When it’s over before it starts

You know that feeling when you catch a whiff of something familiar? It’s there and then it’s gone. You try to place it, but the moment and whatever memory it’s attached to is over. There’s a kind of aching missing feeling in its place, like a dream that you can’t quite remember.

I’ve been feeling the inverse of that feeling lately. It goes something like – this is an important glimpse of my life, right now. But by the time I’ve identified that right now is even happening, it’s over. It’s slippery. 

A couple of examples:

I was out on a trail in the snowy woods on my fat tire bike. Fat biking is hard work, so even though the temperature was hovering somewhere around 0 degrees when I stopped I felt warm. I gazed up into the trees filled with both snow and sun, contrasted with the bright blue shadows all around me, and could just feel my heart beating and my warm body even knowing the temperatures were frigid all around me. Like, clothing was crunchy type cold. I felt alive and grateful for my beating heart and being able to look up and around at that scene. I felt almost deliriously grateful for daylight.

Winter 09Then, I was just driving. It was the usual route – pulling out of my driveway, leaving my neighborhood. The truck registered -31. That car is a drama queen; I think the temperature was actually more like -25. But still: it was cold. Again, with that sunlight though: it lit the mountains and boughs of trees heavy with snow all around me with this bright, lemony light. It was punchdrunk, motherboard of your brain explode type light, especially if you haven’t seen anything like it in a few months. Again, I felt deeply grateful and calm.

And both these moments were over as soon as I recognized them for what they were. Like the scent that I pick up on briefly and then lose completely, those feelings were both fleeting but also tied to something really deep in me. 

They say it’s the little things that make up a life. I’m trying to get used to this idea, that the notion of an even-keeled, stable type of an existence is made up – that life is highs, lows, and just really quick sparks of something that is over before it’s started.

It’s kind of a similar thing with painting. I find that if I look too closely, if I paint over something too many times or work on it too much, the thing that I’m after – that movement, the light, the moment – disappears into something that looks fraud. It’s like life trying too hard. It’s like if I sat down and said “okay, self, let’s have a moment”.

There’s something in the middle here, to feeling and seeing the fleeting, and letting it fill me and a canvas up, but not trying too hard to stay there. 

 

Coming clean about my relationship

That was click baity, sorry. But I do want to come clean about something.

Friends have teased me for YEARS about the role freakin’ Google Calendar plays in my life. When I was younger, single, and car-less in Anchorage I’d ride my bike all up and down town to go from this event to that party to Title Wave to play Scrabble with friends and old ladies. My dance card was full, all the time. How’d I manage all of it, you ask?

Why, my Google Calendar, of course.

That was when the cracks started. “Alli, is there room on your calendar? Alli, I know if it’s not on your calendar it isn’t happening.”

Over the years, as coping strategies tend to, this relationship has, shall we say, evolved. It’s not just one or two levels of calendar anymore – say, personal and work. I have a training calendar that I change the title of depending on the race I’m working toward, I have a shared layer for my husband’s personal and work calendar, plus several different layers of work (my work calendar plus the “out of office” calendar). Then, there’s my art calendar, which has taken on special significance in recent months.

january 2020

This will look familiar to anyone who bought a calendar! This is a much, much more calming environment than my Google Calendar, let’s just leave it at that.

You see, my calendar is an extension of my brain. It’s actually a little terrifying. There is NO WAY the motherboard of my somewhat scattered, easily distracted (squirrel!) brain could manage all of the things I’m supposedly doing in any one week. So I use the calendar to block off time: to tell me where and when to do the thing; where and when to be.

Yes, I even schedule relaxing. Some nights I’m “busy” when that just means I’m staring at my navel and/or watching terrible television, or whatever drone thing I want to do. Baking in that “power down” time where I don’t need to focus, plan, or accomplish is part of how I stay sane throughout all the other things I want to do!

The benefits of my calendar are, of course, that I have an ongoing tool to keep myself accountable to my own goals and benchmarks; and that the time itself is baked in to my week. That means I have to make fewer decisions in the moment because prior-self already made the choice for me. Monday nights are painting; Tuesdays are for client prospecting meetings, Thursday afternoons/evenings are writing and administrative, etc, ec. My job is just to buckle down and, oh I don’t know, actually do the work.

The downside can be that my schedule can feel packed and, at times, rigid. Again, it’s a line to walk – I find that my calendar is a great tool for discipline and putting energy where it actually matters; but things in life change so I also need to be adaptable. In case you didn’t pick up on this by now, I’m not the most fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person so it can take me a minute to adjust to change. But when I’ve had a chance to rearrange things in my head I am able to change course.

