A certain amount of mayhem

They don't start out looking pretty, you know. (originally posted on Feb. 22, 2010)

I’m working on a big painting, five feet tall and three feet wide.  It’s only the third time I’ve tackled a canvas this large; numbers one and two are seascapes, commissioned by friends and now hanging in their homes in Arlington, VA and in Seattle.  I have no idea what I’ll do with this one when it’s finished -- it certainly doesn’t fit on any wall in my house.

I wasn’t sure how to approach this large canvas without a “scene” in my head (as with #1), and without a suggested set of colors and words (as with #2).  I felt an urgency to jump in, but the only clue rattling in my brain was “MID-LIFE.”

I’m making friends with that term.  Yes, I got carded twice last year buying beer at Trader Joe’s, and in my last entry I was seen flipping upside-down, but the fact is that I’m 44, and I might very well be at my life’s halfway mark.  I remember musing in my journal about this a while back and noting that, unlike in the first half of my life, valuable years wouldn’t have to be spent learning how to sit up, walk, talk and read.  I can hit the ground running in Act 2!  And with longevity genes on both sides of my family, barring disaster I’ll be running for quite a while.

But right now feels like a turning point, a watershed moment.  So how does one capture mid-life?  First I covered the entire canvas with a fiery hot pinkish-red background, to break the ice.  To make the size less intimidating -- to manage the chaos of my thoughts, really -- I created a sort of grid in which to compartmentalize my mid-life self.  Then I collaged a bunch of images and pages of text onto the various sections.  Once I started adding more texture and color, I found myself blurring all the boundaries I had made; scenes started flowing from one section into the others with reckless abandon.  And isn’t that how life really works, even when we try to keep things in their tidy boxes?

This project has got me thinking about the passage of time, and the snapshot frame in which I now find myself: with independent children who will be leaving the nest before I know it; looking back a generation or two for the wisdom and stability to guide this little family forward; savoring the spark of a new relationship, the comfort of old friendships, and creative whimsy all along the winding way, and wondering where the heck it will all lead to.

And did I mention how joyful it’s been, facing my life midstream, reminiscing, dreaming ahead, climbing up on a stepstool to reach the tippy-top parts, smearing paint with my fingers and wiping them on my already-stained clothes, adding layer upon intense layer, following whims, crossing flimsy barriers, making surprising connections, and caring much less than I used to about what everyone will think about it?  It really IS all about the journey of discovery, and learning when to relax and go with the flow.

Painting/life to be continued...