Not long ago I was talking to my friend Diane Hughes. I met Diane when her sister gave her one of my art workshops as a gift a decade or so ago. I have had the pleasure of watching her develop as an artist and a true creative voice since then. We have become fast friends and creative cheerleaders for each other.
Diane thinks and feels deeply about her art and her creativity. It has become a part of her being a whole person. While the art objects she makes are wonderful and important, in all truth her process of creative thinking and problem solving is every bit as important as the beautiful art she makes.
Our conversation meandered through topics such as my upcoming knee replacement surgery, health challenges she finds herself living with, and general comments about being at a stage in our lives where we have had to rethink how far we can push our bodies. Diane shared a perspective shifting story that I found so valuable I asked her to share it with you here:
An Intellectual Challenge
Ten years ago, I fell face forward into a deep ditch, landing on my dominant hand and changing forever what that hand could do. Actually, I landed on my camera and my first concern was for my Pentax, a beloved companion of many adventures. I had managed to catch my foot in a broken edge of the asphalt road bed and tumble forward. I instinctively stretched out my arms to break my fall and the first thing to hit ground was the camera, sending a painful shock wave up into my left (dominant) hand and on up my arm and neck. It would be several days before I found out that neither I or the Pentax would ever be quite the same.
The injuries were not visible or easily diagnosed. My back and knee both gave me some problems but my left hand suffered the most damage. It gradually tightened up and after two weeks froze into a loose fist unable to hold a pencil or paintbrush. Certainly holding the small fragments of pastel, at that time my favorite drawing implement, were impossible. At first I assumed the doctors would fix me somehow and I did make some progress, but my art making changed.
During the time that my hand was frozen into a loose fist I attended a company picnic. Francis, an older woman who had suffered a stroke a year earlier, saw me and came over and sat down in the lawn chair next to me.
Without preliminary small talk, she launched into a detailed story about making an apple pie. She sat looking me in the eye and demanding my complete attention as she described how after her stroke, which had left her hand paralyzed, she decided one day she wanted to make an apple pie. Never one to be stopped, she decided she was going to do it. She decided that living with one hand was a challenge and she just needed to find a new ways to do everything.
Francis described how she gathered everything she needed onto the kitchen counter and began. In detail she described conquering each step, holding the apples against her body while her “good hand” peeled half, then turned the apple so she could continue. It took a long time, she said, but she had great apple pie for dinner that evening. She ended with a very direct statement. Since then there is nothing she can’t do, instead she just treats every obstacle as “an intellectual challenge” and takes great joy in managing to accomplish a task anyway.
Over the years I’ve been inspired by the stories of Chuck Close, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Matisse, who changed mediums as life changed their physical capabilities. I’ve admired Lance Armstong, and Michael J. Fox for managing to keep going, living fully despite the obstacles. I remind myself often that the distance I fell was about the same distance as the fall that paralyzed Christopher Reeves. But none of these stories have helped me figure out HOW to do it as clearly as Francis’ apple pie story. Many times I’ve interrupted my frustration with when I “can’t” do something by asking myself “Can you find some other way to do it?” Accepting my limitations takes on a enjoyable sense of victory when I remember to treat those limitations as intellectual challenges that require me to find creative alternatives.
Thank you to Diane and Francis!