Passion, Love, Memories Speak Across Time – How Vincent Van Gogh’s Life Inspires

Yesterday’s room next door–that feeling of being in a room, separated by a simple wall that might as well be a chasm, from the room right next door, only that room belongs to yesterday. The echoes of voices, the dim music, words on yellowed paper, dried paint, a brush of a kiss, the faded picture of a loved one, the extinguished lives of those gone before…memories.

I press my ear to the wall.
The voices come muffled at first,
But if I listen closely,
Their love stories become clear.
The distant piano music always plays in the background,
But its song still has a story to tell.
Photographs hang from this old wall,
Frozen smiles where laughter’s echo lingers;
A feather-light finger touch caresses those tender faces.
I close my eyes and see more openly
As the wall fades away.
I reach, step, grasp, hold.
I hug every precious memory thread,
Knitting a fabric of a life that embraces me in return
As I sing along with the piano
And write rainbows onto black and white pages.
You see, yesterdays are all blended into today –
And I wonder what story my children will one day tell
Of my today in what becomes their yesterday’s room next door.
-Yesterday’s Room Next Door by Cynthia Hilston, 05.28.16

The first time I read something that made me wish I could reach across the vast expanse of time and talk to, touch, hear someone long dead was when I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. That was in 2006. I reread her novel last year, and Charlotte’s words still hold in my beating heart. I read her words, words penned 170 years ago, yet she felt as close as a breath. I longed to know her like an intimate friend and mourned the loss of someone I had never actually met…and yet we had met in a way. I did know her.

Then that thick, impenetrable wall cracks. Bit by bit, pieces of drywall, wood, brick, stone, whatever material the imagination can conjure, it falls. Passion, love, memories…they speak across time, and yesterday’s room next door becomes one with today’s room. We all inhabit one Earth.

vangogh1As I finished reading Lust for Life by Irving Stone (1934), the biographical novel of Vincent Van Gogh, tears blurred the words on those last pages. Van Gogh is dead. I know that. He’s been gone for 128 years. And yet…yet I was walking with that small group of mourners behind a black hearse on the day the few people who appreciated and loved him in life buried him. I followed up the hill, through the cornfield in Auvers–one of many Van Gogh painted. They buried his body, yes, but his passion would never be buried. How can you bury such passion, after all, when he has painted it into being with every brushstroke imbued with life? He lies under sunflowers, those faces of gold and orange he painted so tenderly, painting the life the flows through all of creation.

I often gaze upon my large print of Starry Night as I lie in bed. Van Gogh painted this most famous of his paintings while he was in the asylum at Saint-Remy-de-Provence. He was there in June 1889, a little over a year before he died. This print is a cheap imitation of the real thing, yet it’s the closest physical item I possess to one of his creations. Again rears the feeling of removal from the past. (Note: I plan to visit New York’s Modern Museum of Art at the end of September, where this painting is housed.)

He saw beauty in the ugliness of the world, in the common, the everyday, the struggles. He suffered mental illness, disease, starvation, being a social outcast, never receiving the accolades for his hard work during his lifetime. Seven people mourned at his grave.

Now millions visit art galleries across the globe to gaze upon his paintings, those priceless works of art.

When he painted, the need to create poured out of him–unbridled, wild, free. He could just a soon stop painting as breathing. I understand that urge, that desire, that drive, that passion. When I write, it pours from me like water from an overflowing cup. I’ve been asked how I can write whole books. To people who are not writers, they cannot grasp how I can write so many words. I reply, “I can’t not write.” Vincent couldn’t not paint.vangogh2

Van Gogh tried many professions, all of which led to failure, to a feeling of self-doubt, of feeling worthless. He was an art dealer, a teacher, a minister, but none of those jobs were his livelihood. When he began drawing at age 27, he found his niche and never looked back, even when life continued to be a struggle.

Now, I haven’t had the life of poverty that Van Gogh lived–often by choice. I majored in biology in college and worked in a research lab for several years before having kids and becoming a stay-at-home mom. My kids are still young, so I continue as a homemaker. I wrote fan fiction for many years, afraid of writing something original. Yet the urge to write original works of fiction nibbled at my soul for years. I could no longer ignore it, and since 2015, I haven’t looked back. I’ve embraced my passion, my raison d’etre, just as Van Gogh did. And I love it.

