Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Grateful in Life

"Blue Beyond the Clouds" • Acrylic

November has been lost. The Christmas fever that now begins the day after Halloween has swallowed it up and Thanksgiving right along with it. Not a particularly “sexy” holiday, Thanksgiving doesn’t have costumes or ornaments or presents. You can easily argue that it is based on a historical lie, but I believe there is value to the holiday if you focus on the thankfulness aspect. Some have tried to reclaim it with daily social media postings of gratitude. My husband is doing this and I look forward to his daily posts. They draw my thoughts in new directions and make me appreciate things I may not have paid much attention to recently. Chronically ill friends are posting thankfuls as well to try to improve their daily outlook on life and recent studies suggest great value in this; that there is a direct correlation between gratitude and happiness. One leading researcher, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, gave a group of 411 participants a variety of assignments to measure their impact on overall happiness. When asked to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone they felt had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants showed an immediate large increase in happiness scores and the increased happiness lasted for a month; greater than from any other intervention. Gratefulness also encourages forgiveness, empathy, decreases anxiety, improves depression and combats loneliness. 

What prompted me to write this blog entry was a pattern I’ve recently noticed. People struggling with resolving the conflict between grief and gratitude. Feeling that the bad things negate the good. A friend recently said her mother told her “there is always something to be thankful for.” She shot back, “what if there are 2 bad things for every good thing?” Her Mom said, “just shoot them.” They both have a point, but you can’t easily, nor should you, ignore the bad, but you can’t let it drown you either. 

The holidays have the potential to stir up about every major conflict there is from family tensions, to finance issues, loneliness, depression and grief for family and friends that are no longer with us. There are no simple answers, but for me, living in a state of gratitude creates happiness and leaves me better able to put the negatives of my life, my illnesses, people I've lost, into perspective. This didn’t always come easily. For much of my life, and still to some extent, I am the first person to find flaws and beat myself up for perceived mistakes. Negative self-talk ran rampant. I was not good at forgiving myself and for years was in a relationship that fueled it. I didn’t like myself. More accurately, I didn’t like myself when I was with that person. Getting out of that relationship was the first step in a long road to rediscovering joy in life. Finding the silver linings is key. It’s harder to stay stuck in the bad if you actively look for the good that has come from it. That doesn’t mean you just accept the bad. You still should take positive steps to rectify situations and relationships that are negatively affecting you. Not everything is fixable, though. You also have to recognize when issues are beyond your control and not let them have power over you.

I try to look at my illnesses that way. They have robbed me of a lot and continue to do so. I shudder to add up all the time I’ve been hooked up to an IV for treatments. Instead I am thankful there is a treatment and thankful for the people who donate the plasma from which my medication is derived. They are also hooked up to an IV, but by choice. My views of what is important have also shifted as a direct result of being ill. My patience and empathy for others has grown. I want to share my experiences to help those with chronic illness when before I kept everything bottled up inside me, afraid of being seen as damaged. My sense of self and confidence have grown. 

People that know my husband and I in the non-virtual world often comment on how we act when we are with each other. More aptly, how it’s not an act. The love, affection and respect is very apparent and they want to know the secret. There really isn’t much of one. We simply realize how damn lucky we are to have found each other and that gratitude guides us. Each day is precious. This I learned from the death of my first husband. Nothing is to be taken for granted. We still get annoyed at each other and have occasional arguments like any couple, but hurt feelings do not linger. We are mutually supportive and care greatly for the other’s success and happiness. We celebrate the small things. I know that I am very fortunate to have this amazing relationship with him and I vow to never forget that. 

Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people. This I have accepted and it brings me peace. Looking for reasons why doesn’t. Perfection is not attainable. Other people are always going to have more than you and also have less. Thanksgiving serves as a small reminder of what we need to carry with us throughout the entire year. Remember to be grateful for what we have.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Thank an Artist. August is Artist Appreciation Month

"Life isn't about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself."

"Boardwalk" by Rebecca Zook 24" x 16"

And creation is not attained in a vacuum. We are influenced and inspired by everything around us and likely don't even realize how much of our every day lives are influenced by artists. From the coffee cup that starts your day, to the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the music that makes your commute bearable, and of course the art on your walls, you can thank an artist for designing them all. Take a moment and gaze around the room. Look at the flooring, the furniture, your shirt, every little knick-knack and even the office supplies. At some point, an artist sketched out a design for each one of these objects. More likely, several designs. You are only seeing what was eventually approved. Imagine stepping behind the curtain to see what was deemed second best or what slipped through the cracks. August is designated "Artist Appreciation Month," so take a moment to reflect on the contributions of artists in all fields that make our lives a little brighter and a whole lot better.

