I am warning you right now, this is going to be a long and possibly sappy read. I have learned a lot since I've been here and I feel the need to share some of it.
First, I want to impress upon people just how terrified I was to leave my job at Privateer Press and come out to Australia for 6 weeks to teach classes. It was absolutely terrifying because I didn't know how successful any of this would be. I had only past experiences to teach me that my first time being a freelancer was a disaster but that was when I was going through a rough time in my life and also didn't have the level of skill that I do now.
Boy, am I glad I took that leap and came out here. This has been a most life changing experience and one that has really sparked a whole bundle of emotional responses in me. So many Australians have quite seriously said, "Thank you. Thank you for coming all this way to teach us because no one ever comes to do this here. This means a lot that you would spend your time and money and come be with us." There's been at least one person in each class who's conveyed this sentiment to me usually followed by a very hearty agreement from the rest of the class.
When I started planning this trip I just thought I was coming out to have fun, teach people my painting techniques, and be able to experience a different part of the world. This trip has been so much more than that. I have grown on a personal level more so than I thought possible at this point in my life. Professionally, I have also been inspired but really this trip has been quite touching personally.
I've had a lot of great conversations with people. Everything ranging from religion to politics to social issues. I've told stories of my life and how I came to be where I am today. I've shared myself freely with those I've met. I've found myself again. Too long I've worried about what others have thought of me. What my self image is to the rest of the world. I've tried to fit into molds for other people and I haven't been completely true to myself.
Being in a new country, surrounded by such wonderful people I've found myself again. The person I love being and am not apologetic about who I am. I am fun loving, goofy, nice, adventurous and perhaps a bit impulsive and spontaneous. There have been a lot of experiences in my life to get me where I am today. I am thankful for all of the hard times I've faced because, no matter how bad they got, I managed to come out the other side and live my life to the absolute fullest.
Several people in particular have touched my life because we have had such fantastic conversations. The discussions with several Aussies that have compared the issues in our respective countries have made them appreciate more what they have. They realize they have very little to complain about and it has inspired them to do more with their lives.
This is the part where I am totally and completely gobsmacked. I hoped I'd inspire people to push their painting but I didn't think I would have touched so many so profoundly. I've received a lot of nice letters in my Facebook Message box. All letters of thanks for having shared myself freely. For having been so open. For having an infectious enthusiasm that not only is it sparking a revival in the Australian painting scene but that I have inspired people to follow their dreams. To live their lives being the best they absolutely can be. I've been told that people want to start writing again or to re-examine their lives and actually follow their hearts and dreams; to stop over thinking and over complicating matters. I've been told that the way I live my life is refreshing; to see I take nothing for granted is eye opening.
There's one person in particular right now that is standing out. I feel the need to share this story in it's entirety. It's an important story in my life and as I found out has touched someone else in a very deep way as well.
I was a lot more active on forums 6 years ago and one of the stories I posted on several forums was about the loss of my little brother. Joseph had just turned 20 and he was at a house party having a good time. At this house party, someone crashed it who hadn't been invited and was kicked out after causing trouble. This person thought they were a badass mother-shut-your-mouth and he needed to let everyone else at this party know it. My brother was no way involved with this troublemaker. He didn't know him. Had never met him. That didn't make a difference in this tale though.
The troublemaker went and got a legally registered handgun off of his girlfriend. He loaded it and then came back and shot off several rounds in the direction of the house. His intent, he later confessed, was not to hurt anyone. It was just to scare people and let them know he is not to be messed with. His anger and rash actions meant my brother was hit by a bullet. It was a stomach wound that went in on the side of the abdomen and traveled across basically gutting him from the inside.
He was evacuated to the nearest trauma hospital and immediately went into surgery. Over the course of several days he under went 5 surgeries and over 20 blood transfusions. He was kept in a coma because they were unable to fully close the wound and needed to make sure he was stable to undergo more surgeries. He wasn't though. After several days, his organs started failing. I had rushed to my family's side the day after all of this happened and got there in enough time to say goodbye and hold his hand one last time before we had to take him off of life support.
His murderer had been trying to flee the country during all of this. He realized what he had done and was preparing to leave. The night we took my brother off of life support was the night his killer was apprehended. Our family then went through trials. I was unable to be there with them during all of that as I lived in Texas at the time.
