Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hey soul sister, justify my blog

Man, I can't seem to make time to write in my blog.  Have you missed me?

How embarrassing.
How did Housewives of DC get on there?
I'm also having trouble finding time to run, shower, grocery shop, watch the 500 educational shows on my DVR, call my wonderful friends (you know I still love you, right?), etc. etc. etc.   People often interrupt my complaining by saying, "You're lucky to work from home doing something you love." And I am. I am.  But it's sort of like college. There were things about college that were off the charts fun-tastic. And yet, while I was knee deep in the fun stuff, there were so many other things that I should have been doing. Like homework or finding my ID or not pushing anyone into the bathroom to drunkenly make out. And then feeling guilty and procrastinating more.

Having your own business means that whenever you are laying around drinking wine and eating cheez-its, you probably shouldn't be; and not just because of the calories/hangovers/inappropriate texts.  You should be drawing, marketing, fixing your broken website, putting layouts together, preparing for art shows.  I can sort of justify writing this blog because it loosely falls under the marketing category.  Even if I'm complaining about Facebook or confessing my marathon 50 Shades sessions, as long as I also mention the fact that I can draw your kids, pets, or belongings, then presto... marketing!  I do have a degree in advertising, you know. 

But really, I just want to tell stories, preferably in a bestselling book.  Although that's rather unlikely, as only my friends on Facebook and a few artists from my favorite artist websites (artfairinsiders and the corner booth) read this blog.  Getting discovered is even less probable than working hard enough to make it happen on my own.  It's hard to justify this rambling blog when I've got drawing to do, plus it's past dinner time, RIGHT NOW. Listen closely and you'll hear the Zumpano men sighing and snacking in the background.

Thank goodness this time, Beth will help me justify my blog. 

Out of the blue, I got an email from someone who had been reading my Pencil Envy posts.  Not only did Beth order a chunky sized portrait, she wanted a story.  A story about her sister.  Hey!  That's almost like getting paid to write stories, only she's not paying me to write, she's paying me to draw.  But I'm making it a package deal.

My first thought about the portrait and story about Beth's sister, was that I don't have a sister, because I'm rather self-absorbed that way.  I wonder what it would be like... would I be close with a sister?  Fight with her?  Would she love me despite all my many flaws?  Would I love her beyond hers? 

I assumed that Beth's story would be about sisterly love, a Walton's hair-braiding slumber party childhood with some eventual grown up wise advice with wine.  But it wasn't.

"Saying my sister and I have never been close is an understatement," Beth wrote me.  "We hated each other growing up.  The only thing we're close in is age; for six weeks every year we were the same."  She said her sister could be mean, choosing exactly the right words to form the kind of word weapon only the most familiar family can wield.  The kind that cuts you to your core. 

As adults, they had an uneasy relationship, going months without speaking. They lived less than an hour apart, but only saw each other a few times a year. "We are polar opposites," Beth explained.  "She's a minimalist, I collect everything. Her house is sparsely decorated, mine looks like a gypsy’s den. She has a firm sense of right and wrong. I have often been described as having no moral compass.  She's successful, I was always just getting by. We just never meshed. I often said if she wasn’t my sister we would have never been friends. But still, we're family."


If you've ever told me a story, you probably enjoy how I immediately butt in and relate the story back to myself, even though I've read Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and I know I'm not supposed to.  I told Beth how I've struggled in my family relationships, too; how my closest family friendship has deteriorated and how terribly painful it's been.  How I could relate all too well to those mean missiles that leave such deep, gaping wounds.  Here, I thought, is someone I can understand; I'm not the only one.  I've counted each month of silence with a pit in my stomach.  It wasn't supposed to be this way.  

"I know," Beth told me.  "My sister got mad at me in June and she didn't speak to me or my mother until September.  The next time we spoke was when she called to tell me in her matter-of-fact cold tone that she was sick, probably dying." And Beth was forbidden to tell their mother.  "I was as close to my mother as you are to yours," Beth stressed, "maybe closer.  It devastated me not to be able to tell her, but I knew if I did, my sister would never ever speak to either of us again."  It was excruciating for Beth, fearing her mother would hear from someone else, until her sister was just too sick to hide it anymore. 

"My sister told me she wouldn’t have done the same thing for me, wouldn’t have taken me in and cared for me as I was dying, cared for my family, pets, my belongings, my affairs. I told her I knew that. I wish we had shared that moment much sooner. It seemed to bring some peace to her to know that I wouldn’t change no matter who or what she was. That’s when she finally got me.

"She thanked me for making her watch Fight Club. She forced me to watch Eight-Legged Freaks. The last movie we watched together was Man on Fire. She loved Denzel and really wanted to see it. I begged the Blockbuster guy to help me locate the last copy in the store, a needle in a mountain of movies haystack. It took over two hours but we finally found it. As I was checking out, he said they could’ve ordered it, it would only take about a week to come in. I remember thinking we probably didn’t have a week. She died four days later."

"My sister's death haunts me, much more so than the deaths of my mother and father," Beth told me. "I am guessing it’s some form of guilt I just can’t let go of. Some sort of ‘it should have been me, not her’ thing."

This summer, her nephew told Beth he can't remember the sound of his mother's voice. She tries to keep the memory alive, knowing that the hardest part about dying for her sister was losing her kids. Not being there to see who they will become.  The best photo the kids had with their mother was when they were quite young and Beth's niece hated her hair.   Funny thing about death, there are no more "through the years" pictures, no more do overs.  Beth asked that I combine recent photos of the kids with their mom, taking extra care to make sure I got her niece's hair just right.  A Christmas memory for two wonderful kids who can't yet fully realize what they've lost.

