Turning 41 on Monday was just such a non-event compared to turning 40. I never forget the many years, though, when I didn’t think I’d live to 25 – and didn’t want to. What really turned my feelings around on the matter of this aging thing was realizing that next year I’ll be 42. To me that is twice as old as 21, an age that it will be a delight to sit in comparison to now, even with the scars, sorrows, and cellulite I didn’t have then.
I used to be a leaver. A quitter of the highest order. Couldn’t live through a tough moment. Couldn’t try one more time. Couldn’t believe I could succeed at any task after failing once. Frustration was glue in my veins, making me tired and slow and clumsy if a task was challenging, and creativity…lord, frustration killed it outright.
And I hated myself for that, you know? Oh how I hated myself for being such a quitter, so thin-skinned as to not be able to withstand even the slightest frustratations. That self-resentment went on well into my thirties. At some point in my thirties I was shocked to hear people tell me they were awed by my patience, tolerance, and restraint. They were referring to my demeanor and skill raising my daughter who was mentally and emotionally handicapped by severe brain damage and autism. I was shocked because I never thought I had or was displaying those qualities; I just thought I was loving her the best way I knew how.
But that came after much time and effort. First, there had to be a beginning. The beginning of growing any mark of patience, tolerance, and restraint – what I now think of simply maturity – came when I lived alone for the first time. Growing up my every move was watched and commented on, usually in the negative, and the big rule of the house was if you were going to do something you damn well better do it right the first time. Living alone without anyone watching me I began to learn how to function at my own pace. To do things more slowly than I would if anyone was standing behind me. And you know…I started to get a little more competent just kinda sorta outta the blue there! Funny how that happened.
I’m slow. All these years later I still don’t look like I know what I’m doing while I’m doing it, whatever it is. People who happen to see me working on absolutely any task, large or small, invariably will see my fumbling and say, “Oh here, let me, please. I’ll do it.” When I insist on carrying on they say, “No really, you look like you need help.” LOL I’ve learned to expect it and laugh. Really, I understand that my processes ain’t pretty; I will never be the star of a how-to video.
In all my life, including all of the beautiful art that I have displayed and sold in art galleries, the one thing I made that brought me more excitement, satisfaction, and pride was a matchstick house. I bought a large bag of wooden matchsticks from a craft store way back in my poverty days and set to making a matchstick house. Me, the quitter, the leaver, the frustrated klutz. And that was the point: if I could dig up the patience to make one of these time-consuming, fragile little thingies, I could probably learn to make anything! But the blueprint that came with the bag of matchsticks was too small and unimaginative for me. I drew up my own plans, carefully measured and cut every wee stick, and put together a two story bungalow with dormers and a picture window. ROFL
That matchstick house was put where I could see it and was dusted carefully for many years. It wasn’t a point of pride, but of hope. I finished something. What else could I finish next? That became the question that filled my days so that the results improved the quality of my life *immensely*. And it well and truly came to pass because of the making of a little matchstick house.
I am struggling now with the art I need to create for an upcoming exhibit. I want to just walk away and make my excuses to the gallery owner. I won’t, of course, not now, not anymore. Friggin’ maturity. I will come back to the creative table a hundred times a day if I need to, and the process will not be any prettier than it ever is, and the results will be what they always are: not what I really wanted, with greater responses than I expected, and the new art may lead to a life change I didn’t see coming.
What I did see is the relief on the gallery owner’s face when she told me, “I can always count on you, Steph. When it comes to getting the work done and up on time you’re the one artist I never have to worry about.” I laughed. And remembered when.