I no longer believe I will live forever. Not having faith in any particular religion or god, I accept death as the possible obliteration of all that I am.
As a teenager, I yearned for survival after death, but could find no convincing evidence of it. My short stint as a born-again Christian led me to depression and despair. My family and friends were mostly atheists and agnostics. I couldn’t bear to send the people I loved to hell.
I believe it is only the artifacts of my life that will survive—my art and writing, and their possible influence. This belief informs my workaholic nature. When I am fully engaged in the process of painting, drawing, or writing, I am alive in a way that makes the inevitability of death irrelevant.
Applying paint to canvas or words to a page is as hard and demanding as any daily work can be. But it is also transforming. I never know what I will discover in the process, what I will see that might be new. This sense of exploration, this possibility of creation, is more akin to birthing than to dying.
Joy in work is one of the remarkable characteristics I remember about my mother—her pure happiness and engagement in the process, whether she was baking cookies, typing a report, or scrubbing a floor. She was proud of her ninety words-per-minute typing speed, and her accuracy. Her cookies are still a family legend.
My father, on the other hand, took more joy in play. He worked hard, too, getting up at 4 a.m. to begin delivering Fischer’s bread to stores along his route on Staten Island. But Dad looked for his reward after work at the local bar having a few beers with his friends. On Sundays, our family gathered around the large circular dining-room table for games of pinochle, bonanza and poker. From my father, I learned to play as hard as I work.
Work may be tougher on us than play. Mom died at 88. Dad made it to 95.
I was my mother’s daughter, though, not a Daddy’s girl. It is work that I value most, and not just for its useful and beautiful products. I work for a chance to be alive in the moment, where time and its inevitable consequences do not exist.
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