I wrote a blog post a week ago today, 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 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.
And yet what does age mean anyway? That we have been alive long enough so that our feelings should be well and fully buried by now, that we have so thoroughly allowed ourselves to become jaded that, in truth, 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 opted for membership in one of two clubs. The first club 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 group was ‘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 (feelings oddly reminiscent of last week!), 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, and we can take as much time as we want getting there. In the olden days it seemed like I had 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 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
I don’t have a great photo to insert here, of how wonderful a painting was right before I ruined it by going too far. (Why would I stop to take a picture when I thought I was doing just fine, right?) These two photos are close illustrations though. (The color is not accurate, but that’s not the point either…)
The photo on the left is of the first layers of paint right after they dried. In many ways this is the best part of watercolor, the wet, juicy part when the paint itself is swimming in a wetland of water, and that fluid feeling remains, even after the paint has dried.
The photo on the right shows the same painting at its overworked stage. You almost need a sip of water just to look at it, there is so much dry application of paint here. Ironically even the water looks dry. About fifteen minutes prior to this stage I knew it was good enough, but I pushed on because I wasn’t at ‘oh well’ yet.
Here is my second example, which many people might like less, but I like a great deal more.
This is alive, and juicy, and unforced, and I stopped at ‘Enough!’ Many areas are undefined, sloppy. (To be honest, it reflects fairly accurately what my actual eyesight is like these days. At any distance at all, I experience a combination of blurred and double vision, which makes painting challenging of course. I see things that aren’t there, as well as not seeing things that are. That sounds like a metaphor for life, but I meant it literally!) In this painting, I had the sense to stop, to say and believe, “That’s enough, no more fiddling.” I stopped when it was at its peak.
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 break out a brand new piece of virgin watercolor paper and simply start a new painting. Not even “do this one over again”, because that is impossible. 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 literal ‘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 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.