To Maggie, my love, my only true “one and only”
To Maggie, my love, my only true “one and only”
I would like to propose an idea to you, the idea that perhaps life is not a path that we walk at all, but a work of art that we paint.
I was having a conversation the other day with someone whose life is also in the pupa stage like mine. They said to me that they were worried their life wouldn’t turn out the way they envisioned it, and I so like the metaphor that I shared with them, that I’m sharing it again here so that I never forget this idea. Hopefully, you will like the metaphor too.
“My life looks absolutely nothing like I thought it would when I was your age,” I said, “So, no, your life isn’t going to turn out how you envision it now.” I thought for a minute and then said, “It’s like a painting…”
You see, my oldest spawn is an artist. They use many different mediums but one of their favorites is oil paint. Before Mori started oil painting, I knew less than nothing about it except Bob Ross used it to make happy trees. Now, however, I know infinitely more, which is to say, I have a very basic understanding of oil paint, really less than basic. It is enough, though, to explain this idea that life is, perhaps, not a path but an oil painting.
When you paint with acrylic paint, which most of us have done a few times in our lives thanks to childhood, you realize that it dries very quickly. Inexperienced painters, like myself, find it hard to fix mistakes made while painting with acrylic paint. It’s fine (sort of) if you catch the mistake before the paint dries but it is harder once it dries. Painting with oil paint, however, is an entirely different ball game.
Oil paint can take days, even weeks to dry properly. What does this mean for those pesky mistakes? Wipe them off and start over. This is an oversimplification but it’s basically true, and for this metaphor, that’s all you need to know. Don’t like the way you painted that rose in the corner? Wipe it off. Put off by the background color you chose? Not a thang, remove and start again.
“It’s like a painting,” I said, “When you sit down to start a new painting with a blank canvas, you have a decent idea in your mind of what you want to paint and where it is going to end up. But what happens when you include an element in the painting you were initially excited about but now think it doesn’t work with the rest of the composition? Or what if you like the element but don’t like your execution of it? You wipe it off and start over.”
I went on to explain that when I was 18, I had a very clear vision of what my life would look like but over time, different elements that I wanted to include in the painting no longer worked. I sacrificed things I wanted in the painting in order to keep the elements I REALLY wanted. To me, the most important elements to keep in the painting of my life were my children, family, and marriage. The other things I had originally envisioned for my life at 18 weren’t as important as making sure my children, family, and marriage stayed the focus of my painting. As my life progressed, the idea of what my completed painting would look like changed too. My children, family, and marriage becoming the focus of my life meant that the entire composition changed many times. Elements were added or removed. The background color shifted, morphed, evolved. If it were possible to look at the rough sketch for my life I’d drawn up in my 18 year old mind and compare it to the painting I am currently working on, you’d see that they look nothing alike.
Right now, the painting of my life has gone in an entirely new direction. One of the elements that I fought to keep and sacrificed for just walked off the canvas. The last few years I’ve had a very specific vision for my future. I had planned on turning into the Mom from every Hallmark Christmas movie. You know, when the main character returns to their small hometown for Christmas, single and depressed, and the Mom has all the Christmas magic ready to soothe their baby’s woes. She’s the one who decorates their comfortable yet spacious upper middle class home with classy yet somehow nostalgic Christmas decorations, buys matching pajamas and/or holiday sweaters for the whole family, makes the BEST hot cocoa you’ve ever had in your life, bakes so many treats and cookies you wonder if she ever sleeps, and somehow finds a way to help their sweet single angel find love. In addition to turning into Hallmark Mommy, I planned to write a book, travel with my husband, and be the best dang Grammy to my hypothetical grandchildren ever. Now? I don’t know.
I told my young listener when we were discussing this idea that our lives could be paintings that, in a way, I have been given a second canvas. The life I’ve built for the last 21 years with my ex-husband, that’s done. In a lot of ways I can say that painting is finished, it is time to start a new one. Somewhere, I’m standing in a nondescript hallway, hanging that painting, making that hand motion like I’m brushing dust off my hands because really I’m finished with this, and walking dramatically away into a new sunrise (not a sunset because my story isn’t over). It’s time to sit down at the easel and get started on my new work of art.
This time around? I’m including some of those elements I sacrificed for the last painting and I’m adding some new ones I hadn’t thought of before. And guess what? Some of those elements will probably get wiped off and replaced too.
We all make sacrifices in our work of art in order to keep the elements we truly care about the focus of the piece. And sometimes we look at what we’ve created and we don’t really like how it’s turned out. That’s ok because we’re painting with oil paint. If you don’t like something, wipe it off. Wipe the whole damn canvas clean if you have to but don’t give up, this is your work of art, keeping working at it. Figure out what’s most important to you and build your design around that.
