Memorializing Your Legacy

ID-100141696_“Family” by arztsamui_freedigitalphotosWhen I was a child Memorial Day was one of those holiday gatherings that had little expectation or preparation. It was meant for spending time together and hearing stories. The elders of my family bothered to get flowers and visit the grave sites of our loved ones. I found this to be a very interesting tradition because it connected the web of our complete family. Making the time to connect and reflect with those who came and went before fleshed out characteristics that defined our family.

This holiday is traditionally about honoring those who served all of us through their military and other service institutions. In my family, it was about everyone who served the family in all the ways a family needs service.

Some of my family’s stories were quite fantastic and others we’re out of the ordinary but all of them described a thread that wove the fabric of our family.

My father served in WWII and while he NEVER talked about his active service years and what he had to do during the war, in my own research I discovered that he fought in several very nasty battles in and around the Ardennes Forest. I’m sure he had many memories both good and bad but he chose instead to teach that war was that was a means to an end and something to fight very hard to avoid. He served in the army as an officer for almost 30 years, and he cared greatly about the service men he trained to go into battle, especially during Viet Nam. He was deeply disturbed by the manner in which the service personnel were cared for, and appalled they were shipped in and out of active battle returning to civility with merely a few hours between. Without time to decompress he predicted the damage to our soldiers would be devastating. He died before the conflict ended, and sadly we now know he was right about the needs of our soldiers. I remember his silent and anonymous honor. He did kind things for people he barely knew. Often in secret he paid their bills, bought food, and one Christmas he bought bags of food and gifts for a destitute family of five kids whose father just died after a long illness. At his funeral numerous people I never met came up and shared stories of his quiet kindness’s that truly made a difference in their lives. His legacy is one of taking action to live kind and fight in all ways for freedom.

His father served in WWI and while he shared stories of the camaraderie of the fine men he served with and the people he met along the way, he also never discussed the battles or the horrors.; He too, believed that war was a sad and desperate means to an end that should never ever be glorified. It was about the duty of freedom. One of his oft repeated stories became known as The Black Snake Story. While he was training in Texas a member of his patrol didn’t join in the morning muster. When they went to check on him he was still in his bed motionless. During the night a large snake had crawled into his cot with him. There were lots of poisonous snakes around and these Northern boys had been warned to steer clear of them. They decided if they rolled up the side of his tent eventually the heat from the rising sun would warm the snake and it could slither away leaving him unharmed. My Grandfather spoke at a napping pace and if you could stay alert while he talked you’d learned that it worked. I always found it remarkable that during his slow cadence he rarely changed any words, and through the years of listening I had the story memorized. That story and the time spent listening to my grandfather was magical because it taught me that bonds are important and can’t be rushed.

Memorials are an important part of understanding who came before us and what we’re made of. It’s not the genealogy that makes a legacy, it’s the stories from the people you know that manifests the character of your family. What are those little snapshots of the people you know?

At bigger  family gatherings the women prepared, served and cleaned up the meal. As the youngest I floated between the living room listening to the men talk between dozing off with a full belly, and the kitchen a beehive of activity I remember lots of squawking about Aunt Tilly who always ran to the bathroom after the meal and was gone long enough to miss doing the dishes. I had an Aunt Bernice who laughed. “HA!” so loud she could wake her deaf husband. Uncle Norm was a diabetic and a very bad driver. Once he drove my sister and I mostly on the wrong side of the road while doing his errands. He had malt balls in his glove compartment which we devoured. He and his wife had a ball and chain and used it as a doorstop joke. Aunt Mae wore red lipstick that ran way over her natural lips and painted on black eyebrows. I always thought she was lucky and when I grew up I could dress for Halloween, too. These relatives had quirks, they were kind and loving and remarkably endearing.

We can do goofy things, dress oddly, say the wrong thing at the wrong time or give love when it is needed, but whatever our quirks they make us who we are and we will be remembered for them. These little things make us unique. When I paint pictures I look for the unusual, the small details that tell the story and create a pictorial impression of a memory.

All those wonderful service men and women fought honorably so you could have your memories. Remember them as you draw in a breath of peace, and celebrate their legacy by discovering your own. What are the little stories that will memorialize your legacy?

I’m thankful to my father, grandfather, to my aunts, uncles who served our country in military service and to my greater family for serving our small tribe.  Happy Memorial Day to all those honorable people who helped make my life possible so I could freely remember and celebrate today.

(Artwork by artzsamui courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)

Advertisements

Always Something New to Learn

I get asked all the time, “Why are you taking an art class? You teach them.” Well the answer is pretty clear. There is always something new to learn. Someone else may have the same skills or mastered the same techniques, but they do it in their own way. By looking at the same information through new eyes I can get a fresh perspective.

Watching paint splashed or how another artist handles their brush, is just as exciting as trying it for myself. I learn about using the same old papers to get different results, and why a particular brand of paint is favored. Things I never thought about become fascinating.

