Constant overdrive

My strategic plan for 2022 seems to be in tatters. That’s the price of constant overdrive.

Skylarking, 24X36, oil on canvas, available.

At the end of last year, pastor Quinton Self challenged us to stop with the busy work and focus on what matters. That includes moments of rest. He and I are the same psychological profile (with the test scores to prove it), so when he zings me in a sermon, I figure he’s also talking to himself. In February, when he’d just finished a fast-paced, five-week teaching program on top of his other work, I asked him: “so, how’s that Sabbath rest thing going for you, PQ?” He smiled. It’s a constitutional problem for both of us.

Every year recently I’ve said, “this is the latest I’ve ever done my taxes.” This year’s record will stand. I can’t get much later and not file for an extension. That’s a terrible idea; it just prolongs the agony. What’s scary is that I didn’t even think about taxes until I was flying back from Phoenix two weeks ago.

Breaking Storm, 48X30, oil on canvas, available.

I had coffee with my Canadian pal Poppy Balser last week. I don’t really envy our Canadian neighbors their economic system. However, when I’m calculating income tax, I wish we could streamline our ponderous system and replace it with something like theirs. As a sole proprietor, I keep records on all kinds of things that are irrelevant to the average taxpayer—household repairs, utility bills, and the cost of operating my car.

It’s time-consuming and tedious, and I’m good with numbers. I can’t imagine what it’s like for my math-phobic fellow artists.

Admin is the curse of all sole proprietors. We write our own ads, maintain our own websites, do our own strategic planning, keep books, and somehow churn out a product. I am, for some reason, drowning in admin right now.

Wreck of the SS Ethie, 18X24, oil on canvas, available.

“Did I ever send you the materials for next year’s ad?” I asked Anthony Anderson of the Maine Gallery Guide yesterday. No, he replied, but if I can get it to him next week, I’ll be fine. I could hire my student Lori Galan or my old friend Victoria Brzustowiczto lay it out for me. Either of them would probably forgive me my hair-raising lateness. However, I don’t even have a clue what I want to say. And that ad is the most important one I’ll run all year.

Being in constant overdrive is corrosive. It forces a person to be reactive, batting balls back out as fast as they come in. Instead, intelligent people are proactive, thinking out a strategy and sticking with it.

I did that at the beginning of the year, by the way. It’s in tatters.

Beautiful Dream, 12X16, oil on birch panel, available.

But help is on the way. When we’re in overload, things have a way of falling on us and slowing us down. Another Canadian artist friend, Cathy LaChance, put it very succinctly when she was diagnosed with COVID this week: “My turn to be forced to rest.”

Call it the Universe, if you want; I prefer to credit God with this good design. 

The problem with frenetic people is that we are sometimes so busy we can’t hear the “still small voice” of God. That’s why it is often accompanied by the wind and earthquake (or COVID)—to get our attention.

I’d rather not wait that long.

Imagination without follow-through is mere fantasy

If not now, when? If not you, who?

The Late Bus, 6X8, oil on canvasboard, $435, available through Camden Public Library this month.

“Imagination without follow-through is mere fantasy,” pastor Quinton Self said on Sunday, making me almost drop my sketchbook in a shock of self-recognition. I have a good idea nearly every day. I’ve learned to ignore them and focus on my core mission (painting) but for decades I was bedeviled by ideas I couldn’t execute.

Until I was 40, that included painting itself. I was too tied to making a living to have time for my life’s work. How my husband (and cancer) helped me escape that is a story for another day. However, I do know the intense longing of staring through the shop window at the world of art and longing to be allowed in.

Owl’s Head early morning, 8X16, oil on linenboard, $722 unframed.

There are many reasons why we defer our creative dreams. Greatest among them is fear of failure. Somewhere in the business of learning a discipline, we face the fact that what we create will never match what we’ve dreamed. In our minds, we’re all brilliant artists; in reality, we’re all somewhat impeded. That’s a good thing, too, because the gap between what we see and what we execute is what the world calls ‘style’.

Nevertheless, the fear of mediocrity stops many people from starting at all. They defer their dreams to some future time. Their most common excuse is that they’re too busy right now. There’s a meme that reads, “being an adult is just saying ‘But after this week things will slow down a bit again’ to yourself until you die.” I’m not saying that our responsibilities are not real, but, to some degree, we all insulate ourselves in a cocoon of busy-work.

Lonely Cabin, 8X10, oil on canvasboard, available through Camden Public Library this month.

We’re all mediocre when we start—if we’re lucky. Some of us are truly terrible. You have to get through that phase in order to start being good, and you have to get through being merely good in order to be great. That’s the nature of every worthwhile venture.

We never know, when we start, where we’re going to end up on the continuum between awful and greatness. That’s played out over time. As a teacher, I can’t tell either. But I can tell where a person will end up if he never picks up a tool and starts working: he’ll remain a fantasist until his dying day.

Nocturne, 9X12, oil on canvasboard, $869 framed.

Painters hear the same comments over and over from people who stop to talk to us, so much that there is a small cottage industry of jokes about them. The one that strikes me as terribly poignant is, “I used to paint, but then…”

My father, in a sense, was one of those people. He had a scholarship to art school, but enlisted for World War II. He became a photographer and then a psychologist and painted on the side (and taught me). He intended to pursue painting in retirement, but by then the fire had been damped by tragedy.

I recently put a deposit down for a walking trip along Hadrian’s Wall in Britain. Yes, I know that travel restrictions are tightening; we live in uncertain times. But as I explained to my daughter, I don’t have any guarantees that in two years, or five, I’ll be strong enough to hike 75 miles. None of us are guaranteed a future.

I am reminded of two questions asked by a former pastor, Tony Martorana, that have resonated with me over the years:

“If not now, when?”
“If not you, who?”

Of course, pastors Tony and Quinton were talking about something far greater than mere art, but the point is universal. What are you going to do with the next year?

I can’t leave this subject without a plug for my workshops and classes; sorry about that.