We tend to think of life as a path with a destination in mind. We continue down this path, stopping at forks in the road, worried if we choose the wrong way we won’t end up at the castle. Sometimes the path offers 2 roads, sometimes 3 or 4 or 5. Each time we stand before these crossroads, we tell ourselves that this choice will determine our future. That, my friends, is nothing but an anxiety inducing mind fuck. And honestly, it’s just not true.
Obviously, choices have consequences that lead to other choices and consequences that impact our lives in positive and negative ways. But we’re not stuck on a path with no way back, damned to live out the office job we took back at fork #56 just because we went that direction “on the path”.
Maybe Hyman Roth is wrong. Maybe you don’t have to put up with stuff just because this is the business you’ve chosen. Maybe you don’t have to worry so much when life hits a crossroad. Maybe you aren’t stuck heading in the wrong direction if you choose the “wrong” fork. Maybe you get as many do overs as you need.
Because maybe life isn’t a path.
Maybe life is an oil painting.
I like this idea a lot more than “wow, I just wasted 21 years heading down a dead end.” I didn’t waste my time. I completed my first painting. It’s hanging in that hallway. I’m off to start my next. I’m not stuck in the Molasses Swamp somewhere because King Kandy went off to live in a new castle. I’m wearing a kick ass artist’s smock with a ridiculous looking beret holding a paint pallet, brush poised over the canvas, giving sexy Bob Ross energy.
In my last post, I called myself goo. (Attractive, right?) I compared myself to a butterfly in the midst of the pupa stage, chilling in my chrysalis, rebuilding myself into something with wings. That, all of that, is part of my new painting. I’ve got new heights to soar to and I am painting those heights onto my canvas right now. Will they stay a part of my new painting? Only time will tell.
“So, no, your life isn’t going to turn out how you envision it now,” I said to my young friend, “You’re going to sacrifice some of the elements you want in order to keep the ones that really matter to you. Your painting is going to change and evolve over time. You don’t have to worry so much about making the wrong choice right now because you’re not tied to anything forever. You’re not walking down a path with no way back. You’re creating a work of art that is your life.”
Think back, my friends, to early elementary school when you studied the life cycle of a butterfly. You probably remember the basics, and, for what I’m about to say, that’s all you need to know.
As you remember, there are 4 stages to a butterfly’s metamorphic life. Stage one: egg, self explanatory. Stage two: larva, this is the caterpillar stage, when they wiggle around being adorable and eating all the leaves. Stage three: pupa, the chrysalis stage, the reason we’re talking right now. And finally, stage four: adult, mother fudging butterfly stage, free to fly the earth being magical and sexy.
As many of you know, I’ve been going through a bit of an upheaval here of late. In August, I became separated from my husband of 21 years and we began “untying the knot”, so to speak, disentangling the lives we had built together and going our separate ways. It’s been 4 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days, and I have to say that a lot of that has been spent thinking, overthinking, questioning, crying, building myself up, then tearing myself back down, then trying to build myself up again. And I have taken a long hard look at myself many times.
I didn’t realize until recently how much of my self-worth was tied up in my relationship. I haven’t really liked myself for a long time. I have believed I was ugly, fat, boring, annoying, etc. But I was always able to end my sentences with “but at least one person loves me”.
“I may be ugly to everyone else but at least Nick thinks I’m beautiful.”
“Other people might find me boring but at least Nick thinks I’m interesting.”
“Blah blah blah but at least Nick…”
I didn’t like myself, but I figured it was okay because at least one person did.
Four months, two weeks, and two days ago, that all changed. I couldn’t get my self-worth from “at least…” anymore. Now, I was stuck looking in the mirror wondering if anyone would ever love me again, believing myself to be fundamentally unlovable. (I’m an Enneagram 4. Look it up.)
Today, I had a thought that changed all of that.
Once you become separated from your partner of many years, the question of whether or not you will date again and WHEN you will date again comes up often. It’s something you think about yourself and something a lot of people ask. Some advise getting back out there right away, while others advise taking time for yourself. Either way, you begin to wonder what the dating market has for you and if you have anything to offer anyway. After so much time not liking the person in the mirror, I believed I had nothing to offer anyone. Do I want to date again, find love again, settle into a comfortable monogamy once again? Hell ya. But not right now. It’s so scary. “And besides,” I’ve thought, “no one is going to want me.”