I also love the camaraderie of working with others. It gives me a lovely break from my private studio work, where I become serious about my final outcome. For me taking classes is about discovering something. Perhaps it is a tidbit I forgot, but it might also be seeing a color used in a completely novel approach. I make it a rule to not make a masterpiece when I take a class. I want my eyes open to possibility, not perfection. If I find myself getting picky about what I’m doing, I stop and add some playfulness to my approach. This keeps me spontaneous and ready to explore.

Also, as a creativity coach, watching other artists tackle really tough techniques is inspiring! Witnessing the amazing angles from which they choose to draw or paint their subjects, is thrilling in its outline for how they think about creating. Tenacious beginners are incredibly gutsy. It is through their creative innocence I see the force of creativity most alive.

What can you discover by taking a new class today?

Summer Blitzing

I don’t know about you, but as an artist I can get excited about pretty much anything. I love to let ideas tumble through my mind, and sometimes to distraction from my real creative work. As summer heats up in the north country, all I want to do is sit and dream. This is the summer blitzing phenomenon, that makes me feel light and fluttery, bouncing from one thought to another. In this mindset, I can’t do much physical or outdoor work, which is what we northerners save up and take advantage of doing in summertime. Frankly, it’s too hot to be outside anyway, so I need to work inside looking out. Gazing through windows is definitely dream time, however learning to do so with purpose can be mind bending. I have to remember to plan time for and call this activity passive work, and set limits on how much of it I can afford to do given my other commitments, but it’s always worthwhile.

One way to make idea spinning meaningful is to record what you see, sense, discover or ask about the experience. Your observations might come in handy to solve your current or future creative challenge. I also like recording mine, because it sets limits due to the media used, and makes the time a part of my real artistic work. I think as summer as the soft months during the year, a time to ease up my workload. So when I find the need to day dream, I try to honor it. When you make this a real part of your summer, you can look forward to blitzing your way through your creativity with insight and wonder, and maybe an unanticipated nap!

Need Some Really Good Advice?

Ever get some advice that knocks you into a much needed reality change? I’m pretty sure you know the kind I mean. It comes in simple words, a sentence fragment, maybe just a sentiment. It packs a real punch because it comes at just the best time for you to feel it’s meaning, and recognize this is the purposed idea you most need now.

I got such a gift the other day, and it’s been a game changer for me. For over a year now, I’ve been under the weather with health issues. I’ve had a couple of surgeries to fix “things” that have been getting worse over time. I’m feeling guilty sharing this because I’m so blessed that none of it has been a serious health crisis. Except that now, the chronic nature of my healing has become a crisis. I’m not someone who likes to be lacking in energy or told to take it easy over and over and yes now, over again.

It’s hard to plan to creative projects when you doubt you can execute them. I feel like I’m just going to make more messes every time I try to start something, and this eats up my creative energy. I’ve always had the ability to come up with more ideas than I will ever be able to create, and sitting around resting to heal lets these dogged thoughts go crazy.  It uses up my energy to manage them, too.  

It really doesn’t matter what your energy buster might be. You could have limited energy, time, money or supplies from any number of situations. And your mental state could suffer just like mine has. So when magic words are spoken to you that help you put things back into a gentler perspective, they can be the balm that really works.

A really kind and wise mentor, Eric Maisel told me to “pester myself less.” And his words have stuck for me so much I’m making myself a necklace with this phrase to remind me to do just that! 

What’s an Empty Nest for?

Question: What’s an empty nest for?

Answer: You fill in the blank: My nest will be filled with “______.”

I was very excited to see my kids grow their wings and learn to fly. Then they flew away. It was always my plan that they would, but the day became my someday; and I wasn’t fully prepared for it. If you watch birds raise their fledglings, after the babies fly away, the adult birds fly off, too. I must have missed the importance of understanding this detail. I get to fly to new places, too? Yeah, I know we all make those someday plans, but whoever talks about identifying how or when that someday will arrive. Without knowing this, how will you know when it’s here and be able to plan for it? This is where I got stuck creatively. Whether it’s when the kids are gone, or the mortgage is paid off or you finally get that studio, it’s the same issue. Will you be ready? What will come next? What are the steps you’ll take?

Devilish details! It’s really hard to start again because it’s scary. Parts are exciting and others are emotionally baffling. It’s taken me awhile to discover that I don’t need to dwell in the feelings of loss and emptiness, leaving me unprepared for my next nesting. Instead I realized I get to recreate something new and exciting, because I’ve identified and claimed that this is my someday. They’re not all bad. Life has a way of taking us on juicy detours; but they help us know what flavors we truly like. All my experience from mistakes and hopeful attempts, as well as my wins have helped me to recognize that empty nests are a gift from my somedays. It’s the same thing for any project you worked hard on. It doesn’t matter if it met your standard of success or not. Because you made the choice to do it, you name when it’s done and then you can choose what comes next again.

Here’s the really cool part: You can feather your new nest any way you want!

You can use the good china or throw it out and get something different. You can turn empty bedrooms into guest rooms or alternate studios. Give up quilting in exchange for making jewelry. When you’ve finished that manuscript you can learn to paint. You can do whatever you desire, because your someday has arrived.

If you woke up tomorrow and were living your someday dreams, what would you be doing?

Tell me about the feathers that will remake your empty nests today.