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|Published in Legacy Online, March 2004|
Guilt . . . and RedemptionI was raised Catholic, and though I am no longer a person of that faith, when Easter rolls around I cannot deny the impact of the Catholic calendar on my life. Nor the impact of Passover, the transition to DST, the return of a wide variety of birds at our feeder, and the bursting beauty of Spring all around me. This seasonal rebirth is too joyous to ignore.
But it comes after a long and difficult winter. The decision to close the gallery had left me feeling guilty; guilty that the artists won't have a professional gallery to show their work, guilty that I didn't do enough, guilty that I've let down the dream of Legacy. Oh, it was the right decision, but that doesn't change the emotional energy involved.
Guilt does interesting things to people. It can be a prod towards better behaviour, but it can also spin into defensiveness or even hostility. I've been astonished at how many people persist in asking about what I'm going to do with my life post-Legacy, and I think that I can attribute a lot of that intense curiosity to people feeling guilty. They are worried about me, and feeling guilty in their complicity in the failure of the business, because they didn't purchase anything, or worry that they didn't purchase enough.
One of our good patrons, when she heard that we were closing, told me that she looked around her house and counted the items she had purchased or had framed by us, just to measure her own level of guilt. I laughed, and told her that she had done her fair share, and then some. She asked me how much that was. I replied that if everyone who was on our mailing list (let alone all the people who come in to "just browse") had merely spent $10 per month that it would have doubled our annual gross sales. She was astonished that it was so little. I told her so was I, and the reason that I thought that the gallery should have been a business success.
Now, there certainly are people who are on our mailing list who cannot afford even $10 per month for the arts. I understand that. But for most people, it is a matter of priorities, and they didn't feel that art was a high enough priority over the other things they spend their money on. That is the undeniable reality of the situation, though I tried for years to deny it, or change it. Once I ran out of strategies to try, it no longer made sense to continue.
That was a painful decision. But it was a liberating one. Yes, the gallery is closing, and that is cause for sadness, but I'm looking forward to getting on with my life. The fact of the matter is that once I've set up my conservation studio at home, I'll be able to quadruple my income if I just have 10 billable hours per week, as opposed to the 50 - 60 hours per week I've been working. In a few years I'll be able to settle the debts of the business, and in the meantime I'll have more time to write, to help care for my aging mother-in-law, to get a dog.
So, rejoice. The redemption of Spring is here. Life begins anew.
all work © James T. Downey, 1993-2006
photos © Martha K. John, 1994-2006
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