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Archive for July 7th, 2020

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“Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.”

― Honoré de Balzac

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This quote from Balzac has been paraphrased and changed over the years by others to the more tidy phrase: Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

I usually don’t agree when writer’s words are changed or used to express something decidedly different from their original intention. But maybe speakers over the years have decided that our worst misfortunes sometimes do happen.

Balzac died in 1850, years before the horrors of the American Civil War, World War I and WW II, which carries its own separate list of atrocities that easily live up to the expectations of being our worst misfortunes. We have witnessed concentration camps, the slaughter of innocents in attempted genocides on several continents, extreme racial and ethnic hatred and so many other black blotches on our collective history.

And I am most likely skimming over a multitude of other examples, such as the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

Yeah, in the 170 years since Balzac’s death, we have seen ample evidence that our worst misfortunes do indeed happen.

But even so, there is truth in saying that most miseries lie in anticipation. Because for all the evidence we have of our ability to inflict the worst on each other, most times we come out on the other side without seeing the worst come to fruition.

That brings me to the new painting at the top of the page, an 18″ by 24″ canvas that is part of my upcoming solo show, From a Distance, that opens next week at the West End Gallery. The title of this piece is The Anticipation.

A lot of the work from this show is a result of my reaction to these times but this painting might best sum that feeling of queasiness and dull fear that comes in waiting for the next shoe to drop. It seems to be its own separate symptom of the pandemic, one that even those who are not yet infected experience.

It’s that feeling that you know there is a beginning and an end and, that even while we are in the midst of this thing, it will someday be over and in the past. That is the light at the end of tunnel. But you know you have to go through the rest of that tunnel, have to absorb all the worst it has to offer, in order to get to that endpoint.

So, you trudge and trudge, each step filled with a dark foreboding anticipation. In every dark shadow along your way you see a new imagined demon, one that threatens you with some awful painful fate. The light barely seems to get closer with each day’s journey and your fears grow with your uncertainty as to when– or if– you will finally emerge from the darkness.

The fear of what might happen eclipses your imaginings of hope.

That sounds dire. But remember, even with our rampant thoughts of the worst that could happen, we are still moving forward toward the light in the future and our actions as we move along can diminish or even eradicate those imagined worst outcomes.

In the waiting, our imagination may only see the worst but perhaps it is so we can act to avoid it ever coming to be.

That’s what I am seeing in this painting. There is foreboding but there is the possibility of hope in our own reaction.

So, while our worst misfortunes do sometimes happen, we do not have to willingly accept them as our fate. We have the opportunity to stand against them, to infuse light into the darkness that comes in our anticipation.

Here’s to that light…

 

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