Fear is behind a lot of my decisions, I am learning. My trusted long-time counselor, Joan, has helped me do my own forensics on this matter. Excellently attuned to my methods of self-delusion (or confusion), she teases out trends from listening to my stories.
One story is a really old one, and it was nestled stubbornly in my conscience and in a special hiding place in my quarters: the commissioned portrait that would not work. She periodically asks about this bugaboo painting, and we groan together and laugh at the awfulness and play with solutions and wait for me to "get" what I need to do about it all. (She doesn't direct. She heals me eventually so that I can direct myself. Wise counselor for a headstrong person like myself.)
I've experienced "debts" of all kinds, and none are nice, Debts are a real downer. But even worse than credit card collection efforts that cause ringing phones to be a death-knell, I have never been so psychologically dunned as by the all-too-patient person who commissioned this portrait.
The background of this painting had been begun by someone else, but the face of the subject was empty. I had agreed to put the face into the painting, based on a photograph. Any artist would quickly see all the pitfalls of doing this sort of commission. My decision: a commitment to take another person's work and put my marks on it. Her canvas. Her background, Her composition. Not good at all. But I made the decision to do it.
Once a year the woman would call and leave a message on my phone. I would call back and we would talk about all the reasons (excuses) why this portrait was not working out. Sometimes I would tell her (or even print and mail her) images and progress reports. She would write back and say she was thrilled and could not wait for the finished product. Patient. Understanding and accepting my stoppages: illness, multiple moves to different living quarters, etc.
Then I would rub out parts of her face, not satisfied with how it was looking, and start over. This thing was simply not working. My eye was not working! My paints were not working, and my strokes were troubled, and the eyes were awful, and late in the painting, I realized that the nose and mouth had to be moved over about a quarter inch to make this thing fly. So off came the nose and mouth. For months and months this painting was a horrible creature with green shadowy eye sockets and nose and mouth all awry.
Joan suggested I paint another painting just of the monster, making her as nasty as possible into a really intentional monster. I did, but on the computer with an image editing program. Yuk! But it was fun-- at least I was playing with the monster.
So I sat it in a corner and attended other matters, other art, my credit cards, and a thousand other things, some fun, some tedious, that were not portrait-related.
But the back burner was not far enough away to ignore. The hiding place was there in the corner behind some stacked cardboard. It was a no-no zone. I didn't go over there much.
Fear. Fear of failure, and fear of confronting the problems. It became a huge threat.
Here's the other side of the matter, though.
A week ago my phone beeped while I was driving, signalling voice mail. I pulled over.. It was the lady. She said, "I'm getting very impatient with you, Susan. I am wondering how I will get my stuff back." I was struck with a big adrenalin rush, sitting there in my car on the roadside.!
This was real FEAR. It was really a scary event for me. Guilt, mixed with surprise, and fear.I went home and slept on it ... long nap. I didn't look at the painting, but envisioned my possible courses of action:
- Put the whole project in a box and send it, as is, to the lady.
- Start a brand new painting and hope it would be wonderful and then return that with the failed painting.
- Call her and ask.
- Drag out the monster painting and make a last ditch effort to fix it.
- Pretend to have disappeared or died.
I found good, mostly practical reasons not to do any of the above, except number four. I dragged out the monster.
I did mail her a note saying that I would be sending her stuff back with deep apologies, The letter will arrive sometime next week, I think. Meantime, I hope she will think I am on vacation.
Then I set up a palette with the colors I always use, and I attacked the eyes of the monster., surgically handling matters like a restorer, choosing what would work in a short time to make this thing at least have eyes that resembled the woman's eyes. I worked into the night until I had what I thought was a pretty good stab at a likeness. Neatened up some places and simplified, the background.
Then I went to bed. Next morning it looked closer to acceptable. I told myself that here is where this stops. She has asked for her stuff back. I will send this. Another day...a few more touches...and a critique from someone who knows art. I was told not to touch it any more.
In short, it is wrapped, and will be shipped tomorrow morning (Monday), with reference photos and such enclosed. And a bill for shipping... nothing for the painting. (penance).
In this case, FEAR frightened me into action and it will buy me freedom. Not freedom from regret that things didn't go differently, but freedom from the burden of facing the matter and making a decision.
Why did I find it possible to live with the burden of indebtedness to a client, but impossible to live with the words "impatient with you, Susan"? Now, once this painting is gone from my premises, I will breathe the air of freedom!
FEAR is a strong taskmaster. Good fear and bad fear.
Fear is a teacher. It teaches to to confront it, and/or it teaches you to run and hide for your own survival.