I wrote a blog post draft a week ago, knowing full well it would never see the light of day. In it I was able to wail and rant and despair and simmer down and finally see the point in it all. That is not something I like to do in public, it can be embarrassing at any age, let alone when someone is officially crone age, with or without the wisdom bit.
What does age mean anyway? Is it that we have been alive long enough so that our feelings should be well and fully under control by now? Or is it that we have perhaps allowed ourselves to become so jaded that nothing hurts, except maybe our joints?
When I was a kid I looked at all the really old people I knew, the grandpas and grandmas and nursing home people, and I noticed something I couldn’t understand. It seemed like every one of them had at some point reached a fork in the road and had made a choice. The first road was ‘Happy.’ Nowadays I would use big words like contented or grateful or satisfied, but to a little kid, it looked like happy.
The other road sign said, ‘Angry’. Again, I would now say bitter or mean-spirited or resentful, but angry works too. They were the old people who snapped at little kids to be quiet, or to get out of the way, or to stop acting like kids. Too much joy annoys these people.
I found myself at that intersection last Monday and had to choose which road to take: Angry Avenue or LetItGo Lane. Here’s what happened: When I arrived home that evening I opened my computer and saw a new email from a good friend, entitled “Friendship.” I was all ready to settle in for a long chatty letter about how good it is to have friends we have known for over a decade, with whom we have shared laughter and a good bit of tears as well.
Instead the email announced in two short sentences that she was ending our friendship, that I confuse her, and that she was not ready to talk about it yet. I realize this could easily sound very ‘middle school’, but to be honest, I was stunned and thrown off balance because this was a woman whom I thought was 100% in my corner, as I was in hers. For a few days I found myself depressed and self-doubting despite all logic to the contrary. It was not, after all, a logical situation.
Then it dawned on me that no amount of fiddling inside my own head was going to make matters better, and that moreover, it would actually make matters worse. Whether I painted myself as the hero or the villain, I was still just making stuff up and taking it personally. I was giving entirely too much head-space to a situation over which I had no control. I realized I cared too much.
And why do we do that, why do we sometimes care way too much about a person, or job, or situation over which we have no control?
It makes no sense but it seems to be part of the human condition, right? Many years ago when I was going through a divorce (feels oddly reminiscent of this recent ‘firing’!), I went through a ‘cartoon phase’. I had so many emotions reeling around in my heart and soul, not all of them kind. The cartoon below came to me at that time, and it has been universally applicable ever since.
Eventually I always get to “Oh well.” We all do. We can take as much time as we want getting there. In the olden days I even took time to build park benches along the way in my Land of Righteous Indignation so I would have a place to rest and gather recruits to see My Side of the Story. Eventually, after no one else was willing to listen to me, I would arrive at the exit labelled “Oh Well”, and I would leave my self-created hellish parkland.
What’s underneath that reluctance to leave the misery behind though?
I think there are a couple assumptions underneath it all. One is “That situation/ job/relationship was So Perfect, So Wonderful!” The other assumption is “That was the Last Chance I will Ever Have.”
In Watercolor, as in Life
“Oh, it was SO PERFECT!” and “Woe is me, that was my LAST CHANCE EVER.”
My fellow watercolorists will understand this well.
Imagine the first layers of a juicy watercolor, just purring with potential. Invariably, at some point, I have to stop and let the paper dry entirely because the next stage requires a higher level of control (i.e., knowing exactly how wet the paper is, and where.)
In the meantime, I go make a cup of tea, maybe read a little, thereby losing the momentum, but usually assuming it is not lost for good. Alas, not always true. If I wander away for too long, I forget where I was going with the image, and there is no going back. I may rescue it enough so that ‘no one is the wiser’, but I know I lost some magic.
Then there is the other case, when I am so sure I can get it back that I fairly tickle the dang paper to death, adding one more dry little brush stroke after another, disguising any focal point I ever had. This is when every watercolorist needs a sentry, someone to grab the brush out of our hand at just the right time, shouting, “Enough already! Leave it alone!” Otherwise you create something where you almost need a sip of water just to look at it, there is so much dry application of paint.
The good news is, in life as in watercolor, we all have the choice of being teachable. I now make the tea first, and stay at my easel, ‘in the saddle,’ until the painting is completely finished. That is when I get results like this.
This is alive, and juicy, and unforced, and I stopped at ‘Enough!’
Many areas are undefined, even intentionally sloppy. It leaves room for the viewer to participate, to wonder and to wander.
Erroneous Painting & Life Assumption #1: “If I just keep trying / fiddling, I can fix this.”
Not in watercolor, 95% of the time. And in Life, when I catch myself saying, “It was So Perfect,” I have to admit, no. It may have been good, it may have been very good. But naw, it wasn’t perfect.
Erroneous Painting & Life Assumption #2: “That was my Last Chance.”
In watercolor when I keep going and going long after a painting is beyond rescue, it really means I am too cheap to admit defeat andd break out a brand new piece of virgin watercolor paper, to simply start anew. Start a Brand New Painting. I can use the same reference photo, I can even use more or less the same design (the same cropping, center of interest, color choices), but trying to create a duplicate-but-better painting is a recipe for frustration and disaster.
A new beginning in Life is also never a real do-over. That river water is long gone. It may feel like “That was my Last Chance,” but no. There are more jobs and people and relationships and circumstances waiting for me, and for you, that we can’t even imagine in our little pea-brains at the moment, trust me.
And in watercolor, if you are anything like me and dozens of my painterly friends, you already have a huge stash of fresh watercolor paper that would make John Singer Sargent and J.M.W. Turner envious! So have at it! Grab a new sheet of paper and go crazy! Try doing the backstroke in Endorphin Soup instead of the crawl in ShouldaCouldaWoulda Stew.
The distance between Here and Oh Well varies every single day. But what a comfort to know that ‘Oh Well’ and a fresh sheet of watercolor paper are always, always, just around the corner, one thought away.