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“Namaste” 8×10 oil on canvas, $112 Buy Now

I do my painting every day during Ezra’s nap time. I do my writing at the health club, Francos, because I get two hours of childcare with my membership. It’s nice. Steam room, hot tub, fake fireplace, water features, friendly good-mornings, have-a-nice-workout from attractive young people, clean bathrooms, a “quiet area” with couches, chairs, and tables in all the right shades of brown.

I’m happy here, my office.

But today I’m sitting on the couch drying my tears because my beautiful office isn’t private, and I don’t want the people who go to the gym to workout to notice me, the girl who goes to the gym to sit on the tan couch with her borrowed laptop and sometimes cry. I’m overwhelmed.

I remember very clearly moving back to Mandeville two years ago, fumbling around, jobless, wondering what in the world I was going to do.

I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I talked to the wisest person I know, my friend Sidney.  Eventually, our talks turned into brainstorms out of which Denise Hopkins Fine Art was born.

Today, not even half way through my challenge, and I’m tired– can’t-hold-my-eyes-open tired. Don’t-want-to-paint, tired. Coffee-isn’t-helping, tired.

Tired makes you question your resolve. Plus, I’m out of stories. I’ve written about all the ones sent to me, but there’s a story about Sidney I think you should know.

When I started this challenge, I asked people to do it with me– do anything for thirty days. We started a blog where we post our accomplishments as a community. Sidney joined in early.  She, unlike me, has been exercising.  She says it’s as much mental as physical, but exercise nonetheless.

She’s taken up a daily practice of bikram yoga which is ninety minutes of the same twenty six crazy-hard postures in a scalding hot room. Doesn’t it seem happy?

For Sidney, though, it is something she does for herself and something that makes her happy.

I asked her if, for today’s painting, I could use some of the comments she’s left on our blog for inspiration. She agreed, wrote back with a few more.

On day two she wrote about choices:

“I didn’t get out of yoga until around 8:30pm last night and was back at it at 6am this morning. My schedule is a little bit hectic for the next few days, so in order to keep my promise I had to dig deep. When I think about this predicament, however, it’s not too different from my regular life. There is always SO much to do! I have to prioritize and decide what I have time for in my life and what I don’t. I have to choose between going to yoga and being on time for my fantasy draft, between meeting friends for a drink and finishing up a work project, going to play kickball and finishing that book I’ve been glued to for the past two days. More often than not, I end up choosing the activity that I feel obligated to do, the one where someone will be upset with me if I don’t go or I will have let someone down. I rarely choose what makes me happy. Why is it so hard to carve out time for the things that I (we) love to do and the things that make me (us) happy? The struggle is real.”

And here’s her day eight post:

“As I walked into the studio this morning, I sighed. I don’t know where it came from, it wasn’t even that hot. The instructor was new, and you could tell that he only had a few classes under his belt. His clumsiness with words reminded me of the clumsiness in my postures, he repeated himself a lot, hadn’t quite mastered the quintessential bikram phrases, but he kept going. He even said some funny things, which brought a much-needed smile to my tired spirit. While I don’t know his story, I imagine he felt like his practice had come so far that he wanted to help others … practice their practice. Good for him. Keep pushing yourself, buddy. Maybe I should invite him to join our 30 day challenge?…

Namaste.”

I’ve been thinking about these comments for a while now. A couple days ago, I even checked out a mother’s-day-out program for Ezra so I can paint more. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was because there was a time when I thought putting him in daycare was selfish, that he had to be with ME all the time or he would crumble into a thousand tiny pieces. And even though I never, ever, questioned my friends’ decisions to put their children in daycare (probably because I believed them to have “real” jobs and “real” families), I always thought I would short change my son if I did it myself.

Sidney has helped me to understand what I now know: that what my son needs is a mom who is confident, happy, successful. A mom who can help him when he isn’t sure who he is or who he wants to be. A mom who carves out time for herself and helps him to do the same. A mom who stands as proof to him that always, joy can materialize from overwhelming grief.

Sidney’s email to me this morning ends with this, which is partly the cause of these tears I’m awkwardly trying to conceal:

“The commitment to your own happiness is what I’ve seen radiating from you for the last several months, and it’s why I decided to take this journey with you. Silly me thought that it was just about doing a task 30 days in a row. Come to find out, it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

Somewhere in all the painting, I’ve forgotten about the happiness factor. I am happy. Tired, yes, but happy too. I am overwhelmed that the happiness is so real that someone else noticed it.

Last year, Sidney started taking a pottery class. She asked me to join her, but I declined, and did so guiltily. There were other things I wanted give my time to. Sidney did the class anyway and I see so much of her yoga practice in her dedication to that class. It was something that made her happy, something she was willing to choose over other activities.

A few months ago, I marveled at a couple of the mugs she had made and she gave them to me. The cool funky one on the left of this still life is Sidney’s creation– beautiful, functional, imperfect. An homage to carving out time for oneself.

I couldn’t just paint her mug alone though, and as I added to the still life, I couldn’t help but see my thirty day commitment take shape before me– Sidney’s mug, another coffee mug Jen (day 6)  had given me for Christmas the year I moved to Mandeville (has a pelican on the inside of it), an iris from a bouquet Peter (day 11) gave me yesterday probably because he read Mary’s story (day 9) and realized I was out of flowers. And of course, Stephanie (day 7), who made me want to paint coffee mugs in the first place. Oh, and Donna (day 1)? She took that pottery class with Sidney.