As a kid, my experience with animals was a mixed bag because one cat died in surgery, a dog was killed by a car, and several other mishaps with rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, turtles, and seahorses occurred. Consequently, I never fully understood or appreciated the role that pets can play in our lives. Then I met Bob, husband of the artist, and discovered he is part-cat. For his birthday, early in our now 32+ year marriage, I bought him a Tonkinese kitten with compelling turquoise eyes we named Polaris.
Polaris carried us through the illness and early death of Bob’s beloved mother (who is responsible for re-igniting my art after letting it lie for over 15 years), and our move from Minnesota to Colorado, plus traversing many other of life’s hills and valleys. Bottom line, Polaris converted me into a cat lover. He gave us 19 years of entertainment and comfort. In addition, he was one handsome intelligent sock catching dude who loved being a single cat — no siblings necessary, thank you very much.
When we arrived in CO in 2004, home of the largest ratio of humans to dogs in the country (bet you didn’t know that), I became friends of many people who are avid dog lovers. I have to confess that I had a slight fear of dogs and really didn’t get the “human’s best friend” mantra. I started hearing the statement, “they teach us many things,” though no one ever elaborated on these lessons. “Really?” I said to my skeptical self.
It didn’t take long before I was calling Kyla my “anti-depressant.” How could I not grin when she came running to me with her ear-to-ear smile or hear that early morning “thump, thump, thump” of her voluminous fox-like tail every day? Then the unconditional love began hitting me between the eyes and deep into my heart.
Okay, I get it! though I sensed there was more. Our orange cats, Paynter and Redd, had arrived earlier in 2006. I saw two unrelated cats become soul mates and inseparable brothers. We have copious photos of them intertwined, hugging, licking and reaching out to reach other. It was shear pleasure watching them love each other.
Our loss of our dear sweet Redd this past week is the inspiration for this blog post. He was with us for only 9 years and an important family member. Our hearts ache as we process the hole he left in our lives. His loss gave me pause to revisit the subject of “lessons learned.” In addition to those mentioned above, what have I learned, or at least observed, from our critters?
The other lessons I have learned from Polaris, Paynter, Redd and Kyla:
- They know how to live in the moment (I happen to believe they are better teachers than all of the gurus out there preaching it);
- They role-model how to meditate (I haven’t learned this skill quite yet and appreciate their constant reminders);
- Love is in abundance and has no boundaries;
- Patience isn’t a virtue (cat lesson);
- Patience is a virtue (dog lesson);
- You, the human, are loved even if you do give me dumb food or forget to clean the littler box or I don’t get my daily walk;
- Smiling and laughing are contagious;
- Critter and humans do communicate with each other;
- Fury friends make yummy warm blankets;
- Owners are not always smarter than their pets;
- Play and rest are life essentials;
- …and that they worth the occasional vet bill, spit-up, broken dish, and worry when they escape the fence.
You may be wondering why I am writing about our pets and not my latest art work…?
Life is art; it often informs my artmaking.
Observing and feeling my world is what inspires my creativity. Often life’s events spark a series of paintings. For example, after double jaw surgery five years ago, I created an eight painting series, entitled, “Celebrating Air!” Because the surgery opened my tiny airway, I no longer suffered from sleep apnea. I could not have predicted the subject matter for this series – air bubbles – nor that I would even paint about the surgery until I had started my recovery process. It was a lovely surprise.
As artists, one of our roles can be to bring attention to subject matter and emotional content the average person takes for granted or just doesn’t consider. Through our observation skills and heart, we can visually communicate these findings and help change the world.
This topic reminds me of the well-known quote of Georgia O’Keeffe, Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time. Then add this related quote of hers, I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers. Her observations communicated with paint, altered and still alters people’s view of the world.
How has life informed or inspired your work? What events or observations have you made that have sparked your creativity?
Post Script. The is my husband’s eulogy for Redd:
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