I guess that, as an artist, most would consider me a late bloomer. I can’t say that I did as I was told during my years growing up or even in the first decades after earning my right to vote. But in my earlier years, I usually did what I thought I was supposed to do. And as the adopted child of an accountant and an engineer, painting and writing were not what smart people chose to do with their time.
So, in each chapter of my life, I wrestled with desire, measured with logic and then squeezed myself into a practical solution. At first, I was rewarded with responsibility, titles, and money. Later, when I understood I was the author of my own story, I found a life of substance, meaning and passion.
My twenties were about competence and real estate acquisition. The decade of my thirties handed me the opportunity to brave many changes thrust upon me, both painful and ecstatic, and to feel incompetent in entirely new ways. Midlife has blessed me with the gift of knowing how little time I have left on this planet and how important it is to do what you are really meant to do.
In the introduction to my life, also known as late adolescence, my instinct for self preservation was enough for me to cling to just two goals. One was to remain single until after college. I was keenly attracted to men, but had proven repeatedly that I was a pathetic judge of male character: ran off the right kind of guy; a magnet for the wrong kind. (Thank the Lord; I worked this out in my thirties.) Next was to travel as much of the world as humanly possible.
At 22 years of age I had never been east of Nebraska and had seen the ocean only twice. I had a lot left to cover. Colorado, my native state had no beachfront properties and was a cool 24-hour trip to salty waters (not counting The Great Salt Lake, which I had never seen either, and just over the state line).
All my trips were long car rides north, through Wyoming to Red Lodge, Montana, or northeast to Fort Morgan, Colorado, an unassuming western outpost located on the high plains, one of many towns claiming a nomadic Glen Miller as native son.
Every other trip was straight into the Rocky Mountains. We always drove sedans, and with two brothers, it was an unending tussle over who “got the window seats”. As I was the tiniest, it was during these minimally supervised negotiations that I honed my doggedness skills. If sheer force of personality did not win out, my trump card was a tendency toward car sickness.
When I finally tossed my collegiate mortar board and a handful of fake paper money (I was graduating with a B.S. in Business Administration, what my parents and many others believed in the 1980’s was a savvy and lucrative decision for those not entering Medical or Law school), I had achieved all I sought. No diamond on my finger, keys in my hand to a 1974 red Volkswagen Beetle (for travel within the continental United States) and a plane ticket to Europe in my name.
The only thing missing was a clue as to what I would do when I returned from my visit across the great Pond. Fortunately or at least ironically, the need for permanent employment with benefits awoke the imposter within and drove me to obtain positions where I had lots of potential and no skills.
Now, potential is an interesting thing. It implies success but lacks substance. In fact, in my thirties again, I learned through hard and sharp-edged lessons to avoid betting on potential, whenever possible. Hang on to actions, for Character is measured not by who you are deep down, but by what you do. (Deep down, we humans are just a mixed bundle of all manner of good and bad traits). Somehow, I passed this unlikely test of potential, not by superior character, but driven by a neurotically induced fear of failure and humiliation. It seemed like a good thing at the time.
In the next decades there were goals set, achieved and missed. Beaten by the lessons life threw my way, I chose to stop the insanity by the end of my thirties. Bloodied but “not dead yet” I chose, with a little grace, to slow it down.
So in the chapter of my life titled “The Artist at 40+” there is only a memory of the unfocused adolescent, who was fooled into competence for a decade, then baptized by the fires of suffering. Thankfully, I was black and blue and tired enough to hear a small but clear voice speak. “Life just needs to be lived.” No forecasting the future or pondering the past, just Be now. I am grateful still for the lessons learned about doggedness, pain and clarity. But, now in this part of the story, there is no more time to pretend, regret or bet on potential.
I have left out much of the rich or mundane details that make a life. That may be a blessing for the reader. But without much explaination, I am here and have hit my stride. Lucky me, now I paint–and outdoors, if you can imagine that! And in the next chapter, sometimes I write a little, too. It is never too late to find your passion and practice it.