Seeing Life as an Artist
Flying from Baltimore to Seattle, I reflect on this topic and the circumstances which occurred recently. During the last month, I spent time with my youngest daughter, Hannah, in Los Angeles, while helping her move to a new apartment. Flew to Baltimore to see a play conceived and directed by my son-in-law, Jesse, for his MFA thesis. Spent 10 days with oldest daughter, Mary, her husband, Jesse, and my granddaughter, Lucille. Spent 24 hours with my mother who flew to Baltimore from Florida to see the play and along with my daughter, Elizabeth, took me to breakfast and drove me to the airport.
My mother. Three daughters. One granddaughter.
Lots of laughter, inspiration, fun, and love. Lots of vulnerable sharing and the magic ingredient of sandpaper. Sandpaper is when we rub against each other and there is discomfort, helping us to find clarity about who we are and what we want that is separate from the other person.
Spending 24 hours with my 86-year-old mother uncovered moments of tenderness and inspiration. One of our conversations was about how most of my mom’s friends have a spouse who has ill health. Some have had strokes, like my Dad, or another illness like cancer or Parkinson’s Disease. All of the women are the primary caretakers for their spouses. They are love warriors, who handle the details with vigilance and determination. In this vulnerable sharing, my mom talked about the conversation she had with her friends about what they would do with their time, if they become widows. On mom’s list is playing golf, going to movies, traveling to see her adult children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
As I listen to her, I can see so many of the qualities I have inherited from her:
Curiosity. My mother is curious and always learning new things and asking questions and reading. She may not have information on the latest app on the iPhone, but she is tuned in to books and education and national parks and wildlife and current events. She reads the Tampa Bay Times, every morning, and clips out articles to send to her children, grandchildren and friends.
Artist. There is a mixture of sandpaper in here because of something she said when I was young “Andrea and I aren’t artists.” It took me 60 years of unraveling to claim the words, “I am an artist and my creative expression is words.” Artists see the connection between things. She is a master seamstress. She is a genealogist. She has expressed her art through a variety of arts and crafts and flower arranging. In the curiosity of reading the newspaper and sending articles, she is seeing life as an artist. Reading articles and seeing the connection to family and friends. It is in all of us.
I wonder why her definition of an artist is so limited. Maybe no one opened her eyes to see that she is an artist. Seeing this, I decide to send her a Mother’s Day card, and to tell her that she is an artist and how she has influenced my artistic expression. Our definition of artist is different. And maybe no one encouraged her and told her that she is an artist!
Pragmatist. My mom, the pragmatist, has organized all of the information we will need, when she and my Dad die. Long term health care options. Memorial service arrangements. Last will and testament. It has been organized and reviewed every five years since she and dad were in their 40s.
This is one example of many. She demonstrated how to stay focused in a crisis, and in tackling any job in the home: stay focused, work hard, do what needs to be done. (I am sure it is why I have been able to self-publish 13, 200+ page books in seven years. Stay focused. Work hard. Get it done!)
Nature Lover and Environmentalist. Walking through the neighborhood, my mom stops talking to point out flowers and acknowledge their beauty. Our conversation meanders with the pausing of our love for flowers and trees. She calls them by name and with affection. National Parks and road trips are memories from childhood.
Without a word, she stops to pick up a piece of paper on the sidewalk and hands it to me to throw away when we return to the house. Her actions are my actions. Her love of flowers and plants and trees has been passed down. Picking up litter is normal.
During our 24 hours, there are moments of discord. I remind myself that the sand in the oyster is the irritant that creates the pearl. She sighs and longs to see me more. She laments that no one has time for them because they are old. I sit with the discomfort of that. Last year, they flew to California for Hannah’s graduation and we spent a week together. A few months earlier, I flew to Florida and we were at a family wedding. I stayed with them for a week. Then, there is Facetime. Email. Texting. We live all over the country. The communication is different. I feel her trying to pull me into her world and her wants.
I turn my attention to the time I have spent with my adult daughters in the last month. I see the impact of my mothering, and I feel the push and pull of the sandpaper when they want my attention, and when they want space to live and explore their own lives. I feel pulled in. I feel pushed out. I want to spend time with them and be available when they need me.
Feeling guilt, the push-pull, the loyalty and love, I turn my attention to me. It’s my turn to mother myself. This summer I am house sitting for three months. Setting up space for writing and self-expression. Mothering myself. Self-care. Spiritual practice. Feeding myself with artistic expression. Wandering in Seattle to farmer’s markets. Placing the attention on myself. Good food. Art. Music. Walks in nature. Writing. Creativity.
Appreciating what my mother taught me, I know that I have to travel this next part of the trail without her. Creating space and distance allows me to hear my own voice once again. I turn all of that love and attention inward. And when I come out again, there will be more of me to share with others.