I’m playing with the idea of painting some figures in interiors
I’m playing with the idea of painting some figures in interiors
I’ve written a series of posts here about my wife, Leslie’s, death and how I’ve coped with her loss. I feel like I should conclude this somehow but am not sure how. July 3 marked the one year anniversary of her death. I marked it with family and friends over a few days then went off to Italy for a month. As I look back, it appears that I made a kind of project out of it in that, for the year following Les’ death, I did my best to experience that loss and everything that came along with it as deeply and in as many ways as I could. I did several types of therapy, personal growth seminars, healing ceremonies … whatever I could think of. I said yes to most things that came my way and tried to stay open to whatever came at me. I fell in and out of love and learned that relationships don’t have to have the boundaries I usually contain them with.
The second part of the project was to start having new experiences as a person who is in the world alone. Alone in that, although I have friends and family, my life is no longer shared. The month in Italy was the first step in that.
The year of grieving, as I wrote in earlier posts, was tumultuous and both painful and expansive. I grew and unconcealed parts of me that were buried inside for a long time. I think, in many ways, I realized that I’m the person Les always saw in me and have become better able to see that in myself.
Learning to be myself for myself is something I still grapple with and have been keeping in mind the question, can I be enough for myself? Can I find everything I need to be happy inside me? I get disappointed in my self when I feel a longing for something outside. I can usually let go of it and return to the present but longing for something, something I can’t quite describe, revisits me often. The solitude I hated earlier, I’ve learned to love at the same time that I crave connection with others.
I didn’t used to think I was much of a people person but I know that’s not true now. The reason I’m still alive is the people I love. My fondest memories of this past year and my time in Italy are of the beautiful and interesting people who’ve entered or passed through my life.
I’ve just returned from a month of painting as part of the Jerusalem Studio School Summer Program in Civita Castellana, Italy. It was very stimulating to spend so much time with people dedicated to painting, including modern masters, Israel Hershberg, Vincent Desiderio and Yael Scalia. They were very generous with their time and knowledge. Living and working among so many artists is a wonderful experience. I miss the daily immersion in painting and the camaraderie.
The month was packed with opportunities for artistic experiences. Every Thursday was a bus trip to another city with maps and lists of art treasures to visit. Sunday nights the guest artists showed slides and talked about their work. Two critiques a week led by Vince, Israel or Yael and on regular painting days, the instructors would wander the town and visit painters at work. Communal meals were served in the hotel or various other restaurants in the town and you could usually find some of our community at the Club Cafe either having a cappuccino or drinks late into the night.
Although I went there with the intention of painting in oil, I started out wandering the town with my sketchbook and watercolors and really loved soaking in the experience that way so continued to work largely in watercolor. I did rent a studio for the last two weeks and did some oil painting there and plein air but the watercolors were the bulk of the work I produced.
Although I spent a lot of time painting, the largest impact on me, I think, will be from the time spent in conversation with the other painters and instructors. I came home with a lot to think about.
Life is very slow here. It’s hot and humid and all the shops close down from 1PM tip 5PM and most things are closed on Sunday and some are closed again on Thursday. The internet is slow and not always available but I was able to upload these two sketches. Ciao.
I’m now nine months into grieving the loss of my wife and in some ways, it’s gotten lighter. I’m generally hard on myself but I will give myself credit for working hard to try and grow from this experience. As I’ve said before, Leslie died without a second of self pity and that made it impossible for me to slip into that mud, even though it seemed likely, given my inclinations.
I’ve also written before about the courage Leslie showed in facing her death. She accepted it and walked toward it willingly and proudly, knowing she’d lived a wonderful life. She even joked on the way to death’s door. Although the experience was profound, it wasn’t heavy. We shared a lot of laughter during her last days. She showed no fear and, although we cried at our becoming separated, she approached it with dignity and grace. There was nothing sad about her death. It was magnificent and miraculous. It is her absence that causes me pain.
I’m often confused about my feelings and suffer very strong emotional waves. Sometimes it feels like I really can’t endure another wave but they keep coming. I never know when or where they’ll hit. I’ve learned to strap on my seat belt and observe my thoughts as they surge through me. Sometimes the longing to feel loved and connected to someone overwhelms me and I reach out to some unsuspecting friend with a heartfelt outpouring of gratitude and love. I worry that I sometimes overwhelm people with my urgent need for connection. Then, of course, I suffer over that.
In recent weeks, Ive felt myself start to turn away from my reverie over death and try to find something in life that I can engage myself in. I’ve felt some moments of acceptance and even feel satisfied for brief moments. As I turn back toward life, I realize that I have an opportunity to remake my life in any way I want to. Currently I feel consumed with the idea of having my life be used for something worthwhile. I’m aware that I’ve been through these periods before and they’re fragile and shatter easily. I’m doing my best to stay as grounded as I can while still believing in the possibility that I can be useful, maybe even inspiring.
I want to share this poem by the great John O’Donahue, who my friend Eithna Joyce introduced me to.
For Grief ~ John O’Donahue
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
Although I completed my official birthday self portrait project last year, I will probably continue to do them every year. This year it’s just a sketch.
I’m not being as productive as I’d like to be and I’m working to change that.