There are children in my version of Beth's story too, and I worry about them.  At first, I listened to Beth's side, thinking, yes, yes. I get it, I can relate. Up until the cancer. Then I'm a puddle thinking about it. I'm torn up. I'm thinking how maybe my family member would probably take me in; but I don't know if I could do the same. I don't know if I can be as forgiving.  I shared more about my own family experiences with Beth, eager to connect, telling her about our long struggle of distance and disease and pain and tough decisions and judgment.  That the hardest part is how we'd always loved each other like crazy and now neither of us can get past old wounds far enough to have a healthy relationship. I know I have some terrible faults that have made things worse between us - I'm too critical, I'm too sensitive.  And now I'm too scared.

Beth shared that she's had many of the same struggles. But not the same as me. The same as the person who has hurt me the most.

And then I realized, this whole time I'm rooting only for Beth, thinking I'm in the Beth role... But I'm not. I'm the cold one. I'm the judging one.  And I don't know if I can be the one to forgive and open my arms, and my home and my heart again. I'm too closed off and I'm just so hurt.  But people make mistakes.  Does it really take something so catastrophic to build that bridge?

Beth owns her part of her story and I own mine.  I do.  Writing this entry about a client's family has caused me to do more soul searching than any that I've chosen to write on my own. 



  1. I'm humbled and overwhelmed reading your blog.

    Your writing gives a voice to all who have ever struggled with family.

    I know you. You would forgive . . . you would open your heart and home and "Be Beth".

    God bless you for listening to her and caring. You are beyond an artist - you are an enormous heart who happens to have talent with a pencil (whether using that pencil to draw or write).

    You have given Beth and her niece and nephew a precious gift that will last forever.

    1. I love you, Kimi. I know that I would have been Beth for a really long time, now I just have to do what's right in order to take care of my family and my business. And you know when I think about sisters, I always think of you. I wish I could cram myself between you and Karen and steal a little of that sisterly love. It's amazing how you support each other.

  2. another wonderful story, Wendy. I've shared it with my sisters who have had a tumultuous relationship. Me, I'm the big sister and just watched them wrestle with each other. Thanks.

    1. At least you're staying out of the wrestling ring, Connie!!! I'm a lover, not a fighter, and yet there sure has been a lot of family stress over the years. Wish I could fix it all, but you can only do what you can do.

  3. I swear when I was reading this I thought my sister had you change the names, until you talked about the cancer. I've told my sister before that her and I wouldn't be friends if we weren't sisters. I still feel that way. Shes a crappy mom, and crappy person, but I'll always love her. So sad who she's turned out to be and so sad about your "Beth" story. I'm sorry you don't have sisters. You can braid my hair and I'll do your makeup, ok :)..anonymous

    1. How did you know that I need help with my makeup??? I'm too cheap to buy decent product, I swear. It is a healing thing to hear how many people have family issues. I really thought I'd be in a Walton's situation when I was raising my kids. Yeah, not so much. But I hit the jackpot with my husband and hilarious, smarty pants kids. The rest we can figure out. Right?? I'm sorry I don't have sisters too. I have a cousin who is almost sister-like, but we just don't see each other enough.

  4. thanks for sharing.

  5. Wendy, I spent Christmas with my niece and nephew. As usual they got way too much crap including an Iphone5 and an electric bass guitar. But those gifts paled in comparison to the hit of the day, the portrait you drew of their mother with them. They were just speechless and couldn't take their eyes off it. Truly the best present ever! Nary a dry eye in the room. I told them we'd do it again in a couple of years.

    Thank you again for your talent and patience. I wish you and your family much joy and good fortune in the upcoming year! I hope we will meet in person one day soon.

    Thanks again,

    1. Oh honey, I'm so glad to hear that!!! I'm proud of you for being able to keep it under wraps all the way till Christmas. Can't wait to give you a big sisterly hug someday at an art show lucky enough to have us both there. XXOO

    2. Beth, not sure if you go back and read this from time to time, but just wanted to say how happy I was to meet you in person! I just shared this post with a client who was struggling with her daughter. We all have those times and those people in our life. Forgiveness stories are special.
      Hope you are well!!!

  6. Just beautiful, Wendy. I'm sitting here with a gigantic lump in my throat, in awe of Beth's love for her family, and for your ability to capture it in print, the way you always do. (Especially the hair!) Don't ever think one idle second of your day is wasted. Cheeze-its and wine are obviously the perfect fuel for your creativity. xoxoxo

    1. If anyone can understand a heaping helping of love, it's you, Sheri. Actually, Joey's portrait would make a beautiful story. Maybe we can get together for coffee or wine (cheezits for me, something classier for you) and I can tell your special story. XXOO

    2. What's classier than Cheezits? You can serve them in a bowl if it makes you feel better but I usually eat mine right out of the box.

  7. Dear girl, I read this again, and again it made me shed tears. I loved the follow-up that told how much it meant to those children. And everything you wrote about your own situation resonated freshly with me. I wish with all my heart that things could be different/better. But always know that no one loves you more than I do!!!

    1. Kind of ironic that the comment publish thing is exactly what you're talking about. Whatever challenges I face in my life - and really, they are so very, very few - everything always feels better when you hug me. You soothe all the rough edges, every time. I'm so lucky to have you.

    2. Reading this again because I shared it with a new friend. And I'm so deeply grateful that things have improved so much for us. So much of the friction in my family has been all me and my own fear. Crossing my fingers that we never have that kind of distance in the family again. Life is just too, too short.


Tell me some stuff!