But that calendar. I’m telling you. It’s where my brain lives. It’s how I set myself a track and stay on it. Someday when we all go back to analogue I’ll be fine with the slower, more deliberate pacing – I’m probably best suited to that anyway – but for the time being if I gotta keep up and keep myself going, this is the best tool I’ve found to manage it and stay sane.

Re: make six figures from anywhere!

It’s the darndest thing. I’m getting all of these Instagram advertisements encouraging me to “make six figures from anywhere!” or “automate my small business’s communication from this one-stop-shop!”. 

I set out to use this platform to write not just about painting, but in a more meta-sense about the process of setting myself up to do more painting as part of my income. This is very much a post about that: the business part of Alli Harvey Art that basically allows me to be a sane human and pay some of my bills while also bringing something into the world and doing something that I love.

My sister assures me that all of this will be a great motivational story someday. That time that I left my full time job, which was simultaneously enormously fulfilling but also driving me crazy (oh hello, mission-driven nonprofit work) and took a steep pay cut to pursue this thing that I so very much want to do. It was a dual part leap: I’m now working ¾ time as a consultant with an awesome, small Alaska-based firm, and simultaneously building and running Alli Harvey Art. Winter 01 (1)

Oh, and I paint routinely. That, too! 

In seeing these Instagram ads come up, I’m realizing that I’m trending more and more toward a kind of lifestyle that’s very popular right now, at least in the collective imagination of my generation. It’s the “gig” economy; or “freelancing”, and the lexicon is all over the place. It pairs well with #vanlife, and #gratitude or #blessed. I’m essentially in the process of weaning myself off of thinking I need a steady paycheck. What does it look and feel like to only work ¾ time with a firm? What does it look like to really pour myself into Alli Harvey Art and see what comes of that? 

I’ve discovered a few, or a few hundred, things. One of the ones I could have told you right off the bat is that I lack hustle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m full of exuberance and life, and I’ll dive whole-hog into the thing that I’ve decided to invest myself in. But I don’t have the multiple irons in the fire, working a room, sealing the deal type of nature that I often imagined would benefit me as a business woman or consultant. I’m more of a slow and steady wins the race type gal. 

I slowly invest, slowly build, and slowly decide; and once I have decided I just go and stick to it. 

I think that’s my answer on how to “make my small business work for me” or “how to brand yourself to sell”. I’m working over here! Building, step by step. I’m open to input and very open to learning every freaking thing I can; but I’m also not going to chase something that’ll waste the energy that I’m trying to invest. 

It’s hard to stay the course, but if reflecting on the amazing gains of 2019 alone taught me anything it’s that change happens gradually, then suddenly. I’ll keep plodding along. It’s served me well through many a race, and surely creating and running a small business isn’t SO different…is it?

 

One day to describe where I’m heading

One morning in December, 2017 I sat painting in my pajamas for five hours straight.

I hadn’t intended to paint for that long when I started. I figured it would be like it normally is when I paint after a full day of work. I’d have an hour in me, maybe, and I’d push myself to two. But that day I was focused on the canvas for what, at that time, was forever.

Finally, around 1pm with the sun barely hovering over the horizon and the thermometer outside reading 10, I pulled on “real” pants. By real, I mean several layers of long underwear and snow pants. Friends pulled into my driveway to pick me up so we could go hiking.

Road 01 (1)

This was the painting I was working on! I love this painting because it contrasts the “normal” (a commute) with the ethereal. Alpenglow is beautiful and fleeting.

We hiked up in the snow, chatting even though we were breathing hard and outfitted like astronauts in all of our layers. Eventually we got to a good view point.

By the time we turned around, the pink alpenglow sunset was starting to descend on the mountains. The incredible thing about Alaskan sun is that it takes forever to rise and set. Sunrises and sunsets last for a long time. During that sunset I felt intensely grateful and alive, and connected to the two people I was hiking with. It was about being outside in that kind of an intense and beautiful situation, having a full morning of painting to propel myself forward with, and going outside even in the cold.

I realized something important that day, which was that I wanted to have more days like it.

I’d had the energy for the art because I hadn’t already spent it elsewhere. And it left room for the other things I love. I still think of that day as the mental touchstone that describes where I ultimately want to be: primarily doing art and leaving enough space in the day to get outdoors. I’m working towards it, step by step, and with a lot of support.

