On a Wednesday morning I woke up and had a mom. When I went to bed that night I no longer did. For days and nights I prayed for her to die peacefully in her sleep. For weeks I tried to make her comfortable and feel as loved and cared for as humanly possible. For months I worried and cried and questioned and hated this death sentence that was thrust upon her. And for years my mom suffered and battled and suffered and battled some more. She suffered right up until her very last breath that I witnessed with my own eyes.
Never once in those days of praying, weeks of trying, months of worry, and years of suffering was her illness and prognosis ever talked about in a way that I could hold onto now. Instead each day I held onto the healing moments created from caregiving – the warm hugs she leaned into each time I helped her from a seated to a standing position and her “I love you better” responses that she would recite with a smile after I’d kiss her on the forehead and tell her that I love her. In those moments that expression of genuine love and care was all that mattered.
But now she is gone. And the emptiness I feel around what never was feels so immense. I feel it in every part and every age of my whole being. It takes my breath away. The genuine love and connection that was felt in each small moment by her side feels severed now. And all of the peace I felt in caring for and loving her feels like it died with her. I don’t know how to exist in a world without my mom. We knew this was coming, but we never talked about it. And now I have to figure it all out on my own.
There is a brief moment right after a snow storm, before the sun and wind remove the fresh fallen snow from every branch and surface that it drapes like a blanket. These calm and quiet wintry moments beg me to come find them – to venture out in nature for a hike or snowshoe and witness a familiar scene wearing a fresh coat of new colors. The stillness of these moments inspires a stillness within, especially in calming places like this one.
“Who do you think you are? Your work has no place and no value outside of the walls you live in. It’s laughable – like a little kid trying to sell pages from her own coloring book. You’ll see. This will amount to nothing more than another mountain of evidence supporting the fact that you are nothing but a drain – on money, resources, and those around you.”
This is the loud voice I hear as I try to attempt something new for myself. I have officially opened an Etsy shop where I am creating original works of art for sale. I have no clear expectations for this shop – just a bit of a scrappy adventurous spirit doused with hope while swimming in a sea of murky doubt. When I advertise this site to the rest of the world it will be presented with a strong exterior of confidence that I belong here and that this venture will prove worthwhile. But this wordpress site, my wishing tree, is a place where I choose to be honest about what lies behind the masks I wear each day. So on this day, while my mask is adventurous, hopeful, and determined; underneath I am nothing more than a puddle of insecurity, shame, and feeling like an enormous imposter. I hear all of my doubts – all of my fears – all of my worries – all of my shame. It’s loud, it’s ugly, and it’s not going anywhere. I am afraid of how failure might impact me in this somewhat fragile point in my life. I am fearful that I may not be able to handle one more rejection. I feel the weight and worry of all of that, and I’m showing up anyway. I type these words with the cringe on my face that best describes how I feel in this moment.
This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. When I am in struggle painting helps to clear my mind and make space for thoughts outside of the ones that feel pressing and consuming. This painting presented a lighting and color challenge that I thoroughly enjoyed. I found myself delightfully immersed in the variety of warm and cool colors found in this serene winter scene.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
This first step I am taking feels more like a giant barefooted and blindfolded leap – a leap right towards all of the thoughts that try to convince me to stay still, silent, and small. This painting marks the beginning of this leap.
Next month I plan to enter a new adventure – attempting to begin selling my artwork. I am in the process of creating an Etsy shop and will provide the link here on my blog once it is up and running.
It’s exciting to inch towards this new adventure, and it’s also terrifying. I know I am not alone in my thoughts of not being good enough or talented enough or whatever enough to attempt a new challenge. I know that even on the day I choose to open my shop and attempt to market and sell my work to others for the very first time that the voice inside that screams “your art is not good enough to exist anywhere outside of the walls you create it in” will still be there. And it might even get louder.
But I have to try.
Why? Because as long as I’m still breathing I need to keep trying. And right now I really need to try something new. I feel so incredibly broken inside. This feeling of being insignificant – that it wouldn’t matter if I just suddenly disappeared from the world – is immense sometimes. And it feels like it’s growing. I have this new default answer that comes to my mind every single time I meet someone new and they ask me what I do for work. I hate that it’s my first thought. I hate that it’s such a strong thought. But it comes screaming forward in response to that question every single time.
What do you do for a living? I take up space.
I need to push back on that thought. I need to find a way to create a new answer that I can fully believe in. When I paint that thought and that feeling shrinks just a little bit. It gives me space to breathe. It creates room for possibility. It gives me a momentary sense of purpose.