In my fine art painting, I have certainly had artists that inspired and influenced me. I gravitated to drawing and painting from a very early age. Though they never made their living as artists, both my parents had artistic interests that they passed on to all three of their girls. My father has a passion for photography and writing and even built a darkroom in the garage where I learned to develop film and create prints from negatives. My mother was interested in crafts of all kinds and I'm sure I tried every one of them right along with her. 

The first true artist I remember being enamored by was E.H. Shephard. I had a classic Winnie the Pooh book. I can't remember which one. At the time, the words were not nearly as important to me as the drawings. For some bizarre reason, I kept the book in a bathroom drawer and I remember sitting on a small rug with the door locked studying each illustration very carefully. The book was slightly tattered, well worn. It likely had an owner or two before me. The timeless sketches transported me to another reality where animals talked, had adventures and I travelled right along with them. I wanted to do that. Transport people. Affect their emotions with my own work, but I was only 6 or 7 and likely hiding in the bathroom from my little sister, because it had the only locking door.

E.H. Shephard

Going to garage sales was a major part of my childhood. A few years after my crush on Shephard, my fickle artistic affections switched to a new beau when I ran across the Wizard of Oz books from the early 1900s at a sale and bought them with allowance money. The solid color, poster quality of W.W. Denslow's illustrations was reminiscent of graphic design work prevalent in the 1970's that surrounded me in everyday life, even though these illustrations were from far earlier. I was eleven and drawing was still my primary medium. The color in these illustrations grabbed me and that is what I would explore next. What could I achieve with color?

W.W. Denslow
W.W. Denslow

I continued to take drawing, painting and sculpture classes all the way through 10th grade and commercial art courses in 11th and 12th. Bud Norton, my high school commercial art teacher, and former Disney® artist, made me realize that it would be possible to make art my primary income, though it would be through Advertising and Graphic Design. I went on to study Advertising Art and Fine Art at Southern Methodist University. This is when I met my next great love, Andrew Wyeth, and I fell hard. I was fortunate that the "Three Generations of Wyeth" show came to the Dallas Museum of Art. Andrew's work stood out to me the most. So realistic. Delicate. Color was employed so subtly. The light. Oh, the light. That is what I wanted to capture in my work–light.

"Master Bedroom" Andrew Wyeth

"Sycamore" Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth

I built a career combining illustration, graphic design, photography and writing to varying degrees at various jobs. I returned to fine art painting in my 'spare time' after realizing how much I missed holding a brush, since the majority of my work was now done on a computer. This was 2004 and I had just moved from Dallas to a small lake community. I decided to become involved with the local art association. I was introduced to an artist named Ralf Postulka. She was a wonderful, unique lady that I came to think of as a second mother. I am fortunate to have one of her abstract original paintings. Cancer took her from us a few years ago. I also met another local artist named Jeanette Alexander. I didn't know it yet, but she would be a great inspiration to me. A three time cancer survivor, who was able to walk out of hospice care, she will freely tell you that art was a big part of her recovery. It was a part of mine as well. I all but moved my art studio into a hospital room when doctors couldn't diagnose me. The doctors were all for it. Emotional state is critical for recovery and painting brought me peace. When I became too weak too paint, it was heart-wrenching, but I was determined to survive. Finally diagnosed with multiple rare chronic illnesses, I thought about Jeannette's struggles and knew I could do this. I could come back.

“Toulouse-Lautrec’s Sister”
by Jeanette Alexander

In 2014, through a really strange set of circumstances that really could be the subject of an entire post, I ended up being asked to submit a bid to illustrate a children's book for the Immune Deficiency Foundation. A Primary Immune Deficiency is one of the chronic illnesses I have. Though I had done plenty of illustration, I had never worked on a children's book and I was apprehensive, but the author of the book was adamant that my painting style was exactly what she was looking for. I stepped out of my comfort zone and submitted…and got the job. I also met my next love, Charles Santore. The animals, zebras and horses, depicted in the book needed to be more character-like, than entirely realistic, in order to convey the story better. My fine art animal paintings were realistic, so I needed inspiration and found it in Charles. I was mesmerized by his illustrations. I painted the book in my own style, but I was definitely influence by the expression Charles was able to capture in his work. I felt like I had come full circle. Back to a children's book, but I had a lifetime of experience now.  