The story behind the painting

I have been writing a weekly outdoors column in the Anchorage Daily News for the past five or so years. For me, that’s a lifetime, and sometimes I blank on what I’ve already written about. Palmer Series 03

This week I went ice skating on the glorious, fleeting natural rink that forms under just the right conditions. It is literally ice skating a riverway, and the feeling is as magical as it sounds. I thought: I must have put this to words already…right?

I searched my folders for “skating” and the answer is, yes. So this week, in celebration of solstice and the light beginning to return, I’m sharing this column I wrote last year about the first time I tried nordic skating on natural waterways. This kind of high from a sense of discovery is what continually inspires me to push to try more, including in paintings – AND as you can see from the photo in the ADN piece, art imitates life!

Enjoy, and happy holidays! I’ll be taking a break over the next week and will start back up again in the New Year.

Dispatch from mid-winter Alaska

My husband Wes likes to tease me about my least favorite “artist” of all time, Thomas Kinkaid. You know him from the schlocky mall painting stores of your childhood. The ones that featured a snug log cabin with yellow light pouring onto the cool blue snow, which also happens to be just next to a dime-sized skating pond with someone bathed in light and twirling. And maybe there’s like a bridge with a horse-drawn carriage.

You get the scene. Thomas is also known for mass-producing his paintings by teaching minions how to paint in his style, and then marking up any painting that had even a brush stroke from the master. He died of alcoholism in 2012, leaving drunk driving and possible domestic abuse in his wake.

Beyond even his paintings, you can see why I have a dislike of Thomas.

December 2020

Got a case of the Decembers? Maybe you need a calendar #shamelessplug This is from the new 2020 Alli Harvey Art Calendar, hot off the press! Click the photo to order yours.

“You’re the painter of light”, Wes will tell me in a feathery voice. He’s mocking Thomas’s brand, and emphasizing what people often first notice about my paintings.

I do favor bold, contrasting colors and light; and often will heighten these contrasts in a painting – both deliberately and subconsciously – to bring out the drama. 

I think the (well, one) difference between Thomas and me is I’m painting to draw out authentic beauty from the world we share. I want my paintings to serve as a reminder to myself and others that we are connected to and lucky enough to experience some of the most magnificent experiences available in our lifetime, and we need to take those in.

Thomas was painting a fantasy. The world in his paintings exists in music boxes, Macy’s displays, and the Christmastown Jack discovers in the Nightmare Before Christmas. His paintings aren’t whimsical; they’re nostalgic and schlocky in the worst kind of way because they’re affirming something that doesn’t even exist, which gives people a false sense of direction and hope. Life has literally never been a twirling ice skater next to a horse drawn carriage while merriment carries on in the adjacent cabin; unless you’re at an expensive and well-curated resort (and even then I will bet the family is actually arguing). 

This time of year especially, as the light in Alaska is at its lowest and family drama is getting stirred for at least the second time in as many months, authenticity and connection are important for survival. I’ve been trying to ground myself in what matters most, and meditate on the light. It’s small right now; it isn’t what I want it to be, and I can feel the twist of darkness on my mental health. But the light is there, fragile and beautiful.

Right now my studio has little windows into the power, subtlety, and incredible contrasts of low winter light cast on different scenes in Alaska. Sunsets, alpenglow, Christmas lights, and a low sun through snowy trees are scenes we routinely see, but get used to. I think paintings, at their best and most honest, can help focus attention on what’s all around me in a way that lets me see more, and even let in more light.

 

How the struggle helped

My good friend and roommate in college had a helpful sense of the absurd. Narrowing her eyes as she took a drag from an American Spirit yellow and sipped two buck chuck from a coffee mug in our slowly collapsing Brooklyn brownstone, she’d tell me all about “the struggle”.

Road 01 (1)

An example of STRUGGLE: the daily commute. I still can’t believe that I can get used to a view like this. Painting helps me showcase the amazing everyday beauty we are fortunate to see even and especially in the middle of the grind – and that’s not just in AK.

We’d commiserate about the struggle during our monthly raids of the kitchen for baby cockroaches. We called those afternoons where we removed all of the food and dishes from the cabinets and sprayed the corners of the cabinets until the scuttling dots stopped moving “massacres” – I can still smell the acrid, but over time increasingly homey smell, of Raid. We’d paper towel out the bugs and residue afterwards, sweep the kitchen, and put everything back where it belonged.

