Searching for Certainty

While rummaging around in the depths of my computer files, I came across entries to my “old” blog. I published this almost seven years ago and thought it deserved revisiting. Enjoy!

I’ve always loved kits. I still have fond memories of walking the eight blocks to the local craft store with Karen, Mary Jane, Joanie. There was more than enough there for the boys: model cars, planes and boats in shiny boxes. I remember the grown-ups looking at brushes and paints. Kids younger than I begged parents for boxes of pristine Crayolas and untouched coloring books. My girlfriends and I spent a good proportion of our weekly allowances on embroidery floss, cotton dishtowels, and iron-on designs of chickens. But what I really lusted after was the paint-by-number kits.

Boxed sets of these promises of artistic perfection sang a siren’s song so strong that my birthday money didn’t stay long in my pocket. Armed with cash, I purchased a kit. The picture on the box was one I’d been lusting after for several months: a tropical ocean bay surrounded by palm trees, sand, and seabirds. A strange choice for an 11-year-old who’d lived her life in mid-America, nonetheless I knew that I was meant to paint this picture. It held so much more promise than cross-stitched chickens.

Finally at home and in my favorite work space (the kitchen of the unused second floor of my parents’ duplex), I peeled off the cellophane packaging and opened the box. Rows of tiny plastic containers held oil paints, each assigned a number that corresponded to the canvas’ black-and-white outlines. The hairs on the two small brushes reflected the overhead light. All those colors! All that potential! I dipped my brush into the azure blue of Color #3 and went at it.

And that, of course, is when reality hit. After 45 minutes of concentration (15 of which were spent trying to thin overly dried oil paints), I was invariably disappointed with my creation. Why, I’d seen better work in the coloring books of my neighbor’s first-grader!

And yet…and yet…every time I managed to acquire the proper sum of money, I’d buy another kit armed with the conviction that this time my painting would match the one on the box.

The allure of those kits is probably no mystery to anyone reading this, but it took me a long, long while to figure it out: I want certainty. Even when I know it’s not possible, I want, if not a guarantee of success, at least its likelihood.

I feel that way with my art, and I feel that way with this brain tumor. I want certainty. I want guarantees. I want to know that what I start will have a successful ending. But just like with my paintings (which often don’t come close to what I’d envisioned when I dip my brush into the colors), my brain tumor isn’t predictable, either. And while uncertainty — both in my painting and with my tumor — is sometimes uncomfortable, it’s taking me down some interesting paths.

Author: Judy Westergard

Retired English teacher, self-taught painter, inveterate reader and still lovin' my Kindle!

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