Secrets and Lies

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This is Bailey.  I painted Bailey as a Christmas/Birthday present for his owner, even though Bailey has been gone for some time now, this piece was a loving testament to a wonderful dog.  Bailey’s owner shed a tear or two, it was a wonderful surprise; her husband had arranged with me this summer when he saw my body of work and knew at that moment just what to get his wife for the upcoming eventful day.

We communicated in secret, sending texts and photos; I kept him apprised of my progress until I reached a point in the process where I ask my clients, “Do you want to see any more or would you like for the rest of the painting to be a surprise for you as well?”

He opted to be surprised.  Just the few initial sketches and the start of the color blocking was enough as he wanted to see the finished piece all at once. He wanted in on the surprise.

When I ask this question of my clients who commission pieces, the answer is always the same.  After the initial start to the painting (which perhaps confirms their faith in me as the right person for the job) they say the same thing, “let me be surprised.”

Now, I realize, there are quite a few shows on TV where the “big reveal” is an anticipated moment.  It becomes the crux of the whole program; Fixer Upper comes to mind as the designer/construction team of Chip and Joanna Gaines show the shocked, awed and always, thrilled, homeowners the fabulous renovations on their newly remodeled home. And then there is the whole Publishers Clearing House thing where they come to the unsuspecting winner’s front door with a big check and a flotilla of balloons, everyone is always ecstatic in their joy at receiving big checks! I think perhaps the thrill of Christmas morning is banking on this surprise factor in a very big way.

People love surprises; the surprise element adds to the excitement of the moment.  The sideswipe of a positive shock often results in shrieks of joy, wild jumping in childlike abandonment. Surprises create a heightened emotional component, and from a neurological perspective, heightened emotions cause the brain to remember the event. Which is what the surprise giver was probably after in the first place.

BUT, while people love pleasant surprises, they hate unpleasant surprises and they hate them even more if they are unanticipated and shocked… the definition of a surprise, I suppose. I used the word ‘sideswiped’ in the above paragraph to heighten this factor about surprises: it’s the suddenness of change that amplifies the surprise and whether that is a pleasant or unpleasant incident, either way, it will be remembered, you can count on that.

When planning a surprise event/gift, one must be able to keep a secret.  Keeping gifts a secret, planning the moment to “pop the question” or perhaps pulling off a surprise birthday party entails quite a bit of secret keeping; one would spoil the event without the deception needed for this kind of surprise. Generally speaking, most people forgive you for keeping these kinds of secrets as the intention is to heighten the positive experience of the moment.  Secrets, like surprises can be kept for good.  But secrets can also be kept out of fear, or even with malicious intent.  Some may be kept out of a sense of protection for others, out of love.  Some secrets are kept for privacy, the keeper isn’t ready to share their personal shame with the world.  However, secrets kept out of fear, such as family secrets of shame and guilt, or even the ones designed to prevent pain of revelation are destructive and toxic.  Secrets can be used to manipulate others, as they take away the others ability to make informed decisions.

Besides what secrets do to the ‘other’ they also do things to the ‘keeper’. Tendrils of fear seep into the psyche of the secret keeper and undermine their very self esteem as their integrity suffers a blow from the internalized keeping of pain. The pain of guilt and shame, jealousy and anger often poison the secret keeper as they hold their knowledge and try to justify why they should hold it.  This is where denial steps in.  As we deny the secret event, our mind will twist and turn and try to create a safe place where it can rest easy from the pain of the secret. We tell ourselves stories to make it okay inside, and these stories, sidestepped away from the truth, are the seeds of lies.  We begin to believe those lies until we can’t tell the difference from the truth of a matter or from our own version.  When we fabricate our own version of reality, we lie.  We lie to ourselves and we lie to others.

Lies are toxic to a relationship.  Even the smallest of lies become the seeds of mistrust.  When people lie about small things, inconsequential things, one wonders how they can be trusted at all? Trust is a precious commodity, once broken, it takes a long time to repair. Small lies are the fractures, large lies become those sudden sideswiping surprise moments that take your breath away as your reality crumbles into a broken pile. But small lies add up, and as my mother used to say, “a fracture is a break held in place, but it’s still broken.”

If the lies we tell others are toxic to our relationship with them, what then do the lies we tell ourselves do to our own psyche?

 Lies told to ourselves undermine our mental health and our ability to forge healthy relationships and hinder our personal and spiritual growth in life. It’s as simple as that.

One of the 5 precepts of Buddhism is ‘do not lie, nor speak falsely, but manifest the truth’. I believe this is also one of the 10 commandments, ‘thou shall not bear false witness’ seems to cover the concept of telling the truth.  While both these ideas have noble sentiments, it is only with further thought and realization of the damage we do to ourselves and others by lying that change will be made.

