Do You See What I See?

I’d wager to bet our perceptions differ, even as we may imagine we’re looking at the same thing. This is a truism. But it’s curious, isn’t it? By default, we assume we have a shared reality, when that is only partially true.

I recently posted to Facebook a photograph of a painting I made, my primary intention being to share what seemed like an amusing interchange between me and my husband. He said he liked the painting; I was less impressed and responded with something like, “If you really like it, you better take it to work with you, otherwise I might not be able to resist painting over it.” I’m known for painting over my work, for ruining a decent painting by changing “just one more little thing.”

The encounter was meant to highlight my struggles as a painter, possibly to invoke a chuckle or two. I can be guilty of taking myself too seriously. This exchange, and the telling of it, was meant to be an antidote.

What happened next was puzzling to me, but not really surprising when one considers how varied our individual perceptions of the same object can really be. In short, many people – many more than usual – responded positively to the painting. Some folks suggested the painting might be my best work. 

I was stunned. Really?

You might imagine I’d be pleased to have my work well-received, which was true to a degree. It feels good to be liked and I always appreciate when people take the time to acknowledge me in some way.

But more predominantly, I was aware of feeling dysphoric, confused. What am I not seeing here?

Have you ever created something you didn’t personally like very much? 

Of course you have!

Have you ever had other people like that thing more than other things? Things you’ve liked better yourself? Worked harder on, been more proud of?

It’s a strange feeling, isn’t it?

In some ways it’s a bit like going to a costume party and having people say you’ve never looked better. Really? Do you not like the real me? 

But who is the real me? Who is the real you? Would you know your true self if you saw it reflected back to you? If your art reveals something about you, do you know what that is?

In a world where wearing masks is a social custom, is it any wonder we get confused about what is real, true, and good?

Wait, are we talking about a painting or about being authentic? Well, I think they’re connected, at least in this example. Because I know it’s possible to hide the truth of who we are, even when we think we’re being open. Just as it’s possible to truly reveal ourselves without noticing, without seeing ourselves. For better and worse.

None of this may be relevant to the painting. Art is subjective; perceptions vary. But when the groundswell of something you’ve created differs so widely from your own opinion, the problem likely lives in your perception of self.

Perhaps it’s time for you to broaden your self perception, to expand the expressed range of who you’ve allowed yourself to be? 

I know that time has come for me.

Are you an artist?

Works in progress, on location, Provincetown, MA

I came to painting unconventionally, with no memories of childhood painting aptitude and little painting experience outside of my elementary school art classes. I’ve always liked to draw, but my ability to render what I saw was never remarkable. Playing sports and being a good student were more my things. 

There is some photographic evidence that hints of my early interest in painting, but being an artist was never part of my identity. I’m not sure what it would mean to claim that identity at age 50. Nor do I really feel I must do so, at least not any more than I’ve defined myself in other ways. Am I a painter? Someone who likes to paint? Is there really a difference? 

I don’t know. I’m just curious about these sorts of things, most especially how each of us develops and claims aspects of ourselves that have been unknown or previously dormant.

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Freedom: The other side of loss

Freedom, 16×38 on plywood

Change can be difficult and is often filled with associated grief, but freedom can also be found in the process of letting go. Major life transitions offer a special opportunity to find freedom in change, but it’s easier said than done depending on the details.

We just sold our house. And truthfully, nothing about the related details over the last months have felt close to positive, except the knowledge that we would eventually conclude the stressful parts and be another step closer to our goals – a simpler life, fewer possessions, reduced financial obligations, to name a few.

Anticipated freedom on my mind, I noticed the plywood board sitting on the side of the road – FREE in bold marker written across the surface. Instead of unwanted junk, I saw a new canvas for the old house paint I’d not yet discarded. This idea was so compelling, I actually turned the car around to retrieve the board after initially passing it by.

I’d already made two other paintings with house paint, which turned out to be highly therapeutic, as well as productive. See an example here. But those paintings were made on canvases already in my possession, the benefit of using them more immediately obvious.

In the middle of a move, the last thing anyone needs is to accrue anything new. Nevertheless, I found myself putting the board in my car, unable to resist the symbolic reference and the therapeutic value of a new creative project to soothe me between the packed boxes.

Although I understood FREE would be erased by whatever painting I made, I imagined I’d know freedom in the layers of the painting. I was right.

Freedom is a mindset, not only a consequence of release from unwanted circumstances. Freedom is found any time we allow ourselves to move beyond preconditioned responses. Freedom comes when we let go of expectations.

I am free. You are free.

A different kind of love letter*


You’re watching me
From your blanketed perch
The spot we’ve made for you
On the left side of the couch

I’m in the kitchen
The reason
Your interest is keen

But I pretend your attention
Is something like love

Something like
The way I love you
Which feels like held breath
And fills my empty spaces

Even as I know
You’re merely calculating
A piece of carrot?
A slice of cucumber, maybe?

Weighing the likelihood
Of a treat against
The comfort of the couch

There was a time
When you watched
From up close
And only
Pressed against my leg
Or with a nose in my lap

Ever optimistic
No matter how many times
I never
Shared my dinner

You’re more discerning now
Better trained perhaps
Or maybe just tired
Aware of your aching body
As I am

You see
I watch you, too

And I feel my heart ache
Each time I imagine
Your side of the couch
Without you. Watching me

© Amanda Reilly Sayer, 2019

* In honor of my dear Chapin, 13 years old today ❤️

Sunlit Path


Ripples of light
Unfolding a path
Over vast, shifting earth

Circuitous, but leading
Not the shortest line
But there

Along with that lone tree
Whispering wind-filled stories
Of survival and new branches

Look back if you must
But notice the widening arc
The trail gone past

Tales of your struggle
Are etched in your bones
You need not repeat them

Now, away from the setting sun
Step into your long shadow, embrace
And watch the tide shift

The unknown
Place of your thriving
Lies just ahead

© Amanda Reilly Sayer