I count amongst my friends people with all levels of education and of life experience. But I cannot think of any that would readily enter into a discussion of death. It’s easier to converse about sex, money or the skeletons in the closet.
I want to know more about how people regard it and their feelings about it. I think if I could get used to talking of it and hearing others on the topic, I might find myself a little more comfortable and resigned to what undoubtedly will be my fate. The two people who have entered into the topic with me were helpful and I turn to the memory of those talks sometimes. My late ex-husband spoke of his return to the earth as if that were a good place to be. He grew up on a farm and was known to embrace trees. I grew up in Brooklyn; we went to Prospect Park or the Botanical Gardens to see trees. A therapist spoke to me of death as sleep — without dreams. Their untroubled acceptance of the inevitable was helpful but not quite enough.
Since I was ten years old and saw photos taken in the extermination camps of the second world war, I have walked hand in hand with death. Not threatened; I have always expected to die a natural death. But always aware of the limited time I would have. My appreciation of that reality has influenced every choice I have made and every risk I have taken. While it was an early and traumatic awakening, I am grateful for it. Every moment of my life, difficult or comfortable, has been okay. Every person I have loved has been cherished. I am endlessly grateful for this life and plan to leave it only against my better judgment. Maybe even kicking and screaming as I go.
In his commencement remarks to Stanford graduates in 2005, Steve Jobs said this:
"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."
In his last piece of life, Jobs opted to spend the time he had left with his family. When his biographer asked why he wanted his story written, he said he wanted his children to know him, “I wasn’t always there for them, and I want them to know why and to understand what I did”. Maybe if he had his life to live over he would spend more time with them. Then again, maybe not.
Life in the studio is good. I usually need to squelch the monster that looks over my shoulder and derides my efforts saying something like: “You think anybody is going to believe that’s a painting?”. I do need to sell the work so the monster is always ready to pounce. But somehow, maybe because I’ve been thinking along the lines of the comments above, he has not made an appearance for this project. I’m moving along smoothly and with greater than ever freedom. It’s that what-the-hell attitude that supports dicey choices.
In the image above are two examples of the series in progress now. It’s about small painted panels adhered to larger painted panels, 23” x 17”, mixed media. I am doing about forty of them to be mounted on archival board. There are some bigger ones that will be adhered to canvas. I will present them here as they come together.
Alice Walker – “Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.”