This was just part of the process of living. I don’t think either of us actually believed that it was a struggle with a capital S. We had a roof over our heads, groceries in the fridge, and a public transit card to navigate the best city in the world for free happy hours and art events. That apartment in Brooklyn felt like a base camp in the middle of a wild urban playground, and the struggle was a reference to our attempts to somehow find the meaning of life within it all.

It was a nod to the absurdity of our daily routines. How we schlepped our laundry in grocery bags or carts down the street and sat in a humid room doing school work while our clothing tumbled in a machine behind us. Or we stayed out until 5am and got home as the sun was rising and someone on the street was cooking meat for the neighborhood on a barrel-shaped grill. We often had welts on our hands after bringing groceries home, because we’d tried to carry too much down into the subway and then back up to walk the five blocks to our apartment. We complained about not finding meaningful romantic relationships while sitting in our apartment together on a Saturday night drinking wine and listening to Bruce Springsteen.

Still, simply living in New York felt like an accomplishment. We celebrated the struggle. We knew it was intrinsic to living.

Now, ten plus years later in Alaska, the struggle is different. It’s less ironic. It’s more normal, and boring I think – the struggle is, like, paying the mortgage, or figuring out the error message on the dishwasher. So that I don’t sink into the most boring and horrifying parts of modern life – not becoming that person that’s telling a long and drawn out story about being on hold with AT&T customer service, for instance – I create struggle. 

I run. I bike. And, yes, I paint.

Painting isn’t schlepping the laundry, contending with a subway commute, or massacring baby cockroaches. It’s less of an externally imposed struggle. But it’s about attempting to shape and draw out something I so want to bring into the world, and all of the focus, frustration, and satisfaction that comes with that process. At the beginning, a painting is a big old unknown, and it’s up to me to see if I can make it happen.

I still struggle with whether I’m up to the task, every single time. And, frustrating though it is, that’s ultimately what makes every painting worth the effort. It’s one of my ways of finding the meaning in life, even and especially through the messiness and difficulty of it all.

 

Success, redefined

Last week at Thanksgiving, my extended family was incredibly sweet and enthusiastic about what I’ve been doing to get my art up and going. Multiple family members – aunts, uncles, cousins – congratulated me on what they called “my success”.

I didn’t know what to say.

I stammered through a few explanations along the lines of, thank you, I appreciate that, and it’s funny to think that this is what success looks and feels like.

When I think about succeeding with my art business, the first thing to pop into my mind is financial success. After all, a business that just breaks even is just a hobby. The whole reason I created a small business instead of just occasionally painting, like I have for the past twenty years, is because I want to build this passion of mine into something that eventually turns a profit. I want my art to be my life, and vice versa.

The other equally integral piece in my definition of success is making sure that this is what I really want. I’ve chased a lot of goals only to arrive and realize the reality isn’t the fantasy I’d built in my head. So, I run constant (and scary) gut checks with myself, to see how it actually feels to create art and run a business. Am I chasing an ideal, or is this really panning out day-to-day as something that is gratifying to me?

What I think my family is picking up on, success-wise, is that I have been fastidiously putting pieces in motion to build this thing, and so far the ideal matches the reality.

That alignment seems to be coming through when I’m talking about Alli Harvey Art. This is awesome feedback for me because most of the time I’m in the day to day.

And frankly, the day-to-day doesn’t add up to an enormous profit – yet. When I do turn a profit, I typically put it right back into the business. I buy more art supplies, more greeting cards to sell, purchase the new software I apparently need, pay for some Instagram ads, host an event and buy a bunch of box wine and snacks. This coming year – 2020 – is the first year I want to take some of the profits and use them to propel myself further into the world. I’m hoping to make enough from the art business that I can travel somewhere new, at least once if not a few times throughout the year.

IMG_9220

Maybe success is simply what it feels like to walk into this little studio that has taken months and the help of many people to make into a reality.

This is part of that painstaking work I’ve been doing to build the dream. Which is why, maybe, I have a hard time embracing the word success. It seems to be implied that success is a destination, and I think while that’s part of it, it’s also an ongoing and forever process. I do feel successful. I feel almost overwhelmed daily with amazement and gratitude for all of the pieces of this whole endeavor that life has afforded me, and I don’t take that at all for granted. But I also feel I have a lot more to do, and in many ways right now I’m only laying the first parts of the foundation of where I’d like to go.