When considering secrets and lies, one must weigh the prospects of the outcome of speaking the truth. It is not always best to speak the truth, even if you know what the truth may be. Buddhist philosophy reflects the idea, when speaking, one must ask themselves, is it true?  Is it kind? Is it useful?  Is it the right time? Will it matter? To say ‘no’ to any of these questions will guide you in your efforts to honor your integrity and build your self-esteem. To lie in order to cover up shame and guilt however, is to chip away at your own foundation of nobility and honor.  It’s these kinds of chips that keep me from sleeping at night; I seem to awaken in the middle of the night whenever there is a falsehood festering inside.  Even when it’s someone else’s lies.

Recently I awoke as I realized a loved one had lied to me. Earlier in the evening, I had been taken aback by the realization that they’d held back information I was looking for; and I’d missed the lie buried within the exchange.  My subconscious however, remembered, and I awoke with the recall that I’d asked several times for disclosure and was told, outright, they had no knowledge when in fact, they did.

And just like that, my trust is broken.

And though my trust was fractured, my ability to forgive is intact. I can forgive because I understand something about forgiveness: it’s not for them, but for me.  I forgive as I understand the pain and the shame and the guilt and all the human reasons why they held back and why they lied.  I understand that lies have been a part of their life for a long time, denial of reality and of truth has been woven into their psyche as a survival mechanism. When you live through drama and trauma, your mind comes up with all sorts of ways to protect itself. Only through deep introspection and inner work can you awaken from the trap of denial. I know this trail, I’ve been on it myself, so I forgive because I understand.

I forgive, but I do not forget.  To forget is another form of denial, my learned forgetting trapped me in toxic relationships as I did not learn the lessons of lying.  I’ve had the lies of others destroy several key relationships in my life but I’ve finally reached the point where I have learned my lesson.

I can still love the liar, but not the lie.  I can forgive the liar, but no longer put my trust in what they say. I can speak my truth, in the way that serves and causes the least amount of harm, but I have to include myself when considering harm.  To harm myself by withholding my own truth from myself, is to cause harm. As my meditation teacher said, ‘You can forgive and still call the police.’ Forgiveness means understanding, but it doesn’t mean allowing yourself to be a part of the wrong-doing.

Now, even though I felt left out and taken aback by this reality, I am grateful it happened. I needed to see this. I needed to see it because I’d not been looking at this loved one clearly, I had a narrow view of their humanness based on what I wanted to see.

How do I proceed from here?  I still love them, but perhaps my trust was misplaced.  We are all human, struggling with our own issues in our own time, at our own pace.  I am reminded that situations that trigger a response based on past traumas are opportunities to learn and grow, but only if you are aware.  To see the secret and lie one must be aware it is there to begin with.  And while there is room for secrets in your life, lies are another matter altogether.

 

Three things cannot be long hidden,

The Sun, The Moon and The Truth.  ~Buddha

Dark Shadows

Being outside heals me.  Outside is bigger than all the sadness in my head. Getting out of my head is a good thing.  I spend far too much time in there.  -Me

 

Dear readers… this next post is personal.  Since my blog is The Work and Ideas of Sky Evans it seemed time to post some ideas.  But maybe it’s more of a confessional?  Either way, if you like my art more than words, and you want to skip this wordy post, rest assured you aren’t missing much in the way of visuals.  The art I used to illustrate this post is from my early years.  Not very good IMO, but interesting to see this other side.  Having said that, bear with me while I try something new.  Not instructional, or piece specific musings but thoughtful, as in full of thought.

 

I can't remember when I did this dragon in the clouds... but I kinda like it!

It was 1983 when I did this dragon in the clouds… I never really cared for it, but for some reason I kinda like it now!

In the past few weeks I had the art show in the vineyard and summer time visits with relatives, (both most enjoyable) but lately the weather has rolled in HOT HOT HOT which makes it hard to get much done if you don’t get up early.  I like the cold, it sharpens up my brain.  Hot weather has me laying around with sweaty glasses of ice tea clutched in my paw, moaning about the heat.

Okay, so it’s not that bad.  But the day after the show I did wake up and sigh.  Not a “oh woe is me” sigh, or “damn I am about to be evicted” sigh or even a  “the world is fucked and my life is ruined” sigh.  Just a soft, weak, puppyish whimper… (I invoke the puppy image hoping to come off as cute instead of pathetic).  It was a “what now” sigh that I have come to associate with the let down after a long slog uphill.  The long slog was all the effort and energy getting ready for the show.  Which was good, and productive but definitely falls in the “uphill” category.

My display at the show.  All the hard work paid off.

My display at the show. Doesn’t look like that much hard work, but still….

Eight days later and it’s still not all put away. I seem to be having trouble getting my rhythm back after revving my engines for a week in anticipation of that 5 hours at the show. The hot weather does not help.

