The worst curses aren’t from witches

Many people are blocked from art by that one person who told them they couldn’t do it.
Confused, by Carol L. Douglas. People tell little lies all the time. Don’t let them define you.
This little car is headed to Plein Air Brandywine Valley, where it—unfortunately—is going to head into the remnants of Hurricane Wilma. Well, it’s not the first time I’ve painted in a torrential downpour and it won’t be the last, although I’m kicking myself for leaving my waterproof boots at home.
I drove as far as Rensselaer County, NY with my youngest daughter, M. That gave me seven hours to talk one-on-one with her. We haven’t really done that since we drove across Canada two years ago, and now she’s married. We talked about word curses—the ways you hear something about yourself and integrate it as part of your self-identity.
My granddaughter is often called a princess by her father’s large, wonderful family. My daughter J. is an engineer. She wants more for her own child than beauty. To compensate, she tries to use words like “smart” or “brave” instead of “beautiful.” I don’t think it’s going too well. Last night, G. told me, “I’m a princess!”
I’m considering telling her, “No, you’re a bad-ass.” She’d like it but my daughter would object.
Waiting, by Carol L. Douglas
On our drive, M. told me how her schooling fell apart the year I had my first cancer. She was in second grade. I’m not surprised she thought I was dying, even though she didn’t express that at the time. I looked terrible and moved like an old lady. I was constantly in and out of the hospital.
M. had a teacher who told her that she wasn’t more forgetful than other kids, she was just a better liar. That stuck with her enough that she still feels it today.
I took my kids to a family counselor. When M. tried to talk about her profound sadness, she was hooted down by her siblings. The counselor turned to them and M. walked across the room and disappeared into the couch cushions, which was her usual way of coping with stress. We never went back.
Talking to Michelle, by Carol L. Douglas
All of which reminded me of something from my own childhood. My sister died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. During that terrible week when she hovered between life and death, my parents were—obviously—with her. I had brothers, but I felt terribly lost.
But I had a lovely Principal at my school, Mr. Gibbs. He pulled me out of my class. We didn’t talk. He just let me follow him around as he did his daily work. There weren’t school counselors then; there was just compassion. It transcends time, place and job titles. And it’s no more likely to appear today, with all our systems for helping kids, than it was in 1969.
Words are powerful tools for good or ill. If we’re lucky, as adults we can see our way to repudiating and replacing lies with truth. But where we’re fearful, it’s not so easy. Many people have had a lifetime interest in art, but were blocked by the voice of that one adult who told them they weren’t talented, or that they needed to focus on ‘real’ work. It takes a lot to get past that.