Roadblocks Encourage New Paths in the Direction of Our Dreams

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Roadblocks Encourage New Paths in the Direction of Our Dreams

            Last April, my Special Ed director told me that I -and several other Special Ed. paras throughout our school district- would no longer have a job in the fall, as the district was removing aide positions.  I was shocked, even though that very morning I’d asked myself on the way to work, “Would I ever quit my job if my art started selling?”   Then I asked, “What would I do if I lost my job?”  *(Insert theme from “The Twilight Zone” here.)

Though I’d always dreamed of being a full-time artist, I loved my 17 years with the school district.  Seeing a student learn a tool to use in life- a method to tackle a problem or perform a task-whether an algebraic formula or following a recipe- was very fulfilling, but I’ve always known it’s not my “truest path.”

The weekend after the getting the news, I painted in my studio for around six hours, creating a large landscape in oil.  Besides being therapeutic, as art always is, I realized that it would take me about 130 hours of working at the school to earn this painting’s retail value. It might take awhile to sell, but it’s not a loaf of bread or a cookie- it’ll keep.  And if I really need money, I can lower prices or get some of those long-put-off commissions done.  I began to realize, “Hey, this is possible.”

I began to prepare, which wasn’t difficult since I gave up playing hockey and sold our horses years ago to make art a bigger priority in my life. My summer job as a museum worker/information provider afforded me time to paint, and I put every spare dime into car payments or a savings account.   I was blessed with many encouraging sales, mostly because knowing I wouldn’t have much income in the fall, I slashed prices to sell.  I sold art to people from 10 different states over the summer, and one piece went to France- one that I’d painted from memory of a view from a classroom window, a view that as a teacher’s aide I’d only dreamed of painting.

I’ve been busier than ever with two art shows this fall, and the Christmas season approaching.  My days are filled with obligations and duties that line up with my dreams- I couldn’t be happier.  During the first week of school, I sold five paintings.  To make that amount of money as a teacher’s aide, I would have had to work around 80 hours, or just over two weeks (and I made an excellent wage for classified staff).  I imagined God reminding me of Jeremiah 29:11, “See?  ‘I know the plans I have for you.'”

I know the winter may be long and dry in sales, or it might not.  As one client told me, the work of establishing myself over the years (while working two jobs) has paid off.

I have a renewed love for domesticity- finally finding time for the house, the garden and flowerbeds.  I’m at peace, and giddy with the prospect of being my own boss at least part of the time.  People have asked me to give lessons and teach community art classes, which will get me through the financial dry spells and grant me some of the fulfillment I found in the classroom.

You know what they say about God closing doors and opening windows.  What might seem like a tragedy at the time can be God’s way of putting you on your correct path. As to the question I’d asked myself on the way to work that morning, I doubt I would have weaned myself from that steady paycheck to pursue art.  Without the job loss, I may have never known the feeling of going in the direction of my dreams or living the life I imagined.

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“The words ‘I am’ are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to. The thing you’re claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you.” A.L. Kitselman

This idea was on my mind the day before I found this quote.  Since I’d finally reset my Twitter password to something I could remember, I viewed my long-neglected profile.  Rather than a quick, descriptive bio line, I’d basically stated (in 160 characters or less), that I hold three jobs, but painting is my passion, and that I love my family and the place I live.

In search of ideas for a catchy bio format, I prowled some random peoples’ tag lines. Although most were positive, uplifting and funny, a few people used labels that debilitated rather than affirmed the positive in them.  Their bio tags contained, “I have PTSD,” “CFS,” or “FMS”-which I had to look up to find that it means “Fibromyalgia,” something I’ve dealt with for over 15 years, but would never use as a term to describe myself!  Owning it in such a way would mean it’s an integral part of my existence- part of who I am.  It’s not.

Labels help us identify with and relate to others, and as an artist, I look for relationships constantly in: colors, spaces, shapes, textures, values, etc.  I look for them & point them out in people, too.  My 17-year-old daughter hates it when I introduce her as an artist, writer, photographer or life-drawing model.  I believe I’m referring to her in an uplifting way, but she finds these “designations” as restricting to her character as if I’d introduced her as neurotic, eccentric, or egomaniacal.  While my “intro tags” help others relate to her, they obstruct my daughter’s freedom of identity.

Although I’d share common understanding with someone who tags herself as “Artist Mom with FMS who’s Suffered a Stillbirth,” I choose not to classify myself as a “sufferer.”  We all suffer.  It’s universal.  While connecting with others who relate is extremely helpful, there’s danger in letting our adversity be our identity.  When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a wise woman told me, “You can go to the support groups, but they just focus on it.”  I believe this helped me relegate this condition (and other tribulations) to something that I deal with rather than something that controls or owns me.  The Apostle Paul spoke of a “thorn in the flesh,” but I’m fairly certain he would not use it specifically to describe himself in 160 characters or less (other than to call himself a sinner- another affliction I can relate to).

