The Unfinished Portrait

Unfinished Portrait
For the last three months, I have been working on a portrait.  It is still in process; an unfinished, challenging, ongoing, all-encompassing activity.  In fact, it is a series of problem-solving steps.  Every brush stroke is a considered motion.  Ahead of that, there is the choice of hue, value, and type of brush for each stroke.

Yet, before I even contemplated the paint colors, I needed to have a vision of what I wanted to paint.  After some time spent looking through photographs (life model was not available), I made my decision.  Finally, I knew what I wanted to paint, who I wanted to paint, and what I wanted the painting to look like when I finished.

This brings me to today.  Just as with any creative process, there is labor.  Oil painting is something I love to do; nevertheless, there is frustration and aggravation.  When I am not painting, my mind often wanders back to the canvas.  In fact, I take several photos so that I can examine the current state of my painting.  What can I do better?  Where are the problems?  How can I improve the image?

I have probably wiped down and scraped off more paint than is currently on the canvas.  In fact, I am positive of it.  Some of what I rubbed off was good.  Indeed, one image was beautiful.  Nevertheless, it did not reflect my plan.  A portrait is more than capturing the likeness of the person; it is an attempt to capture the character of the individual.

We have all see portraits of dignitaries or famous people.  Have you ever noticed the tilt of the head, what they are holding in their hands, what type of clothing they are wearing?  All of it is designed to convey an important fact.  The intention of the artist and individual is for you to know an answer to a “who” question.  That big consuming question for so many of us.

All of this got me to thinking:  our lives are canvases.  We began life with an image already imprinted before any paint was applied.  Upon birth, our parents started to add the paint with their brushes.  They took a beautiful plan and added to it.  Some of what they applied was solid and worth keeping.  Much of it needed to be wiped off – maybe, it needed to be scraped off.

As you matured, you also began to add to your image.  Eventually, at some point, you took the brush out of the master’s hand.  Formulating a plan in your head, you changed the image.  You might even have painted something beautiful – probably not.  After awhile, your portrait started to have problems.  You started to ask yourself  What can I do better?  Where are the problems?  How can I improve?

At this point in your life, you might be struggling with a disability or some other difficulty. They are wayward strokes.  Unlike other times when you could wipe down or scrape off unwanted “paint,” these strokes are permanent changes.  It could be that the problems have helped you to focus on what needs to be changed.  Maybe, you are finding that your troubles are developing your character.  As we examine our lives, we are afforded the opportunity to stand back and unearth the original vision. The discovery process, the hard work and frustration, is answering the “who” question.

It may not be a neurotypical life; it may not be what you or I envisioned for our lives.  Nevertheless, the portrait is not to be trashed.  Your character will shine through.  There is still a beautiful portrait sitting there – unfinished.

 

You Can’t Do That Anymore


Sitting in my wheelchair, on the edge of a trampoline mat, the same thought kept running through my head.  I want to jump.  Nah.  Yeah.  I want to jump.

With one final I want to jump, my mind took off with exhilarating memories of bouncing on trampolines and flying through the air.  Two things I enjoyed as a kid: swimming and jumping.  When small, personal trampolines first hit the market, I was right there in line to buy one.  For years, I enjoyed bouncing – tiny, little flights of gravity-defying moments.

All those memories were buried away deep in the past.  Until recently, when I took my grandson to an indoor trampoline park.  If you ever have the opportunity, go.

The indoor place near me has four separate areas.  Each one designed for a different purpose: freestyle, a basketball room, a dodgeball section, and a foam pit area.  You can even bounce off the walls!

As I sat there watching my grandson bounce, jump, and fly into the air, I felt intoxicated.  My body craved to fly.  I wanted to bounce, to lift my feet off the floor.  I wanted to defy gravity once again.  For a serious moment, I contemplated it.  For a very long, serious moment.

Then reality seeped into the crevices of my gray matter.   Do I have the core strength to bounce?  How uneven is the supporting edge?  Would I be able to get to the mat and back?  What if I fall?  No, better not try.  Maybe?  No.

I live in a new world, the world known as You Can’t Do That Anymore – But You Can Remember.

