Monday, August 17, 2009

A painter's tale

Carolyn called me last night in tears. She is upset over her sister-in-law again.

Carolyn's SIL, Adele, is a woman who has it all -- great house, money in the bank (loads of money in the bank), a job she loves and is really good at, a husband, five well adjusted and happy children, a loving family and a lot of good friends who adore her -- but she is bored. Carolyn is a widow and has one daughter who has had to struggle a bit and is finally making a success of her life. Carolyn has had one dream her whole life, to have a show of her paintings at a gallery. She finally got her dream a few months ago and her show sold out.

Carolyn has been painting her whole life, but never thought she could be an "artist," yet she kept at it, giving up clothes, vacations and even little luxuries to buy canvas, brushes and paint. She leads a small life, but it's a valuable life and she has struggled for so many years to get where she is today. She deserves the success she has finally achieved.

Life has come very easily to Adele. She has had the support and backing of her very wealthy family her whole life. She has had everything she has ever wanted and really doesn't know how to struggle, but she's bored with it all. She has been heard to say that she could paint better than Carolyn, but she can't. She doesn't have the gift. She just wants what Carolyn has because Carolyn has finally become a success.

Adele is dissatisfied with her life, but Adele's biggest problem is jealousy. She has always seen Carolyn as beneath her. Carolyn isn't as smart and beautiful and socially acceptable as she and Adele has let her know in no uncertain terms. She considers her husband, Carolyn's brother, as the only worthwhile member of a degenerate family, and has watched Carolyn struggle for years, refusing to lend a hand or allow her husband to help financially, even though he has been very successful and has his own money. Adele cannot stand to see Carolyn succeed and she wants to put Carolyn in her place.

What is it with people who have so much that they cannot stand to see someone else get a taste of success, especially when they've given up everything to make it happen? Don't they already have enough? Why do they feel the need to ruin it for everyone else?


Carolyn and I have been friends for thirty years and we have been through some very difficult times together. She has been married a few times and finally found a man who loved and respected her. They had a happy life for just two years before he was killed in a convenience store robbery when he went in for coffee one morning. Carolyn was devastated and I didn't think she was going to be able to handle his death, but she did, and she did more than survive, she lived.

She encouraged me when I had almost given up the idea of having my books published, and she refused to let me give her a copy of my novel. She wanted to buy a copy. That was a very easy dedication to write. She didn't even chide me when she saw I had acknowledged Louise and not her because she said she didn't really do anything except listen. When I dedicated my book to everyone who has ever wanted to rewrite the past, I had Carolyn in mind, and so many others, and she understood. So, how could I not be there for her now?

I didn't have any magical solution to her dilemma, but I did have a smidgen of advice. Even though Adele has used her influence to get the same gallery to show her paintings, and no doubt her loyal friends will buy a few, she cannot take away what Carolyn has achieved. No one can. Adele would be dissatisfied no matter what she does because there is always someone else's thunder to steal to make sure she always stands in the spotlight center stage. All Carolyn can do is keep painting from her heart and forget anything but enjoying her own life. To worry about what Adele will try to co-opt next would only make Carolyn miserable; she'd always be looking over her shoulder instead of ahead. Her first show was a sell-out and the critics raved about her paintings. No one can take that away from her, not even Adele.

The reason Adele is so unhappy and jealous is because she's never really worked for what she has. She doesn't know what it means to sacrifice everything to achieve success. It has all been handed to her on a platinum tray. She wouldn't be so bored if she actually had to suffer or to struggle for something, and she wouldn't like it either. She wasn't made to suffer. Beautiful, privileged people seldom are.

I told Carolyn to think of it this way, if she wasn't such an amazing and talented person, Adele wouldn't deign to notice her. It's a mixed blessing, but Adele, for all her beauty, wealth and advantages, will never have the sense of peace that Carolyn knows. That only comes with achieving something after working hard. It's called sweat. Adele doesn't sweat. Too bad, a little sweat can be sweet.

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