A thought and this post has been percolating away in my head since waking up with a “what-now-blues” feeling.  It’s about temperament. Specifically, artist’s temperament.  Somehow, somewhere, I picked up the notion that there was such a thing.  And that kind of temperament meant that artists were moody, prone to jags, hard to get along with and somewhat bi-polar, though in the old days, we called it manic/depressive.  As far as old days go, I am, literally, a child of the 60’s.  Andy Warhol and Peter Max were household names.  Jackson Pollock’s death and eccentric style was still in the forefront, and the music of the era included Don McLean’s famous “Vincent” which sparked a fresh look into Van Gogh and his famous mental illness.  (His work is among my personal favorites.)  Maybe these kinds of artists perpetuated the idea of the “artist’s temperament”.  Regardless of where it came from, I somehow grew up with the notion that there was such a thing.  And I was determined to prove it all wrong.

I Am The Endless Sky 1985

I Am The Endless Sky 1985.  Gravity defying tubes of paint and the cosmos.

Determined is a good word to describe me.  Not the only word, but a good one.  It irked me that artists were considered touchy and had to be “handled” for some reason.  Fuck that shit, I was as normal as normal could be.  Wasn’t I? With a flip of my locks, I would snort derisively.  I was determined to be happy, healthy, smart and together!  Reasonable, logical, empathetic, someone who was kind, a good person.  I wanted to be the best person I could be… I would not be a stereotype.  No dark shadows here!!

If I was reading this aloud, here’s the part where I would laugh.  Knowingly.  Maybe even sarcastically.

Because no one is really normal.  Normal doesn’t exist.  Decades later, I am finally coming to the realization that normal is an average and averages are made up of numbers that are added together and divided by themselves.  How can people be normal?  The world is a crazy place (watching the news will prove that) so normal must be crazy.  Maybe we should just embrace the crazy and applaud those who manage to cope and thrive amidst the chaos.

So then, is there an artistic temperament?  For a long time I didn’t even want to admit to being an artist. Even after I had a degree in Art, one in Art Education and had been an art teacher I was in denial.  I think I was denying the stereotype… but often stereotypes exist because they ring of truth.  Sigh. So okay, here goes.  Here’s my truth: I sometimes dance on the edge of depression.  Not a  “dancing with the stars” thing, but a little tap dance. I don’t believe I qualify for a full blown depression as outlined in the DSM-5 (not that I’ve read the description… I’d actually rather not know to what level I may rate) but little dark clouds have been a part of my life for a long, long time.

My Life, circa 1984

My Life, circa 1985

It’s my version of normal, those little dark shadows. When I was a pup myself, it was like waves of sadness.  In my childish mind, I could image I even heard voices whispering to me.  Nothing bad, but lonely and very sad.  I told my mother about it once; bless her for not minimizing or ridiculing me in any way.  I felt safe telling her about it.  But that was as far as it went.  Which may have been a good thing as it set me up to believe there wasn’t anything wrong about it and so, I didn’t worry about being sad.  My coping technique at the time was to sing.  I memorized the words to the Eagles song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and would invoke it whenever those shadows came a calling.  It always worked.  One run through and my brain was back on track and feeling peaceful and easy.

 

The inside part.

The inside part.

 

Well, I grew up and out of my imagined whispering and as life got busy and hectic, the shadows ebbed and were kept at bay with activity.  Alcohol in judicious amounts is also a tool for ignoring those small voices.  I never was much of a drinker though, I have a fine line for it’s toxic effects.  I’m basically a cheap date. Instead I hiked or rode away the sadness.  Being outside heals me.  Outside is bigger than all the sadness in my head.

 

The Zoo 1985

The Zoo 1984 In this piece, the protagonist is covered in flowers, she’s an exhibit in an alien zoo. She wants to escape her companions, the fuzzy slugs. But at least she’s OUTSIDE!!

 

But here’s the funny thing about little dark clouds.  They come back around when you aren’t looking. You wake up in the morning and there they are raining on your personal parade.  They leave you with a low grade sadness that is aptly named “The Blues”.  As a color, I like blue, but as for “The Blues”, well, they fuel my passion for leaving them behind.  If I get up and get moving and do something I can outrun them.  Maybe that’s why runners run.  I’m not a runner, but I can paint.  And when I paint, or create, I get out of my head.  Getting out of my head is a good thing.  I spend far too much time in there.

Fishes and Wishes Oil on Canvas 12"x16"

Fishes and Wishes
Oil on Canvas
12″x16″

 

In effect, I create because I have to.  So maybe there is something to this Artist’s Temperament after all.  Am I an artist because I have the temperament or do I have the temperament because I am an artist?

Either way, it’s also telling to me that I spend the most time with people who I believe fall on the low end of the crazy spectrum.  I can do edgy people, but only in small doses. But if indeed it is normal to be a touch crazy, then that puts me in the small doses band for everyone.  In other words, I can only “do people” in small doses.  Which makes me an introvert.  And indeed I do need alone time just to recuperate from normal social interactions.  Sometimes trying to stay dry under my own clouds is about all I can manage.