 

What the signs don’t say

I was running today in Massachusetts because I’m here with family for the holiday, and saw two signs sticking out of someone’s front yard: YOU ARE WORTHY and YOU ARE NEEDED.

Listen. I’m all for mental health and affirmation, particularly around this time of year (well, any time of year). I think each of us need to tap into the intrinsic and unique values we bring to the world. I truly, in the bottom of my heart, believe the world would be a better place if we were each fully able, empowered, and motivated to pull our real selves into the world. This is part of what draws me to issues around justice; I think there is a lot of amazing human ability that is crushed or crippled by systems of power and oppression. It is unconscionable that some of us go through our one life less able to access the opportunity to be fully ourselves because of who we are and systems we were born into.Summer 01 Final

But those signs – YOU ARE WORTHY and YOU ARE NEEDED – rubbed me the wrong way. I thought about it as I chugged along on the suburban eastern sidewalks that wind past people raking leaves in their front yards, and town signage etched into stone that have been there long before there were paved roads.

What creates the feeling of worthiness, or being needed? Those are essential cornerstones to being human. We need connection to build meaningful lives.

Signs – staked in a lawn – are the antithesis of connection, for me. Sure, they bring a nice sentiment into the world. Sort of. But aren’t there already plenty of platitudes to go around? I’ve seen more compelling truisms on needlepoint hangings.

If I were suffering from depression or anxiety, would a sign posted in a lawn help remind me of my intrinsic value in the world? Or would it feel somehow too anonymous, like a “you don’t know me, so how could you possibly know?” kind of a thing?

I would prefer a “Take Care of Each Other”. Or, “Call a Friend Today”. “Call Somebody Today instead of Texting”. All kind of preachy, all kind of cliche and annoying, but somehow those carry more value and instruction to me than YOU ARE WORTHY and YOU ARE NEEDED because they are ways we can each demonstrate value and need of the people in our lives.

It’s Thanksgiving week. For me, the holiday is about connecting with family, feeling and practicing gratitude for these people that I love and who love me, and cooking/eating absurd quantities of food. My takeaway from those signs, that in all fairness were posted with good intent, is to do something this week that’s beyond the norm of what I normally do to express my caring for the people around me. We need and deserve that from one another.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday. And sure, yes, YOU ARE WORTHY and YOU ARE NEEDED. But maybe find someone specific to say that to, and hear it from.

 

What I’ve learned about grief

IMG_9088I have felt both isolated and affirmed by others while grieving. It’s lonely when people don’t know what to say so as a result they just don’t say anything. But at the same time the feelings that go with being on the knife edge of grief let me know that I am very much alive, steeped in both love and loss. This makes me feel connected to the world in a profound way. And when people reach out to me in whatever ways they are able, it has made me feel intensely grateful.

I’m not saying that I give grief a five star Yelp review for being a great part of life. But it is intrinsic to life. And, for me, there have been surprising comforts within it, including and especially from people showing up.

Here is what I’ve learned on how to be with people (whether “with them” is remotely or in person):

Showing love is always, always better than not saying or doing anything at all. Specific gestures or offers are much better than general “let me know how I can help’s”. Food, errands, coming over and hanging out, airline miles, picking up the kids and taking them to a movie, etc are examples. Pick up the phone, send the text, or send a letter but do not expect an affirmation or a response: just give it as an act of love. Do not say things like “it’s part of god’s plan” or “stay strong” – that is the whole point of grief is that there is no reason behind it or the tear it leaves in the world, and we are not going to be strong when we are grappling with that. Listen. Be very judicious about timing if you are sharing your experience, and first ask yourself the question of relevance.

Our lives are multifaceted. Happiness is often bound up in grief is bound up in joy is bound up in profound loss. Grief doesn’t come from a cookie cutter, and there’s no one way to approach it. We just have to continue to care deeply, for ourselves and one another and the life we all share, and fumble around in a continued attempt to be there for each other when we are most needed.

Speaking of which. A close friend of mine is going through something no one of us should ever have to endure. I don’t mean that hyperbolically. She has given the people who care about her an amazing opportunity to help, so I am sharing that ask here. Please contribute if you can and help support this family that is experiencing terrible loss, and are trying to do so together. The response has already been incredibly moving, but this is going to be a long process so the financial support will need to last.

Why talk to strangers

Alli in times squ

Younger me says goodbye to Times Square

When I was younger, I was awestruck a lot of the time. I still am – which is, if I’m being honest, probably both refreshing and irritating to those around me. Someday I will be that person gawking at the quantity of paper towels available at Costco. But it used to be so intense that I would marvel at every single thing about airplane travel. 

