Trying to stay warm, I’m in my red flannel “buffalo check” pajamas. A fire is roaring in the old stone fireplace of this 100-year-old house. Above me, an “out of service” canoe, as old as the house, hangs from the rafters, displaying the beauty of its wooden slats and craftsmanship. The windows, fogged with mist, display the deep greens of the forest and old growth trees surrounding the house. Birds tweet feverishly, and the giant 600-year-old oak in the front is swaying to the breeze, while its branches reach out to cloak the entire cabin.
The Giant Sucking Sound
Each year a giant magnet pulls me to a place I love passionately. Though I’ve traveled the world, and love many places, there is something about the Adirondacks that has touched my life since the time I was introduced to it, over 30 years ago. I’ve always felt like it’s where I belong. Always where I felt closest to nature.
A Big Day Ahead
One of my biggest goals is to return here every summer, which is why, four miles up the road, there is a group of “campers” at my 9th Annual Publisher’s Invitational event. As soon as I finish my coffee and get ready for the day, I’ll join them in the cafeteria for morning announcements about where we’re going to paint today, our first day. Everyone checked in last night and we had a lovely dinner and orientation and a chance to get to know one another better. We’ll do this every day this week, painting all day, starting and ending with meals together, sitting up at night talking, playing music, painting portraits, and looking at our “catch of the day” — the paintings we’ve all done.
One More Time No Matter What
I set up this annual event knowing our time at the Adirondacks may one day come to an end because of the eventual sale of the old family home on the lake. This event allows me to return at least once a year no matter what. Only time will reveal how that works out.
Nothing like this had existed in my life since I was a kid. I remember going to summer Boy Scout camp at Camp Big Island two or three summers in a row, and also to the YMCA’s Camp Potawotami for a couple of years. It was a chance to see old friends that you saw only once a year.
For me, and others, this event fills that “summer camp” void. We start with hugs and will spend hours catching up about what’s happened in our lives during the last year. And there are new friends who join us each year, making it even more wonderful.
Eric’s Own Commune?
When I was a young man of about 30, I recall my big dream of buying a giant piece of property on a lake, inviting all my favorite people to build houses on that property, and having a lodge where we could all cook together and hang out all summer, every summer. I never got around to doing it, but this may have turned out to be better — I’ve made friends I would never have known otherwise, because of people who showed up or came with others.
This event has made me realize the importance of friendship and of making a point to spend time with friends every single year. Though some come and go due to family obligations, rarely does someone miss two years in a row. When someone is not there, it’s not quite the same without them. And I kinda hope this continues, in some form, for the rest of my life. It’s that precious to me.
I’ve often talked about the importance of family traditions, but I now believe that friendship traditions are also critical. Seeing those who are important to us at least once a year makes for a rich life.
Of course, local friends should be seen as frequently as possible, but even then our busy lives sometimes mean we get together only once or twice a year. I joke with a lot of my local painter friends that I have to go to the Plein Air Convention in another city to see them. That should not be.
Some recent tragedies in my life have helped me revisit my personal priorities. Though my mom’s recent funeral wasn’t fun, seeing family members and old neighbors and friends for a few hours afterward was a highlight of my life.
Finding more family time is at the top of the list … making more time for my kids, my dad, my brothers and their families, my wife’s family … and seeing the other friends has moved up to a high priority as well. All too often old friends are seen every few years, if that, and when we get together we wonder why we don’t do it more often. In reality, what can be more important? Without the rich experiences of friends and family, everything else pales.
I feel blessed that my painting events like the Publisher’s Invitational, Fall Color Week, the Plein Air Convention, and the Figurative Art Convention provide me with rich experiences with painting friends. But my focus is to find more time with everyone at these events, and outside of these events.
What about you?
Who would you miss if you got the call they had disappeared? Call those people NOW and find a way to get together with them soon.
Most good things that happen in life are not accidental — most are planned. Are you making enough of an effort to plan time with friends? If not, consider scheduling something now. Make a list and ask yourself who you most want to spend time with this year.
Also, where is healing needed?
A friend estranged from her dad for two decades recently told me that upon his death she realized her grievance was petty, and she now regrets the distance she put between the two of them.
There is no time like the present. Time is fleeting and lives are fragile.
Make time for friendships. It’s the one thing you’ll never regret.
PS: If we have not met and if this painting thing seems fun, I’ll do an event much like this one at Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch in New Mexico this fall, and then I’m doing an art lovers’ trip to Provence and the South of France, and Scotland too. Make some time for yourself. Let’s become friends in person.
