On summer vacations, I used to spend hours, raft in tow, running into the ocean, leaping over shallow breaking waves, paddling out to wait for that perfect moment to ride the rolling, churning swells back to shore – only to turn around and do it all over again. It was an exhilarating, exhausting activity punctuated here and there by mere minutes of recuperation, lying flat and still on the beach, catching my breath, soothed by the hot sun and the constant breeze.
But the ocean is unpredictable. Occasionally that out-to-sea-back-to-shore rhythm can be jarringly interrupted by a sudden, strong undertow. The current drags you down into an underwater tumble of sand, shells and seaweed. It whisks you from your familiar shoreline landmarks, depositing you, sputtering and disoriented, somewhere foreign and unanticipated…perhaps close by or maybe far, far away.
Of course it’s naive to jump into the turbulence of the sea, or simply to live life, and not expect to have some undertows, some surprises. My most recent “surprise” was a significant increase in the needs of my Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother, who lives with us. Sadly, many people are all too familiar with this scenario which is so difficult for both patient and caregiver.
So what does all this have to do with art? While it is obvious that caring for an ailing parent rightfully takes top priority in heart and life, dealing with the interruption of work is an added challenge. There is a cost involved. In recent days, the sacrifice for me has been time for painting. (My presence here on this blog has been sporadic as well.) The exhilarating, exhausting forward motion of creating, just like my wave-riding, came to a halt.
When my painting time is disrupted, accompanied by uncertainty as to when I can resume, fear of losing focus and momentum looms. Primarily, I pray through. But it also helps me to remember something I read years ago in a little book titled Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland: “…art is all about starting again.” Just to annoy the fear, let me say that once more, a little louder: “…ART IS ALL ABOUT STARTING AGAIN!” As painful and as frustrating as it may be, and as much as I don’t want to accept it, forced stops-and-starts are part of the art life. And sometimes I even learn something useful in the process.
So when I am temporarily swept away and getting my bearings in strange new waters, I take solace in remembering that somewhere back on the beach, my “regular” art life, including scheduled painting time, is faithfully waiting right where I left it – next to my neatly spread towel on the warm, soft sand. I’ll be back.