Category Archives: Insights

Being Humble

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I started to entitle this blog post “I’m a Humble Man.” But then it seemed that making that statement wouldn’t be consistent with being humble but rather boastful. So I settled on this less pretentious title.

When I put together my list of potential blog topics over four years ago, “Being Humble” was 14th on my list of about 35. Since then, my list of topics has grown significantly and now exceeds 150 titles. And yet, it is just now that I am writing about it.

I don’t know if I have been putting it off because I didn’t want to wrestle with this topic or if as I scanned down my list of topics to choose from for my next post, that a spark of creativity just never jumped at me when I read “Being Humble.” But whatever the reason, I am willing to tackle it now.

A couple of years ago when I wrote a post about What We Would be Known For, I included a list character traits that I aspired to emulate: dedicated, honest, loyal, trustworthy, dependable, loving, considerate, funny, happy, and spiritual—all traits that fit very nicely with my MBTI personality type, ISTJ. But, missing from that list, whether it was consciously or unconsciously, was humble.

I think part of the reason that I have delayed exploring this topic is that I have had difficulty tracing back to why I want to be humble. One of the thoughts that I had while reading through my dad’s sermons recently was maybe I would run across one of his sermons that had inspired me to be humble. I know being humble is a subject that comes up multiple times throughout the Bible so it is likely that I had heard my dad preach on that topic. But if it was one of my dad’s sermons that inspired me, it was not one of the 32 typed up in his book.

Merriam-Webster has a number of definitions for humble but I think the one that is most relevant for me is: not proud or arrogant; not thinking of yourself as better than other people. Or another way to think of it is not being a braggart, which I never have been. Anytime I notice myself venturing close to making a boastful statement, I get a funny feeling like this is not who I am and if I proceed to make the statement anyway; I feel very self-conscious about how it will be interpreted.

Even when I am recognized for something good I have accomplished, I often will deflect the comment or come back with a statement that it wasn’t that significant.

Individual Winner: Cited for work in chromatographic analyses

Individual Winner: Cited for work in chromatographic analyses

One of the hardest awards for me to accept was the year that I won the scientific achievement award at work. One aspect that made this a difficult recognition for me was the fact that I had to beat out other scientists who probably felt their submissions were more worthy than my winning one. But the engraved, wooden plaque that I received in recognition of my achievement has hung on my office wall for almost 25 years, not as a boastful badge of arrogance, but as a reminder of the joy I received in being recognized for my technical accomplishment.

In actuality, I very much appreciate positive feedback and will typically undertake a task in order to exceed other people’s expectations. This has probably contributed to my perfectionism, which isn’t necessarily a positive character trait (as my wife can attest). But it is one way to prevent anyone from finding fault in what I have done so that only positive feedback will be the outcome.

It seems to me quite a conundrum that I enjoy getting praise and yet have difficulty accepting that praise for fear of appearing arrogant.

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In my professional teaching, it always brings a smile to my face and a feeling of joy when I get positive feedback at the end of the course. This is certainly not my motivation for teaching, but it does validate that my efforts have been well received.

If you think about it, anyone can choose to be humble. It is something you can do completely on your own. But a question, why would someone want to be humble? And in particular, why I have chosen to be humble?

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Growing up a PK (preacher’s kid), I know I was exposed to the Bible verses about the first shall be last and the last shall be first as well as how someone who exalts himself before the Lord will be humbled and someone who humbles himself before the Lord will be exalted. Could it be as simple as I don’t want to be a hypocrite like the Pharisees or that when a record of my life is reviewed, I will receive positive feedback?

I honestly don’t know.

But what I do know is that for as long as I can remember, I have strived to be humble. Being humble is not necessarily something I do to receive positive feedback like the other character traits I listed earlier. I like for people to notice my dedication and my dependability. I’m certainly not looking for someone to compliment me on being humble.

No for now, I will just continue to be humble but further explore its engendering in me. And if my searching proves fruitful, then I will come to you with an update once I have that revelation.

A Sermon a Day

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This year for Lent, I did something different. Rather than the usual approach of giving up something for Lent as a sacrifice like chocolate or adult beverages, I chose the alternative approach and started doing something instead. I don’t recall how I came up with this idea but I decided that I would read one of my dad’s sermons every day during Lent. Having received and organized my dad’s over 700 sermons in 2016, I knew that I wanted to read them all so I thought this would be a good way to get started. And since I had them organized in numerical order from 1 to 710, I naturally started with number 1.

