My oil painting of my daughter reading in the butterfly garden… this one doesn’t have a video because I painted this before I started filming my sessions. It was the first oil painting I ever did, and it’s what started a whole new life. I painted it after my husband bought me a floor easel for Christmas and I didn’t want to let him down by not using it. I saw an ad for a “Call for Artists” in a juried competition. I followed the exhibition rules and painted this art. It was accepted!
This painting went on a 14 month tour (I only went to one of the showings and I lost track of where the painting went, but it was safely returned to me at the end of the tour and I’m saving it for my daughter to keep). Shortly after this we had to sell the hobby farm with the butterfly garden he’d planted for me, as my husband was losing his job because the company he worked for was moving out of the country, ghosting the nearby small town (I have shared about this already in previous blog posts). I directed a small private arts (dance, theater, drawing, etc.) school from my home studio, so when we sold the house I lost my job too. Anyway, that’s the condensed version of the story of this art. I’m using it for this blog post because it’s how my vocation as an oil painter began… sort of.
As with anyone’s journey, it can be hard to define the exact starting point of easing into one’s purpose. I was “born” artistic and would always draw. It was my language. My dad was an artist and the family would gather in fascination to watch his funny doodles. He mostly did comic type characters just for fun, but sometimes he was paid in odd jobs on the side to illustrate otherwise boring managerial manuals with one-panel comics. He also did some sign painting, and plenty of projects for the family. So, it was never a big deal that I was artistic and creative. I was just my dad’s daughter and it was unsurprising, even expected it seemed.
But, how this was going to translate into a life’s purpose was never decided. Before dad died, he made me promise that I’d go to college one day. He was only 37 when he lost his long battle with cancer, after serving two tours in the Vietnam War. I have mentioned Dad a lot, as he was a big influence in my life and he continues to impact how I think about the world even though he’s been gone for many years. Saying this just reminded me of something that shocked me at one of my author events. One of the many reasons why I hated being an author! Here’s what happened:
I was booked to make an inspirational presentation to college students. I gave a speech that was around 45 minutes long that I had put a lot of time, planning, preparation, effort, empathy and enthusiasm into. I sincerely wanted to make a difference and connect with the students in a meaningful way that might inspire them into the future. In exchange, I would have an opportunity to promote my books at the end. I wasn’t expecting much to come of this, and I know that students don’t usually have spare cash, and when they do, they don’t generally choose to spend it on books that they aren’t forced to read in class, so I donated the books to the students. I preferred that they have my books than to have them walk away empty handed.
It’s a good marketing decision to give books (or other types of work) away when word of mouth might help you get more work in the future. So, I was fine with this plan. However, I did expect to at least talk with the students about my work. But right after we took a group photo, an obnoxious woman- a professor who dropped by and interrupted my speech a couple of times- set up a table of her own and lined up HER art! Wow, that was quite brazen. She then plugged her work and hijacked my event. She was a loud brassy large woman and I don’t fight for the spotlight. I stayed for a short while and when I realized that the host wasn’t going to stop this woman from using up the remainder of the time, I made my goodbyes and left.
Can you imagine the audacity of this woman, to have packed her art (wooden folk art figurines from what I recall, I think animals), and then just set it all up as soon as I finished the long, comprehensive inspirational speech for the students. Wow. Not just tacky and advantageous, but extremely rude! So, you know this woman now and you’ll be able to imagine the scene that shocked me. Picture her sitting (as a large older woman) among the quiet courteous students (young small college girls, timid), who seemed to be at rapt attention, while she’s belting out disruptive statements or questions from time to time.
I was attempting to inspire the students to never give up, even when life doesn’t go as planned and things like grief interrupt our dreams. I talked about my father’s death and I mentioned that he didn’t live to see me grow up and never met my husband or my children. The horribly rude woman piped up with this: “You never knew him either. He died as a young man.”
I felt like I stood there for an eternity with my mouth hanging open and my eyes bugging out. That’s not true. I looked cool, calm, and composed. I was in my professional public speaking mode and I was patiently friendly in my response, as I do when I don’t like some heckling troll at an event. I was “handling” her to end the conversation swiftly and get back into my speech before she destroyed what I was trying to accomplish for the students.
But after the event was over, and long afterward, her words came back to me. I had never thought about this before, that I never knew my father. I decided that she was wrong, and how DARE she suggest it! I did know my father. I knew the core of his spirit, the kind of man he was. I didn’t need to see his future self that he was denied, because the type of person he was, was an inspiring and powerful spirit that was memorable to all who had known him. We DID know him. In fact, he was known by many more people than I knew.
It turns out that he was living a secret life that he didn’t tell us about. He helped people without ever saying a word. After his death, people sought me out, knowing I am his daughter, and wanted to tell me what he did for them and for others. I still recall what it was like to go to his memorial service, expecting to see mainly just the family there, but the place was packed! Who WERE all of these people mourning my dad?
