Fog covers the windows as I glance out at the porch. Condensation from the frigid air conditioning trying to keep up against oppressive heat has replaced the fog and cool mornings on the Adirondack lake.
Slamming my face as I walk out to the porch, the heat is like the blast of getting too close to a pizza oven, bearable for only a brief moment before my roasting occurs. Yet I make my way to the wicker couch to look out over the vast rough weeds, now brown as toast, and the twisting cedar trees, which thrive on the heat.
Briefly, I can feel the heat against my bare legs as I sit on the red cushions. It’s soothing in a way, like a heating pad on my sore muscles from being cramped inside an airplane.
A Fresh Start
Being back in Austin is comforting because it’s home, yet I always pine for my lakefront summers and wish they would never end. “Be careful what you wish for,” people would say, and today, the return home is followed by a week of driving our triplets off to three different colleges to plug them into a new life on campus, and the start of their independence from their caregivers. This is, after all, the week we’ve dreaded for 18 years, first seeming like it would never come, and then seeing it speed by too fast.
Dread is a strong word. I’ve dreaded the empty house, the lack of chaos, the activities, the friends in and out, the birthday parties (how can we deal with birthdays at three colleges in three cities this February?), and the laugher, the lessons, the hurts, and the challenges of parenting.
Yet looking forward is the opposite of dread. Knowing I won’t have to wake up at 6 a.m. to make breakfast, won’t have to wait up for 11 p.m. curfews, won’t be needing to put up with as much testosterone-driven drama, and won’t have to find someone to take care of the kids if we want to slip away on an impromptu trip.
Though I’m predicting tears, I’m also predicting celebration that we’ve accomplished our goal of raising three very fine humans and hopefully given them enough lessons to ground them for the rest of their lives.
Looking back, I realize I’ve wasted far too much energy on dreading things in my future when I should have found a way to look forward to them, or at least be prepared to process them.
As a child, and through much of my life, I dreaded the moment I’d lose my parents. I was always afraid I would lose my mom or my dad. It started when I was a child, then into my teens, young adulthood, and now even into the beginnings of my years of wisdom. (I don’t use the words “getting old” because I refuse to train my subconscious mind to respond.) I knew it would devastate me. Yet when my mom passed, it was enormously painful, but I was not disabled by my grief. Maybe it is because we had some time knowing her heart disease would eventually take her, or maybe because she lived to 93 and was not cheated out of life early, and did not suffer through years of treatments or the pain so many experience. And of course my belief in Heaven. My outlook allowed me to step back, look at the experience, and separate myself from my grief. Maybe being stoic, or toughing it out, was my way of dealing with it.
I can remember asking my dad about this years ago, when his mother or father passed, and seeing that he did not appear disabled with grief. And I can recall him telling me he had deep grief, but he was not going to let it destroy him. It’s when I realized we can have command over our emotions if we prepare ourselves.
And, though I was deeply emotional when Brady, my son, had his heart attack last January 20, I remember thinking that I could not let that fear destroy my ability to think and make decisions, because I needed to be composed enough to help the family get through such a difficult patch. Maybe I was stoic, appearing unemotional, though I cried as well. Yet once I looked at myself, I was able to flick a switch to get through it without being disabled emotionally.
Maybe a therapist would tell me I was in denial or I was not in touch with my emotions, but I would say I was very much in touch with them and chose to not allow them to prevent me from making adult decisions. And though I was clearly under a dark cloud, I did not allow the rain.
What do you dread?
How will you choose to deal with that dread?
I’ve had a lot of time to process what’s about to happen, and I would not miss it for the world. Passing the baton to our kids, giving them a new education and independence, is something I cherish. Though we will be sad with their absence, and will miss their being with us in person, they are a text away and in good hands. We have to turn this over to God because we can no longer control their every move.
Train the Brain
Though our minds control our physiology, we control our minds by training ourselves to look at things through a different lens and, when possible, reprocessing our thoughts to work for us rather than against us. Now the key, at least for me, is to ask myself WHY I dread something, and is there a way I can instead find a way to filter things to look forward to them?
My friend Stewart Slocknick did this with the news of his terminal cancer. Though he dreaded the idea of treatments, he told me he looked forward to getting beyond them and did not want to delay. He taught me how one dies with dignity and hope.
