Goosebumps show their little faces on my hands, arms and bare feet this morning as I sit in the chilly air trying to stay warm with sips of hot java. My knarly oaks are like a Bernini sculpture, twisted, and intertwined, looking as if there is movement, yet there is the stillness of a chunk of marble.
There is also no movement in the faded red hammock, that hangs on the porch of my log cabin art studio by the fireplace, which typically sways with the slightest breeze. Unusual quietness, the exact opposite of a New York City street, offers peace and solace as if it had known I had returned from the Big Apple in need of quiet time.
The warm comforting harmony of a distant train horn performs a sonnet in the distance as two baby deer and their mom are eating breakfast at my backyard buffet, popping their heads up at the sound of my fingers hitting the keyboards.
If my heart had a face there would be a big beaming smile on it, filled with gratitude. I’m finally home after a marathon of travel and events for artists and radio friends.
Tears of Joy
Nothing is quite as fulfilling as having someone approach me with tears welled up in their eye and tell me that we’ve changed their life. I must have heard it dozens of times in the past few weeks from people who took a risk, stepped out of their comfort zone, ignored the inner voices trying to protect them from making mistakes, who attended one of our events and discovered something about themselves. I heard it on our art trip to Italy, I heard it when we ended up painting unexpected snow in Banff and Lake Louise. I heard it from one lady who attended our Africa trip, I heard from several people who tried my free art lessons online and I heard it dozens of times at our FACE conference two weeks ago. I even heard it at my radio conference in NYC this past week. They all make everything worthwhile and put a big beaming smile on my face.
Yet as we approach Thanksgiving, it’s not all smiles. There are people who are hurting at this moment, who can’t gather in their homes this week because their homes have been lost.
Numb to Disaster
Too often we become numb to the news. Disasters in places we have never been, impacting people we don’t know. Yet, the recent hurricane in Florida and the fires in California hit very close to home because I know so many people impacted including people who are close friends and readers.
This morning, if you’re secure in your home, cozy and comfortable, I’d ask that you simply take a moment and realize just how blessed you are and how so many others are suffering. We must not forget them and we must help them in any way possible.
My dear friends, Carolyn and Chris, let me know that they lost their entire home and everything in it during the fires in Malibu. When we were at the Plein Air Convention last year I remember him telling me that it was just a matter of time before they lost their home in a fire. Now their family home and family heirlooms are lost, including a great grandmother’s rare, irreplaceable Steinway piano, their grandfather’s grandfather clock, every photo, every memory of raising their kids, every homework project saved for years, every painting they ever made, and those they had collected, every stitch of clothing other than what was on their backs at the time of evacuation.
Yet another friend, Jeremy, one of the most important artists in America, had just moved into a new dream house. Firefighters saved it, but he lost his guest house. And my friend, Robert, watched all the homes around him burn while his home was spared.
My friend, Lynn, told me during FACE that she lost her home in the recent hurricane. She also lost her studio, all of her paintings, her collection of paintings, and literally everything she ever owned. The only possession that was found was her FACE apron from last year’s Figurative Art Convention.
Last year another friend lost her Santa Rosa home and all its contents in the fire. She was not only an artist, but a major art collector, and her lifetime of collecting and the paintings she had done disappeared instantly with the fire. The only possession she has is a letter we asked her to write to herself about her dreams and goals at the prior year’s Plein Air Convention. It arrived two days after the fire.
These people have been through a living hell, which is beyond imagination. Yet each has shared stories of the heroes around them who risked their own lives to alert neighbors in houses when all lines of communication were down. These fires happened suddenly and spread fast and most everyone was surprised and had no time to grab anything.
The amazing part has been their resilience in the face of incredible loss, their spirit, which they have not allowed to be broken, and their gratuity that their lives and those of their families have been spared.
My friends, Chris and Carolyn, looked at it as a blessing. “We’ve been tied down by this big house and all this stuff. We’ve wanted to move on to do other things, but we were clinging to our comfort and now we feel free.” She also said that the tragedy was bringing estranged family members back together and that the sacrifice was worth it. They plan to live their dream of living in another country.
