What Comes First

I learned today that in Utah there is an ongoing project to honor Crazy Horse of the Lakota Nation. The man who began this massive sculpture (64 stories high) in the mid 20th century has since died, and his offspring are continuing the endeavor. What struck me about the sculptor himself was his complete and utter devotion to this project well into his later years. At the beginning of it he told his wife that she would always come second to it and his children that they would come third.

Not many of us have had the luxury of putting our creative efforts first. For much of my life my husband and children and their needs shaped my days. My first stab at disturbing this set-up was when my youngest child started school and I decided to treat my creative work as a new baby whose needs held precedence. For much of my life since then, I’ve tried to begin each day at my easel or computer, sometimes getting up at four a.m. so that I’d have a good chunk of work under my belt before anyone else was up.

Living alone as I do now, I often have all the time in the world, but shaping a day into something fulfilling can be unbelievably difficult. My only struggles lately are with minor distractions, but sometimes I can’t bring my focus to my work without a great summons of will. I’ve blamed my present malais on a bad cold, the change of seasons, and this weird political season. But deep down, I know that I haven’t yet given myself full permission to put my creative work first even when there’s no one or no thing waiting in the wings for my attention. It’s hard to do when habit dictates otherwise. I’m in awe of the man at the beginning of this rumination who got away with it for an entire lifetime.

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First Light       oil on linen
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5 thoughts on “What Comes First

  1. You have set high standards for yourself and others would think that you’ve exceeded them. Don’t be ashamed to slow down….

    Wendy

    “Be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud” Maya Angelou

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  2. I don’t think this is about slowing down at all. It’s about finally being in a place where the work can come first. So many things get in the way of that in our culture, and especially for artists. If you’re a lawyer or doctor people understand when you say you have to go to your office, but a lot of people think of art as frivolous somehow. I love examples like the man you describe, or the builder of the Watts Tower, all kinds of examples of people with private obsessions, many indifferent to any notion of audience. Making art because they have to–like you.

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  3. “The man who got away with it…” a telling description of one who subsumes family to work, one who steals time, but bold-faced, openly. Though I’d love to put my work first, family and other relationships take precedence, as does accepting the physical limitations of my age – giving in more to my need for rest, wary of pushing myself, thinking I might entirely put out the light. I’m just grateful that my need to do the work, though often subsumed, is still strong.

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  4. Dear Sarah. You are so right to put family and friends first and not push yourself. For me, there are just fewer and fewer times when I’m needed. All of the grandsons are young men now except for Tim (16) and Ellis (4). Taking care of him shaped my days in the spring. At my age I feel very lucky to have such a young grandson.

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