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Whose Portrait Do You Draw?

So a long long time ago, in a land far far away, when I was going to Art School, I used to despise self-portraits. And you know- every single professor in every single medium and discipline required at some point in the course - to create a self-portrait. I hated doing it. I was like every young girl out there, totally insecure and confused about "who I was." Unfortunately it really was as cliche as it sounds. The real irony was I knew it, but I still decided that it should be the way to go. You know my self-portraits really weren't even half bad, when I look at them now almost nine years later. They were, without any help from me at the time, honest. An accidental self-honesty.

Self-portrait, graphite, conte crayon, and charcoal,  2002

I think that somewhere down the line of adulthood which is filled with temptations and trials that "grow us" we somehow loose that self-honesty. We don't "do" self-portraits anymore, and if we do, they certainly aren't honest. 
I know that I since "growing up" or at least with every new birthday, get a little deeper into self-denial of my own self-honesty.
So this post isn't really about Leo even though it's his blog, but since I'm his mama and pretty much his favorite person ever, it's kinda about him too.
I usually never waste precious blog space and time on anything other than the Leo man, but once in awhile, I think a little honesty is due and allowed.
And it's still really about him anyway. Him, my husband, daughter, mother, father, brother, and the list goes on, of people who are there framing my face when I look in the mirror.
I've always blogged about how experiences and one's reactions to them are the defining moments of character. The famous quote of Lou Holtz comes to mind here: "Life is 10 percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it." 
I would say to that: "Truth."
And then I would say, "easier said than done though huh?"
But how we respond is much more complicated. We respond based on the previous responses and experiences in our life. There's only so much rational control here folks. I know from fighting my own demons these tough years that there isn't a handy app in my brain and heart that I can open and then swipe down the over-reaction option menu. Wouldn't it be cool though??
I can't suddenly change completely right? 
Well let's be honest here, I probably could. If there was a gun to my head and perhaps unlimited chocolate and horses as bribes involved. 
I would.
I could.
I should.

It's my own self-portrait dammit.
My old art professors would argue with me, defending that as the artist, we have complete responsibility and the right to take any artist license we can, but within reason. Know the rules to break the rules kinda thing. I do not, and never will look like a Marilyn Monroe or perhaps a blue skinned acrobatic alien, but it is my right and duty as an artist to make my self-portrait inviting, open, interesting, and yes, that means honest. Lies are boring. Fake is boring. Look around, we are constantly surrounded by those kinds of images. I know I never even notice them anymore. Some magazine did a sneaky article showing celebs with makeup/photoshopping and then without, and I loved how normal and frumpy everyone looked. And even though the point of it all was to ridicule the stars, in fact I was saddened at how the socially acceptable and normal look is based on masks and fakery. The stripped down look; the real and true look was the one to be mocked.

So when I spent an agonizing two hours drawing the self-portrait above, I never once thought about who I would be, what I would be, almost a decade later. Life was immediate, demanding and all consuming. I never once thought about death, it was something I thought I knew and it didn't bother me. Illness, fear for others, fear for my self; I didn't waste precious free hours from schoolwork on that kind of unpleasant musings. I was immune! 
Until I was slapped with a hand of cards filled with them. And asked to respond, react, decide, and play to live. Then and only then did I realize that nobody is immune and that growing older is much harder then it seems when you are still young.
I will be turning thirty-one on the tenth, and I find that this time I'm much more reactive and more effected by that than the more socially accepted "Thirty". Hitting thirty today is when folks usually have their first identity denial crisis.
Thirty was a relief after the "meh" of my last years in the twenties, but thirty-one is different somehow, more painful and dare I say it, honest?
I'm honest that any bucket list that I would write now or even last year, would be miles and miles away from anything that I would have written or expected when I turned 20. I mean I'm sorry, my past self, but sailing the ocean in a clipper ship really isn't that important to me anymore, and neither is reaching Olympic equestrian status. These days I'm in heaven if I get to spend some time at the beach with the kids, or scrape up an hour of time to go for a trail ride up the ridge. (Simple pleasures...) I know that's not super thrilling, but it is honest and real and it's me. The me that I am now anyway.
But I know that I haven't often reacted well to the "life that happened to me," parts. I haven't been really honest. I've avoided the self-portrait more zealously than when I was in college and had a ridiculously long bucket list of exotics that I knew I would do before thirty.
And when Leo was born, honestly, everything was about him. I felt that way a little when Nika was born, and it freaked me out at the same time that it made relieved, since I finally had an excuse to be out of the limelight. I could fade into the background and have my kids on the prow of my ship, the focal point of my life. And yet at the same time that I got to slink in the background, it was also kinda scary knowing that they come first now and always regardless of my preferences.. And with Leo, the responsibility of his care and well being was and still is, overwhelming to me sometimes.
It's overwhelming because I'm scared I'll mess up. Just like I was scared to do self-portraits because it would be so easy to see my mistakes with the physical and real me standing next to the easel. I would miss something essential you know, like my nose (noses are hard to draw), and I would stand for something that is a mistake. I would become a mistake.
But what I realize now is that the mistakes or what we see as mistakes can be happy accidents that are honest and true.
Mistakes can't be fake. It's just as simple as that.
Leo isn't a mistake as we know them, though there was a time when everyone may have thought that way, so he is the best and happiest mistake of my life.  He presents himself honestly, bumpy head and PTS, seizures, and all the rest, so thus my part in his life is no mistake either, but a wonderful and glorious happy accident.  There is for sure, grounds for improvement, but that's ok, it keeps things growing and changing. It keeps us growing and changing.

And that the real truth is, a self-portrait often doesn't just show you yourself, but will show you who is behind you. My old drawing class teacher would always lament to the rest of us how all her self portraits ended up looking like her deceased grandfather, and that really stuck with me all these years... 
Because she painted him by trying to paint herself. 
And she didn't even see how beautiful that is. How amazingly incredible and so profoundly Christian.
It's what I call a good problem to have.
And I hope that I can learn to be that honest.
I think I would.
I could.
I will.

Even if it means doing self-portraits once in a great while to find out.

Section of Guardian Angel on panel, Egg Tempera Paint, 2008


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