A little sketchbook painting, while I try to figure out where to go next.
I’ve noticed that my interactions with people and the way I communicate, both in person and in writing, seem more deeply felt. I believe that, having lived through a time of urgent communication with Les, when I was frantic to leave nothing unsaid, has spoiled me for light banter.
Even though Les’ last days were so painful, I often find myself wanting to be there again. The air in the room was so full of urgency and intimacy. We often speak of the miracle of birth but death is a miracle as well. We tried our best to treat it like that. It seems so absurd, now, that we connected even more deeply just before parting forever.
Wow, rough week! Just when you think you’ve entered calm waters, out of nowhere some kind of psychic wave crashes over you.
There have been three or four watershed events, in my life, that have radically changed how the world occurs for me. The first was my first experience with LSD. The fact that everything appeared different to me, while under the effects of the drug, opened me to that there may be things beyond my perception. Leslie’s death has jarred me that way, although not as pleasantly.
I’ve made a lot of mental maneuvers to try and make sense out of what’s happened or, rather, to construct some kind of meaning. Holding that all together is more work than I realized and a seemingly insignificant event shattered it all in a second. The illusion of meaning I had so cleverly duct taped together crashed down on my head. leaving me feeling foolish and deluded.
Fortunately I have friends who impossibly manage to tolerate these manic episodes. They listen calmly and stand at a safe distance until they can get close enough to put their arms around me and say, “Deep breath.” “You’re OK.” “You’re held closely and dearly.” “I consider it a gift each time you choose to share your staggering”.
It’s coming up on six months now since I lost my wife. For some reason I thought I’d be through the worst of the grief by this time but I realize now that I’m just getting started. I wouldn’t say that there is any progression in what I’m going through. Some days I feel pretty much OK but most days I feel lost. Everyone says that the holidays are particularly hard to grieve through. I wouldn’t say that I feel noticeably worse now because of the time of year. It’s different all the time. Sometimes I’m feeling the loss of being in a relationship and living in the context of someone else. Other times I miss Leslie personally, her physical presence and personality. Sometimes it’s just hard to be alone.
I think the bottom line for me at the moment is feeling without bearings. My Buddhist readings indicate that this may be the natural state of life. Bearings are invented. In truth there is no up or down. Those are decisions we make. I try to embrace not having bearings and let that experience flow over me while it lasts. I expect that eventually I’ll choose an ‘up’ but I hope I can still keep a part of this experience in mind.
This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. I can not control it. It pushes me around and takes me to places without my consent and without warning. There are other people in my life who are suffering and I feel that I’m letting them down for not providing more comfort to them. I titled this post ‘staggering’ because I’m afraid that sometimes I may have crashed into loved ones who were trying to help or who needed help and I regret that. I worry about it and roll it over in my mind but always come back to that I’m doing the best I can.
I have had some experiences of Leslie, sometimes in dreams and occasionally in daydreams. I read recently, from an internet psychic, that sometimes the departed communicate with loved ones by ringing in their ears. I’ve had tinnitus since Les died and, although I don’t put much stock in internet psychics, it feels good to let that be true for me. When I notice the ringing, it takes me away with her a bit and I like that.
A happy moment from last year. Les had two shirts made with the words “Luminous essence is all. All is luminous essence” and she wore them every day of her last weeks at home.
I don’t want to paint an overly bleak picture of my life. I am very fortunate to have close friends and family and two beautiful daughters I adore. I’m grateful for all the extremely happy holidays I shared with Les and for the many comforts I enjoy. Although I’m sad a lot of the time, I’m also happy in many ways. I have the luxury of being able to cherish my memories of Les and to share them with my daughters and others who love her.
I wish everyone Happy Holidays and hope the memories you create now will sustain you when hard times come.
Papaya and Water Glass 12″ x 16″ oil on archival paper
I’ve been working on a large piece that’s taking a long time so I took a break and did this still life of a papaya. My acupuncturist recommended that I eat papaya for the enzymes that I seem to be missing.
Leslie had this reproduction of a Fra Lippo Liippi painting of the Blessed Mother as long as I knew her. She kept it close to her bed, especially in trying times. Les had an eclectic set of religious beliefs. She also loved Paramahansa Yogananda and recently reread his autobiography.
This still life includes Leslie’s glasses and her copy of Autobiography of a Yogi, her keys and icon and it’s all resting on one of her scarves.
This Saturday would have been Les’ 62nd birthday. Happy Birthday, Sweetheart, if you’re still following the blog.