I know. On the one hand, it’s understandable. I’m getting on a metal tube that will hurdle through the sky and then deposit me, within a matter of hours, to a destination that’s likely in a different climate and time zone. On the other hand, commercial flight is one of the last remaining forms of widely used public transportation, and no one likes being crammed into small spaces for long periods of time with all of farting, sneezing, and snoring humanity. It’s just something you’ve got to get through to get to where you’re going.

Yet wide-eyed younger me didn’t understand, or was unwilling to accept this. I was enchanted.

Back then, I would talk to people on airplanes. I would talk to people on the plane.

One flight in particular stands out. It was Christmas Day. I’d bought the cheap, one way ticket to move myself and all of my earthly belongings from frigid, windy New York City to frigid, snowy Anchorage, AK. 

On the final Anchorage-bound, nearly empty flight, I found myself talking with two strangers. Across the aisle, we turned toward each other and started buying rounds of drinks, sharing what brought us to the airplane and what we were hoping to do in Alaska. I know why I was part of the conversation – my giddy excitedness and desire to tell anybody that would listen that my day to finally move to Alaska had come. What moved the other two to talk must have been Christmas spirit, or something. Time felt suspended.

Over the course of three hours, we had an honest, intergenerational conversation about life, our aspirations, and our challenges. We listened to one another and encouraged each other. At the end of the flight, we exchanged contact information and heartfelt well wishes. 

I still think about that. One of the two found me on Facebook, and it makes me happy to see that he has achieved key parts of his plan. Having even this small, but bright connection is a reminder of what openness and awe can bring – a connection to others, and a deep sense of empathy for the bigger underlying struggles and dreams we each carry.

I don’t often talk to people on airplanes anymore. I’m not as entranced by flight. But I do try to remember that it’s a balance between getting to where I’m going, and being right here even when I’m still on the way. I love the connections with people, big and small, that expand my experience of the world. It’s a good reason to talk to strangers.

What surprises me most about painting

Winter 06

This painting. So pleased with how it turned out! And it taught me tons (Read: it was maddeningly difficult at times).

I have a vision of the kind of person who paints colorful landscapes. It goes something like: when the paints come out, so do an array of exciting possibilities. She sets forth to fill the canvas with color and movement, and a kind of flow state begins. The work is meditative and fulfilling. It continues, the artist’s heart swelling and filling as forms begin to take shape. Cue the strings.

Then there’s me.

I will often sit in front of the canvas staring at mutant half formed shapes splattered and carved across in meaningless blobs, wondering if I should just give up. Sometimes I want to grab the canvas and shake it. (Related question: do you think that would make the image reset, like an Etch-A-Sketch? Maybe I should try).

It’s not that I don’t also experience the euphoric moments. Those are what keep me hooked. But, and I hate to burst this bubble, like anything in life painting is a series of ups and downs. 

I had this aha moment a few years ago during a staycation. I’d wondered why it was so difficult for me to adhere to a two hour a week painting schedule. Two piddling hours! I’d set it up as a recurring calendar invite for Wednesdays, and while I was disciplined about parking my butt in front of the easel to paint, I dreaded it and counted the minutes. It was a good night when I lost myself in painting for even an hour.

Of course, this was in addition to working a full time nonprofit job. So those Wednesday night sessions took place after “other”, seemingly unrelated work.

But during the first morning of that staycation, I set myself up at the easel, still in my pajamas in the Alaskan winter darkness. I figured I’d only be there a couple of hours, max. But then two hours ticked by, three, and ultimately I painted for five hours in a row. My brain felt unburdened, and somehow more generous toward everything I encountered on the canvas. 

That day I learned that I use the same skills for painting that I use in any other line of work. Strategy, vision, tactical adjustments, patience, and persistence. The reason it was so difficult for me to motivate to paint for even two hours on Wednesday nights is that my reserve of energy had already been spent elsewhere.

Painting isn’t solely a regenerative, meditative practice for me. It’s work. That doesn’t make it bad; if anything, it makes the practice even more worthwhile and meaningful. Painting requires the very best of me, even through the worst parts of it. It requires me to adapt and grow; to consistently get better. When I paint, I am working at the edge of my skill, and every work pushes into new territory.

Sometimes the orchestra plays in that corner of my brain, where things light up. And in that moment all the work, like anything in life, is suddenly worth it.

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