Charles Santore

Charles Santore

Charles Santore

I have to thank Patience Brewster for inspiring this post. Her company is celebrating Artist Appreciation Month and encouraging artists to share their personal inspirations. If you aren't familiar with her company be sure to take a look at what they offer. Her whimsical ornaments and figures, all designed by Patience, herself, are crafted and hand painted by a team of artists. Each zebra shown here takes 30 hours to paint. Of course the zebras are my favorite. I am one after all. Though I was familiar with her work, I knew nothing about her life. After reading about her, I have to say she is an inspiration. Another kindred spirit that has experienced heartbreak and loss and was able to move forward in spite of it. She took a chance, believed in her art and is making a difference in the lives of others. Thank you.

I can't wait to see what the future holds.

©2015 Patience Brewster

Thursday, February 12, 2015


"The Sweetest Rose" Acrylic on Watercolor Paper 11"x17"

My husband, Ed, called over to me from the back door. He was standing with it open excitedly pointing at the night sky. "You have to come look!" I was sitting at my drawing table, paints open, brush in hand, just about to put paint to paper. I had crashed early the night before and was looking forward to making progress on a particular painting since I had several deadlines looming. The excitement in his voice and the little boy look of wonderment on his face quickly dispelled any notion of claiming I was too busy. I wasn't disappointed. Directly overhead was a glowing full moon with a huge "moon bow" encircling it. The largest halo around the moon I had ever seen. He ran back in to get the camera and we spent the rest of the evening working with the photos and marveling at the wonder of the natural world. 

Was the floor covered in pet hair? Was there a pile of dirty dishes in the sink? Wet laundry in the machine? Did I have a ton of work to get done? Yes, to all of this and more, but there is something that Ed and I do exactly right. Something that makes our relationship a successful one. We realize the bulk of our lives are little moments strung together and not the momentous occasions that society spotlights. We recognize in those instants that we have a choice and it's an important one. Ed wanted to share that moon with me; that moment with me. That's an honor. Say "I'm busy" too many times and he'll likely stop asking. The choice is whether to make these moments a priority when they come along. Their very nature makes them unplanned and for two people like Ed and I who have a tendency to schedule every detail of our lives, it can be a challenge to let go of preconceived notions about what needs to be accomplished that day and enjoy the moment. Make your partner a priority not an accessory.

For those with chronic illness, this point gets driven home in a way that is neither comfortable, nor convenient, but it is a valuable lesson that everyone, sick or not, would be happier living by. No one has a perfect and balanced life. No one. I sometimes wonder if it's a base code written into our flawed human genes that leads us to sabotage our happiness. Always wanting more than we currently have. When you have actual flawed genes, your priorities change and reorder and not by choice. Your body ceases to function in a predictable manner making planning difficult and often making previous life goals unattainable. Does this mean you can't be happy? Can't be in a relationship? Not by a long shot.

Over and over I am saddened by the number of marriages/relationships that I see disintegrate because one person has a chronic illness. It's so easy to blame the healthy person for leaving. How could they be so cold and uncaring? What about the vows they took? Though some people just aren't cut out to deal with chronic illness, I believe it's rarely a one-sided issue. As a person who has multiple chronic conditions that impact me on a daily basis, it would be very easy to become entirely self-absorbed and descend into pity and depression. If you aren't the sick person, you don't get it. Trust me on this, you can't. You have no real frame of reference for the soul-crushing guilt we can feel for something that we have no control over and the bitterness of what it has stolen from us. The fear that some new tragedy is looming around the corner. At some point, you have to let it go. I am all for pushing our boundaries and striving for more, but some things are physically impossible now and I just have to accept it and move on. YOU have to be happy before you can even think about sharing your life with someone else. 

Why did you get married or why are you with a particular person? Really examine the reasons. Me, I fell in love with a whole person. I love his sense of humor, his intellect, his excitement of life, his caring, gentle nature, love of animals…I could go on. But what I have to remember is that he fell in love with who I am. This relationship goes both ways. When I'm happy, he's happy. When I hurt, he hurts. I have needs and limitations because of my illnesses, but he has needs too. I have to give in this relationship as much as he does even though I have days when it takes all my energy just to get out of bed. Our relationship has to be a priority otherwise, what's the point? I must be there for him, always. I don't get to hoard my pain and say, your problems don't matter because mine are more serious. That's just not fair. It's not all about me. I have to remain open and responsive to what he needs. When he hurts, I hurt. When he's happy. I'm happy.

Just in time for Valentine's...
A while back I was contacted by author Sophia Dembling who regularly writes for "Psychology Today" and asked if Ed and I would like to be interviewed for a book she was working on. We received a copy the other day and our first date has been forever immortalized in "Introverts in Love. The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After." We are honored and I truly love my husband with every fiber of my being. Thank you for being my love and my partner in life.