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.