I had to move back in with my mom for a time, during one of those periods that occur in a young artist’s life. We both wanted to paint every day (I was a painter back then). We kept getting caught up in other things, like laundry, doctor’s appointments, and so forth.
We realized something had to be done. We agreed to show up in front of our easels at nine every morning and work for (I think) two hours, and see what happened from there.

What happened? A lot of stuff I can’t remember, and some pretty good paintings. What really happened for me, though, was that I came up with a metaphor that has helped me organize my life ever since.

Our lives are like solar systems. There’s the laundry planet, and the kid planet, and the taxes planet, and then there’s something at the heart of it all—the work of our lives, the reason we’re here, the thing that doesn’t depend on anyone else to fulfill us. In my case that’s art (writing or painting). That’s the Sun. My kid is an important planet, yes; I’d die for that planet faster than a bunch of Jedi. But she’s going to lead her life. She can’t be the center of my universe because it would make us both nuts. What would I do when the center of the universe goes to college?

A lot of people I know, including me, forget—sometimes or most of the time—to put our Sun in the center of our solar system. So all the planets run around on crazy wrong orbits and crash into each other and we feel like we’re not getting anything done—though we do have lots of folded clean shirts.

When I put my Sun in the center of my solar system, however, the laundry planet, the taxes planet, and the very important kid planet all find their orbits. The laundry doesn’t always get done and the kid has to go to her awesome daycare rather than get All Mom All the Time, but the planets move in a smooth motion and I find I have energy for my daily tasks because my work gives it to me.

So that’s my Mother’s Day gift to you: a metaphor that can be a helpful tool.

I miss my mom. I miss painting with her. But I appreciate those hours in the studio, and all the talks afterward; I appreciate my hands, which she formed inside of her. Thank you, Mom.