As I sat down that first time to read sermon number #1, I felt a closeness to my dad holding the same pages he had held over 70 years before.

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I also read the cited Bible passage upon which the sermon was based in my dad’s tattered “work” Bible, a chain-reference Bible published in 1934. After reading just the first sermon, I knew I had chosen a wise activity for Lent.

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I don’t know when my dad wrote this sermon but according to the date on the folder, he preached it for the first time in August 1946 in Duncan Oklahoma, a time when he was still in Seminary. It is entitled “Jesus, the Door” and is based on the scripture in John about the shepard’s fold and the single opening where the sheep went in to and out of the fold. It is the parable where Jesus states that he is the door. In the sermon, it was enlightening to read an actual shepard’s response to the question why there was no door in the fold, only an opening. The shepard’s reply was that after the flock went into the fold, the shepard would lay down in the opening acting as the door, preventing the sheep from leaving the fold and predators from getting in.

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For me, it made a clear revelation of this parable like I hadn’t recalled before. Looking at the seven dates my dad gave this sermon, only once could I have even possibly heard this one, a time when I was about 10 years old. But what really sent chills all over me was when I read my dad’s closing comments describing the Holman Hunt painting, “The Light of the World.” It was a copy of this very painting that I remember hanging on my dad’s church office wall. And it is the same painting that my sister got to see on her visit to Europe and which she brought a copy back to me that has now been hanging in my office ever since.

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I never knew the significance of that painting. That it was a direct tie back to my dad’s very first sermon, a talisman of where he got started. What a way to begin Lent!

And just five days into Lent, I came across another significant sermon: number 5 entitled “If Christ Be Not Raised!”

As I thought about it, I realized that writing a sermon about Easter and the Resurrection was probably one of the most important ones ever written by a young minister. As any Christian knows who has attended an Easter service and experienced the crowd, this one Sunday is the most widely attended of any in a calendar year. So a minister would want this sermon to be one of his better ones. And with Dad’s, I was not disappointed.

Based on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 15:1-20) where Paul writes about doubts that have arisen of a resurrection, Paul addresses three aspects that would be anathema to early Christians if Christ had not been raised from the dead; namely that their faith would be in vain, their sins not forgiven, and the dead gone before them perished with no hope of life ever after.

Then in archetypal fashion of including three main points in a sermon, Dad proceeded to build very logical arguments around each of these three that for a Christian would leave no doubt of their importance in supporting a belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

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In all my years of attending church/mass, it was the best Easter sermon I recalled hearing, and for my private reading, one with no crowds. My Dad must have agreed as he gave it almost annually every Easter for his first ten years of preaching.

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As I wrote previously about my dad’s sermons, also included in the numbered folders were the church bulletins from the services in which he gave the sermon. I delighted in seeing the “retro” cover image of some of these bulletins.

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In this one from April 17, 1949, there was a bonus: a note of welcome to my mom and dad on becoming the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Tallulah, Louisiana, his first church after graduating from Seminary and just months after his February marriage to my mom.

Then I realized that not only would I learn some things from reading my dad’s sermons, but I would also get a bit of family history from the stories told in the bulletins. Another bulletin announced our family’s vacation to Richmond, Virginia, a trip I well remember.

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So this is how I spent my journey through Lent, reading my dad’s sermons, learning from his words written long ago, and feeling as close as I have to him since his death over 15 years ago.

On Being a Granddaddy

I recently returned from visiting our daughter and son-in-law and meeting our grandson for the first time. I previously wrote on what it was like becoming a granddaddy—now I can write on what it is like being a granddaddy.

Our scheduled trip was to coincide with our grandson being about two weeks old but since he came a little earlier than expected, he was actually three weeks old when we got to see him. We arrived on a Thursday and after checking into our hotel, we zipped over to the home of our daughter and son-in-law. Having seen my grandson only through digital technology since his birth, it was incredible to get to see him with my own eyes.

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My wife was first to get to hold him and so I had to patiently wait for most of that first day before I finally got my chance to hold him.

