YOLO. It’s a contemporary cliche, but it’s true.
Today my uncle passed away. He was only 54, but hadn’t been truly living in years. He was fixated by demons of passed emotional hurts and locked in a battle between the reality of morbid obesity and the ideal of universal body acceptance. Eventually this struggle came to be his personal identity, until it imprisoned and conquered him.
There was so much more to him than his size. He was outspoken, a true big personality, who wasn’t afraid of being contrarian or ruffling feathers. He loved cooking, technology, vehicles and movies. When he was young he loved to draw. He had an intense need to be close to family. He took in relatives for years at a time, and made nearly daily phone calls to his brothers and sisters.
Any one of theses things could have become his identity, and carried him through life, giving him the encouragement he needed to make healthy changes so he could enjoy those activities longer.
I understand the defiance that would lead him to build his identity around his opposition to western culture’s body ideals. In my own weight loss journey I had to make choices to embrace a larger vision of myself than just my right to be big in our culture. I had to separate myself from that dialog in order to pursue what was best for me. I was not responding to cultural perceptions of my value as a woman. I was not thinking about attractiveness or career competitiveness, I just wanted to be at a healthy weight so that I could get the most out of my life, as an artist as well as a wife, mother and living being on this planet.
Art is a long haul occupation. Skill and reputation are developed over many years. Every artist has to forge his or her own path, discovering as she goes along what works and what works for her. Success is rare before middle age, and history is littered with artists who die just as they are hitting their stride. As an artist I encourage every one who is dedicated to the journey to work on the masterpiece of their life at the same time. Even if artistic success as you define it never does call, take pleasure in the best expression of your entire life.
I call my studio One Life Fine Art partially as a reminder that we do only live once (that we know of for certain). That means, not only doing what I love now, but also making the choices that will prolong my life and keep me in the best possible shape so I can enjoy it. It means forgiving myself for not always measuring up to outside ideals, and thus not defining myself in opposition to them. Neither carrying the weight of success or failure, instead embracing every moment of this one life, living it at my pace and making time for the important things that bring me joy. One Life Fine Art is bigger than my studio or my art practice, it is an expression of the wholeness of my life.
There is never certainty, and we are always free to choose how we will identify ourselves and how we want to be identified, but let’s not choose ways which will leave us miserable and suffering, which will limit our futures. Life is too short for suffering. I encourage you all to make your life your ultimate masterpiece.
Goodbye Alvin. Love you.