In the end, describing yourself is a balance between identifying what you want to increase and disempowering what might debilitate or limit you.  I choose not to let my afflictions describe me: that I’m at times an “emotionally-distant individual,” (thinking of formulas for colors I see around me or detecting spatial relationships while my family needs me to answer a question or respond), who’s “been on anti-depressants for 14 years for what I now know is called FMS,” and is “often a neglectful friend and spouse.”  Not wanting to be the victim of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I type something like:

“Artistic mom, wife, paraprofessional; loves: coffee, family, art, books & humanities; seeks: studio time, skills and peace that passeth understanding.” (152 characters)

My Day: Pessimistic & Optimistic Views

Pessimistic Story of My Day:

I drove up the mountain Christmas tree hunting with my daughter.  Got the Yukon stuck in the snow …badly-stuck.  Almost ran out of gas, then the battery died. My teenage daughter, a smoker, didn’t have a match and though there are at least 6 lighter plug-ins in my car, none of them have cigarette lighters.  We didn’t bring water bottles.  As my husband drove up, the radiator hose broke on our ’86 Toyota pickup, so we drove it down the mountain, and I went to town (20 miles away) to buy a new hose.  Bought the wrong one, but we got it to work with elbow grease and cussing.  Drove back up the mountain again.  The charger didn’t work, so I had to shovel a side path for the Toyota in order to jump the Yukon while he put all four chains on the pickup.  We finally got it pulled out.  Now I think I might need an alignment on the Yukon, or maybe it was the snow.  Didn’t get a tree.

Optimistic Story of My Day:

It was a perfect morning to drive up the mountain with my beautiful daughter for a Christmas tree. When we got stuck in the snow, there was cell service (if you know the Big Horn Mountains, this is pretty lucky), so I called my husband to rescue us.  Meanwhile, we wandered around looking for a good tree, discussing our criteria of “good.”  I found a spring to drink from.  The sun was shining.  I saw some friends, and told them we’d be fine & that there were no “good” trees to be had there.  My husband wasn’t even angry that we took him away from his plans.  After problems with the Toyota (which is the same vehicle he had when we started dating: I drove it to high school, we brought our first-born home from the hospital in it and later he drove it to high school) we got it fixed.  The early afternoon sunshine lit up the snow-covered slopes as drove back up the mountain.  Shoveling snow kept me warm and I made a repeat hike to the spring for a cool drink.  After we jumped the Yukon, another friend came by and waited as we pulled it out of the snow.  Then, since the Toyota was already chained, my husband drove him in to get some spring water.  I made good mileage coming down the hill.  They made it out fine as well.  As we came back to Dayton, the elk herd was across the road from the bullseye, looking majestic.  Next week, we’ll try again (and we’ll take the Toyota:)

Irving Berlin said, “Life is 10% what you make it and 90% how you take it.”  We are given these choices with each situation.  I prefer to look on the bright side.  I hope you each choose to make today a wonderful day:)

Hello world!

This is my first blog.  I signed up with wordpress on impulse after reading a friend’s first blog on Facebook.  Part of me says,” Don’t you have enough technology in your life w/out adding another avenue of electronic expression/entertainment?”  5 years ago I would have never believed I’d spend this much time on a computer-especially considering I spent a portion of my youth without the conveniences of electricity or running water.  I can’t imagine life without my iPod or Macbook, probably like those who lived during the introduction of electricity adapted to its usefulness and never -or rarely, looked back.

What’s always intrigued me is that with every new modern convenience, our lives get more complex, because we take that extra time the device affords us and put it toward new projects that make us busier.  Years ago, people had time to write letters, even though they were doing laundry (clothes they made themselves) with a washboard, packing water from the creek and heating it on the wood stove, (fueled with wood they chopped and carried).  These people canned produce grown in their gardens, along with the buck shot in the fields.  Instead of watching TV, they sewed beautiful quilts and wrote letters when the day was accomplished.  (Note: The theme from “Little House on the Prairie” plays in the background here.)

Communication was just as important then; I have a book of letters my great grandfather wrote on carbon paper during the 20’s and 30’s.  Articulation and penmanship was key and had to be taught.  They didn’t have the ease of email, keyboarding and spell check.  When I need a thesaurus, a finger slide to the corner of my mouse pad furnishes me with a word in two seconds or less, thank you, Apple/Mac.

Modern conveniences in information, communication, cooking, cleaning and transportation provide us with time…what do we do with it?   As a whole, we put it toward working a second or third job, trolling Facebook & Twitter, surfing the web or watching endless hours of TV or video.  I wonder about the quantity and quality of family time today compared with the past.  Did those tedious household tasks provide more unity in the family then?  Or does our “family time” in the car on the way to hockey practice equal it?  “Just a minute, honey, I’m checking my email…”

I know what I just did with my gift of time… I guess I’ll write it off as philosophizing (just checked the spelling- 3 seconds), yes, that’s what I’ll do-it’s therapeutic, and it seems we all need therapy these days.  Besides, it’s raining and neither I nor the dog want to go for a walk in it.