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I fell in love with him with the first touch. I don’t think I have held a baby this young since I held our own children many, many years ago.   I couldn’t stop smiling at him and I couldn’t stop staring at him. When I forwarded this picture of me to my colleagues at work, one replied that she had never seen me smile that big at work. I guess I never had a reason like this to smile that way.

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Our first day with him ended too soon but not before we had a chance to share the small gifts we had brought to our grandson—from me, books that I used to read to our own kids when they were little and from my wife, clothes and a baptismal gown that our own children had worn.

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Over the next several days, we got into a wonderful routine. We would awake early in the morning, shower, and then head over to make our daughter’s favorite coffee—Peet’s special made by her daddy—and to take on our baby duties. Throughout the day, we would alternate holding him, feeding him, and changing him. And I just couldn’t get enough of him.

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When he was sleeping in his basinet, I would pull up a chair next to him to read so I could pat him if he fussed. If he were extra fussy before falling asleep, I would bounce with him on an exercise ball to calm him and sing the same little sweet song my wife used to sing to our kids to calm them. Whenever I would rock him until he fell asleep, I was hesitant to put him down in his bed since it felt so good to just hold him, the touch of his head so soft and his fine blond hair so delicate. After he was asleep, I would continue to watch him and would occasionally be rewarded with a precious smile or a laugh and grin in his sleep. And when I got to feed him, he would make the most wonderful sounds while he was sucking down his milk—sounds I can’t even describe in words but a sound that expressed sheer love and happiness.

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When he was seriously into eating, he would furrow his brow and make the most precious facial expression. Each evening would end with the five of us sharing dinner together and getting the little fellow down for the night.

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We had a few firsts while we were there.

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We took him on his first ever stroll at the university campus close by.

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We took him for his first dinner out at an outdoor restaurant on campus.

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And we, as new grandparents, baby sat him for the first time so his parents could have their first date alone since his birth.

Our visit was planned for eight days, longer than we had visited with them before. When I unpacked my clothes upon our arrival at the hotel, I made a neat stack of clean things to wear. Each day, I removed one item; I was pleased to see a tall stack left which meant many more days. However, as the days wore on and that stack got shorter and shorter, I became more and more sad that our visit was coming to a close.

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It was bitter sweet for me on our last full day to open that drawer and find just two items left, one for that day and one for the following travel day. As we drove to our daughter’s home that morning for the last time, I know I had sad thoughts about it being our last trip over; I’m sure my wife did as well.

Throughout the day, I kept thinking this was the last time I would get to do this or that. And that night when we left their home for the last time, it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. It was heart breaking giving our grandson one last kiss and then having to walk out the door and to the car for the last drive back to the hotel.

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Upon reflecting back on our visit, it reminded me of another special time in our daughter’s life. It was one of the most special days of my life when I walked my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. On that day, thoughts of a grandchild were far from my mind. But I know now that getting to meet my first grandson ranks right up there with my daughter’s wedding day. Words cannot describe the emotions of seeing the child of your own child, the extra special connection across three generations.

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I commented several times over the week that I was really enjoying this being a granddaddy. I also commented several times how happy and proud I was of my daughter and son-in-law for the sweet little child that they had brought into the world. Although our trip was the longest time we had visited with our daughter and son-in-law, it was way too short of a time with our grandson. So until our next visit, it will be back to digital technology to see our grandson. And once we book our next flight out for a visit, I will count down the days until I can get my hands on that little fellow again and be granddaddy, once again in person.

Christmas Magic!!!

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It was one evening sometime before Christmas that I was reading to our youngest son one of our library books, Chris Van Allburg’s now classic Polar Express.  Having never read the book before, we were both enjoying the story and the wonderful pictures.  But it was when I turned to the last page and saw the picture of Santa’s bell, that I could barely read the words as I choked back tears.  Kissing him goodnight, I hurriedly left his room and fell across my own bed for a long, long cry.  It was at this moment that the emotional side of this long ago memory of not believing in Santa exploded within me, bursting to the surface with the fury of a whale breaching the ocean waters.  On reflection of that first reading, I now realize that all of the years of ensuring our children had wonderful Christmas memories had not healed my own little boy inside me.  I knew I could never regain that innocence of belief in Santa but I also recognized that I needed to recapture that Magic! in an adult way.

