Goodbye to the yellow brick road


I’ve walked that yellow brick road in my shiny red shoes with all the gusto and excitement I could muster. On that golden creative path, there was no end to meeting interesting and over-the-top characters. I was challenged by new opportunities and brilliant ideas and, yes, the excitement of the gift carried me along the golden bricks.

I understand where the potholes are on the way to the Emerald City. Like Dorothy and her friends, searching for that place somewhere over the rainbow, only to find she had what she was looking for all along. It was within her, back home in Kansas, aka Pagosa Springs.

The question came up this week as to how an artist handles the situation when they are expected to give their talent away. Did I charge for my work or did I give it away? Most times I gave it away. Even though I’m not painting today, I am an artist down to my shiny red shoes. I think like an artist, behave like an artist and have the bruises of an artist. Those bruises go deep and many are of my own doing, and I still bare the marks of self-inflicted wounds.

Doing what I love to do, freewheeling and disregarding certain rules and conventions, I lived outside the box. As a professional volunteer for everyone who needed a decorative bulletin board, a theme for a mother and daughter tea or a piece of art for someone’s wall, I gave freely.

Both of our grandchildren in California are very creative and have chosen art careers. Our grandson is planning his future in the film industry. Still in college, he has written a script, directed it and has a team who is supporting him. He plans to take this training into his future.

Our granddaughter is an excellent artist, better than me, and has developed her own business. She specializes in photography, home staging, wedding and event designs, custom signs and décor.

As a wedding planner, she completed a wedding the week before, with contacts for possibly more weddings. I received a call from our daughter. She drove to southern California to help her daughter work a wedding trade show the following weekend.

When I heard about their plans, I yearned to be with them on that yellow brick road. I remembered those days, totally exhausted, fulfilled, but many times disappointed. I told her to send pictures of the wedding and the free giveaways. I want to know how the booth looks. I want to hear and see all about it.

In our conversation, our daughter said, “A relative invited Tiffany to her baby shower and asked her to bring her camera with her.”

“What did she say?” Red flags went up in me. How many times and how much have I given away for the sake of being nice? I didn’t know my worth as an artist. I was having too much fun producing and creating. Also, my Christian walk checked in and how could I say no?

I said to my daughter, “I was put in that position so many times. I didn’t handle it the way I should’ve. Well-meaning friends can cut your legs off at your knees. “

A friend asked me to teach her how to paint. She said, “I see it as a hobby and don’t want to pay money to learn a hobby.”

But it wasn’t a hobby for me. I had been painting over 30 years and I was serious about my art. She was a nurse and making big money. I said, “I don’t expect you to give away your means. Why do you want me to give away mine?”

I didn’t teach her and she went on to something else. But those digs go deep into one’s self-image.

At the time, I felt she didn’t respect my talent. How could she? She had never painted in her life. She didn’t know the years of training and doing without.

Another student came to one of my painting classes and said after class, “I’m not going to pay you today, you didn’t paint on my painting.” But, I taught you how to paint. I’ve added more paint to your canvases over the last year than I should have. If you want to learn how to paint, then you have to apply the paint for yourself.

She left without paying. She didn’t get it. After that day, I didn’t teach her anymore. Artists know what I’m talking about.

So how did my granddaughter handle the situation? What did she tell her cousin?

Her husband gave her sound advice. There is family and there are relatives who come around every few years and want a favor.

My Sweet Al was always ready to give me sound advice. “You need to charge.” Did I heed his words? Sometimes, but most of the time I said to him, “You don’t understand how it is being an artist.” Then I’d quote a scripture. I didn’t listen to him, but he was always there to protect me.

My granddaughter listened to her husband and handled it by emailing the relative. She wrote, “Did you want me to take pictures? Let me know, my fee is X amount of money.” She didn’t hear back from her cousin.

If she goes to the shower, I hope she leaves her camera at home. When I heard how she stood up for a principle, I wanted to commend her for believing in her worth. I know my granddaughter. She would never be ugly, brazen or insensitive, just quietly setting boundaries.

It’s hard to say, “No.” We don’t want to appear cheap, thoughtless or callous. We want everyone to like us. They are going to like us the same if we say yes or no. If they don’t, then it’s their problem.

Did I ever stop midway and have the courage to say, “No”? As my heart raced and my breath caught in my throat, I couldn’t stop the excitement or the momentum and I was pushed to say, “Yes.”

Even Elton John sings, “So goodbye, yellow brick road where the dogs of society howl. You can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough.”

I used to say, “Artists have no business being in business. They love the experience and do not know how to price their worth and are too emotional over their work. Their true mantra is “I want to be understood and be appreciated. It’s the wrong business for that.”

We should charge for our worth even if we love every minute of what we are doing. If we don’t respect our talent, work and education, how do we expect others to respect us? I used to blame others, but I must own my own blame. Now that I’m off the golden road, I can see clearly.

Final brushstroke: Yes, Dorothy, you have to start by looking at home. See how much you have before you engage on that path. You will pick up a lot of freeloaders along the way. They will trick you out of what you worked so hard for and you will let them. Because you’re having too much fun, wearing those bright shiny red shoes, skipping on golden bricks.

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