Uncertain Times

Since having cancer my determination to stay alive is something that permeates my consciousness.  I am ever-aware of my fight for survival.  Stronger still is the need to make the most of each day.  At first this was a pressure which had the effect of stifling my creativity.  I was so desperate not to waste time that I cupped it in my hands like a trapped butterfly, afraid to let it go.  Once I became aware of what I was doing I slowly unfurled and now my spirit feels free again.

But once again I am facing uncertainty.  After a visit to my GP I have been referred for more tests, which are scheduled for July 13th.  The familiar feeling of not knowing what’s in store, not really wanting to know yet disliking being in the dark – it all buzzes round my head like a swarm of angry bees.  It’s possible that the changes in my breast are due to lymphoedema, but it’s also possible there may be a more sinister cause.  I’m so scared of the worst scenario becoming a reality.  I feel as I’m in some kind of limbo.   Being suspended from a great height and looking down at my situation has its merits in that it stops the panic taking hold of me.  But then there’s the frustration that I might be wasting precious time. It’s that not knowing – it gnaws away at you like an invisible worm.

I think this is something I may have to expect from cancer.  Overcoming one hurdle and then stumbling upon another when you least expect it.  I wonder if I’ll ever feel  truly free from the shadow of cancer.  If this latest scare turns out to be just that – a scare – I’m almost certain there will be more.

But whatever happens I know that I won’t go down without a fight.  I am very clear about what I value, and I’m not going to relinquish what I value just because the mountain I’m climbing suddenly gets a thousand feet taller.  July 13th will come and go.  Before then I’m going to London as my Guide dog Trudy is a finalist in the Guide dog of the Year Awards.

Trudy’s award is a welcome distraction from my anxieties, and I think if I look hard enough I’ll be able to find a few more.  But although distracting myself is one way of dealing with anxiety, I’m also trying to accept what I think and feel.  Learning to accept that this is what I’m feeling rather than always trying to push it away, might well preserve my energy for when the fight is really on.

I will be so relieved when this particular uncertainty has evaporated – whatever the tests reveal.

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Tribute to a Painter

It’s Father’s Day, and this is my gift to my Dad, who lives on through his paintings but is no longer in this world.  My Dad graduated from St. Martins School of Art in London in the 1960’s.  My earliest childhood memories are fused with colour and the smell of oils and turpentine.  Brushes of all shapes and sizes, sponges, planks of wood, thick layers of dried paint, home-made palettes and mixing pots, putty and huge flat-sided pencils.  These are just a few of the things which were always there.

My Dad resisted commercial art because he believed it stifled creativity. Therefore he chose not to make his living as a painter.  For two decades he held numerous jobs in factories, and finally at the end of the 1980’s he joined the Royal Mail as a sorter in one of the main London Sorting Offices.  Despite his physically demanding jobs he devoted his spare time to painting.  If he wasn’t painting he was sketching, either with charcoal or black marker pens which used to make my eyes water with their fumes.

When we were young children he worked night shifts so that he would have some time in the late afternoon to paint.  While he was working on a painting we were not allowed to see it until it was almost finished.  The completion of a new painting was always a very exciting moment for us.  Sometimes we’d come home from school and the latest work of art would be hanging on the wall to surprise us.  We’d stand round and gaze at it, often lost for words.  My Dad used to watch our expressions and although it was sometimes hard to find the right words, I never disliked any of his paintings.  I had my favourites of course, one of which has pride of place in my living room. (This is the featured painting at the beginning of this blog).

My Dad mainly used oils, so his paintings always took ages to dry and there were certain no-go areas in the house.  The paintings were very rich in texture, and I remember my Dad often struggled to decide when a painting was finished.  Like many creative people, his perfectionism frequently caused him sleepless nights.  The rough texture of my Dad’s paintings was fascinating to us when we were small children.  We didn’t realise it was intentional, and tried to be helpful by picking off the “lumpy bits” which defined the paintings.  My Dad must have known, but he never said anything.

My Dad was a purist when it came to colours, and for this reason we did not have a colour TV.  We mumbled and grumbled about this but he was totally unmovable on the subject.   Colours which were dull or “phony” were a constant source of irritation to him.

As he continued painting my Dad’s style became more abstract and expressionist.  His creative periods gained in intensity.  He often wished he could devote all his time to painting, but having to provide for a family of six made this impossible.

When I was a teenager he strove to exhibit his work at the Royal Academy‘s Summer Exhibition.  As he didn’t have a car at the time, he had to lumber his paintings across London on the tube, and always arrived back home exhausted and anxious.  It was a tense time for us all waiting to hear whether his work had been accepted for exhibition.  Sadly it was never to be, despite several attempts.  He used to go back and collect his rejected paintings alone, and the despair affected us all.  It was heartbreaking to see my Dad’s spirit crushed after setbacks like these.  Yet he never gave up.  He never wasted his spare time.

What grieves me most is that he never made it to retirement.  The free time which he worked and longed for did not arrive in the way he’d hoped.  In 1997 he contracted a progressive muscle-wasting disease which slowly took away his mobility.  During his final few years he was unable to use his hands.  The hands of a true  genius had lost their power.  The injustice of this still torments me.  My Dad died suddenly in 2008, and I miss him so much.

But he lives on through his paintings.  Every time I touch my treasured favourite painting with its familiar “lumpy bits” and hand-crafted frame, my Dad’s spirit spurs me on.  He was a man with ideals and he never compromised, even when things were tough.  His perseverance, endurance and selflessness remain with me.  There are so many things I could say about my Dad as a person, but this blog is a tribute to him as a painter.

My Dad might not have become a household name or exhibited at the Royal Academy, but his paintings will survive for generations.  He will continue to inspire me as long as I live.