untitled, encaustic on panel with photo pigment print, 9" x 12", 2013
untitled, encaustic on panel with photo pigment print, 9″ x 12″, 2013

My mom and I still talk easily about death. We always have, because she is at peace. She talks about her last wishes and where she wants to be (near her mother.) My boys share my preoccupation-with/sensitivity-to death & disaster. My ten year old sat with rapt attention next to my mom and I to watch the live coverage of the Boeing 777 that crashed at SFO.  What if he develops the fixations I had as a teenager: serial killers & the Holocaust? He’s already read books about Hurricane Katrina & the Civil War. Somehow I don’t recall my mother ever being freaked by the dark books I read. She’s still the calming presence in my home. She is the center of love for my seven year old. She is his perfect world. He cares for her, rubs her back, teases her about hunching over her cane, runs to her when none of us understand him because she always does. He said to her: “Abuelita, what will we do when you pass?” I don’t know where he learned that euphemism. When you pass. My ten year old trusts in her love, and he feels her constancy. They are strengthened by her. She lives with us. Their paternal grandparents, my in-laws, live a mile away. Their uncles visit often. They play XBox with their aunt. They have a solid foundation of family community living all around them.

In the same way, a comfortable place in an art community of trusted friends lends safety and belonging. I have patient friends who watch me sort out the tangles of my art practice. I lean on the persistence and fortitude of others. I strive to do what I need to do without paralyzing analysis. Still, I believe I will glean substance for my future work as I allow this inquiry to follow its natural course. I watch the endurance of my artist friends’ studio practices, and I keep going.

I know I will lose the last grandparents soon, and my parents & my husband’s parents in the next (maybe) 20 years? 10? 5? They will likely go before I go, as I know they would like. There is probably no way to get used to the shock of death & suffering. I keep wishing to be insulated from future loss. My Fear of Living Too Long seems like some sort of hope for cutting years of difficulty out of my future, as if I know what the future holds. Maybe because I know what the past few years have held: losing my best friend’s daughter when she was 10 (leukemia); another best friend’s sister at 27 (melanoma); (worst of all to me) my nephew at age 22 (KIA Afghanistan.) Even just a few weeks ago, my son’s best friend lost his father (heart attack.)

I am trying to, just in writing this, trying to find a way to accept these things as part of my life. Accept the bad with the good. I am writing my way to being alive this way, writing my way to working in permanent ways that can find a proper place in this world. Making work in this environment of loss has worn me down. Even my artwork has seemed to be on the precipice of loss, and I have wrestled with questions of its longevity for months. I retreated from making significant physical pieces to working with concepts and words. Reading and writing have been my work. As I look forward, I consider permanent resting places for the artwork I will make. Bookshelves? Then: fine art books and paperback book equivalents. Drawers? Then: works on paper. Cabinets? Then: paintings on unstretched canvas.  And the paintings I’ll make on panel? I must either claim them for myself or let them live & let them go. I must choose to either tighten the tether to those pieces, or cut them loose.

So I settle into this nondescript spot in the lifespan of my existence as an artist. The beginning of my artmaking happened many years ago, and the end is many years ahead of me. I have been rocking back and forth without stopping for too long and I want peace. However, there’s still a part of this puzzle left to address. Life as an artist isn’t just the work that happens alone in my studio. It’s also the reconciliation with how it’s received in the wider world. I’ll get to that in my last post– Part III: The End of Foreboding.

(Part I: The Start of the End is here.)

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