Some people advise us to forget the past.  They say it is best to live in the moment.  “The past is too painful,” they preach.  While I agree that living Right Here, Right Now is a healthy lifestyle choice, the past should not be forgotten.  Memories of how things were before we became disabled don’t have to be pushed away.  Our previous experiences add a richness to our lives.  Not only are there valuable lessons to be learned, but there are pleasures to be relived.

To reminisce and, once more, taste the pleasure of precious moments are treasures to be discovered.  Just like the unsolicited recall of an uncomplicated time in my childhood, we can choose to remember with joy – not pain or regret.

I may not be able to jump, but I can fly once more.

Restoration

Even though muscular dystrophy attempts to lay claim to my life, I have found a few ways to come out from the shadow of my disease.  One of my pleasures (and therapies) is painting.  This creative form affords me the freedom to live beyond the limits of my physical world and to express feelings that expand beyond the limits that words impose.  The more I paint, the more I feel compelled to paint.  It is addictive and healthy.   As I work to bring an oil painting to completion, I am restoring little pieces of me.

Two years ago, on a sunny, winter day, I was admiring the beautiful shadows trees were casting on the snow.  The more I thought about those shadows, the more I felt motivated to paint their beauty.  Then, the clouds came and refused to go away.  Weeks passed without any sustained sunlight; brief moments were followed by long, gray days.  There were no shadows.  How symbolic!  How often do we who feel as if our disability has made us shadows of our former selfs have taken the opportunity to hide?

Finally, the sun returned and the shadows could hide no longer.  Fearing that they would quickly retreat again, I had no time to waste.  Making changes to his day, my husband lovingly agreed to take some pictures with the hope of capturing those elusive beauties.

As soon as he returned home, I scrolled through the photos until I found the one that revealed their complex beauty.  Taking printed photo in hand, I went to work.  After some time, the painting was finished.  The shadows would forever declare their presence to the world.

Now, for the final step: varnish to keep the elements from eroding and dulling the paint.  Some artists advise that there should be a six-month waiting period before varnishing a painting.  However, this time, I followed the advice of an expert who counseled that a painting could be varnished right away – if done within two weeks of the original drying time.  So, after a week-and-a-half, I started to brush varnish on my painting.  Suddenly, to my horror, I realized that the white paint was smearing and making the entire painting milky in appearance.  I stopped immediately,

With painstaking effort, I slowly removed the varnish from the painting.  Using dry brush after dry brush, I wiped away as much of the milky, white paint as I could.  Then, I left the painting on the easel.  I wondered, “Could it be restored?”

Returning to the painting two days later to assess the damage.  There were areas that needed to be reworked.  Mixing the paints slowly, I contemplated how to go about the process of showing those shadows how beautiful they were.  Could I remove the stains?  Would the shadows allow themselves to be restored?

 

Restore-with-Gentleness-WEB
Oil Painting by Rose Wolfe

 

Insomnia is Making Me Crazy

Uggh, 4:23.  I don’t want to wake up.  Breathe deep.  Take it in, and, now, let it out – slowly.  Relax.  Go back to sleep.  No thinking.  I wonder, what should we have for dinner tonight?  No, no thinking.  Go back to sleep.  Relax.  Good morning, Lord.  Thank you for the day.  ‘This is the day; this is the day that the Lord has made.  I will be glad and rejoice in it.’  No singing.  Go back to sleep.  Relax.  Maybe I will paint this morning.  I wonder if I should add a little bit more Burnt Sienna.  That will make it warmer.  Stop it!  No thinking.  Relax.  Go back to sleep.  I wonder if I will be able to take a nap today?  I have been very weary lately.  And, now, I am awake instead of sleeping.  As usual, Beth was kind yesterday.  She’s a real trouper.  Always right there.  Helping me stand up for songs.  Why can’t I just stay seated?  It is getting hard to stand.  Cut it out!  Go…back…to…sleep.  My stomach is starting to churn.  It’s no good getting all worked up about not sleeping.  Oh, my.  I am awake.  Yep, no trying to deny it any longer.  I wonder, do other insomniacs go through the same routine?  I might as well get up.  What time is it?  5:13.  Uggh.