This experience changed me and my family forever. We have never been the same again. It is an event that hangs over us, caused us all a lot of pain. Joseph was the best of us. He cared about everyone and wanted to be a good influence on others. Losing him was very hard on all of us and our family fell apart a bit. We all suffered from anger, depression, sadness, guilt and many other emotions. I made a lot of mistakes during this time. I pushed people away. Ruined relationships and was not a nice person to be around. I felt the universe owed me big for going through all of this. Around this time I also had a relationship end badly because I was not in a good state and I also lost my job during the Financial Crisis in the US. I was in a dark spot in my life.
I shared this story with others. Hoping they would learn from it. I found out at CanCon that this story had touched the life of one person. He remembered reading the story and feeling anger and then put himself in my shoes. He tried to think about how he would feel losing his brother. He felt for me. This was someone I knew as a fellow painter and recognized his screen name but we'd never met in person. We'd not had much in the way of deep or profound conversations. But still, he remembers reading this story clearly and how much it touched his life.
To hear this from him, 6 years later, to be able to talk to him in person about it was amazing. To know that he did remember so clearly and vividly where he was when he read about my brother told me that I had accomplished what I set out to do. He said that being able to hear me speak of it, to see me while I did tell him about it and the fallout I experienced afterwards was very hard for him. He realized just how much I have overcome the last few years to be the person I am today. He has said he doesn't know if he would be able to do the same but in light of knowing this story, meeting me, seeing how I am and how I live that he has a lot of respect for me. He wishes we had more time to spend talking and painting together.
Someone I've "known" for years but never really considered a friend I'm very glad to count among the ranks of my friends now. It's been a profoundly touching experience to see that my story, my openness with people and me being who I am does touch others beyond painting.
I don't know that I can adequately convey what I am feeling after chatting with this person and knowing how much this whole experience has meant to him. I have cried out of happiness mixed with sorrow mixed with relief and a whole bunch of other things.
All too often we hear from people around us the things we do wrong. Or that others only remember when we have acted poorly during hard times. Rarely, do you hear from people the positives and this trip and the conversations I've had with people, the connections I've made, have all served to tell me that what I'm doing with my life is the right path for me.
Since my brother died I have done more to follow my heart and what I want to do and tried to not over think decisions. Every decision has a ramification, it's true. But to miss out on wonderful opportunities in life because you worry too much is criminal. All the experiences I've had have made me who I am today. They have led me on this wonderful path I am on.
I can't imagine how different my life would be if I had just given up when things got hard. And there were many times during my darkest days that I contemplated many destructive paths. I am glad I fought through it. I kept telling myself that giving up wasn't the way to honor the memory of my brother. I had to fight many uphill battles to climb out of the dark hole I had found myself in. It was not easy. It was very difficult and it was a test of my character. The lesson I learned in all of this was that I needed to be myself. I needed to do what I want with my life and not worry about what other people think of me. This is a really hard way to live though because ultimately we do care what other people think about us. It's why we post on Facebook and Twitter what we are doing. We want to share our experiences and make other people think awesome things about us.
But in the end, you have to live your life for yourself. You have to be honest with what you want, who you want to be and how you want people to remember you. You need to make yourself happy before you can make other people happy.
In the last year I've done something else I've always wanted to do, I took up pole dancing. Not at a strip joint but as a fitness activity. I enjoy going to the gym but I need an activity as well to keep me active and happy. Pole dancing was one of those things where I really worried how people would view me. I hemmed and hawed for years before taking the dive into dancing.
Now, I wear my pole dancing pride proudly. I can do things that I never though I'd be strong enough to do. Pole has also helped me get in touch with myself again as well. I am happiest when I am doing something painting related or pole dancing. I love listening to music. I love dancing to it. I love expressing myself and how I feel through dance. And no amount of people making stripper jokes or being crass about a beautiful, acrobatic and aerial dance form will ever take that away from me.
My best advice is what I've already iterated above. Figure out what YOU, as an individual, wants out of life. Don't be shy. Don't be ashamed. Don't worry about how others will view you. You are the one who has to live with yourself, your decisions and the person you will ultimately become. Make the decisions in life that are right for you. Follow your dreams no matter what they are. Be the best you that you can be and don't be apologetic about it. If you are true to yourself, everything else falls into place and life will take you on an amazing ride.