For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together…Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition
I grew up in a family of artists and writers. My grandfather sculpted, my father did pen and ink and my uncle painted. My mom worked as a journalist (until I was born). My great uncle Howard was the writer and editor of a magazine called The Living Wilderness and went on to write the Wilderness Act of 1964
In light of all that, my parents were fine with the many hours I spent drawing and modeling and writing short stories or poetry. But the bar was set high at home and I didn’t get a lot of positive feedback on anything I wrote or drew or sculpted. Which might have been why the nice things my teachers, and the occasional classmate, said about my writing and artwork had such an effect.
By the end of elementary school I’d decided that my teachers were right and that when it came time for me to go away to college I would study English or Art or both.
My parents didn’t agree. Probably because, with the exception of my great uncle Howard, everybody in my family, no matter how talented, worked a regular nine to five and did creative stuff on the side. According to my father, art was a hobby – not a career. As part of that conversation, I distinctly remember him saying that being the best artist or poet in entire sixth grade didn’t mean anything because by the time I got to college I would see that other people were better.
At twelve the idea of choosing a career that didn’t pay the bills seemed almost irrelevant but, because being the best was a big deal in our family, I took the prediction about others being better to heart. My teachers and classmates still said nice things. But by my sophomore year in high school I had stopped drawing and, aside from the occasional dark poem, there was no more writing.
When it came time to choose a career, I chose nursing. But as an adult, just like many of my relatives, I dabbled.
Working for a Living
I worked as a nurse for twenty years. Taking time off for various family reasons but always going back. Unfortunately, while I loved my patients, the science of modern medicine never really spoke to me.
And so in my spare time, I took art and craft classes and wrote a series of unpublished manuscripts. Eventually I went back to community college and majored in commercial art. For a time I worked in the graphic design department of our local newspaper. But eventually went back to nursing because as a single mom and I needed the money.
I missed the freedom of working at the paper but there were some things I liked about nursing – like the people I got to know as a visiting nurse. Some told me stories about coal mines and the depression and growing up in Czechoslovakia or Ireland. Others patiently corrected my garbled attempts to learn Polish or Gaelic. A few were instrumental in my decision to become Catholic.
But the client I want to mention here was a retired nurse who painted big blown out Georgia O’Keeffe style flowers and impressionist landscapes that dripped with color. One day after showing me her newest painting, she made a prediction. And, unlike the prediction made when I was planning my college career in seventh grade, this one came true.
I remember it for word. “You are going to love retirement, Barbara, because it will give you a chance to do all the things you’ve always wanted to do.”
I guess that a lot of people probably think that will happen to them when they retire and then don’t have the money or good health to actually enjoy it. But I am, I think, one of the lucky ones – because the things I want to do – like blogging and ebooks writing and media – are accessible to everyone.
It is not always wonderful or easy. I still struggle with confidence and prioritizing and feeling selfish or silly or old. But I keep coming back to it.
Last week I mostly restored a damaged holy statue. On Tuesday I ordered a new book on fiction writing by James Scott Bell. I persist with this blog and am thinking about a podcast. Or youtube. This morning I started a brand new novel.
It’s only a start but I think that, if I keep showing up, I will eventually create the life I chose for myself when I was twelve and anything was possible.