Insomnia is not really making me crazy, but it does play havoc on the mind and body.  Lately, I have been weary to the point of crying.  The feeling is not fatigue; it is beyond fatigue.  Thus, when insomnia kicks in, I feel challenged beyond my ability.  How can I operate on little sleep when I am already weary from fighting the war against my disease?

Every day is a struggle, to reiterate, every day is a struggle.  My body is at odds with my mind.  I am grateful that I can think, and write, and paint.  Nevertheless, the fight takes energy that I don’t have in reserve.  Picking up a glass of water takes forethought and purpose.  Eating is a mindful activity.  Cutting my own food is nearly impossible.  Every little thing takes determination.

My mind swirls.  With the sand running thin on the hourglass of my life, I want to give everything now – not get, give.  So, I  push my body, and my body is starting to push back – hard.  Weariness has set in – deep, dark weariness.

Now, I am fighting on two fronts:  my physical body that demands to do nothing and my emotional well that has run dry and demands rest.  Two fronts, both wanting me to stop.  Just stop doing, they cry.

How can I stop?  What will remain unfinished?

My mind swirls.  The waves of confusion are crashing over the sides of my ship.

Maybe, insomnia is making me crazy.  Wait, I still have hope.  Sitting right there in the middle of the storm.


How many of us are operating at a less than an ideal energy load?  Disabilities take an additional amount of emotional and physical effort not easily understood (if it is even possible) by neurotypical people.  However, we all feel exhausted, at times, from life’s challenges.  The day-to-day battle is not mine alone to fight.  The storms we face churn our hearts with an ache for calm.

As we wait out the raging emotions and the weariness, our patience will bear fruit.  We find a place of refuge.  Suffering is a vehicle that can drive us crazy for a season.  But the insanity will subside.  We become resilient.  We know hope – for hope is the child of patience.  And, hope never fails.

Have Courage to Hope
Oil Painting by Rose Wolfe

Falling Out of Bed

 

Hope-and-Joy
Art Work and Quote by Rose Wolfe

 

What would I do if I lived alone?  It is 5:30 a.m.  Waking, but still asleep.  Nature calling me out of my dreams, I roll over and sit on the side of the bed.  Only I misjudge and end up on the pillowtop edge of the mattress.  Uh oh, I think.  Scrambling as only someone with weak muscle strength can hustle, I try to push myself up.  No point in trying that maneuver; I am going down.

My husband (who sleeps on the cusp of alertness) asks me, “Are you okay?”

“Nope, I’m falling,” I reply as I struggle.

Hustling as someone with real muscle strength can hustle, he is on the side of the bed and holding me.  The comedy of the situation is not lost on me.  My husband moving with the speed of The Flash, and I moving with the sluggishness of The Blob.  Together we aim for a safe landing.  Failure.  I am now at a perilously steep angle.  The Flash is now The Hulk, and he lifts me up.

The Hulk calls out, “Push.  One.  Two.  Three.”

Ah, that magical number, three.  I love it.  Somehow, it is the key to success.  Between his superhero strength and the incantation, I am now sitting firmly on the mattress.  Disaster averted.  The floor will need to wait for another time.

Today’s routine was number four in the last three years.  The odds of fending off winding up on the floor is a 50-50 proposition.  This morning’s event was precariously close to changing the odds in favor of the floor.

Every time I see the neurologist, they inquire into how many times have I fallen since my last visit.  The assumption is that I have fallen.  So, I surmise that falling is a hazard of myotonic dystrophy.  Makes sense.

Now, sometimes falling is a good thing, such as falling in love.  Other times falling is an unpreferred result, such as falling on the floor.  I wonder, could the preposition be the culprit, in as opposed to on?  Probably not.  Just a wondering thought.

All this brings me back to the question, What would I do if I lived alone?  The answer is obvious: You can’t live alone.  Another loss hidden away in the sheets of my life.

I cannot live alone.