Wicker Lunch Basket and Medicine Bottle 14″ x 11″ oil on linen panel
Some more of Les’ things here. She didn’t use the basket but she bought it for our daughter to use for school, when she was very young. The cloth she used to wear as a kind of wrap around skirt at the beach, when we first met and the house is full of these brown medicine bottles. Les loved alternative medicine and up to the last day she was conscious, she used the stuff in that bottle.
It’s been three months since my wife, Leslie, died. I find that these milestones have more of an impact on me than I expect them to. It also is really hard to believe that it’s only been 3 months. My poor brain has been through so many changes it feels more like 3 years. I get a kind of panicky feeling when these things occur. Aside from these temporal milestones, it’s sometimes triggered by doing some mundane task around the house that Les either used to do or relied on me to do. An empty feeling follows the realization that it’s just me now. I don’t mean to be dramatic. The saddest parts are always about me, not Les. I’m just trying to share what this is like.
I’m trying to find a balance between keeping myself busy but not so busy that I avoid feeling what comes up. I regret not spending more time drawing the figure so I’m trying to get myself out to Life Drawing sessions more frequently. I went to one the night before the 3 month mark, when I was starting to feel the panic coming on. It was a good thing to do, because, to draw well, I have to relax and focus at the same time, which can be a tricky thing for me to do.
My drawings are not very good and it’s clear that I need to spend time on drawing hands and feet, especially. I share them here as part of my process. I hope to attend these sessions regularly for a while.
I’ve had this and another on the easel for a while. I’m not sure I’m finished. I want to let it sit for a while. Sometimes when I get to this point with a painting, I decide it’s better to just start another than to continue to worry this one. I’ve painted a few versions of this scene now, each a little different.
I’ve explained this a couple of times before on the blog. When I was in college I was given an assignment to do a self portrait and was then given information on the aging process and told to do another self portrait projecting what I thought I would look like at the age of 60. I was 23 when I did the first two drawings. I forgot about them for several years but some time in my 30′s I decided it would be interesting to do a similar self portrait every year near my birthday to see how close my vision was. I had planned on doing it every year and to use the same pose and media, etc so that the drawings could be easily compared. Discipline is not my strongest characteristic and I missed some years and got bored and did other compositions some years but I did produce an interesting collection of images over the 37 years since the original drawings.
This being the year I turned 60 is the logical completion of the project and, although I may still do self portraits on my birthday, the original project ends now. My wife’s health began to collapse this year, not long after my birthday and it’s taken me this much time to get back to thinking about it. Frankly, it’s been difficult to produce any artwork, since her death and this seemed like a fun and simple thing to do to keep my hand in and, of course, to feed the blog.
So it appears that, at the age of 23, I had an exaggerated view of how old 60 is. Perhaps in 1976, 60 year old people did look older than they do today. They say 60 is the new 40, right?
You can find other entries in this progression in the archives of the blog. I posted them as I did them.
I apologize for the quality of the photos. The original two drawings were reproduced from old slides.
I delivered the paintings for my first solo show in many years to Brian Marki Fine Art yesterday. I have one more piece I’d like to finish for the show, if Brian doesn’t mind hanging a wet painting.
“Building a New Life From the Wreckage of My Old Life” 21″ x 27″ oil on linen panel
The image above is the piece I’d like to finish for the show, in it’s current state. It still seems a little chaotic but that is true to my current experience. I don’t usually put a lot of thought into titles. They’re mainly just for me to keep them straight in my mind but, given recent events, this piece has begun to occur for me as a view into my life. I need to reconstruct a new life out of what appears to me now as the wreckage of my old life and this painting expresses that for me. It may not be pretty but it holds promise.
I have to say that, in spite of the fact that I’m not often referred to as a real “up” kind of person, I have been surprised at my ability to find positive meaning in my wife’s death.
For one thing, it was such a privilege and relief to be able to see Leslie on to a peaceful and meaningful death. It was the perfect completion of our relationship. Four years ago, when Leslie’s cancer became metastatic, the primary purpose of my life became to see to it that Les was taken care of and had a good death and I lived to fulfill that promise. So many women have to go through this alone. I am grateful that Les was loved and cherished and nurtured and adored to her last minutes. Well beyond her last minutes, in truth.
I have also been overwhelmed with love and support from friends and family. My relationships have been enriched by Les’ passing. I have made new friends who have made profound contributions to my life.
Leslie continues to nurture me even in death. I was rooting through the freezer and found a treasure. Two containers of Les’ wonderful beef stew.