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Santa’s Silver Bell

At some point, our youngest son also figured out the truth about Santa, another memory secreted away somewhere in the back of my mind with no conscious knowledge of when he too lost his belief.

But in spite of this, the traditions continued.  Each child got his/her own special paper and we continued the Christmas morning stair shot.  And somewhere along the way, we added a shot of us all dressed up in front of the Christmas tree just as we were heading out for Christmas Eve mass.

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I just couldn’t let go of these traditions and I am sure my wife and kids must have been humoring me to continue them.  But subconsciously I think I was trying to cling to these traditions to stave off the disbelief and to avoid experiencing the long hidden grief anew.

I managed to hold it together until Christmas of 2011.  This was the first year that our two oldest children, having recently married, would be spending Christmas with their new families.  And at the same time our youngest son was moving out to California to finish his college degree.  Days before Christmas, my wife and I found we would be the only two in our home to celebrate Christmas.  After 32 years of marriage, we were back to only the two of us just like we had been on our honeymoon before we had started any Christmas traditions.

I went through the same motions I had in Christmases past unaware something was wrong; I was determined to forge ahead.  When it came time to decide where to go for the traditional Christmas Eve breakfast out, I suggested we instead fix a special breakfast at home, a meal we rarely cook for ourselves.  I baked omelets in Ramekins and cinnamon rolls and for a special dessert, my wife prepared chocolate pasta with cream and raspberry sauce.

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When we sat down to eat, my emotions, which I must have been suppressing all morning, bubbled over and I began to cry into my omelet.  In spite of it being a delicious breakfast, I couldn’t overcome the sadness.

Christmas morning was also a much-subdued affair.

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With fewer presents and only two participants, Christmas was a shortened experience.

Our next Christmas, we were blessed to have all of our family together along with our children’s spouses.  This was the first year I needed to buy two extra rolls of special wrapping paper and hang two extra stockings from the mantel.

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And the Christmas Eve breakfast out tradition returned in an expanded format with our two extra special participants.

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While in 2012 it was wonderful to have the family time together and to resurrect some of the old traditions, I recognize that our Christmas celebrations in 2013 and beyond will be different.

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As our children start their own families and enjoy creating their own traditions with their children, I can rest assured that my wife and I have started them off with a lifetime of fond memories, a foundation upon which they can continue to build their own memories.  And even though nothing can ever make up for the loss my own little boy experienced prematurely over a half century ago when he learned the truth about Santa, I will continue to write over those sad memories with joyous new ones that will come from future Christmas Magic!  Just like the ones I made with my daughter and son-in-law only a week ago.

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A Glimpse of My Dad

When I started this blog eight months ago, I made a list of all the things I would want to write about.  Many of the titles on my list were things I wanted to share with my children before I lost the details of the memory.  This is a title that has been on my list for quite a while because I knew it would be difficult to write since it dealt with death, a topic none of us really like to think or talk about.  But since my dad would have turned 87 years old this week on “Hop Over the 11th” as he would call his birthday when he was little, this seems like a good time to share this story.

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Growing up, my most common memories of my dad were whenever our family was on vacation, which was always a wonderful time.  These memories stick out most because during everyday life, my dad was busy as a full time minister, a profession that took him out of the home many days, nights, and every weekend.  My mother used to say sometimes Dad was married to the church and he was very dedicated to the members of the church and ministering to their needs.  So it was on vacations when he wasn’t working that we had much more time to spend with him and get to know him.  But there just never seemed to be enough vacation time to get to know him really well.

As an adult, I thought I might get that chance when after I had been married for about 10 years, my dad retired.  Having served the Presbyterian Church for over 40 years, his last “official” Sunday service as a full time minister was on New Year’s Eve 1989.  Since we had a two-year old son at the time, my wife stayed home with him and I drove our two oldest children down to Louisiana to be a part of the service and the celebration afterwards.  It was a proud moment and a significant milestone.

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With Dad relieved of his full time responsibilities and his weekends now free, he and Mom could travel more often and they would come to visit us more frequently.  Seeing their grandchildren growing up and the life that my wife and I were building, Dad would frequently say how proud he and Mom were of me and us, comments that always made me smile and appreciative of the recognition.  These trips continued until Mom’s health deteriorated and she was no longer able to easily travel due to regularly scheduled dialysis sessions.  Complications from her diabetes ultimately took her life in April 1999.