We begin life dependent on others for our survival.  All through those years, we yearn to be free, to be independent.  During our years of independence, we make our decisions and determine our fate.  Eventually, and it will happen to all of us, we return to a state of dependence.  We learn, no, more than learn, we are forced to depend on another.  Otherwise, we cannot survive.  It is the final cycle.  And, I have entered it.

Suffering and loss will happen; they cannot be avoided.  If I am willing to be patient in the midst of hardship, I will develop character.  The kind of person who will find joy because hope resides alongside the hardship.                            Rose Wolfe

Off Topic For A Moment

Heart-on-a-String

Upon examining the trajectory of my life, I saw that I needed to alter the course.  For a long time, I worked hard at being righteous.  You know, a good person.  Nevertheless, my childhood experiences kept sabotaging me.  Suddenly, myotonic dystrophy took over and demanded a change in my behavior.  It was at this point that I found my soul – that child who had hidden herself away from the world by the time she was five years old.  Knowing that I could die from sudden cardiac death shocked me into reevaluating my legacy.  Now, I knew.  I wanted to do my best to love and to encourage people.  Lofty goals, perhaps, but goals.

All this thinking and evaluating my life took a deeper route as I wrote posts for this blog.  Since February of this year, I have found co-suffers and co-lovers through the WordPress community.  Living with a chronic illness is a road more well-traveled than you might be inclined to think.  And, the forms of suffering are as varied as snowdrops.  Being bound to adapt to an outside force transforms us.  We struggle every day to find a way to be more than conquerors; we must discover a path to be thrivers.  So, we share our stories with each other and the world.  Hopefully, we bridge the gap.

Having said all that, I would like to take a moment to talk about what is going on in the world and society’s reaction to it.  The initial shock of hearing about another shooting or, in the most recent incident, a priest having his throat slit, we cry out in unison.  Flowers and memorabilia are placed at the location of the atrocity.  News reporters provide us with as many horrific details as they can garner.  Some of us might talk about the need for change.  Others might want to secure our country’s borders against the “illegal alien.”  Eventually, we return to our lives.

I cannot turn my back any longer.  Neither can I initiate change in the heart of haters.  Yet, I want to say to everyone:

We all suffer – some from chronic illness and disease, some from invisible trouble.  Our suffering should be binding us together.  Even more, we need to question ourselves.  Are we being sensitive to the world around us?  Do we put others first?  Are we willing to love our enemies?  Are we standing up for justice – not revenge?  Is peace our goal?   Do we have compassion?

If we continue to be self-absorbed, then we will continue to see a decline in our society.  We have all heard the expression, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”  The time to sit on the sidelines and bemoan heinous behavior has passed.  All of us need to be thrivers.  We need to grow in maturity and character.

Just the other day, a friend shared with me that humility is derived from the Latin word humilitas, which may be translated as “grounded.”  You might bristle at the idea of being humble because you think it means to be meek.  Instead, I encourage you to be humble, be grounded, be courageous.  Stand tall and tell your friend, your neighbor, your loved one, “No more insensitive jokes.  Period.  No more hate.  Period.”

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  (I Peter 3:8)

 

Words. Wound.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it?  Words wound.

 

Talking over the television, I say, “Mom, how are you today?’

“Oh, okay,” she mumbles.

“I like your pink sweatshirt.”

“Hmm, hmm.”

“Is it okay if I turn off the television and take you go out for dinner?  Then, on the way back, we can stop for Butter Pecan Ice Cream.”

“I want some chicken.  And ice cream.”

“Okay.  We can go to the little Italian restaurance you like on Taylor Street.”

“I want some chicken with mashed potatoes.”

“Okay.  Do you have your keys with you?”

“What?”

Your keys.  Do you have them?”

“I don’t know.  What keys?”

“The keys to your room.  Let’s find them and turn off your television before we leave.”

“Ah, here’s your keys,” I say as I touch the ribbon around her neck.  “Shall we go?”

As I push my walker towards the door, she turns to look at me and says,  “What’s wrong with you?”

“I have muscular dystrophy.”

“Well, you didn’t get it from me.”

“No, Mom, I didn’t get it from you,” I reply and close the door behind us.