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.

Creative recreation

Slowing down, shutting up and listening to the Universe—I find that difficult.

Waiting to play, oil on canvasboard, by CarolmL. Douglas. No, that’s not my Penn Yan.

When I brought my Penn Yan back this March, it was in recognition that there was something missing in my life. When work is all-consuming, it’s easy to end up with no hobbies. I walk and I read, but these are self-care. The creative things I used to do—sewing, gardening, playing the piano—have all been sacrificed because of time.

Ken DeWaard helped us pull the boat off its trailer so I could start restoration at the very bottom. I then came face-to-face with the second limitation of my current life: I really don’t have the time or energy for new projects. In this world of merciless measurement, my phone tracks my steps. I regularly have more than 10,000 a day without trying. I start at 6 AM and I work until I can’t move anymore. Then I get up the next day and do it again, six days a week.

White Sands of Iona, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. Unless Boris Johnson has a fast change of heart, I won’t be relaxing in Scotland this year, either.

Working until you drop may work for 30-somethings, but it’s not a lifestyle I recommend at retirement age, which is where I am right now. Don’t worry; I don’t intend to quit. Wayne Thiebaud (age 100) and Lois Dodd (94) are my role models. Still, there’s something that shifts, if not in your body, then in your worldview, as you enter the social desert we call “old age.”

Sometimes you hear the universe talking; I believe that’s God. For a while now, I’ve been hearing the same message: “Slow down, shut up, and listen.” That’s not an easy message for a person of my temperament to accept, but I’m trying.

I’m an old workhorse. Let off my traces, I just amble back to the barn to be harnessed back up. It’s hard for me to break my routine. I think that’s really a problem for most of us. We’ve worked so hard for so many years that we can’t cope with freedom, as much as we talk about it during our working years. We tend to choose passive recreation—television, movies—instead of creative recreation. It’s been worse this year, when so many options have been reduced.

Beaver Dam, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas

Sadly, some people who find the adjustment to retirement difficult resort to drinking to fill the void. Studies have found that retirement leads to increased drinking. (Alcohol is the most common form of substance abuse by older adults). Having my share of alcoholic role models, the possibility frightens me.

The question I’ve been asking myself is a silly, Konmari one: what brings me joy? There are lots of answers, including but not limited to: my family, nature, being on the water, my friends. I mean to incorporate them more in my day-to-day life, instead of pushing them all off to some far-off point of retirement.

Home farm, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

That’s a long, roundabout way of telling you that I’m skiving off work today and going hiking with Seven Dwarfs (really middle- and elementary-school kids) and their parents, who are my friends. (Yes, the kids are skipping school, too, which really brings me joy.) We’re going to Mt. Apatite to look at minerals. I imagine they’ll learn something, but that’s just coincidental. We’re slowing down, shutting up and listening to the Universe. It’s never too soon to start.

How to take a day off

Low Tide, Old Orchard Beach, 8X6, by Carol L. Douglas

“Low Tide, Old Orchard Beach,” 8X6, by Carol L. Douglas
My life in the summertime consists of grueling road trips punctuated by short periods of paying bills. I live in America’s Vacationland. My career is what many people think of as a hobby. Every day should feel like a day off, right?
Most people have a structured schedule where they work a certain number of days and then have a few days off. That isn’t true for the self-employed, particularly artists who work another job to hold body and soul together. Many of us work seven days a week during the season. I’ve written before about how important it is to take a day off, but I can’t always do that on a regular basis.
People who only see me in public think I’m pretty high-key, and I am. I can work from early morning to late at night, turn out a lot of work, and chatter to passers-by at the same time. But after seven or eight days of that, I’m totally exhausted. The world starts to seem bleak. Little things irritate me. I start to develop cold symptoms as my body rebels.

"Early morning on the beach," 8X6, Carol L. Douglas

“Early morning on the beach,” 8X6, Carol L. Douglas
The first day of recuperation is horrible. I can sometimes sleep 24 hours straight. Even with that, it might take three days before my inner Imp is back, bouncing up to see what kind of trouble I can get into.
I am fully aware that this kind of hypomanic/sleep pattern could result in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. However, I imagine this is how the human animal generally worked before he was stuffed into a cubicle for eight hours a day. Since I am not delusional, I don’t think I’ll seek treatment for it.
However, my lifestyle means I have almost no capacity for normal recreation activities. I hate shopping, eating out, and watching TV or movies. Parties make me almost insane with boredom.
This week, I’ve been sans car as our fleet of aged hoopties cycles through the local garage for their annual autumn fit-out. This has forced me into a quieter place. I have a friend taking a workshop nearby, and she’s stopped by with wine and cheese twice. I’ve spent a few evenings sitting outside contemplating the stars. I’ve walked around Rockport. It’s felt wonderful to slow right down.

Let that be a lesson to me

I'm going to look at this in the studio later and see if I can regain the sense of the Mercantile looking. Shadows, perhaps.

I’m going to look at this in the studio later and see if I can regain the sense of the Mercantile looming. Shadows, perhaps.
My flagging energy has been at war with the calendar. Two weeks from tomorrow I fly to Scotland for a wedding. That pretty much marks the end of my working summer, although I do have one event after that. That doesn’t mean I stop painting or that the crowds mysteriously evaporate, but the crush of people lets up a bit after Labor Day.
I stopped by to see a friend on my way home on Saturday. “I’m tired, hot and cranky,” I told her.
“Like you’ve been the last three times I saw you,” she replied.
The nicest thing I started this weekend was a small study of the Mercantile's anchor.

The nicest thing I started this weekend was a small study of the Mercantile’s anchor.
I can see it in my work. I painted three things over the weekend in Camden. The best of these, a little study of an anchor, didn’t get finished. The one with the greatest promise—a tiny tender sheltering under the bow of the Mercantile—didn’t work. I should have known when I sketched it five times without a good composition that I was on the wrong track. Instead, I tried to force it to happen on the canvas. Without the Mercantile looming over it, it was just another dinghy.
Can I fix that in the studio? Possibly; I’ll try today. In fact, I need some serious time to finish up all the half-done work that’s waiting for me.
Sometimes I'm too dumb to stop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Renee Lammers)

Sometimes I’m too dumb to stop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Renee Lammers)
Most of us work long days during painting events. I also blog about them, which usually adds an hour or two to my working day. There are some dead giveaways that I need a rest:
  1. The bottom of my backpack starts looking like the bottom of my purse, a collection of flotsam and jetsam that has escaped its proper places;
  2. My ‘filter’ gets jarred loose and I say things I usually keep to myself;
  3. I gain weight;
  4. My composition is uninspired;
  5. I fight a dehydration headache and am too dumb to fix it with water;
  6. My house and car get ratty.
I’ve said many times that people should take at least a day off every week. Rest is a great gift. “The Sabbath was made for mankind, and not mankind for the Sabbath,” Jesus said. Do I follow that advice? Only fitfully, I’m afraid. Today I have a sore throat and headache, and I think it’s just my body telling me to drop the pace down a notch.
The Angelique has been following me everywhere. Here she is curled up in Camden harbor.

The Angelique has been following me everywhere. Here she is curled up in Camden harbor.
I’m not the only person getting tired. I can hear it in the slow but steady increase in beeping horns as I walk to the Rockport post office at midday. Our tolerance for others is fraying, ever so slightly.
People ask me why I blog when it adds more work to my day. The nicest part of the weekend was a visit by reader Fay Terry of Pinehurst, NC. On Friday, she joined Renee Lammers and me on the docks to paint. Yes, social media has its downside, but its ability to connect like-minded people is invaluable.