My friend, Lynn, told me she would rebuild in the same place, and though she loved her home, there were things about it she always wanted to change, and that this was her opportunity.
And my other friend used the opportunity to pursue the dream of owning her own art gallery and living in a different community.
From the ashes, a Phoenix arises. Each is embracing what happened for them and not looking at it as something that happened to them. None are saying “why me?” Instead, they are trusting the plan for their lives.
Sadly, many families lost their lives and will be attending funerals instead of Thanksgiving celebrations. People are still missing, feared to be gone forever. Therefore, the rest of us have so much to be grateful for.
I’ve learned many lessons from the horrible tragedies my friends have experienced.
First, stuff isn’t important. Sometimes we work our whole lives to accumulate stuff. Most of us cling to stuff, buy more stuff, and some of us, like me, tend to hoard stuff we have not touched, used or looked at in decades. I think of my own overstuffed office and garage. I’ll feel more free by purging, giving what I don’t need to others who do need it. Plus, I don’t want to leave that chore to my kids to sort through after I’ve graduated out of this world into the next. It’s not fair to them. So I plan to take a couple days over the holiday break to declutter.
Focus on Quality
Second, there is some good stuff, that if lost, would be a tragedy. Things that are passed down for generations, things that were handcrafted or made by special craftspeople. We should enjoy and appreciate those things while we have it knowing someday it can be gone. For me it’s the guitar I made with my own hands, which I hope to see passed down for generations, the paintings I’ve made, my kids’ school projects and crafts, a couple childhood toys that bring back memories and some things my parents and grandparents gave me. Rather than clutter with lots of stuff, I’d rather have less, and have it be good stuff.
Third, those of us who collect or create art have a responsibility to photograph and catalog our art so it can still be seen by the future world. The artwork we own or created may be of little value today but may be of big value in the future as the artists become known. Through my decades of life in and around art, I’ve seen far too many collections destroyed by fire and storms and there are no records of paintings made by brilliant artists to be shared in future books. I’ve photographed my entire collection in high resolution so it can be published in future books and placed it all in a software platform where I can document it, comment on it, and have a “back up” off-site on the cloud.
Fourth, no one is every properly insured, especially their art. We buy random things and before we know it years pass and there is no record. There are companies that can do special riders for art. Of course, it may not have been worth anything when you bought it and may have become valuable over time, which means current appraisals should be done from time to time.
Fifth, scan all your old photos and slides, and paper memories, and backup all your computers on the cloud so there is an off-site record.
Sixth, what are the three most cherished things you would grab when running out of a fire? What is your exact fire or storm or escape plan? Decide now. You won’t have time to think when given one minute to get out. It might be a good idea to have a packed bag with three days of clothes, some cash, insurance records, passports, etc., that you can grab when there is only one minute to get out of the house. I have red dots on things in my garage if I had time to grab things.
More Important than Stuff
Though all of these emergency actions are good to do, the most important action is to heal your old wounds and to spend more time with the people you love. This is a reminder that any of us can be gone in a flash and that we need to look past our anger, our stories, our past issues, and embrace people for what and who they are. Enjoy each moment together as if it’s your last. Go out of your way to make memories, to visit one another, and take the time, which you won’t have when it runs out. And don’t waste a single moment doing what you don’t love. Spend more moments being around people you do love.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear about healing wounds? Do it now.
Do This Now
Who is the first person you think of who you would regret not seeing one last time? Pick up the phone now and arrange it. Seriously, right now. For a few years, I’ve meant to visit my friend Sean, but I always had an excuse, and now that he’s gone I wish I could visit. I have others I’ve been too busy to see that I’d regret not seeing.
Though these fires are horrific, the ashes provide moments of clarity, moments of gratefulness and a much needed fresh start for some. Though reaching out to these people I did not know what to say or how they would respond, but I’m encouraged by their strength, their resolve, and their gratefulness. I’m not sure I’d be as strong.