We cannot get back the hours we’ve lost to fretting, worry, and dread. All we can do is make adjustments to our filters for future events. It takes some getting used to, but now that I understand it, it sure makes tough patches a lot easier.
PS: This week on my noon ET daily “broadcast” on YouTube and Facebook, I got into a discussion with an artist about the idea of natural talent versus learned skill. Our conclusion was that natural talent is more a result of tenacity and perseverance (working harder) than others, which makes us accomplish difficult tasks earlier than most, which is then perceived as natural talent.
I find it fascinating that we think brain surgeons, lawyers, professionals of all kinds, need years of training — yet for some reason, we think artists are born with talent. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you happen to be one of those people who has stared at a painting or a drawing and always told yourself that you don’t have it in you, you’re telling yourself a lie. You have it in you, but you have to develop it and put in the time and instruction to bring it out. Painting as a hobby will bring a lifetime of joy and loads of emotional benefits. All you need to do is take action and apply yourself, just as you do in every other area of your life where you gain traction.
I’ve got a rare opportunity, worth taking some time off for … or at least allocating time to watch replays nights or weekends. It’s called Realism Live, and I’ve been gathering the top, cream-of-the-crop artists to teach for four days online. Plus there is a day for beginners with absolutely no knowledge or skill where we’ll hold your hand and teach you enough that you’ll feel like you made enough progress to continue your journey.
I can’t make you take action. Only you can do that. But I can point out that your mind is playing tricks on you if you think you can’t draw a stick figure. It’s true, you can’t — until we show you how. And keep showing you simple exercises to make the impossible possible to you.
You can come up with more excuses, but when are you going to have a chance like this? Plus you’ll be part of a community, you’ll have support and encouragement, and we’ll expose you to concepts that will change your life forever … because you’ll be taking the first steps to being an artist. Don’t tell yourself it’s not possible. Instead, be curious, and tell yourself it’s worth a try. You have nothing to lose … especially because if you attend Realism Live and, after the end of day one, you don’t think it brings you enough value, let us know. We’ll refund your money and disconnect you from the rest of the event.
I encourage you to take this rare opportunity to join the world for this first online realism conference. Realism … teaching you how to paint real subjects (not abstract) like landscapes, people, faces, still life, flowers, and more.
Sign up for only the Beginner’s Day for just $97, or the whole week for a little more. It’s still cheaper than getting on an airplane, buying a ticket to an event, and spending on meals and hotels.
Early bird savings of $100 expires August 30. The price then increases $100 more. Sign up today at RealismLive.com.
There was a time in my life when I lived with the dread of loosing my children as they were growing up like yours. I made my self miserable with sadness and dread. And then one Christmas, I realized I was not enjoying the time I did have left with them….. the now! I snapped out of it and started once again enjoying every precious moment right in front of me. It made all the difference in me accepting the time when they did start leaving, one at a time over the next 5 years.
Thank you for your Sunday Morning Coffee
I always bristle a bit when someone says, “I am very talented.” I try to gently explain my feelings on that word to describe my work. I explain, “talent is what everyone begins with. It’s just the beginning” Then there is the years of work to reach a honed skill. I had a slight head start on others growing up in a family of artists and art. Art was the ultimate challenge.
I guess I have never looked at what might happen in the future as “dreading” any of it. We need to learn from our experiences and make up our minds how to handle it and move on. My father was killed in a car accident, on his way to work, when I was 16. My mother did a very good job of keeping my life, I was the only child, as normal as possible.
One of my three daughters, age 55, was killed in an auto accident, on her way home, from visiting her son in college, when I was 80. Believe me I have second thoughts any time I enter a vehicle, or my husband leaves to go to a store. I am sure the police will come and tell me he has been in an accident.
What would be the point in “dreading” what “might” happen? You talk to yourself and get straight with it and move on. You can’t let what “might happen” dictate how you live the rest of your life, or you won’t be living a life. Every life has good and bad things in it.
Think positive. Negative wastes too much energy.
