A few years back, I stopped painting because the process was no longer satisfying or enjoyable. That break lasted a few years. The most that I’d do was create birthday cards in watercolor, or knock out a realistic commission or two upon request. Now I’ve returned to painting and am enjoying the processes that go into it. But it’s been a long journey.
There were many reasons for that painting break. Life dished up quite a few challenges from 2005-2013. Being in and out of work due to my late wife’s cancer and caregiving made things difficult at times. There was no time for anything that was not pointed toward making money or spending it out of necessity.
But there was still that need for physical release to help me cope with life. At first, I was given a Trek 400 road bike by my brother-in-law. Then came the Specialized Rockhopper mountain bike. Finally, in 2007, I purchased the Felt 4C road bike and took up “serious” cycling. I was enjoying the value of that bike by that time. But in other ways life was not any easier. There were days when stress was like a drag chute behind me. There are some things you can’t leave behind even on the bike.
So it was perhaps a bit ironic that the Felt died an early death last fall when I drove the car into the garage with the bike still perched on the roof rack. I was sick and tired in a couple respects that day. Sick from a touch of the flu, and tired from a 65-mile ride in raw conditions. After a long and challenging year, the fun had frankly gone out of cycling. So my brain wasn’t operating well, and that’s how the Felt met its demise.
Over the winter months, I saved up money and purchased a Specialized Venge Expert. It’s a combination road and aero bike that can be adapted as a time trial or triathlon bike.
That the bike’s arrival in my life happens to coincide with my return to painting is no coincidence. My art is headed new directions thanks to some experimentation and a Resident Artist space at Water Street Studios. Graphite and carbon go together perhaps?
It’s a related fact that it will be three years since my wife passed away on March 26, 2013. One of the last things she did was to rise one night while on steroids to write an inspirational note to me about pursuing my own way and interests in life. I’ve followed that course by taking risks in starting my own business as a content writer. Everyone knows that it takes a year or two to really hit your stride in any new business. There are fits and starts in clientele, big prospects that soar or fizzle, and also things that work out in surprising ways.
In summer 2013 I met a woman that I’ve been dating ever since. Our relationship is autonomous, yet collaborative. We support each other on many fronts. She respects the reality of my wife’s passing and my love and responsibility for my children’s lives and my wife’s legacy there. I respect her incredible dedication as a single mother these past few years after a divorce. She’s a tough woman, yet tender too. We have each other’s backs.
Specialized indeed and in deed
In an interesting way, the new bike sort of symbolizes a renewed journey. I researched the options and got help from my girlfriend and a local bike shop owner. Now our bikes actually match in terms of color and looks. That was not intentional. That’s just how it worked out. She owns a black Specialized Shiv with white lettering. Same look as mine. We’ll be quite a pair of yin and yangs out there on the road. We even have the same inseam. And I’ll leave it at that.
But that’s how it’s been for the both of us. Our lives have sort of matched up in many ways. She doesn’t take credit for it, but she was one of the people that encouraged me to check into Water Street Studios. So did my daughter Emily. “You could use a community,” they both said. And they were both right. The fact that the move aligned with what my late wife encouraged me to do is simply cosmic to me. I’ve always trusted the opinions of women in many ways.
Let’s just say it has been like that the last three years. Strange little insights and journeys leading toward a new life.
Here’s a strange and true fact: my girlfriend Sue’s real first name is Linda, same as my late wife. I did not know that fact until the day that she had a bike accident that first summer I met her, and I accompanied her to the Urgent Care Center. When they asked her name, she stated “Linda Suzanne…,” and then turned to me and said, “Oh, I forgot to tell you that. My real first name is Linda, not Suzanne.”
What could I do but sit there a bit stunned. Here I was, just off eight years of hospitals and waiting rooms and I was right back there with this woman that I really liked and it turns out her real first name is Linda?
But let’s be clearl. She’s absolutely Sue to me, and very much her own person. We’ve spent many great hours together, shared our hopes and fears, and done many great things together. That included our trip to London last year, which to me was something of a launch into the future. Neither of us had ever been overseas. This was “our thing.”
And this April we’ll be traveling to an Experience Triathlon camp in Arizona. Neither of us has done that before either. She’s helped me learn how to swim again. We run together at the same pace and can go miles without speaking if we feel like it. Because we simply like the feeling of doing things together. That’s all good, and it’s a new reality we share.
We’ve tried our best to balance the worlds of our past and present. She’s been divorced a few years and her ex is still involved with her grown children, who are great people.
My kids are grown and on their own, but the journey forward from the loss of their mother has been difficult at times. There are moments when I have felt like a failure in helping them reconcile that loss. But I can’t replace their mother, and that’s clearly not why I’m dating Sue. As a family, we’ve ventured the best way we can to accept our new realities and keep alive the love and joy of our lives together.
Presence of mind
I have had a few dreams where I’m dating Sue in present time and my late wife shows up fully alive in the dream. This is a product of my sub conscious mind, but I’ve figured out what the dream means. It is my call to make sure that my late wife remains present in the lives of my children. That is also to say, I am fully absorbed and engaged in the relationship I have with Sue. I love her, and believe she loves me. That is presence of mind on all accounts.
Fortunately, my family and friends including my sister-in-law have been encouraging about my relationship with Sue. About a year after my wife Linda died, her best friend and preschool director, whose name is also Linda (there are a lot of Lindas in my life) turned to me at a Friday dinner out with friends and said, “Did you know that Linda once told me she knew you’d date if she ever passed away?”
Actually, I had never known that. My late wife and I never talked about things that way. We did not need to. Our lives together were fully in the present. We gave ourselves entirely to our relationship. At one point during her late cancer treatment when she was struggling with issues that affected her ability to use the bathroom, I looked at her and said, “One flesh. I am you.” And that was true from beginning to end.
The fact of the matter is that I will give that same dedication and support to Sue. No matter what life brings, that is the foundation for true human relationships.
Live and die
We cannot change the fact that people live and die. Having also lost my father, my mother and my father-in-law in the past 10 years, the intimacy of death is no stranger.
Perhaps that’s why I so like the stripped down, matte-black frame of my Specialized bike. It’s not flashy, but it’s real. When I ride it that flat black paint job gives me calm. The geometry of the bike is curved yet lean. It celebrates forward movement, and the hum of chain on sprocket and the soaring feel of air across my body makes me feel like I am flying.
I get the same feeling putting paint on canvas, and writing words on a page. There is a tactile, present feeling I get from doing these things. They release both grief and love. And if you don’t know it by now, we are moving in the void between those two realities.
The trick is in learning how to enjoy the ride. How to enjoy the process. And how to enjoy life despite its many difficulties, and because of its joys.