Karen Rose and I were exchanging emails about the focus of the blog—she was reminding me that we promised not to give advice or promote any product. I don’t want to promote a product, but I do tend to be preachy—it’s the teacher in me. Karen Rose stated that she wants to explore and support creativity and the arts. As I thought about her comments, I decided to make a list of everyone in my immediate circle and what artistic endeavor they might be engaged in—I even included grandchildren who by necessity should be mostly engaged in school. Of about 21 people, 14 are engaged in some type of identifiable art. I included cooking, gardening, knitting, as well as the more obvious painting, writing, and making music. That’s better than half, allowing for a convenience sample and the fact that any of those who aren’t observably engaged in art are perhaps doing something I don’t know about. For example, my grandson, Henrik, a senior in high school, designs and collects shoes—is that art?
Of those not obviously engaged in an artistic pursuit, does commitment to a sport or working towards an academic or career goal count as art? I didn’t interview my sample, and I also wonder what they might tell me if I did. Perhaps they have an artistic interest that they would pursue if they “had more time.” At any rate, I’m led to conclude that Karen is onto something, the human draw towards artistry is quite strong. On the other hand, limiting my definition of art as something that manifests a product—a great meal, a lovely garden, a poem, a picture, etc., might miss the real artist in all of us. As the cartoon at the top of this blog suggests, we are always creating our lives, and yes, sometimes our creative efforts go up in flames with lots of black smoke. As Iris Dement so perfectly puts it:
An’ my life, it’s tangled in wishes
And so many things that just never turned out right.
As many times as I’ve heard this song, live on stage at the Guthrie for the first time, and on her CD many times after, I am stopped in my tracks by that line. I think about all the things that “never turned out right.” My perfect second marriage that was derailed by cancer. My not so perfect first marriage that ended but left us with two marvelous offspring and many good memories. My ambitious career plans that never quite materialized. The fact that I told my children to never go into education, and they did, but they are doing work they value and love. The essence of life is that we plan and plan, and then life does its thing. There are numerous clichés about this Truth. I won’t recite them here.
What keeps us going in the face of setbacks, though, is that we always have a chance to create something new from that which never turned out right. The way in which love can prevail in spite of the mishaps of life. I am calling this Everyday Artistry. It takes immense creativity to live. One thing I loved about being a teacher was that I was always problem solving on my feet. Well, I maintain we mostly live that way, too. Some of our plans work out nicely, but mostly there are perturbations, and we work out ways to adjust.
So how does all this inform a blog about retirement and aging? Well, for me it means nostalgia might feel good, but moving forward and creating is essential to living. And there’s an opportunity for artistry in everything we do. Finding a new sport when you can no longer run; playing pickle ball instead of tennis; learning rosemaling although you’ve never been “artistic,” trying new recipes based on new knowledge of nutrition, sitting on a chair when you garden because your back can’t take it. Finding ways to show love when it seems like it’s left the room. Some new acts are adjustments and some are exploration. It doesn’t matter, that’s what Everyday Artistry is all about and we never lose the chance to practice it.
And. . .
Karen Rose reminded me that some of us love the charred marshmallow—me included—with its middle that isn’t quite melted all the way through—the marshmallow that goes up in flames. I say, put another one on the stick and try again. It’s all artistry.