That is how I arrived here. Full of doubt, loaded with questions, and sprinkled with hope. This new adventure feels like something worth pursuing.
This series of art is inspired by the symbolic nature of the beauty within the changing seasons. It is a reminder to slow down, pay attention, and soak in the details of each moment. When I am in struggle painting helps to clear my mind and make space for thoughts outside of the ones that feel pressing and consuming. This painting was a fun challenge to find and express the variety of colors within a wintry white frozen scene.
“The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.”
Almost two years ago, at the beginning of the pandemic, I picked up a paintbrush and revisited an old passion of mine. Drawing and painting have always been an interest but often existed in the background with only occasional inspiration. In recent years art has developed into a therapeutic means of self expression and has enabled me to access feelings that are often difficult to wrap words around.
When the pandemic began and my part time job was replaced with remote learning facilitation duties for my two kids, I dove into a creative project that I am now close to completing. I decided to dig through photographs from my favorite trips, places, and memories and paint them. I devoted a room in my house to hang all of these painted memories. As the months passed by more and more paintings were completed and added to this collection. The more I painted the more I enjoyed it.
Almost two years later and the walls of this room that I have devoted to this creative project are nearly filled. I still have plans to paint a few more, but this project is now nearing its end. The interesting part about this challenge that I ventured into is that now as I look back at my first paintings in this series I see them differently. I see parts that I like as well as ways in which I might approach the paintings slightly different – color choices I would tweak, composition choices I would alter, or details I know I can express better now.
Reflecting on this past art work has caused some deeper thinking. I can see in my paintings that my skills have improved over time. It may not be a quantitative measure like improving a test score or a race time, but I see growth in areas that I struggled with at the beginning, and I even see growth where I didn’t know I needed to grow.
As I sit here today in a space of personal struggle – with uncertainty of my value here – doubting my own self worth and purpose – perhaps my paintings can show me something I’ve been failing to see.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where we stand. Sometimes it’s hard to have the proper perspective to find the space that exists between our shortcomings, our own personal growth, and our potential. It can feel so dark and murky that it just feels safer to shrink down in place. Perhaps this reflection on my painting process can be a reminder to look back and remember the struggles that have been overcome and the growth that has occurred. Perhaps then it might be possible to pave the way for a new healthier perspective that has seemed otherwise impossible.
My shame is a shapeshifter. Its ever changing presence lurks nearby at all times. Like my shadow it feels almost a part of me, never missing a step as it creeps along by my side. My shame has evil desires masked by a comforting and soothing facade. It knows me by name. It can sense what I need, and its conniving ways enable it to convince me that it holds the answers I require. Its constant presence is worn like a blanket, draping me in the kind of familiarity that I no longer question while it continues its work to change and steal more and more of me.
My shame understands that patience is a necessary component for its success. It knows when its strength is greatest and waits for those prime moments to slither out of the darkness to strike. When it senses an environment of joy, connection, or engagement it carefully retreats to the background, not in defeat but instead with a sense of knowing that it must patiently wait to resurface later in order to be most effective. While in waiting, my shame compiles all that it needs in the darkness of its lair, gathering each soul piercing ingredient required to overwhelm me when it chooses. I can feel the undercurrents of these preparations. I know it is there and feel powerless to stop it. I know that no matter how much I try to resist and counter it my shame is too clever to reveal its full plan.
My shame watches you. It is learning how to exist around you. It may reveal little morsels of its intentions to you – just enough to make you think it is possible to subvert it. But my shame smiles at these attempts as it hovers behind me with its dagger pressed firmly up against me. It dares you to step closer. It welcomes your attempts to pull me away from it. My shame will simply absorb and catalog your efforts to later assist with its mission when it is required. It knows that your help has limits. Your presence won’t always be there. Yet shame has unrestricted access to me. Your limits will become more fuel doused onto its fiery wrath when it finds me in solitude.
I have learned that naming shame can help to ease its strength. Calling it out by name shines a light on shame and makes it retreat back into its darkness. Its power wilts when this light can reach it. I feel the truth in this, and I try to offer myself this gift of relief by using my voice to dampen it. But my shame is learning too. Like a virus, it keeps shifting and adapting to grow in strength. It is finding new ways to maneuver in plain sight in the midst of a glaring light in its direction.
I need a new strategy. I need a new angle. I feel myself stumbling and submitting. I understand that there is no future beyond surrender, and this is not an option I wish to consider. But my shame has infiltrated my eyes, and I can’t seem to see a path forward from here. My shame is winning, and it knows this. I need to find a new way out.