A symphony of birdsong fills the morning air as the early-rising sun streaks through the trees, making long purple shadows and golden light as it hits the tops of the tall grass and pear-shaped cactus. A bright yellow spider makes its way across the glass door of my little brown art studio, probably frustrated after his web across the doorway was deconstructed in a split second. Cool breezes move the trees and chill the air slightly before the afternoon blast of heat melts everything in sight. It will soon be time to escape the summer heat, if just for a week or two. My painters’ event in the Adirondacks, starting this weekend, will be saturated with deep green forests, cushy reddish brown pine needle forest floors, and gushing waterfalls, all waiting to be preserved in paint.
Seeing Past Stress
Thoughts of my plans get me through an otherwise busy, sometimes stressful year. Though I used to be Mr. Spontaneous, something I learned from my dad, who would wake us on a summer morning and say, “Get up, we’re leaving for vacation in one hour.” I’m sure the demands of his job were such that he could not often plan. I followed suit for many years. Though I love an occasional random and spontaneous trip, I’ve found that having something to look forward to is the best possible medicine to get me through busy moments. Knowing something is coming in a month, or even a year, is soothing.
Gifts From Mom
Last weekend at my mom’s memorial, I was reminded of three traits she had that I think I inherited. She loved to travel (she was a travel agent), she loved to be with friends, and she loved to find ways to make people happy. My life has been designed to incorporate those things.
All of this came out of a thought process to design my life, which made me think about what would make a deeply rich life, what would make for wonderful experiences, and what would make me happy at the same time.
I also combined this with thoughts about retirement, which came down to not ever wanting to retire. I love what I do, I love the people I work with, and I love the people I get to interact with, most of whom have become my friends. If I stopped, I’d be spending my time trying to get back in.
When designing my life, I tried to determine how much traveling I would do if I were not working, and I found a way to do that now so I don’t have to retire.
Exact Plans for a Rich Life
Designing my travel was very deliberate. For instance, I love to visit Europe, I love to visit museums, and I love the perks of my job, which often get me invited behind the scenes at the museums, often to meet with curators or directors. But I also love being with friends and I love sharing those perks with them, because chances are they would never get to do those things on their own. So I do an annual trip where we visit different parts of Europe. The one this fall is our 10th, which will be very special. This trip scratches the art lover and Europe itch, and I don’t have to wait till retirement to get it done.
Planning for Painting
I was also deliberate about painting trips. Life is busy, and time to travel to beautiful places to paint has to be scheduled. Though I sneak out on a weekend here and there, having a week of painting is life-changing because it improves my work as I do two or three paintings a day. So I do this twice a year … once in the spring to get tuned up for summer, and once in the fall, to get some color and a last shot before winter. Sometimes I even do a winter trip to someplace warm and exotic. I always invite anyone who wants to come along, and I usually end up with 60 or a hundred painters for a week, which is a blast. Sometimes they are pros — for instance, someone very famous is showing up at my Adirondack event next week — and there are also people at all levels, including beginners. We all hang together because we are all equals. (I reserve my summers when the kids are off to be with them and do no business travel.)
There Is Always a Way
Frankly, I would not be able to do this much travel if it were not for making it part of my work, but I started by saying, “How can I accomplish these goals?” and then worked backward to find a way. And I think there always is a way.
Many artists, for instance, schedule workshops in beautiful places so they can get others to pay them to go to those places. Others teach art on cruise ships, or get free months at artist fellowships in beautiful places. Some countries will even pay for artists to come and bring other artists in order to boost tourism. The key is determining what you want to do, and working backward to find a way to accomplish it. Start with the goal, then make a step-by-step plan.
“Someday” Is a Copout
For several years I invited my mom to come to the Plein Air Convention with me, because she loved to paint and would have loved it. “Someday,” she would say. “This isn’t a good year, but keep asking.” Years passed, I kept asking, but it never happened.
Too often “someday” gets in the way of action. There is never a good time. Never perfect conditions. Never enough money. I could tell a dozen stories of somedays that never came, people who told me they were going on one of my trips but who have since become disabled, or worse.
You Are Healthy and Alive Now
The opposite also happens. I met a lovely lady at my Fall Color Week who came every year, and planned to keep coming back. Little did she know this past fall was her last. She passed away a couple of months later.
No matter what your dreams are … act now. They might be travel dreams, big goals, something you’ve always wanted to do.
What are you wanting to do that you’re not doing?
Where do you want to travel that you’ve not yet been?
My friend Richard Saul Wurman says we should think in life of “how many summers” we have left. Of course, we never know.
Whatever is getting in the way, is it worth it? Is there a way around it?
My hope is that you have the rich experiences you desire in your life. I encourage you not to play the “someday” game.
PS: My event, starting on the 8th in the Adirondacks, can fit a few more people. I’ve already hit my goal, but I can open up a couple more rooms if necessary. (Though that’s not true at every event, I can do it this year at this one.) I have a contract this year and next year — after that, all bets are off. Hop in the car and paint with us. Even if you’re new to this painting thing. You’ll meet your new family and be instantly embraced.