Big transitions, like the fledging of your children, provoke deep emotions. But, as you say, “Fear not. Dread not.” Because you don’t lose your children to their futures (I know you know this, but just want to remind), the relationship just morphs. So soon, you will be see how excited your kids will be to tell you of their new experiences, new friendships, new learnings, and how it affects them. They may suddenly act like they are 35, but it will all be a beautiful thing over time. And you will get closer to each of them, maybe in sputtering and uneven ways for a while, but then in steady and deepening ways as the years go by. A wise counselor once told me that the role of a parent of emancipated adult children is to be an “adult adviser”. Your kids will NEVER outgrow their desire for your wisdom, because you’ll always be one stage, one step ahead. It’s natural. Get ready for richer relationships with your kids. I realize that not everyone’s path with their kids goes this way, but hearing who you are and who they are, I can practially guarantee it!!
P.S. I think you have such a natural and BIG helping of wisdom, Eric. Don’t see how you can miss with your kids! My tears flowed like the fastest, widest river, when my kids left home, but then my kids kept showing up in new and lovely ways. Maybe your time will be more filled with them popping up than you think now.
I can remember when my daughter went off to college and (at the time) I thought my life’s work would be over!
That’s when I started taking art classes and went back to college to study art.
I too can remember when my daughter’s heart went haywire and the doctors told us she wouldn’t make it (she
was clinically dead for 26 minutes) but she is still here today with no brain damage due to the fact that a co-worker
I wish you and your wife well as your children go off to college and you all start a new challenge.
I can’t thank you enough for the video’s you have provided us with during this difficult time of Covid 19.
I find your letters to be thoughtful and timely to my current situation.
Thanks for sharing ,
I look forward to your words of experience and wisdom each Sunday. One of the highlights of 2020 for me has been discovering your art videos and interviews with such a talented and interesting array of artists.
I’m a 78 year old hobby painter, retired elementary schoolteacher, but not too old to continue learning.
Thank you again. Your gentle spirit is uplifting.
Eric, you have a way with words that is poetic. I also live in Texas so I understand that blast of heat like a pizza oven.
I really loved your article about how we deal with grief. And I agree with you that we can compartmentalize in order to get through the task at hand. And that is helping your family deal with it; that’s what an adult does. And I’m speaking as a therapist, because that’s what I did for 30 years. And now I’m working very hard to prove you are correct in improving with skill. Again I want to say thank you for these videos. They have truly helped me in so many ways. Right now I’m I am working on a value study that later today I will finish a small painting I am working on a value study that later today I will work on a small painting. So now I understand how the process works, we’ll see how the product turns out. Thank you so much Eric
Eric, we share a lot of similar stories and history. I’ve enjoyed the plein air scene, the artists who have been willing to help our unbelief, but most of all, these Sunday morning times together have been enlightening.
Being an artist, a teacher, and a pastor I’ve always learned more and continually to learn from the daily sharing of others. At 73 I can hear you speak in my head the same concerns, trials and fears sometimes that come up over the years.
I have three children and also lost my mother several years ago. It seems are thoughts come from the same source.
To share your life with others so intimately has and will be a tremendous way to help others for a long time.
Please consider writing or compiling a daily reader of your early morning coffee subjects, I think many in the secular world would benefit.
Blessing on you and yours.
My folks passed in their early 70’s. Now I am 70 and have to wonder if I have time to do all the things i want to do. This is the time to ramp up my plans for the future.
I like your thoughts about your kids leaving and you as a empty nester. This is just the beginning of a new conversation with them. More as friends and equals than dependents. Make it fun!
Thank You, Great read now I need more coffee.
I wish for yo great days ahead in this new adventure in this part of your life .
Each new new day is a new page in your very own book of your life!
Hi Eric, thanks for your thoughts this morning. I agree with you. Dread, worry, and the anticipation that goes along with these feelings all tends to be negative goal setting. I’ve had cancer a few times and dread can overwhelm you, but as I sat in waiting rooms and infusion wards I looked around at people, some of whom will die, most were positive and even upbeat with the caregivers and their support companions. And like you, a lot of these people chose not to focus on the unknown but to make the most of today.
I have to say that because of you, and the recent stay at home orders, I too have picked up my brushes after 30 years of dormancy. Now my overwhelming “dread” is focused on not getting my tonal values correct.
Eric, good morning. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Though it is a very human trait, I too believe we tend to ‘worry’ or dread more than we should. I remember the range of emotions we experienced when our youngest headed off to college. An empty nest brings fun change, as well. That’s when I found all my old brushes and paints and started spending time with art again.
Eric – you are wise beyond your years. Wishing you an easy transition to this next phase of life. Thank you for sharing your feelings with us every Sunday – they are an inspiration. Safe travels.