The Truth about the Group W Bench

 

One of the great things about going into a manic season is there are more ideas budding than you can possibly explore in a lifetime.

It’s also one of the crappy things about mania.  I’m heading into one now, filling up disk space with posts and pages for a book about chronic illness while whittling away at illustrations for a kids’ book or two.

But there are moments of clarity here on what Arlon Guthrie might recognize as the Group W bench of life. This one came in the shower, as they usually do when there’s nothing handy to write with. I was thinking about the latest essay for the chronic illness book. It included a recounting of our family visit to the penis museum in Reykjavík, Iceland, heretofore the only collection of embalmed wangs I’ve ever heard of.

Rinsing my hair, I wondered if this was the story I should tell anyone outside the family. I wondered should I use the word wang? And then I thought of my family and thought, “Of course I should.”

That’s the way our little gang is.

We’re the ones you see at the family-style restaurant giggling about over who had the best formed burp. We are the ones who warp classic rock songs into ditties about nose-picking. There is no subject off-limits in our section of the group W bench, but I suspect that’s the reason most people have a good time sitting on it.

Authentically Unconflicted

I started this blog about 6 years ago as an assignment for a writing workshop. It started as a way to share writing and drawings and evolved into a search for an authentic life that still continues.

I spend the majority of my time working at home. Most days, the only people I see are the Big Guy and 17-year-old Thing1 and 11-year-old Thing2. Our family conversations are hardly devoid of any meaning, but tend to focus on “what’s for dinner?“ and “can you pick up the kids?“

The only other regular conversation I have is with my blog. It has helped me deal honestly with bipolar disorder and embrace the dinner table stories that I once pooh-poohed. Over the years, however, that conversation has also led me to question if I was living in my truth and how to get to a place where I could.

One of the truths I discovered over the last few years is that I need to write and draw. When my life gets too congested to allow for a regular time for art, I have resented it.

Last fall, I reorganized my life to carve out time for creativity while building a new career that served the greater good. I started working weekends so I could go back to school, temporarily bowing out of a weekend writing class that had helped keep the spark lit for several years.

Murphy’s Law, however, is still in effect. My precise work schedule surrendered to the chaos of the holiday shopping season. And the bottom dropped out for Thing1.

Thing1 was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder a year earlier. Despite promising early results with medication and severe diet changes, Thing1’s body began shutting down a few days after Christmas. It was barely a week into winter when, knowing which battle mattered most, I withdrew from classes.

Thing1 was hospitalized near the end of January for assessment and treatment. As he lay in recovery after a procedure, I struggled not to cry as his doctor told us that his illness was quite severe and laid out his options. Some required injections or infusions. All of them carried a risk of lymphoma, one of them fatal, especially in young men.

When we got him home, we focused on getting him back to ‘normal’ but quickly realized ‘normal’, like much in life, is an ever-moving goal post. We worked with the school to make sure he stayed on track. We worked with doctors to get him through flu season, keeping them on speed dial through nervous nights.

And, when time permitted and sanity demanded, I blogged.

I still get weepy at night in bed when everyone’s asleep or in the car when no one’s around, even though I know we’re incredibly lucky. Every time I pick up a prescription with an $800 copay that’s been covered by my insurance from work, I know we could also be sitting at our round kitchen table trying to find things to sell to pay for each drug or worrying about bankruptcy.

Long before this blog reignited my creative spark, Thing1 was teaching me patience and determination as I had never understood them before. The self-doubting, self-hating person I had once been before his birth was dissolved in the breast milk and tossed out with a meconium-filled diaper, leaving only Thing1’s mom who had happily reorganized her entire life around his needs.

So when my college sent out spring registration notifications, I knew I would not be signing up. I also knew I will be carving out creative time around my current career until I’m sure Thing1 can fully stand on his own and obtain his own sufficient insurance,

And that’s okay because there are two truths in my life. And, as Darth Vader once said to his offspring, “There is no conflict”. Not for me.

