Messy Thoughts


I am in my studio this morning. I looked around as I walked up the stairs and turned on the lights and realized I really need to take a day to clean the place up and re-order everything.

I tend to have several paintings and experiments going on at once. That was the whole idea of having a studio. Some paintings, particularly oils, which are my favorite, dry slowly, and so you paint a layer, let it dry, paint another, let it dry, for layers and layers until you get it right.

When I was in my little studio in the house, there wasn’t much room for that. I could do one painting at a time, two max, and there was a limit to the size painting I could do. Here, I have a 30; x 50′ room and I can have any number of paintings and experiments going on at once.

Since I moved in here a little more than a year ago, my paintings have grown larger. A couple of weeks ago I finished one that is 3′ x 10″. I am preparing another canvas that is about the same size. I also have some watercolors going on and a few that need final framing, a chair I am painting, a lamp I am painting, and all the different materials for those and well… it’s a mess.

I don’t mind some mess, particularly in a creative space. But I get to the point where it is just too much. Something about the mess clutters my mind and creates something like anxiety in me, so once it reaches a certain chaos threshold, I have to clean up, rethink, redo.

The truth is, the last decade and a half has been like that. I’ve adjusted to a divorce, three moves, a new relationship coming and ending, the death of both parents, my daughter not wanting to be with me to her choosing the move in with me before going to college before coming back before leaving back to her beloved Virginia. I have had a similar path with my son, a moving up with me at a teenager, and going to college. I met my wife a few years ago, got married three years ago, bounced between her home in Massachusetts and my home in Vermont, and then her finding work up here and moving in permanently, the merging of households to combine her place and my place to slowly become our place. I’ve changed work a few times, was unemployed a while, I had good health, bad health, cancer, and now, of course, the time of quarantine and coronavirus that we are all living through.

Every one of these changes had meant a reworking of space, how I spend my time, how I do work, and where. It’s meant a rethinking of priorities. So outward and inward transitions.

But that is life, isn’t it? I suspect a lot of you reading this have had the same kinds of things, a life of never-ending change. If you are like me, you’d like just a tad more stability and quiet, but you are not sure how you would adjust to that kind of stability. Would I stagnate? Or would it be the time of peace and joy I imagine it to be? I have no idea.

I DO know that when I have short periods of peace, like when I take a few days to go to Cape Cod in the offseason, I come back renewed, energized, with a certainty of purpose that tends to erode in the world of never-ending change.  Would I thrive in a sustained place of peace and stability? Or would I languish and fester?

I really don’t spend to much time thinking about it. At nearly sixty-five, I have come to the conclusion that my life is not to be one of peace, except for the peace I bring to myself through meditation, prayer, and bouts of creativity. It’s not the same, but it is enough to keep me (relatively) sane and useful.

I moved to Vermont eleven years ago on May 9th. It was a risky move in some ways. I was fifty-four when I moved to Vermont, and I had never lived anywhere but Virginia (and I loved and still love Virginia). It meant moving far from my children and trusting a theory that having them at a distance for a time, and having them for longer periods when I had them, would work out to bring us closer. (that worked out better than even I imagined). I wasn’t sure about the long hard winters. (Turns out I love winter.).

Being here has been wonderful. Not always perfect – I miss being so far from my family. I miss my former church families. I miss friends. Facebook, chat, and email conversations are not the same as being there.

But peace is easier to find here. I can walk out my door and go walk in the quarry, sit on a rock in the sun.  I can walk two blocks into town and take the old D&H Trail, a former train track that has been turned into a walking trail. On a good night, I can crank up the firepit and listen to the spring peepers. There are lots of places I can do a small recharge and reclaim peace.

I never thought I lived a tumultuous life before I moved up here. Certainly, I had had a tumultuous life for a few years before moving, but that I thought, was an aberration. It was not until I came up here, and was able to simply live in a world that did not know me, that had no expectations of me, that I was able to rediscover my peace. Life became quiet enough that I could listen to myself, hear myself, and eventually re-become myself.

Some people can do that without help. Or without a change of place or job or worlds. I admire them. It turns out, at that time at least, I could not. Changing places made it possible to heal, to grow, both in terms of reclaiming, and in terms of discovering.

My life in these past eleven years has been a constant shuffling. My daughter moves in and we rearranged the house to fit her stuff. (and there was a lot of it). Then my son came in as my daughter moved to college and there was another re-arranging. (Turns out he had a lot of stuff too.). Then he went South to live and another re-arranging before the woman I love and I got married, and yet another re-arranging, which is still in progress. My life has been a constant array of trucks and trailers up and down the east coast, and things going in and out of the attic and in and out of the house.

And, because I can only handle so much chaos, every now and then I have to just stop and rethink, rearrange and create a new order. Like what I need to do in my studio.

It’s not a complaint. It is just a fact. I think I handle it all pretty well. Lots of the changes have been good. Most of them in fact. My kids moving up from Virginia to live with me has been one of my greatest joys of the last decade or so. The woman I love becoming my wife and melding our lives has been the most unexpected and wonderful joy of my life.

But the constant change is tiring sometimes, It is a challenge sometimes, As I have gotten older, I sometimes wonder if I can keep up the pace.

I hope I can. Because each change, while it has caused a re-arranging of space and time and priorities and life, has also kept my mind flexible. I am always having to rethink, and that is healthy. I have a few ruts in my life, like everyone, but they are shallow. No one, least of all me, will get lost in them. My body is aging, but my spirit has not. And that is good.

I can recall my mother telling me, in her late seventies, that retiring was the worst thing she ever did for herself. She retired at 75 to take more care of my father. But her job was one of constant new challenges and new things to learn and do. It kept her younger than her years. She loved her work.

I get that now in a way I didn’t then. I don’t think I will ever, as long as my health and mind hold up, want to stop, no matter how much I would love to spend my days walking the beach and vegitating. When you spend too much time recharging, without putting that energy to work, you are just as useless as if you never recharged. I don’t do useless very well.

And I have accepted that living life is messy, and as long as I can make time every so often to pause and regroup, pause and clean up, pause and reorder, I should be fine.

At least, that’s the theory.

Be well. Travel wisely,



  1. Tom, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Life is like that. I teach totally online now and I shared with my students that I had an operation on my right leg back in December. One student called me up and sang me a prayer. I was so touched that I cried. It was an unexpected blessing in life. May God bless you and your family and keep you safe! Dr. Jim Brown

  2. Being older and retired I am at the point where I see your point but… Retiring was forced on me .I found a way to expand my interest and met more artists and writers than a factory /tounie” could ever expect to experience. The re-ordering ,especially when you spent the last 50 years in the same spot, is a slow process ,usually instigated by outside forces. Like you ,our kids boomeranged in and out and it was ab enormous pleasure sharing there growth and helping them to grow themselves. I applaud your versatility adaptability, and courage. .Bless you on your way.

    • I think you are dead on about circumstances often forcing changes that maybe we should have instigated ourselves. Maybe it is a good thing change is forced on us now and again.

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