Van Gogh’s life inspires passion, but his ability to take his pain and turn it into something beautiful drives deeper. He loved, felt, lived deeply, passionately. He didn’t shy away from ugliness, but rather embraced it and created imperfect wholeness from brokenness.

I weep for the lost love this remarkable man experienced, for his misery, for his agony, but I also cry in happiness at his legacy, his imprint on this earth. He saw no separation between the ground on which we walk and the people who trod it. All was one. All is one–one amazing, gorgeous creation under a whorling ball of lemon sun.

In Lust for Life, Vincent is visited by a mysterious woman named Maya, which means “illusion.” She says she’s been following him throughout his journey as a painter, but he asks her how this is possible. He even grows angry at her when she persists that she loves him. He has longed to receive a woman’s love all his life, so why now? She tells him his works will one day be on display throughout the world. He, of course, doesn’t believe her, for why would anybody want to buy one of his paintings after his death when they never did during his life?

Oh, Vincent, how wrong you were. Maya was real.

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What’s Holding You Back from Your Dreams?

Everyone has dreams, and I don’t mean the kind you have at night when your mind slips into an unconscious state.

When you’re asked what your dreams are, what do you say? Do you freeze up, unable to articulate your dreams because you claim you aren’t sure? I’m not a betting person, but I’m willing to bet the uncertainty that plagues you is fear.

Maybe you won’t even name your dreams or dare to dream because of fear.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, low self-esteem, a negative self-image, and caring too much that others think or say (which is mostly in your mind, anyway) are all factors of not daring to dream in the first place.  

I have been following a vlogger on YouTube for years now who I think is beautiful (inside and out), talented, adorable in her antics, inspiring, and a fighter.  She admits often that the persona she portrays to the world in her videos is much more confident than she really is.

I used to be shy, but now I am able to talk and usually joke around with just about anyone. I can laugh about life when I’m in a group, even the things that bother me. Put me alone with my thoughts, and I am not that outgoing, confident person.

I get what this vlogger is saying. We can put on a smile on the stage. As I wrote in one of my novels, a smile can cover a lot of pain. Laugh enough and it doesn’t hurt so much, right? Yeah, something like that.

I look at this lovely young woman who I know only through the Internet and marvel. She has enormous support, but with any sort of fame come those who are all too happy to belittle, threaten, and hurt. Funny how 99 people can compliment you, but it only takes that one person to tear you down. What do we focus on? The negative.

Like this vlogger I follow and think the world of, many people suffer inwardly. She admits to turning down several opportunities because she doesn’t feel worthy. She has wonderful dreams, but her low self-confidence gets in the way. That is what holds her back from her dreams. She knows that.

For years, I said I wanted to be a published author. That was my dream, at least one of them. Yet for years, I did very little to make my dreams a reality. I had ideas for my first novel (based off my late grandma’s life, who I loved dearly). You can read more about the inspiration behind my first book here.

I managed a few pithy chapters. I read my grandma’s diary and a few pages she had written about her life while growing up. I jotted down several notes. This was between October 2006 and January 2009. I then left the book sitting on my hard drive. I hadn’t forgotten about it, but whenever I thought about sitting down at the keyboard and writing, I faltered. Overwhelmed at the prospect of writing an original story, I let fear dictate my actions and reasons.

Fear wasn’t the only culprit. It was easy to find excuses, a hundred other things that needed my daily attention. Many of those things were legitimate, like caring for my young kids and the house, but I believe if you really want something, you will do whatever you need (within reason) to attain it.

If I wanted to work out more, I would get to the gym more often. If I wanted to eat healthier, I wouldn’t buy chocolate or go through the McDonald’s drive thru. If I wanted to save more money, I would stop buying unnecessary items.

Sure, I want these things, but how much do I want them? Not enough, apparently.

pablo (25)I came to the hard realization that even though part of me wanted better or more, I must not have wanted those things badly enough.