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While it was a terrible loss to lose Mom, the silver lining was that Dad could now travel freely again and I thought, as my three siblings did, that we would get a chance to know Dad better.  Sadly not long after Mom died, Dad discovered he had melanoma and so began his battle with cancer.  My thought at the time was that as he was spending so much time helping Mom through her poor health episodes, that he ignored signs of his own health deteriorating.  It brought back childhood memories of how he had served his church before his family; only this time it was himself that had come second.

In early 2002, we learned his cancer had spread dramatically and that he had very little time left.  We quickly arranged for a celebration of life with Dad the first weekend in March.  All three of my siblings along with spouses and significant others and many of the grandchildren gathered around Dad in his hospital bed.  It was a sad and joyous time.

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I drove home that Sunday night and returned to work on Monday.  Wednesday morning, I got a call from my sister that the doctor had told her that Dad was in a grave state.  I was stunned.  I just couldn’t believe his health had declined so quickly.  It was as if the weekend had zapped his remaining strength or else he realized it was his time to go. I debated what to do.  I learned my brother was making arrangements to fly back that day having just flown home the day before.  As I write this, I cannot recall what helped me decide what to do.  I know I was in the middle of a big project at work and I was conflicted between work obligations and family needs—just like Dad probably was on more than one occasion in his life.  I made up my mind to go and so left work after lunch and drove over.  It turned out to be one of the most important decisions of my life.

I got to the hospital around 5:15 PM.  My two sisters and brother were already there.  When I came into the room and said hi to everyone, my Dad’s labored breathing all of a sudden became much calmer.  I learned from my sisters that he had been comatose with difficult breathing throughout the night and day and that they had sung hymns to him during the night so he would know they were by his side.  It was as if when he heard my voice, that he knew all four of his children were with him now and he didn’t have to struggle to hang on any longer.  All four of us gathered around his bed, held him, and talked to him.  And it was with the four of us around him, that he took his last breath less than 45 minutes after I had arrived.  If I had been delayed in my drive over by that much time, I would have missed him.

Although it may sound morbid, few people can say that they have held someone as they died; even fewer can probably say it was one of their loving parents that they held during their last breath.  But for my siblings and me, it was the Dad that each of us knew loved us dearly—the Dad that we didn’t get to know as much as we hoped who was now gone.  It was a tragic loss but being with him as we were when he died, it was a life experience of tremendous significance.  Sadly, I can recall us discussing at dinner later that night that with both Mom and Dad gone, we were now orphans.

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So it was at the same church, in the same cemetery, less than three years after Mom passed away, that we were burying Dad.  At the reception after the funeral, I vividly recall being amazed at how many people came up to me, people I didn’t really know, saying what a tremendous help Dad had been to them during some difficult time.  It was as if all those times when my dad was gone doing church business, was taking on a life for me in the person he had helped.  There was nothing but kind words and praise for how Dad had helped them.

It has been over 10 years since my dad died and often I have thought about that day.   Recently someone asked me who is the male person I most admire.  At first, no one immediately popped into my mind and I had to give it some thought.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was my Dad who was the one I admired most.  It is my dad for whom I always smile whenever people say I am the most like Dad.  Because without knowing it, it was he who I most emulated in my life, trying diligently to be a kind and loving husband, parent, and sibling while at the same time, being a hard working, dedicated provider for my family.

My only regret, the one that still grieves me and the one that causes tears to drip onto my keyboard as I write this, is after finding out all of those wonderful stories of how Dad helped and ministered to so many people, that I couldn’t recall ever telling Dad how proud I was of him.  But as those stories were being pinned on me that day like bereavement ribbons, that was all I could think of; but it was too late.

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Since that day, I have said those words standing in front of his gravesite but I know that I was only saying them to an image of my dad in my mind’s eye.  So now I am saying it out loud as I type this, DAD I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!  But even if I didn’t say those words to him while he was still alive, he probably knew anyway because he could see much of himself in me.  So when he would say how proud he was of me, I was actually reflecting it back to him, not in words but in actions, because what better way to tell someone how proud you are of them than to choose to live your life like them—like my dad.