My truth is that creativity matters to me. My bigger truth and the key to living an authentic life for me is that without being true to Thing1 (and now Thing2), I don’t know that anything could keep that creative spark lit.

What’s New is New

Sunday, Sunday

In October, wanting to go back to school to train for something new, I took a long-heldout promotion and started working weekends.

Murphy’s Law still being the only functioning the law of the land decreed that my new weekends— Wednesday and Thursday–would be otherwise occupied, making school impossible. Most of my new weekends have been spent driving to hospitals, but as flu season winds down, I have been able to carve out at least one day on the weekend for re-creation, usually in the form of doodling.

Doodle time did not evolve into painting time until last Sunday when T2 and I went to a Paint and Sip. I haven’t played with acrylics since high school, and even though I’m more confident with watercolors, dipping a brush and a new medium with the spark again.

I haven’t forgotten how much I need to paint, but sometimes it’s easy to let the doldrums keep you from what you were meant to do. My doldrums were plastered under a layer of yellow acrylic last Sunday. When my Sunday kicked off this morning, paint — oil this time —was on the brain.

Oils are completely new and will require a more than little bit of homeschooling to get the hang of, but it’s all part of making something old new again and making the new weekends count.

And hey, I did want to go back to school.

Sipping


Last night T2 and I went to a Paint and sip event at the Roundhouse Bakery and Café in Cambridge, New York. 

I’ve kind of shied away from these events which, to me, seem to be more an excuse to drink wine then to paint, but the picture advertising last nights endeavor was different from so many had seen before, So I signed the two of us up.

I don’t dislike gatherings, but on personality tests, I generally score in the extreme introverted category. It took me 20 minutes to get comfortable enough to say hello to the teacher who seemed very nice and knowledgeable. 

T2 who has a strong creative bent is, by contrast, a confirmed social butterfly. He took two minutes to get settled, get his paint and get talking to a couple that we had met through our favorite diner in Manchester, Vermont. 
In the beginning I was mainly focused on trying to copy the painting, listening to instructions, and getting to know the new medium. The husband in the couple sitting across the table from us, however, was just as extroverted as T2, and the two of them kept the wife and me giggling as we all painted (Don’t worry T2 was drinking orange soda).

T2 was focused on his painting. He loves to draw, and when he got home he started copying the painting here just meet a few minutes earlier to see how he could improve it. In the hours at the café, however, art for him and for the other people at our table was seemingly as much a social experience as it was an academic one.

They had come with one expectation—to have fun, and we all did, and all remarking that next time the Big Guy must go along. The funny thing was that as I watched T2 redraw his composition on the first piece of notebook paper he could find when we got home, I realized that the fun was every bit as valuable to his education as if the painting and sipping had happened at the finest art school. The fun, after all, was what got him doing art and kept him working at it right up until bedtime.

Everybody’s a Critic

Paw Print at Dawn by Jim-Bob Barlow

I was trying to paint last night but Jim-Bob, our orange tabby making a life as a reformed barn cat, decided my time could be better spent. He hopped up on my lap and then crawled up to my neck for insistent snuggle.

“No, kitty,” I said after giving a few scratches and setting them down on the floor.

“I have needs,“ he seemed to purr at me or as he jumped up between the brush bucket and the fish tank, worming his way back onto my lap. He put a paw on the painting table, and I set him down again.

 Katie-the-wonder-dog barked at the door to let me know she was ready to come in, and I pushed the table away from me and padded out to the mudroom to let her in. Jim-Bob, curiously, did not follow, and I should’ve known something was up.

When Katie and I got back to my studio/office, Bob trotted out past us with a swish of his tail, leaving behind only a paw print of disapproval on the still wet painting.

Thing2 has just fallen asleep in the room across the hall so I kept my curses quiet, swearing that was the last that cat would ever see of the inside of my studio. He knew better, however, waiting less than five minutes to nudge open the door with a butt of his head. And as a sucker with a severe case of Stockholm syndrome, when he threaded himself between my legs, I put down my brush and decided to tackle his boundary issues another night.

Some nights in the studio are as much about processing as they are about product.