I have written about having no regrets in a previous blog post. This one ties into that. Both topics involve fear of failure.

I believe the only way to fail is to do nothing.

In March 2015, I finally make a life-altering decision: I would write every day on my original story, even if I never published it, even if no one ever read it. Tired of traipsing through the lands of other authors and their characters in the world of fan fiction for 20 years, I knew that if I was to take myself as a writer seriously, I NEEDED to write every day, even if only for ten minutes.

Ten minutes. That’s all I told myself. It was a realistic goal.

To reach your dreams, you must set realistic, attainable, often short-term goals. Setting the goal of writing a whole book could have been too much. It was for me for years. As I said, overwhelming. I had already committed to exercising at least three days a week and had been doing it for three years at that point. If I could do that, I could write for ten minutes a day. Besides, I loved writing. I believe and have always believed that writing is in my blood, my fourth child (I have three actual ones), and was one of my purposes in life.

Your life purpose is what drives your desire to have dreams, but getting there is the intimidating and often difficult part. Goals at the stepping stones, every inch of pavement poured to create the road you travel from purpose to dreams. Day by day, little goal by little goal, you get there.

I finished my first draft of my first novel ten months after seriously sitting down to write it. I published it seven months after that. Once I got going, I couldn’t stop. I now have published a second novel, completed two more, and am nearing completion on my fifth.

Besides all this? I have joined a writers group at my local library, which you can read more about here. I have made invaluable friendships with several of these wonderful people who are like-minded. They are writers. They understand my raison-d’etre. I get them.

I have days when I question my ability to write, but they are fleeting. Our days are numbered in a fleeting life, so why do anything other than go for your dreams? If I hadn’t overcome my fears, I would have never gotten where I am today. I wouldn’t have shared my stories. I wouldn’t be spending time doing what I love daily.  I wouldn’t have met so many lovely friends.

Speaking of friends, a long-time and dear friend of mine has written extensively on the topics of life purpose, goals, and dreams on her blog. I highly recommend you check her blog out if you would like to seriously pursue these topics further.

pablo (26)

It’s funny that I had this blog idea for months and how its placement at the beginning of February coincided with my friend’s recent blog posts about the same topics. Fortuitous? Meant to be? I would like to think so.

Keeping dreaming, my friends, but if you’re serious about making your dreams a reality, you have to do the work. Pave your road with goals, not good intentions. Build your life with action, not ideas.

As any good writer knows, a story is driven by action. Ideas are good and all, but a good idea doesn’t necessarily make for a good story. You have one life. Make it a good story, even a great one.

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No Regrets in Life

You’ve heard it said before: have no regrets.

You’ve probably also found yourself alone with your maddening thoughts, maddening both as in crazy and provoking anger. Your lovely mind has this magical ability to conjure out of nowhere every past fault, failure, and fracture. But such thoughts do have a hiding place. They lurk in the deepest recesses of your mind. You know, those places you put memories you wish you could forget.

But you don’t. Or can’t. Or maybe the masochistic face of you doesn’t want to.

Misery loves company, after all.

I can remember getting ready for work when I was in my 20s. Ah, such was the decade where I was caught between responsible adult and kid. My husband was already at work. I had the house to myself and a tendency to not want to get up in mornings. I hated mornings. While mornings and I still aren’t buds, we can tolerate each other now, but I digress.

I was often tired and cranky while getting ready for work because I stayed up too late. I guess you could say I regretted staying up late come morning–ha! But seriously, because of my already compromised state of mind, I would find myself ruminating on certain people in my life, both past and present, who I felt had let me down. I’d grow increasingly mad, to the point sometimes that I wondered why I had wasted precious hours, days, and years of my life with some of these fine folks. I’d have regrets for even knowing them, for letting them get to me, and for letting they still live rent-free in my mind.

Although it wasn’t really rent-free. I wasted countless energy and time over past hurts, over regrets, over things that couldn’t be changed.

I could go further–regrets over things I didn’t do, should have said, or a path I took. Could have. Should have. Would have.

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that I never go to those ugly places, those closets filled with boxes labeled “regret.”

