FIVE. That’s how many hours, according to reports, we had of sunlight during the ENTIRE month of November. And it’s not looking much brighter for December. It’s dark. And it’s dreary. And I’m taking Vitamin D, holding out for “ski week” in February when you can betcha bottom dollar I won’t be skiing, but going someplace warm with sunshine. Hallelujah.
I finished my semester at SARA (art school) last night. We each got a parting critique. Our latest drawing project was, of course, harder than the last. I’m still working on the lithograph of “the torso,” but that’s ok. I’m taking my time. The thing with art is, the moment you get comfortable you stretch again and challenge your self to do more, take your work further. It’s never easy. And Hans didn’t go easy on us in his critique. “Anything you do to the very best of your ability will NEVER be easy,” he said, urging us to be patient with our learning selves. Urging us to take our time. “Really see.” The hardest part is SEEING what’s actually there. Our memory plays tricks on us. We think an eye is supposed to look one way when in reality it’s another. In art you have to forget everything you think you know and focus on what’s in front of you. It’s practice for life.
“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” Stephen Covey.
I don’t think Covey was an artist, but he knew something about the art of living. Assumptions are tricky. We don’t even know we have them. Is life the way we see it or are we shading things in, making it the way we want it to look? It’s something I’ve thought about with regards to art and whenever I encounter new people and different cultures. There’s only one assumption that’s safe to make: Everyone has a story. And more often than not, when someone shows great strength and compassion, it comes from a place that has been hard to travel.
My friend Kristina Korlof is a person of great strength and compassion. I spoke to her at church on Sunday and she told me her brother just published his book that was 15-years in the making, “Surviving Hitler,” a biography about her Hungarian Jewish mother who was taken captive and sent to Auschwitz prison camp and her Norwegian father, who as a young boy was forced to guard a Nazi prison camp and to escape, volunteered as a Waffen SS to fight at the front. They married shortly after the war, converted to Mormonism and eventually moved to Sweden. She offered me the words of advice her mother had taught her, advice learned during those darkest days: Evening always comes. No matter what happens during the day, evening always comes and a new day dawns. Simple wisdom, made more powerful because it came from someone who had to face truly horrific circumstances. It was a reminder to me that life is always a choice.
“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castenada
Christmas, and the close of year, is the perfect time to reflect on life…past, present and future. It’s a nostalgic time. We watch shows we’ve watched a hundred times, with themes of loss (Frosty melts), regret (Scrooge), hope (Santa Claus comes to town) and gratitude (It’s a Wonderful Life). And we make goals for the New Year, or don’t, which is kind of like making a goal anyway.
For most of this year, I’ve been carrying around a quote on my phone by Denzel Washington.
“At the end of the day it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished…it’s about who you’ve lifted, up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”
Put another way you could say, it’s about the energy you put into the world. Are we making the world a brighter place for someone else? What are we giving? My art teacher Hans says, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
We have to grow. We have to give. I can simplify matters here, just start by making a homemade gift. Easy right? It’s winter time, indoor time, why not put some energy into making something for someone? “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul,” Alice Walker said, so bake some cookies, glue some ornaments, cut paper snowflakes and hang them in your window (or someone else’s window), crochet, make something from your Pinterest board—it’s making your soul better. Here’s some soul saving stuff I’ve been doing…
Santa helper dress for my best little elf…
If crafting isn’t your thing, cook something, write something, research something. Grow, grow, grow. What do you love? Do it to the best of your ability. The first secret of life is believing that you can, (someone said that). “A life without love is like a year without summer,” Swedish wisdom. I KNOW what that feels like right about now. Find your summer and spread some of that sunshine to someone else!