“I’m Sorry” and The Art of Apologizing

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Oh hey, Easel.

You’re looking a little rough these days. After a long weekend of being thrown in the back of my paint-stained car only to be promptly unloaded into my paint-stained studio on repeat, you’ve got a few wears and tears; so do I. It’s Monday, and I don’t really want to even make eye contact with you because, quite frankly, I need a break, though we’ve got some unfinished business. Our particular disfunction is this– you are often both the source of my stress and my release from it.

Recently we went to an event where I was donating, and my name was printed incorrectly on a sign above you (and elsewhere)– more than a misspelling, but a different, somewhat similar, name altogether. Small potatoes. A mistake I or anyone could have easily made, but one that wasn’t promptly corrected when I pointed it out. You and I– we’ve been getting paint on my car and my hard-wood floors because we never stop; we’ve been working for almost four years for people to know that name so that they will know the art that’s being tirelessly created. We’ve won awards and travelled the country because we’re providing a good life for precious child, so I don’t know about you, but in that moment it kind of felt like all the work we’ve been doing was unnoticeable, unimportant, laughable even. And it wasn’t so much the mistake, really, but the lack of concern with fixing it. When alerted to it, women who were not even responsible for the error, apologized sincerely and worked to correct it. The man who was actually responsible, eventually apologized with a condition– at least he’d gotten it right elsewhere. Really?

I just wanted an honest-to-God, meaningful apology and what seemed to me to be an easy fix.

I’ve been working on my own “I’m sorry’s” lately because I find myself (and women I know) using them more than they are warranted, perhaps robbing them of their power. All the while there are those that can’t seem to admit to and correct what is even minor human error. I’ve caught myself apologizing to Siri when I’ve stumbled over my words asking her for directions on my iphone. I say “I’m sorry” when someone bumps into me or when I’ve been inarticulate to someone about a decision I’m wrestling with. I almost said it when I asked them to fix my name on the sign above you. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I might as well say, “I’m sorry for taking up too much space.”

But last week I caught myself. Every time my mouth routinely opened to say “I’m sorry” I paused and asked, is this a circumstance in which an “I’m sorry” is appropriate? Only a few have been– to my son when I lost my temper at him over something unrelated to him. To my friend when I had to break important plans because I’d been careless in making them.

We’ve been together awhile, easel, so I think you’ve realized how I aspire to paint– eliminating as much of the visual noise as I can so as to highlight the colors, shapes and strokes I find most beautiful. The paintings that are my worst are the ones with too many haphazard strokes. The best have fewer, more intentional and meaningful ones. Which is precisely what I want my apologies to be– less haphazard and constant, more heartfelt, substantial, and sincere. Those are also the kind I’d like to receive.

You have been a literal weight these past few days. I’ve somehow injured my wrist (non-painting one) lugging you around. My pride is pretty bruised too. But I know pride is meant to be bruised. An inflated ego makes awful art. So I’ll stick with the mantra that convinced me to put myself out there at the start of this crazy adventure and continues to get me going on the Mondays that feel like one of Dante’s circles of hell– “I’m not the best painter, but I’m certainly not the worst…” and and then I put a canvas on you and just get going.

This is where I’d normally apologize for a gloomy Monday blog post. But I won’t because when I do have to say “I’m sorry” as I inevitably will, I want it to actually mean something, not be watered down by countless meaningless, unwarranted ones. What do you think? 

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

November 13, 2017

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