Friday Tips: Evolution Comes Knocking

(Note: This section, excerpted from Living the Artist’s Life, is a follow up the section two weeks ago: My First Gallery, Bottle of Bourbon, and Going Broke, 1995)

Evolution Comes Knocking

I’d like to write in detail about this occurrence, but out of respect for my wife, I can’t. It’s too painful for her to be reminded of, and in fact is something she would just as soon forget—even though I was the one that it happened to. For that reason, I’ll not go into any details.

Actually, now that eleven years have passed, I will. In 1996 I was accused, by a single mother who had a toddler in our home daycare, of child molestation.  Where she got this idea, I’ve never quite understood.  I didn’t work in the daycare, was never alone with the kids, and left each morning as the children were arriving, around 8:00. Normally I didn’t get home until 9:00 at night.  Furthermore, she didn’t make the accusations until a month after we had closed the day care so my wife could take a different job, five years of that gig having been enough.  In fact she’d thanked my wife and her assistant profusely for the excellent care they’d given her child, who was a little under two.  Then 4 weeks later, a detective called to inform me of the accusations.  We were stunned.  I remember he seemed embarrassed to even be making the call.  I offered to come in for questioning.
There was no evidence of molestation, my record and reputation with kids was spotless, I was a lauded baseball coach for both coed and all-boy teams, dozens of people came to my defense. The police threw out the accusations as warrantless. Shortly afterward, the woman posted fliers on every door in our neighborhood, accusing me of this heinous crime. We were new to the neighborhood, so of course you can imagine what the response was like: overnight, nearly all doors were closed to us, and our children ostracized. Prior to this, I had been respected and accepted as something of a novelty: a renegade writer and gallery-owner in middle-class America, how…nice.

Suffice to say this was a traumatic event that deeply affected our lives, and, indirectly, the lives of our children. It added immeasurably to the many financial burdens I was already under, caused me to have brutal migraines for three years, and briefly swayed me toward the contemplation of violence. But I am in truth not a violent man, so this really wasn’t an option. Instead I retreated back into my tendency toward compassion and understanding, despite how enraged I was over the event, and what it did to my family. But even this I eventually had to forgive, since if I hadn’t, my rage would have eventually destroyed me and my work, and would have harmed the ones I love.

The young mother, after all, thought she had some valid reason for the accusation. I don’t doubt it was rooted in her own experiences, which I knew had been harsh, since she’d told us about much of it.  For some reason, the injustices she suffered were transferred to me.  So I did what I always do with a challenge: I tried to learn from it, and to understand the point of view of the other party.  As I began to grasp her past more fully, the event became easier to digest.

In the end, the entire episode only deepened the bond between my wife and myself, further broadened my awareness as an artist, and, perhaps justly, brought greater misery down on my accuser. In the end, I gained far more from it than I lost. It’s just that while I was going through the ordeal, it seemed to be one more needless test in the long line of tests that life is inevitably made up of.

Why mention it at all? To acknowledge that the pressures you’re under as an artist are harsh enough already; you don’t need any other pressures. But just as with everyone else in this world, you will encounter additional burdens. Perhaps that is life’s way of teaching you: just when you think you can bear no more hardships, an entire truckload is dumped on you.

Why? I suspect it has something to do with developing tenacity, and inner strength, meaning that if you handle things well, you’ll deepen those traits, and likely gain wisdom in the process. You can also gain hatred and anger. As with most events in life, it depends on how you take it. I hope you learn to take these things with grace, balance and courage. That should stand you in good stead for the day when things really get tough.

Just remember, the song of life is partly one of adversity. If you can accept this now, it will make your road much easier. If you cannot, the journey may well become a disaster.

This particular disaster hit me and my family–as it has so many families–in the spring of ‘96; we recovered, and went on. It was a hell of an evolution to go through, and a hell of a time to go through it, but that’s how the cards fell. By the time I had begun to resolve the mess, Christmas was upon us. I profited from the season as best I could, gave to various charities what I could, and spent the rest on my family. It was a modest holiday, as ours normally are, but even so it was a wonderful diversion, and allowed me, for a time, to forget that my gallery was still headed for bankruptcy, and my debt still deepening. Thank God for holidays.

After New Years I forced myself to confront gallery business once more, and to deal with everything before me: proposals that I had to prepare, mailings that I had to stuff, marketing for the spring shows, and, as always, the general disaster of my finances.

While the Christmas season had been the best I’d yet known, the profits were not sufficient to override the losses of the year. As for January and February, they had been busts. For that matter, most months were still busts. I was hoping things would be better in March though. After everything I’d been through, after all the thousands of doors I’d knocked on and been turned away from (though some had opened), I felt it was time for things to improve. I had owned the gallery for three years now. I felt I was ready for a change. My intuition kept assuring me that March would bring a change. Well, it did.

5 thoughts on “Friday Tips: Evolution Comes Knocking

  1. “As with most events in life, it depends on how you take it.” So true, and unlike many circumstances that are beyond our control, in this we have a choice. I am glad you made the choice to not allow rage to consume you and your family.

  2. Paul,
    I’m sorry for your family’s terrible tragedy. It takes an awful lot of courage to be able to write about something so difficult, even if it occurred 10 years ago. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure there are so many people right now who are facing difficulty that they feel they may not overcome. For you and your family to have become stronger from the experience is a great lesson to share.

  3. Triecia: It was an easy choice really. Either keep it loose, or flip out. I prefer keeping things loose.

    Peggi: Thanks. It was indeed a hard time, but many people go through ordeals so much worse. In light of that, this was relatively minor–it just didn’t seem minor then. As for writing of it, I prefer being honest about my walk through life; it seems the only way we really learn from one another. I’ve many stories yet to tell.

  4. I too have had to deal with a situation like that; except the accusations came from my own 13 year old son….what an ordeal having to deal with the state, etc. I have always had problems with him, and he is now in a residential treatment facility far away from me, diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I often wonder why I had to have a son with such problems- I suppose it only makes you stronger- but why have to deal with it in the first place?

    My artwork over the years has been an outlet for me, to get away from the pressures of being a mother, etc. and having to deal with all of my problems. I will never quit painting because it helps me relax, and it is something for me only; which I need because I have three children.

    Thank you for your inspiratinal story; and I know exactly what you mean.

  5. Kimberley: My, that’s quite an ordeal. Much harsher than what I went through, especially considering the involvement of your son. Actually I knew someone once who went through a similar ordeal–also because of emotional instability on the part of a child. And when a son or daughter has those issues, it seems in many ways that they can’t help what they do.

    It’s very good that painting is an escape for you. It’s equally good that you had the guts to discuss this frankly. That in itself I think is sometimes cathartic. Good luck with those kids; I’m sure you’ll do well by them.

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