I have many stories to share about Dad. He may not have lived long, but his spirit was known and he still inspires people to this day. He still inspires me, and through my stories about him, he inspires my husband and my kids. And you. Maybe he inspires you? Can you imagine being the kind of person who draws a crowd when you pass, because of the big impact you have on others?
Well, back to my story. I grew to greatly dislike my career as an author, and the events I was doing. There was a certain grubby competitiveness there, and in artist circles as well. I hated all of it. Whether it was the snooty circles in galleries and upscale conventions, or the rather trashy venues, or something in between, my experiences in that world were usually mixed at best, and miserable or even dangerous at the worst. On rare occasion I had a delightfully pleasant encounter and a real connection with the people I met. I remind myself of that whenever I need to consider a public event.
But, always lurking in my mind is the power that random strangers have of saying words that can’t be unheard. It’s uncanny that she came up with something that could shock me. I’m often a stoic person, rock solid. Not much throws me off. You could even say that while I’m hopeful and positive, it is with a survivor and work-hard thriver mindset, not idealism. I’m a realist, and some may consider me to be cynical. But, wow, she got me.
Because of her, I will think even more highly of my dad. He was truly an inspiring person, a person who many people knew. He was warm, generous, smart, talented, funny, humble, and most of all… kind. When we know these characteristics in a person, we may be inspired by them forever. Goodness outlives a person.
So, I don’t fear public speaking events and I look forward to the challenges and positive twist that the bullies and nasties throw at me, as well as the wonderful pleasant meetings. I was once scheduled at a book festival in a very small town. The irony is that the speaker at the top of the morning was a man who had reviewed my very first attempt at a mystery novel, very unfavorably. LOL, very. Sure, my book was quite horrible, but there was no reason to trash so viciously first-time work by an unknown author who was no competition to anyone and would certainly not go anywhere anyway. Besides, some people liked it. Just not that curmudgeon.
He’d published a scathing review in a major big city newspaper and mocked me for publishing the book myself, from what I recall anyway. I don’t actually remember the details after all this time. I’ve had a lot of critics. They all blur together after a while, especially when I’ve reached an age and place in my vocation when I don’t pay much attention to what they say. I’m going to keep producing new creative work. Can they say the same? Maybe, maybe not. I fail to see why diplomatic words couldn’t have been used to “warn” people that I’m garbage to read.
But, whatever, I had to go to the same event that he was attending as a fancy author and critic. Apparently we had the same agent (ugh!). I only had an agent for a brief time. My daughter had work of her own and had some success that paid for an agent we’d share. We did certain projects together as a mother/daughter team, so that’s how the agent thing briefly came about. We wanted to do more events. But this was scheduled just for me, as our agent would place only me for events that didn’t really work for the project that we did together (don’t worry, I always found a way to get my daughter included somehow, even if it had to wait until the ending meet and greet part). Anyway, so… I was temporarily stuck in a slightly bigger league with the man who declared me a failure before I even began.
I dreaded the thought that I might run into him, but I was quite certain that he wouldn’t recognize me or remember that review from so long ago. He’d probably burned many authors, who seemed to have been his competition- isn’t that a conflict of interest? Ah, a slimy industry this can be. So, I arrived there, and he was already gone! WHEW! I saw his unpleasant face on the posters, but didn’t have to see the actual man! Apparently he didn’t excite the small turnout of mostly women and children. He wasn’t a tough act to follow, and I knew my presentation would be fun, warm, and inspirational for the attendees. I started to look forward to the experience.
Suddenly the hostess rushed up to me and gaped at me, star struck. She gushed, “You look even more glamorous in person!” Well, I was so shocked by this, that I laughed. I still laugh whenever I recall that moment. I’m laughing right now while typing this. So, here was the polar opposite experience from the horrible woman who shocked me with an insensitive observation and bullish behavior that cut my event short. This time, I was treated like a celebrity princess, with great appreciation from all who attended. They even had a feast waiting for me and my family, in which it seemed their entire staff had gone overboard to impress. Sure, it was created with the hope that the town would turn out huge for their book festival (sadly they didn’t), but their enthusiasm wasn’t dimmed in the slightest. They were happy to see how grateful and truly jazzed we were with their presentation. Someone had even made minions with Twinkies!
This blog post has spiraled out of control and is much longer than I intended it to be. I really meant to write something short, but then I felt like I was talking to friends and my thoughts evolved. Point to all of this is… a bit of an update. I’m working on my new show. It will be another “live taping” show. And while I’m older and wiser and am in some ways excited about getting back into public events, for now I’m happy to have only you as my audience.
Work on the show has begun and I hope to step up my game to make each one better than the one before it. And since it’s a taping, no one can interrupt me with depressing revelations about my private life and grief, but… no one can tell me I’m glamorous and give me minions Twinkies either. Ah, I shall have to settle for bringing my own celebratory treats!