Books in Waiting

For someone like myself who has not been a lifelong avid reader, this may seem like an odd title to post—a bit of explanation is in order.

Growing up, my mother was an incredibly voluminous reader.  She would come home from the public library with a satchel full of seven-day books.  She would have them read, returned, and a new satchel full back in the home before they were overdue.  How this love for reading didn’t rub off on me when I was young I will never know.  I can only speculate that playing outside or building models attracted my attention much more so than sitting and reading.

I can recall as a pre-teen reading very little beyond what was required for school.  When I got into high school, my mother began to suggest books that I might like to read and as a result got interested in reading Agatha Christie (one of my mother’s favorite authors) and Arthur Hailey.  For a while, these were the only two authors I read.  And since I was such a slow reader, and had a lot of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple novels to catch up on, I could always be in the middle of one these two authors and always have something to read.

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In college, I only had time to read what was required for my course work.  And being a chemistry major, my reading became even slower as I would have to read and often reread my chemistry, biology, physics, and calculus textbooks for comprehension.  I couldn’t afford to skip over words like some speed-readers do or I might miss the concept I was trying to learn.

With this limited exposure to books growing up, it seems a little surprising to me that I married a woman who could probably read my mother under the bookshelf.  I’ll never forget when we were still newlyweds and belonged to a book of the month club, we received Robert Ludlum’s new novel at the time, The Bourne Identity.  We probably got home about 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon and found the book in our mailbox—my wife had it read before bedtime.  In spite of this being quite a suspenseful page-turner, it still took me over a month to read it.

For most of my married life, I have always had a book I was reading but it might take a month or more for me to finish it.  I read mostly fiction and limited my selection to just a few authors: Patricia Cornwell, Tom Clancey, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Ken Follet, Robin Cook, and my favorite, Clive Cussler.  Since I read less than 12 books a year, I could usually count on having a book to read from one of these authors as they usually published at least one book a year.  I recall looking forward to the regular time of year when one of these authors would release their new book.  I remember Patricia Cornwell, another of my mother’s favorites typically releasing her new Kay Scarpetta novel in September and I would get one copy for myself and one as a gift for my mother whose birthday fell in September.

I must credit my wife with saving me from this self-imposed limited library and introducing me to a number of other excellent books from outstanding authors.

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Somewhere along the way of expanding my reading, I got interested in reading non-fiction, in particular history.  And some of the non-fiction I enjoyed the most were books that told the story about things being built (a story for another time).  I have never been able to read more than one book at a time because I would get characters from one book confused with those from another.  But once I started reading non-fiction, I found that I could have a fiction novel and a non-fiction novel going at the same time since it was easy to keep made up characters separate from real life ones.  For me, this was like switching to warp speed; reading two books at the same time.

Now that I have reached this milestone, my reading pace has accelerated and I can no longer keep up with all the books I want to read.  I maintain an active wish list on Amazon of books I plan to purchase and read—I call them my books in waiting.

Encouraged by my daughter and her blog post review of memorable books she read in 2012, I have been keeping a list of all the books I have read this year.  So far through the first six months of 2013, I have read 17 books—a personal record for me.  And I plan to read a lot more.  So as my books in waiting become my books in reading, I plan to continue to add to both lists.  I listen to NPR’s book podcast each week to learn about new releases and I have already added numerous interesting titles.

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So no longer am I limited to just a few authors; no longer am I limited to just fiction novels.  Now I am only limited by the amount of free time I can squeeze into my day to consume a small portion of the vast world of books out there.  For someone who reads a tremendous amount, this all might seem trite.  But trust me when I say, this is a wonderful awakening for me and I look forward to all of the exciting armchair travels I’ll being taking in the future.

I’m Not an Artist – Part 3

This is Part 3 of a 3-Part series.  If this is your first visit to the blog, click on the link to the right to Part 1 to read the entire story.

Almost six years went by before I painted again.  Again my thoughts were how many building paintings could one have.  This led to quite a dry spell.  I would still capture photos of interesting looking pictures whenever I traveled and even captured some of the more famous New York buildings just in case.  At one point, I went so far as to start on another building painting and picked out some colorful buildings in California as my subject.  I got to the point of drawing the buildings directly onto the canvas trying to save effort of drawing it out on paper and then again on canvas.   But after just drawing a few lines, I realized I would have to draw it out on paper first and so just gave up.