Let’s keep them all in our thoughts and prayers.
PS: Sometimes we do things not knowing we’re being insensitive. I wrote an email this past week about living in Paradise and how I got fired from my own company. Little did I know that when it came out a town named Paradise would be burning. It was pointed out by a very caring reader, so for those I offended, I beg your forgiveness.
My travel whirlwind is almost over for the year. Just one more trip to San Francisco to pick which of the hundreds of amazing landscape painting spots we will use for our Plein Air Convention attendees so we can all paint together, then a stop in Salt Lake City for a memorial service to honor my friend Sean, who passed recently.
There is some exciting news. Last week we announced our new Podcast Business Journal, which launches tomorrow. Each week I do the PleinAir Podcast and l love podcasting. It has brought me almost a half million listens. So we’re going to help the thousands of podcasters learn how to turn it into a profitable business.
And because I have Thanksgiving off, look for a special Sunday Coffee on Thursday.
And please consider giving to the Red Cross to help out victims in the recent storms and fires.
A wonderful Monet exhibit will be at the De Young Museum during the convention. Any chance that an excursion could be planned? Also, please think of the many Californian’s who will be attending and consider some painting venues that we may have missed.
My gratefulness extends to you, Eric, for all that you do to make artists aware of all that is about them…your heart and soul. Thank you for all these intimate asides into your life; it makes my thoughts more illuminating and makes me thankful to share this Universe with you.
that was beautiful. Sometimes your articles are as fresh as the plein air! My artist brother and wife lost everything material in the paradise fire, and they have yet to find out if friends on the missing list are confirmed dead. They also are doing their best to keep perspective, priority and clarity. Thank you again for taking the time to encourage us all.
This article is insightful, thoughtful and a little voice in my brain told me it is one of the most important articles I have recently read. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and your heart. Thank you!
Overwhelming grief from loss in inconsolable. Loss of a life or trappings of a lifestyle is life altering, be it from loss of loved ones or cherished possessions of that life.
My parents home burned in 1987. My mother’s art studio and a lifetime work of art and a collection of others was lost. I still feel such a profound sense of loss over her legacy I am determined that I will create a legacy of my own in her honor, soothing to my childhood memories. The studio in ashes will never quite ever be reclaimed. It is a profound grief like no other.
Thank you Eric for your thoughtful and sensitive words.
May you have a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving.
Thank you, Eric, for addressing this subject. You’ve ably demonstrated the far-reaching effects of the current disasters, There are certainly both negative and positive effects.
I live in Redding, California, where the Carr fire and two others nearby burned thousands of acres, destroyed the homes of friends and neighbors, and rained ashes on us for weeks. Artist friends’ decades of work turned to white powder. The flames stopped, for some inexplicable reason, within 200 yards of my home, but burned 20 houses on my street. Nature was indiscriminate. Spared or not, the events impacted everyone’s psyche.
When Paradise burned with its horrifying fury, all those emotions were revived. In tribute to man’s basic goodness and resilience, the response by the residents of Redding has been especially gratifying. Fed by painful experience, groups spontaneously gathered and delivered precious needed items and support, many still in need themselves. None waited for government agencies or charitable groups, though those were invaluable and even heroic.
Though devastating loss can never be returned to “normal” and the scars will be deep, we all can learn irreplaceable lessons and set new priorities, as you pointed out. My artist friends and I are are painting in the burned areas and are discovering beauty and renewal there.
Friends and art. My renewed priorities.
I shed my own tears over that beautiful letter. I am not given to reading “inspirational” prose but I look forward to your communications and am duly inspired by the Plein Air painters.
Just a thought: How about scheduling a Plein Air convo in the Southeast? My area, Wilmington NC, is in recovery from Flo, but still the marshes and beaches are beautiful…or Savannah or Charleston…shrimp and oysters!
Wishing you a peaceful Thanksgiving!
A very thoughtful letter Eric.