I have continued to work on my Emerged series. This painting has been completed for a while, and so has the chapter I am about to share, but the complete story is still in the works. And I am not sure if the week before Christmas is great timing, but I also think that I can’t move on until I do share it. And recently I have met so many people who seem frozen, like I was. Who look happy from the outside but are not truly living the lives this world has in mind for them.
As I shared before, The Emerged Series are words and paintings that share my journey from behind the white picket fence to the embodiment of my true self. It is something I have been working on the last several years – I am still working on. I am moving along this journey one story and one painting at a time.
Encapsulated represents the time in my life when I felt frozen inside a reality that was not truly mine.
Encapsulated, 36 x 48 inches, Oil on Wood Panel
The reference for this painting was a photo I took of the Glacier in Patagonia
Previous Chapters and Paintings in this Series:
Chapter 1 – Emerged
Chapter 2 – The Wave
I wrote this chapter several years ago. Looking back on it now, I can almost hear the discontent in my words. So here it is, the Chapter 3 – The White Picket Fence, Encapsulated:
The White Picket Fence
Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it – but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
It makes me nervous to share this part of the story because some of you will read it and start thinking about playing tiny violins for my swan song. Some of you will read it and look in the mirror. It is you that I am talking to.
Even though that voice swinging on the hammock in my heart filled me with a desire to live the life less ordinary, my life was in fact a cliché of the wealthy white American family.
From the outside, my life behind the White Picket Fence looked pretty darn perfect; what some call the American Dream. Trying to conquer the expectations of this world is almost inevitable for people who are born into a society driven by accomplishments and achievement and who have opportunity, ambition and intelligence. I was not born wealthy, but I was smart and a hard worker and I was given the privilege of an education. I graduated Order of the Coif from law school, married the tall blond boy I feel in love with my third year, and set out to reach what some would call the height of success.
Given these circumstances, achieving success was in some ways easy as it only required me to do as society instructed; to work hard in college, marry well, have kids, build a beautiful house, take adventurous vacations and secure the same future for our kids.
And so by the time I set out for Iona, close to the middle part of my life, we were a lower upper class, mostly white family (my son is adopted from Guatemala), living in our sprawling 6800 square foot house perched on top of two desirable acres in Washington wine country. The blond boy I meet in law school grabbed success by the reins and was the head of the Intellectual Properties Legal Department at a software company. His work with its meetings and travel and commitments filled his life.
My three kids attended a Christian college prep private school that strived for excellence in everything to prepare them for their future lives as spokes on the wheel of American capitalism. (This Chapter I feel particularly bad about as that school left deep scars in the lives of my older children).
I spent my time driving my kids around and managing their workload, trying to ease the stress imposed by the academic rigors and competition to be the best on almost every level. Of course, taking care of that big house also demanded a lot of my time. My spare time was dedicated to regular trips to the gym, and volunteering to raise money for the local Art Museum and serving on the Board of the Private School. Every spring we escaped the Seattle rain and hecticness of our lives with a luxurious week at the Four Season in Mexico. And, wow, you should have seen my shoe collection.
Everything around us told us our lifestyle was good and fulfilling and happy. Our peer group went to the same private school. The husbands all worked the same types of jobs; in fact a lot of them traveled even more than my spouse. We all lived in the same types of houses, took the same types of vacations, went to the same charity events and we are all Christians.
I tried really hard to fit in with my friends from the Art Museum and the parents of the private school. I bought Jimmy Choo heals and volunteered for the Executive Board. I took the girls trip to Paris and shopped and looked at art.
Our social life was full of charity events and galas, but there were very few people that we had true meaningful relationships with. With all that was going on, who had time to keep up with friends? The burdens of having-it-all keep me so busy that I didn’t get to experience anything for more than a quick Snapchat of my life.
And I could not escape that nagging feeling that something was out of whack. Why did I not get more joy out of our success?
Why did I feel cheated out of happiness in my life?
I felt like I was standing at the Red Sea with the world on my heals, but wasn’t sure what laid on the other side or how I got there.
What we pay attention to is a piece of our consciousness, a slice of our human life. When we direct our attention at something, we are spending a piece of our conscious life. I felt like I was spending my conscious life on things that really didn’t matter to me.
Oh the idolatry of our brokenness.
We were living the cliché of the American Dream – and even as I sit her now writing this, I almost laugh at how pathetic I sound. I wonder how many people are reading this and thinking, get over your pity party. Take charge of your life. But it wasn’t that easy.
My husband worked so hard I actually prayed he would get fired. There was a mountain of pressure on him to be successful so we could afford the big house and the private school and the charities we supported and the vacations. He looked at life through rosy sunglasses that told him everything was all right, as he became the tool of our tools. He had flyover relationships with the two younger children. He would attend events when he could but sitting down and engaging in conversations with the kids, well that was my job.
My kids crumbled under the stress imposed by the environment of the college prep school and the expectations of excellence that were put on them. My middle daughter succumbed to self-harm “just to feel something.” Their lives were rushed over. By the time we finished driving them here and there and homework, there was very little time to sit down on their beds and have meaningful talks with them.
And it bothered me. For a long time that voice in my heart was telling me something was off. I wasn’t sure what it was, but in my gut I wasn’t happy and didn’t feel like things were as they should be.
I pulled out of the church parking on many Sundays and commented out loud about how hippocritic we were – praying to God, doing the little bit we did for the poor then pulling into the driveway of our multi-million dollar house and going about our lives as usual.
It took the quietness of Iona and me stepping out of the craziness of this life to spend some time swinging with God in the hammock. And when I did, I cried because I knew things had to change.
Unfortunately, I was the only one who seemed to notice that we were missing the point. I started to wonder if I was married to the wrong person, living the wrong life and if I had enough courage to point that fact out.
Walking over the Picket Fence to the clean slate is scary because there is no template to follow. It is harder than you might expect to not follow the rules of this world; to set aside the message of our culture; to not live up to what your friends and family expect. You have to take time to sit in the hammock and swing in the wind to contemplate what your life is really about – you have to spend time looking at the choices in your day, asking yourself who am I making this choice for, and then following through on those instincts. You have to realize that you have an independent mind and your life is something to be created out of your own purpose.
By the way (this is me in present time again) if you are living a life similar to the one I described and you are happy, then that is great. I have given up being judgmental of others and particularly of myself. But if as you read this, you get a little tingly feeling in your stomach, all I have to say is “you don’t have to be frozen.” I truly believe that we are all created to find our special gifts and to use them to bring more love and beauty to the world.