At this point, my wife and I had had a very successful trip to photograph the flowers at Keukenhof gardens, an enormous park an easy train/bus ride from Amsterdam.   The tulips had really been at their peak that year on our visit so we had a huge selection.   I had previously used photos from Keukenhof in calendars that I had made.  I decided it was time to show off some of our pictures to others beyond just calendar recipients.  So we had six professionally framed and grouped them together on the wall in our home.

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Several years later, I was thumbing through the flight magazine waiting for our plane to take off so I could read my Kindle.  I usually just flip through these magazines with little interest just waiting until we reach an altitude where it is safe to use portable electronic devices and ran across an article about subway art in New York City.  I had been on New York subways before but I didn’t recall seeing any art so this article intrigued me.   But it was this station that stopped me in my tracks.

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Ignoring the double ping tone that gave the all clear for my Kindle, I continued to read and stare at the photo in the magazine.  Here was a possible new way to paint: striking colors in random patterns.  But oh no I thought, I couldn’t paint the curves.  I racked my brain trying to come up with an alternative approach to my “tape and paint” technique that would allow smooth curves.  But I just couldn’t come up with a solution.  The colors haunted me though.

When I got home from the trip, I decided to try to find a picture of the subway station on the Internet.  This was necessary because I had failed to take the magazine with me even though they encourage you to take them off the plane.  It must have been the haunting that whispered to me not to take the magazine.

When I found the photo, I printed it out and continued to stare at it.  It seemed to stare back at me taunting me.  And then it hit me.  Rather than trying to reproduce the design in my painting, I would create a design of my own using straight lines.  I also realized that this would be much easier to paint than any of my building paintings: very few lines and no details.  I jumped into the project and in no time was finished.  It was hung in our kitchen, just weeks before we had a house full of guests in town for our daughter’s wedding.

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One of our houseguests was to be my sister, the artist.  I was not there when she saw it for the first time but she texted me that she loved the colors and the movement.  Wow movement, I hadn’t thought of that.  That must be some artist term to describe a painting.  Even though I didn’t get to witness it, I was pleased with her reaction.

Could this become a gift idea for my sister?  For me being a card-carrying perfectionist, I couldn’t imagine painting something for a real artist.  I am my own worst critic finding little mistakes in everything I had created; a character flaw my wife likes to point out.  And I knew my sister could find the flaws just as I could.  She of course had the eye of a real artist.  But I was ready to take the plunge.

I decided to make a smaller painting for my sister since she might not have wall space for a 24 X 36 frame.  I also decided to try painting on a hard surface so that I could attach the tape even more securely for making even finer, straight lines (trying to make it more perfect).  Having found a suitable 18 inch square laminate canvas, I thought about making a smaller version of my own painting but thought the small size would diminish the impact of the movement.  I went for a totally different but similar approach.

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I wrapped it in brown paper and sent it home with my nephew and his wife who lived with my sister in Arkansas.  I knew at the time she was out in California visiting her grand kids so I didn’t know when she would return and open her Christmas present.  But early one December morning, I got a text from my sister with a picture attached.  She had hung it in her kitchen where all could see it.  I remember joking that she hung it the wrong way trying to deflect the discomfort of her compliments but I don’t think she got my joke.  But she seemed genuinely to like it.  And then it hit me; I had painted something that an artist had liked.  For someone who doesn’t view himself as an artist, I had arrived.

In addition to having three of my paintings hung in my own home, I now have paintings hung in both my sister’s homes and in my daughter’s apartment.  And I still have relatives without any artwork from me.  Better watch out.

One of my frequent statements I make to my wife upon completing a project is, “It took a lot longer than I thought.”  When I sat down at the computer early one morning, I didn’t know where my writing would take me or whether in the end I would convince myself that I was an artist.  I know each of my readers will have to form their own opinion;  I don’t plan to take a poll.  In exploring and analyzing my artistic endeavors over my life, I know that I am not a Van Gogh or a Pissarro, two artists I highly admire. But I am who I am.  And now I know,

I AM AN ARTIST!!