CONVERSATIONS WITH MAINE

In caring for elderly mom, woman discovers buried treasure

Posted Jan. 17, 2013, at 12:09 p.m.

The prevailing impressions made by Gail Page’s Brooksville home are light, space and color. It is no wonder, since she and her husband are both artists and designed their home themselves. Included in the floor plan are two large, light-drenched studios for their painting and inspiration. Gail was a fashion designer at the age of 20, but turned to painting in later years. Her studio has seen the creation of many works of art, with vibrant color, whimsical animals and teapots making regular appearances.

Gail’s studio, however, has not seen artistic endeavors for nearly a year. It has been bisected by an arrangement of rather incongruous decor — hospital bed, motorized easy chair, TV, and a comfortable old sofa. Gail’s studio has become the bedroom of her 92-year-old mother, Jessie. The arrival of her mother has meant a dramatic change in Gail’s life and work, but Gail has turned it into a change for good.

“It was tough when she first got here,” Gail admitted. Gail had to shift into a full-time caregiver role, relearn how to live with her mother after 40 years of mutual independence, and lose her artistic space. But Gail is quick to appreciate her mother.

“She is very gracious and grateful. She is not demanding — the circumstances are demanding.”

Unable to use her studio for work, Gail sought out smaller scale projects and other artistic endeavors that fit her new space and time frame. She designs fanciful notecards and posters that require less space to create.

“The thing I’ve learned from this opening up of my life and my heart is that opportunities open up,” she said.

The greatest opportunity that has opened for Gail is the new world of writing. Before this year, the only writing Gail had ever done was to write and illustrate three children’s books. Spending time with her mother and moving her mom out of her lifetime home in New York reconnected Gail to several layers of her family’s history. That reconnection inspired her to learn more about her mother, her immigrant grandmother, and the lives that they led.

Gail found herself drawn to write her mother’s and grandmother’s stories. She is now deeply immersed in writing a novel based on their lives. As she writes, she is reshaping her own story as well. New to writing, she has adopted her own style. She sits quietly, waiting for inspiration to strike. Then she meticulously lays words on paper — like painting with prose.

“As I write, I craft every sentence until I like it. Then it leads to the next sentence.”

Gail also has discovered that writing opens her to otherwise unavailable spheres of experience. Activities and occupations she used to dream about — dancing or acting on the stage — are suddenly accessible through her imagination. In the invention and exposition of her characters’ lives, she becomes all kinds of things.

“When I’m writing, I feel like a dancer. I feel like an actor.”

Although Gail left fashion design work behind long ago, it remains a lifetime love that she often misses. In writing her novel, she realized that she can once again be a fashion designer, as well. She clothes her characters on the page with a wardrobe created in her mind. For Gail, writing has been a bit like finding buried treasure.

There are two reasons why I chose to share Gail Page’s story during these dreary days of winter. First is Gail’s artwork, which simultaneously exudes a brightness, energy and comfort. Second is Gail’s spirit. There is a serenity entwined with her creative drive that has allowed her to find inspiration in difficulty, and opportunity in the face of obstacles. Between her art and her spirit, Gail’s gentle presence floods me with hopeful optimism.

Perhaps Gail’s art output has diminished since her mother’s arrival, but her life has expanded.

“When I started on the novel,” she said, “I no longer wanted to paint … Maybe Mom was a muse — she got me to shift gears.”

Or maybe it is simply Gail’s nature to illuminate the dark corners of life — on canvas, on the page, or in person — with bright color and positive energy.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

 

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