading I met a guy and fell in love, which brought me face-to-face with a very difficult decision when he asked me to marry him. I could stay where I was and have a life with him, or I could leave him to pursue a career. The guy looked like Dean Cain–you know, Superman. I was young, shallow, and stupid, and had no idea back then that a pretty face didn’t necessarily come with a kind heart, so I chose the man and moved in with him. Shortly afterward, I got pregnant, and shortly after that, he began cheating with other women. He even brought one of them home to meet me. Yeah…what a guy, right? I got my pregnant self out of there and got on with my life, but believe me, I so regretted giving up my career in art for the likes of him.
Let’s fast forward again. Decades later, I still had not gone to art school. I worked full time and started writing in what little free time I had left, which was again another art form. I eventually published books (back in the day when people had to submit manuscripts and face enough rejection letters to wallpaper the walls.) I got married. Let’s not even get into that mistake. The years flew by like a whirling dervish on an acid trip, and the process of earning a living kept me from living.
During this time of healing, I could no longer write. Neither could I work. Some people can but I couldn’t because those surgeries and radiation followed too closely on the heels of a total hysterectomy. My body felt brutalized. Radiation is an accumulative thing. The first three or four doses were fine but then I started to feel the burn in my skin, while this radiation literally killed the flesh in my right breast, took out the upper third of my right lung, and caused bone brittleness in my ribs on that side.
Let me restate that in a more descriptive way. Part of me was literally KILLED, in order to save me from dying. I had to consent to this, and sign a waiver and allow myself to be strapped to a hard, cold slab in the position of one being crucified, and allow them to fill me with this deadly poison to save my life. All of this was done behind a thick concrete wall that was a foot deep, to prevent any of that shit from affecting humans. Yet, it was okay to put me in there and hit me with it directly in the chest, inches from my heart. You may or may not have an idea how terrifying that is or how it cripples you, mentally and emotionally and physically. The irony in that is darkly sublime, isn’t it?
I was told that the side effects would be permanent. I went through radiation every day for weeks. I grew weaker and more tired with each treatment until this lethargic feeling seeped into my brain as well, and I could no longer focus enough to complete a single cohesive sentence. I could no longer write, and I was too damn tired to do anything else.
During that period, and the long months of healing afterward, I’d go into my office and try, without success, to write. I couldn’t. But I had a storage cabinet in there that housed all sorts of art supplies, which I seldom used anymore because life just got me running around too much to bother painting or sketching or anything like that. I could hear that cabinet whispering to me, “Hey, you. Yes, you. Paint.”
“I don’t want to paint! I can’t paint! I can’t focus! I can’t even think!”
We fought over this, me and that obnoxious frigging cabinet, every day for weeks. To make matters worse my cat, Rasputin, Master of Chaos, kept clawing open the door, causing the art supplies to fall out, and I would have to put them all back in. I started to think that he and the cabinet were in cahoots.
Part of my inability to think, I have to admit, was that I was still in a deep, dark funk over how close I had come to losing my life, and how much living I had NOT done in all the years leading up to that time. I was filled with regrets, the likes of which I cannot verbalize. Lemme tall ya, staring at your own mortality straight in the eye makes you have a long, hard look at your hole card.
Eventually, the cabinet won, and I starting putting brush to canvas again. Very soon into this reunion with my first love–art–something magical and mysterious began to unfold. I looked at a blank spot on the canvas where I wanted to paint a foot. I had never even drawn a foot before let alone paint one. Nevertheless, I was staring at the canvas trying to figure out how to go about this (with no training on the anatomy of a foot) when all of a sudden I saw the completed foot on that spot on the canvas. I looked away, thinking I was imagining things and looked back, and there it was again. It seemed the all I had to do was get the right color and the right brush, and apply it to the different parts of the foot, the same way as I had done as a teen, with that paint-by-numbers kit.
Goosebumps skittered over my skin, while this foot emerged from the canvas, with veins and toenails and ankle bone above it. About this time I started thinking that the cabinet was smarter than I was because something weird and wonderful was going on here, for which I could find no logical explanation. I went on a painting frenzy that didn’t end and began studying techniques and mediums online. I wasn’t so brain-burnt and stupid that I couldn’t recognize when a divine gift was literally handed to me on a palate. All of those images that I really couldn’t have painted before even if I had wanted to (because I had no training,) all of a sudden came possible for me to do, as if I had been formally studied.
That was four years ago, and every painting you see on this website was painted since then. I am finally, at the age of sixty-four, doing what I truly love. And people are buying them.
I guess the moral of the story is that you don’t have to go searching for your soul’s purpose. It will find you one way or the other if you stop long enough to let it catch up…and that many great things are born of pain…but most importantly, you’re never too old and it is never too late to fall in love again.
Paint, write, dance, dream…this is your one shot at life. Make it count.