But today, I realized something. I realized that I am going through an effing metamorphosis right now. I thought of all the things I don’t like about myself and the subtle changes I’ve been slowly making over the last 4 months to improve myself. I thought of what I will be like in a year’s time. And I am delighted to report that I have no idea what I will be like in a year’s time. Everything about me is in a state of flux right now, right down to my hair, which I have decided to stop dyeing for the time being, and let the grey grow back in. Clean slate.
Theydies and gentlethems, I realized today that I am glorious goo.
You see, at the pupa stage, when the caterpillar turns itself into a chrysalis, the whole mother loving thing turns into soup. An outer shell forms and hardens, and the insides become glop. Glorious green slushy goodness. And it is from this slop, and only from this slop, that a butterfly forms. The caterpillar must shed its skin and dissolve its former being in order to transform into its final stage: adult, butterfly.
It’s true, I don’t particularly like who I am right now. I like myself, don’t get me wrong, but I still feel ugly, boring, annoying, etc. But I no longer desire to attach my self-worth to anyone else with an “at least” ever again. I’m taking steps now, concrete steps, to become a person I LIKE. I will become my own “at least”. I will become a person I admire, respect, love, and think is hella foine.
But right now, I’m in a chrysalis. I am goo, glorious goo. I’m dissolving my former self so I can become an effing butterfly. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being goo. This is part of the process.
It’s actually exciting to me to think I have a chance to reinvent myself. I’m actually super excited knowing that I have no idea what my life will look like in four years when I’m, hopefully, graduating from college. (Eep!) In fact, I don’t even know what my life will look like in a year and that’s amazing and wonderful!
Something else from the world of lepidopterology, butterflies retain memories from when they were caterpillars. I love that because it ties in so beautifully with the rest of my metaphor. Though I be goo, I will not forget what I have learned from my life as a caterpillar and when I am finally a winged beauty, soaring through the sky, I will have learned from my mistakes and won’t repeat them.
My life is shifting, evolving, transforming, and utterly gooifying itself. I am on my way to a life floating on spiced summer breezes, sipping nectar and whispering to the sky.
But for now, I am goo, glorious goo. And I couldn’t be more delighted.
I’m supposed to be packing. It’s 9:15 a.m. on a Wednesday. Instead, I’m sitting in my car drinking my half syrup pumpkin dirty chai latte and wishing I could just throw on some warm clothes, lay a blanket down in the grass, and stare up at the sky for a while.
A good friend of mine reminded me recently to practice gratitude especially for the things I find it hard to be grateful for, so here we go.
My children’s father left me in August. (I’m trying to move away from the word “husband” because, while we are still technically married, I’m trying to change my language to reflect his new status in my life.) And last night, for maybe the first time, I really started to see the good that is coming out of this storm. I don’t like how the change to my life came about but I’m really starting to think this change is necessary for both him and me.
I’m packing up my things and moving out of our shared space to a new, much smaller place. My son Zeke and I will be the only ones in the new house. My oldest, Mori, will be living with their father. It’s certainly not how I’ve ever imagined things would go for our family. And I’m still going to grieve the loss of the future I’d envisioned, the future we had talked about for years. But I’m also realizing that I’m grieving something that never existed except in the space of my mind and our conversations. I’m grieving the loss of a fiction I was emotionally invested in but it was still fiction, it never existed.
It’s easy to think of the life we’d built and the life I believed we were building towards and mourn their death. And it’s harder to face the reality that things were not as they seemed, to see things from a different perspective. It’s like looking at an optical illusion sculpture, one of those sculptures that changes shape as you move and look at it from different angles. In the video below you can see a pair of giraffes until you move just a little and then suddenly it’s an elephant. I’m moving and shifting and changing and that is causing me to begin to see what’s happened to my life from a totally different angle.
If you’re into the Enneagram, I am a type 4, the moody, creative type. (You never would have guessed, right? 🙄😂) Fours spend too much time in their heads examining the past and dreaming about the future and I am no exception. I’ve spent way too much of my time trying to figure out what the future looks like and trying to decipher the clues left behind for me from myself in the past. And today, I’m deciding to work harder on living in the now. I can’t change the past but I can learn from it. And I can’t know my future but I can work to shape it.
I may not like how the change came about in my life but this storm isn’t just changing the circumstances of my life, it’s changing me. Of course, that was inevitable but what’s surprising to me is how much I like it. I like the way I’m changing and I am interested to see how different I’ll be a few months from now or a few years. And, for once, I’m going to work to not spend all my time dreaming about the future. Nothing is established anymore. And, let’s be real, it never was. I will take nothing for granted anymore.
So I’m walking through the storm. And, strangely, I’m grateful for it. The truth is I’ve always loved walking in the rain.