There is a saying “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Like many traditional sayings, it comes with that grain of truth. Our lives are the not the great sweeps of drama depicted in novels, but exist in the quotidian. The house needs cleaning. There’s a parent-teacher meeting for the kids. Will you have coffee with a friend, or get some more work done? Every little decision, that is what our lives are made of. Those are the decisions that define who we are. It’s tempting to say that the big decisions — marriage, children, work — are separate but of course they are not. Every big decision rests on a foundation of small decisions.
I am on the cusp of several major decisions. In my work, I have barely begun the last of the Arctic Sonata, which is Transformation. I know this work will wrench me because it is based in mortality. Our own, our loved ones, and what we are doing to this amazing planet we live on. I have a lot of personal processing to do, and that is always hard. But I believe strongly that the best work is tied to the personal. I am honored that there are people who look at my paintings, and are moved to tears. I like to think that is because they can feel that I have put my own experiences into those works, and that what I have expressed touches a chord in them. My goal is for Transformation to be both beautiful, and elegiac. And if you do not feel emotional when I am done, then I have failed. Because for me, beauty is not enough.
In an act of almost unprecedented madness I have taken responsibility for a large art space in Longyearbyen, and am now the director of the Spitsbergen Kunstnersenter/Artists Center. The building has massive exhibition/workshop spaces. Fourteen artist studios, of which nine are rented and five are not yet ready to rent. A craft center, and (to me) the jewel is the artists’ residency. I hope to make this building a lively, exciting creative space for both local people and artists who come to visit. There are challenges. I have no funding. The building is a little out of town so not immediately easy to get to. I have people who are helping me as they can, but gosh it would be great to have an employee to rely on. If only I could afford it. But I have a lot of local support, and I will do what I can and hope for the best.
I have never been afraid of big decisions. I should be given my background, but I am not and I suspect I have my brothers to thank for my fearlessness. They took me canoeing, shooting, fishing, hiking (as much as I could being 15 years younger than them), and as a result I grew up into a hellion. I still have a core belief that I can do anything, just slower than I used to.
And at 35, we can do anything. We have decades to try and fail at everything. Love, work, where to live, who to be friends with. The future is a braided river of choices, and it is possible to sample quite a lot of them. And I think they should be sampled. Try everything! Fear nothing! Now I am a long way from 35, and while I still believe in living boldly (would I be living in Longyearbyen otherwise?), I recognize I do not have the time for mistakes that I used to.
So I think harder about what I choose to do. I calculate the risk/reward ratio of what I am going to do because I stick firmly to my goal of not breaking any bones here. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t. Life is too short and I have too many things I must do to be able to say yes to everything anymore. Sometimes that makes me sad, but mostly I am OK with that.
2021 was a hard year, and I have choices to make in every aspect of my life for 2022. I ask myself if I will choose wisely, or will I do something spectacularly foolish? I have unfinished business to tie off here before I go, and I expect that will be difficult. In eleven days I leave Norway for the first time in almost two years. I find that frightening because travel seems so difficult now, and travel to the US especially. I will see my son and his wife, and meet my granddaughter. I will make a whirlwind trip to Seattle. I will end the year in an artists residency in Iceland with Kij, where all my questions and uncertainties can be chewed over with gin. Because I am uncertain about so many things.
But there is always some certainty. These things I know to be true. Life is change. Purpose is better than happiness. Kindness is more important than niceness. Love is what we do, not what we say. Wish me luck.