My stomach and heart are both full of love. I miss Leslie’s physical presence but I feel her with me all the time. I’m a very fortunate man.
It’s been two weeks since my dear Leslie died. The days seem almost normal until someone mentions her name or asks how I’m doing. I don’t wake up weeping anymore, it takes me a few minutes for a thought to bring on the tears. Sobbing feels good, when I’m alone but, for some reason, I don’t like to cry in front of others.
I’m looking for silver linings… The car mirrors are always adjusted to my liking now. When I put something down, I know I’ll find it in the same place when I want it. That crazy filing system that Les used can finally be put in something I call order. I’m happy for Les that she won’t have to become really old and doddery and a worry to our children.
I miss her, though.
I have some things to share:
I came across a cassette tape of love songs Les recorded for me for Valentine’s Day in 1983. Nine months later our first daughter, Emily, was born. Les was 31 years old, at the time.
Yesterday, June 29, was the 34th anniversary of the day I met the best friend I’ve ever had, my wife, Leslie Robinson. We married 2 years later and drove across the country from Eastern Long Island, NY to Portland OR. Leslie was a singer/songwriter and I was a painter. She gave up her singing career when our first daughter, Emily was born, in the hospital we can see from the deck of our little house. I quit painting when Les bore our second daughter, Clair in the front bedroom of that house.
Leslie now lays dying, surrounded by that family in the living room of that house. Although my heart is breaking, I feel privileged to be able to help her complete her life and make a safe crossing to whatever is next.
Les hated posing so I don’t have a lot of paintings of her but, on our adventures, she usually wore a red coat that I loved painting.
Les was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. She chose to do an alternative therapy instead of chemotherapy and radiation. After treatment, Les remained symptom free for 9 years. When the cancer recurred, she did radiation and hormone therapy, which gave her 4 more years with relatively few symptoms. She tried chemotherapy a few months ago and just couldn’t stand the side effects, so she chose to stop treatment.
We have been very fortunate to have had so much time together. Les and I knew this was coming and are as prepared as anyone can be for such a thing.
I have found solace in the book “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rimpoche, over the years and have begun reading it again. …
“Men come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come to them, their wives, their children, their friends – catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries what fury what despair!…
To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of it’s strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death … We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” ~ Michel de Montaigne, The Essayus of Michel de Montaigne
A friend and I drove out to Ranier, OR to paint at the defunct Trojan Nuclear Plant (now a park) but there was not much there we were interested in painting so we drove on into the nearby town of Ranier, which is right on the Columbia river. These 2 paintings were done from a parking lot in the town.
I try to do a self portrait every year around my birthday (My birthday is in March and you can look back through the archives to see other entries in the series). The project started around an assignment I was given in college to do a self portrait as I was then (20-ish years old) and then another predicting how I thought I’d look at age 60. I turned 60 this year so it’s sort of the completion of the project but I’ve been having a hard time producing the painting.
This painting was not intended to be the official yearly selfie but I offer it now until I get serious about completing the project.
The actual intention of this painting was to paint it over again pushing it as far as I could before I got bored with it. I repainted over the same canvas over the course of 6 days and this is where it ended up. Below are photos of the canvas at the end of each session
I went with a friend to paint at the Portland Train station – Union Station. It was supposed to rain so I proposed we meet there and paint from under the cover of the overpass across the street from the station. It worked out pretty well. It rained hard and I only got a little wet (from a drain in the overpass) This is the resulting painting.
“Outside Union Station” 9″ x 12″ oil on linen panel
The hunting season is over on Sauvie Island, and I headed over to paint last weekend. Unfortunately, when I was half way there, I realized I had forgotten to pack any panels to paint on. This is the second time I’ve done this. I suppose age is catching up with me. Rather than turn back, I continued on knowing that I had my watercolor paintbox and sketchbooks along.
“Multnomah Channel” 7 x 10 watercolor
I went to a part of the island where I haven’t painted for several years and found a nice spot along the Multnomah Channel ( a narrow side channel of the Wilamette River, and started the piece above as several sailboats and fishing boats came and went. While I waited for the colors to dry on this one, I started the one below, of the same subject.
“Multnomah Channel sketch 5 x 8 watercolor and ink
I moved on down the road and did one more from a spot I painted a few years ago. It’s a view of the famous volcano, Mt St Helens, across the cow patures.
Mt St Helens from Sauvie Island gouache
I was hoping for some cows but they didn’t show up until later