Monday, January 30, 2012

Too Timid

I started taking an art class recently. It is something I have been interested in for a long time, but never had the opportunity or inclination until now. If all goes well, I will be oil painting in a month or so. But for now I am focused on using charcoal and learning how to convert squares, triangles and circles into wine bottles, apples, pears, etc. The substitute instructor we had the first two weeks was impatient with my lack of experience, and when I asked her for her assessment of my first effort, she replied, "Too timid," and walked on. I was a bit deflated, but in the spirit of trying to be open to learning, I thought long and hard about her words: too timid.

It made me think about how I used to color. Most kids either press hard and get bright colors between the lines, or scribble indiscriminately in the general vicinity of the space they're trying to color. But not me. I was not one of those kids. I was the kid who meticulously placed a hard, dark outline around the area to be colored, and then finished with a perfectly light shade of pastel inside the lines. It was all so perfect, so nearly invisible, so understated. So timid.

I realize that I have been living much of my life this way. I was shy and quiet in grade school (earning the end of the year, tongue in cheek award of "biggest talker"), shy and reserved in social situations in college, and as an adult, always willing to go along with whatever my best friend or partner wanted to do. The only time I have felt authentically me is when I have been in the woods or on my bike, or outside somewhere in nature. That is the only time I feel completely free, willing to grab life and embrace it fully.

Today, while I was working on shading one of my still lifes in art class, I took the charcoal pencil and made a bold stroke to show shade. The effect was quite dramatic! Not only did the picture look more realistic, but I felt more confident, more alive, more like an artist. It wasn't exactly transformative, but it felt like the beginning of something.

So think about how you're living your life. Are you a spectator? Someone who makes commentary but never fully commits to the act of living? Timid, fearful, looking for a contented life versus a full life? Or are you one of those who lives by the command Carpe Diem? Perhaps it is recognizing that there are fewer days ahead than there are behind me that has caused me to stop and assess. Maybe I'm just finally recognizing that there is no negative consequence to being true to myself. I for one am grateful to the impatient art instructor who made such an astute, albeit blunt, observation. Here's to the end of timidity!Here's to a life fully lived!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Preserve Your Memories, They're All That's Left You

I have entered that age when days turn into months turn into years, and suddenly the person you meant to call or visit is 5 years older and you wonder where the time went. You know where it went--into meaningless hours at work or watching TV or writing email. Or maybe it went into meaningful things, like visits with family and great adventures and new challenges and new friends. We all discover at some point that we cannot and will not do all the things we want to do or talk about doing.

Such was a conversation I had a few years back with my oldest, best friend from high school, Pat Walters. She had moved to Alabama, then Georgia. I had moved all over the Chicagoland area. Somehow we found each other again, and exchanged several letters and one phone call. She still had her joyful country twang and told me all about her new life and her daughter. I remember being so excited and nervous talking to her after all the years, that I think I didn't express sufficient happiness for her life, especially her daughter. It all registered later, after I had time to digest what had just happened. We ended the call with promises to speak again, for me to take a road trip to Alabama to see her and her parents. It all sounded so good, so possible. It sounded as promising as every dream we ever expressed to each other when we were 16 and our whole lives stood ahead of us.

Of course, you know what happened--years slipped by, as they are wont to do, when left unattended. We didn't write or call or stay in touch. And then Facebook came along and I found her again. Her profile picture showed her much as I remembered her, but her daughter was older, quickly leaving toddlerhood. I sent her a "friend request", which seemed an odd thing to have to do, but did it nonetheless. And then I waited. And waited. She didn't accept it and didn't respond. I began to wonder if I had somehow offended her in our phone call. Did I say or do something wrong? I waited several months, and finally withdrew the request. I felt sad, hurt, maybe even a little angry at the apparent rejection. And then one day, I decided to look on FB again and couldn't find her listed. I assumed she was never very active, and had cancelled her account, as some will do.

Months passed. My life went into a huge upheaval that claimed all of my waking hours attention for months. When things finally settled down, I started looking for her again, with no luck. And then finally, recently, I stumbled upon a blog post that had her married name in it: Pat Walters McCuiston. And there it was--the words I couldn't even imagine being associated with her name. She had died. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and died 5 weeks after her diagnosis. The following picture was attached to the post:

I cannot express adequately in words how deeply I grieve the loss of my friend. She was the epitome of hope and joy and she housed so many of my hopes and dreams for so many special years. To imagine that we will never sit on a porch somewhere on a warm Alabama summer day and reminisce about our youth is inconceivable to me. It was always going to be that way. We were always going to be there for each other even if we didn't talk for years. And yet, in the end, I feel I failed her. I was not there for her and I cannot undo that. How do you say good-bye to someone who is already gone? What do you do with all the memories shared, the secrets never told, the private moments known only by two?

"Time it was and what a time it was. It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories. They're all that's left you."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Old Friends

I spent the past weekend with 4 of the 5 women I very fondly know as The Joyner Girls. We know each other by this name and we are proud of it. We all met over 30 years ago at Joyner Dorm at UNC-Chapel Hill. We were fond buddies then, we are steadfast, lifetime friends now. As one of them said last year, "Ya'll are part of my retirement plan!" The meaning being, we will be there for each other--always.

I went to be with them because we had a chance to all be together, but I also went there because I needed a reminder that I am loved and valued by others. And they did that. They always do. I had started to doubt recently that I was of much value to the person I had allowed to be close to me, after she had started to take me for granted. It is a sad thing to open your heart to someone else, only to find that you are nothing so special to that person after all.

So it was off to North Carolina for some cold beer and some healing. It amazes me still that we Joyner girls can see each other only a few times a year and pick up conversations as if we had just gotten interrupted a moment before. That is the mark of true friends.