If anything now, I regret having regrets–ha!

pablo (22)I’m not entirely sure how, or when, or even why, but somewhere along the road of my 30s, I came to understand a deeper truth: I can’t change the past or my circumstances, but I can change how I look at them.

I have no control over other people or what goes on in the world. The forces of nature are beyond me. The thoughts and actions of other individuals are the result of their free will.

At the end of the day or my life, the only thing I should have to regret, if anything, is my outlook on life. I have a choice every day to make: be bitter or be content. Contentment, I believe, goes beyond momentary happiness. Feelings are as fleeting as leaves blowing by on a windy day. To have inner peace, a resolve to keep going, to say I’m going to stand and not fall, that is true contentment.

Instead of looking at a failed relationship as a waste of your time and being angry at the other person and yourself, look at it as an opportunity to learn something. I believe everyone who comes in and out of your life can teach you something, even if it’s what not to do.

These are the words I etch on my heart and stamp on my brain. I hope they go deeper and imprint on my soul, that eternal part that is who I really am. I hope, at the end of the day and my life, that I have no regrets because of choosing to rise above.

There is no new wisdom in these words, but just a simple reminder I think we all need from time to time. Friend, if you’re filled with regrets, make a choice right now to let those ugly boxes of junk go. Fill your mental storage with memories boxes of love.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Nothing worthwhile is easy, I believe.

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Why Perseverance Matters

It’s a new year. While the topic of this blog may have the feel of a resolution, I believe we can choose to start a new habit anytime.

But really, what better time to speak about perseverance? The gym is packed with people who will fade away before the month is over. I will still be trekking away on the elliptical at least three days a week like I have for six years. People will try the latest diet fad. I will just continue to eat modestly and mostly healthy and not calorie-count or deny myself a glass of wine or a bit of chocolate. I will keep plugging away at my writing, doing it every day for at least thirty minutes like I have for three years.

Sound magical?

It’s not. I promise you, I am not some sort of disciplined guru. I suck at time management. I try to squeeze too much into a short period of time and grow upset when I fail to accomplish everything I set out to do in a day. I am always ten minutes late, despite my good intentions otherwise. I slack in making myself look decent most days, choosing the easy I-am-a stay-at-home-mom look of yoga pants, a T-shirt, no makeup, and hair in a ponytail.

So I ride the struggle bus, too, folks. I get overwhelmed by committing to too much and then go into hibernation mode. Hint: This just happened this month.

But I am back to blogging weekly. Yep, I took a break from it during the insane month of Christmas, um, December. Part of perseverance, I believe, is balance–knowing when too much is too much, when enough is enough.

To many of us, we will picture persevering as plowing on through the storm, despite all odds, that somehow giving up or giving in is cheating, taking the easy way out, or being a wimp.  Now, let me ask you something: Do you honestly think it’s taking the easy way out to admit you are overwhelmed and need help, need to take a breather, to relax and then get back on the bandwagon? I don’t think it’s being cowardly to be sensible. Keeping the balance and perspective keeps a person on the path of perseverance.

Anyone who has been in a committed relationship long enough knows that perseverance takes a lot of time, effort, willingness, and energy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. People who are married for fifty years didn’t have sunshine and rainbows every day, but they learned to appreciate the sunshine after the rain.

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So, I ask you: What’s holding you back from embracing perseverance for the companion it is? Fear? Failure? You can only fail by not trying in the first place. You can find a thousand ridiculous things to fear every day and forget to live. Life is not meant to be a race or an emergency. It’s meant to be enjoyed.

We reap that joy fully by persevering through life. If you want to try something new, if you want to lose weight, if you want to write a book, if you want to travel more, then DO IT! Laziness is no excuse for stopping you. Failures or setbacks will happen, but you need to see them as stepping stones paving your way, not stumbling blocks.

I didn’t establish my gym routine or writing routine by sitting on my sorry ass. (Sorry–no, not really.) I worked at it every day, little by little.

I leave you with a quote by the less-than-formidable president Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Happy New Year, folks. Make it a goodie. Persevere.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I post a new blog every Friday, including book reviews.

My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for only $2.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $3.99 here.