Married to my Work
A difficult relationship with life’s purpose.
I stared at a half-finished painting that was going nowhere. Several others very much like it are stacked against the wall. This painting started out promising, but had drifted in yet another mundane direction — like I’m trying to find a freeway on ramp, but keep driving in circles of cul de sacs — an endless maze of dead ends on the boring side of town. I toss the paint brush into a jar of muddy water, splashing brown drips along the bottom of the canvas. An improvement? Yeah… no.
I am stuck in a difficult relationship with my life’s purpose — a purpose I first met as my childhood sweetheart sixty years ago. It was an abiding love that grew stronger and more passionate over time. Let’s make my life’s purpose a Muse — a muse who appears as quirky, talkative guy who is a lot more charming than he is attractive. Let’s call him Doug.
Doug first showed up with my earliest and cheapest art supplies… colored chalk, gummy paint that washes out of clothes and the small box of crayons. That was all mommy would buy. Other girls who couldn’t even draw had the more glamorous 64-pack of colors — the box with a sharpener on the back. I learned to make do and Doug was always there.
In my twenties I tried leaving him to find men who weren’t imaginary. I dated guys who were practical and might offer me a more stable life. They never worked out, but Doug was always patiently waiting with a sly grin and the familiar reassurance, “Well that sucked, but what if…?”
And there would be another intriguing idea. Doug was full of ideas. Doug is sexy and fun and he has been keeping me entertained since I married him thirty years ago. But the problem with Doug is he never does any actual work. I have to support him and his expensive tastes.
Doug would demand, “How about you buy linen, and French Sennelier paint and sable brushes?”
“Sorry dude. Until you feed me a genius idea we get cotton canvas, acrylic made in the USA and nylon bristles.”
We got by. There were glorious feasts of important commissions and frightening famines of credit card debt. Together we created everything from portraits to elaborate murals and stage sets in big theaters. Actually, I did all the painting while Doug lounged comfortably, chatting me up and making me smile. Doug was the sparkle and energy that glowed in every stoke, and for the most part we were happy together. Doug could be a deadbeat, but I couldn’t imagine life without him. Now I have to.
My muse left. Doug abandoned me the day my darling dog died of a heart attack last winter. Doug might come back. He always has, but this time I’m not sure. I look at the frayed brush sitting in mucky water, turn and walk out of my studio.
Wandering into my messy office I find a pen and a bright yellow, wide ruled spiral bound notebook from the dollar store. I write in longhand, While Doug the fickle ingrate is galavanting elsewhere, how about I find another muse to goof around with? Inky words began to flow in a new direction that looked more promising than paint.
I turned a corner and kept writing. I flexed my foot harder on the gas and sped up. My dented truck finally passed a big green and white sign with an arrow pointing at an angle. I didn’t catch what the sign said, but veer at the on ramp anyway.
I can go somewhere else, too.