A week or so ago I had the opportunity to visit the Brandywine Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA, known for its prominent collection of works by the Wyeth family. It has always been one of my absolute favorite places. I’ve had important moments there, conversations and realizations, endings and beginnings, that have affected me greatly. Each time I return, I leave with some sort of inspiration, although it has often come in the most unexpected ways. This last visit was no exception. There is an exhibit there that is currently on display that presents 37 abstract watercolors painted by Andrew Wyeth that have never been seen before by the public. For the most part, Wyeth is considered a realist who worked in the regionalist style. In simpler terms, he painted what he saw of the area in which he lived, and that happened to be the Brandywine Valley. He also captured light in the most magnificent way, and that incredible aspect of his talent has always made me feel as though I was inside his paintings, rather than merely viewing them. Despite his classification as a realist, Wyeth also saw himself as an abstractionist because he felt as though he presented a view of his subjects that was both innovative and singularly meaningful. This was something I did not know about Wyeth until I saw the exhibit and read the following quote by him: “My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash, like something you caught out of the corner of your eye.” If we consider the idea of seeing something in this way, that sudden glimpse that makes us turn our heads, isn’t it often true that what we think we saw isn’t really there at all? Can we even imagine attempting to capture something like that in a painting?
This past week, I taught a workshop about the eight phases of the moon and how the one under which we are born tends to give us a particular perspective on life. It’s one of my favorite astrological sub-categories because while many people are aware that their moon is in a certain sign, they don’t realize that the phase is just as important. It’s a lot of fun to witness the moment when the lightbulb turns on. In addition to covering the topic of natal moon phases, I also talked about how the moon in the sky continues its journey every month, changing phases every three to four days and infusing each time period with its corresponding energy. Under this scenario, we’re given the opportunity to interact with each phase every month, setting intentions, working towards realizing them, and eventually releasing what didn’t serve us. Our focus changes monthly depending on the signs where the new and full moons are occurring, and especially how those signs are placed in our natal charts, with all of that being beyond the scope of this post, despite the fact that I could talk about these ideas forever. What I noticed most of all during my workshop was the number of times I referenced the opposing concepts of light and darkness as related to the moon, and the ways in which they differ in terms of energy and expression. What it reminded me of, in particular, was the Italian term chiaroscuro, which literally means light-dark and refers to the use of shading to create three-dimensional volume in a drawing or a painting. Developed by artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, this technique emphasizes increasing or decreasing brightness levels instead of using different colors.
When I nine or ten years old, my parents gave me my first big bike as a birthday present, a blue Schwinn that I loved beyond measure. My father wheeled it out of the garage with a huge bow on it, and I immediately jumped on and took off down the street, despite the fact that I was supposed to be blowing out the candles on my cake. I also didn’t bother to let my dad check on a few safety things first, like whether or not I could actually reach the pedals. “I’m just trying it out!” I called, as I disappeared. When I didn’t return after five or ten minutes, my cousins launched a search and rescue. They found me in a heap, covered in an alarming number of scrapes, technically termed abrasions, but more appropriately called strawberries. Needless to say, I had no desire to attempt another ride, so we wheeled the bike back up the street where my dad was waiting to administer first aid. This was always his responsibility. My mom was what is known as a hemophobe, or a person who is terrified of the sight of blood. When injuries happened, she tended to go hide in the bathroom. The first line treatment for strawberries back in the 1960s and 70s was the orange horror known as mercurochrome, which was banned in 1998 due to fears of mercury poisoning. Before we knew anything about that, however, we wore our orange stained scrapes like badges of honor. In the days after my bike tumble, I can remember studying those strawberries every day and waiting for them to go from oozy and worrisome to scabby and then good as new. As they healed, so did I. My confidence in riding my bike returned, and before long I was drawing my maps of the neighborhood, tucking them into the little pouch behind the seat, and taking off on my many adventures, often very much on my own.
I spend a fair amount of time thinking about getting older. How could I not? The days go by like they are passengers on a speeding freight train, and suddenly I have children in their thirties and almost thirties, and an oldest granddaughter who just turned six. Some days I really do wonder when all that happened, even though I know I’ve been present for it the whole time. I’m not someone who minds being the age I am; I don’t want to give the wrong impression. There is, in fact, something that’s quite nice about recognizing myself as the same person, with the almost identical thoughts and reactions that I’ve always had, but now with the additional layer of solid experience that lends a bit of wisdom to share. As long as I’m healthy, I’d really like to be one of those white-haired pasta granny ladies, still cooking in the kitchen at 102. And yet, there are days when I don’t love what I see in the mirror, and I worry and wonder about growing old gracefully and remaining vital and relevant to everyone who knows me. I certainly believe in the reinvention of the self, at any age, and I’ve done it in big ways and small ones, but lately I’ve felt that I want a mantra that I can put up on my wall that will reassure me that everything and anything still remain possible.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the idea of staying within or moving beyond our comfort zones. By definition, a zone is an area that is delineated by fairly hard edges. In some cases these boundaries do not move at all, while in others they may vary under certain circumstances. Plant hardiness zones are definitely shifting north, for example, and a zone defense in basketball might need to collapse onto one player if he or she happens to break through it. Time zones, on the other hand, have remained rather constant, with the exception of the ongoing debate about daylight savings, but that has very little to do with the zone itself. I think we could say with a high level of certainty that comfort zones tend to shift as we get older, or if we experience some kind of a trauma, with both of these being something we might be willing to work beyond. When I was young, I loved roller coasters; the bigger the better as far as I was concerned, especially if it was one of those wooden ones. Now, they terrify me. At one time I loved to fly, but I had a bad experience on a plane after talking off in a thunderstorm. Needless to say, I am now an apprehensive flyer. Yet I have, on occasion, pushed against these self-set limits in order to experience the momentary thrill of a really good roller coaster or the extended exhilaration that comes from traveling somewhere amazing. In both instances, I have been willing to stretch the edges of my comfort zone.