Earlier this year I was asked by a long time acquaintance to tell our story publicly. Since she first heard the story years ago, she found it encouraging and thought others would benefit by it as well.
Tonight, I happened to come across my notes for the talk. In reviewing them, I thought it contained information that might lift you up, encourage you, and help you to do things that maybe you’ve been a bit hesitant to tackle .
Life is so short. That in itself is enough to make it important to do what you really want to do in life. Things won’t always be perfect, but you’ll never know what you can do until you try.
Bill and I followed a rough road. But amazingly we accomplished what everyone said couldn’t be done. (More details on this will follow.)
Most long time readers know that I started gardening to eat. But this is the rest of the story – at least in part.
A Little Background
Bill was the middle of 3 kids.
I was an only child.
Both of us came from families where we didn’t do anything that suited our parents.
We were looking to get out of that situation as soon as we could.
Bill left when he was 17 and joined the Navy.
He served 5 years and was a 2nd class machinist mate when he got out.
That’s when we met.
We rented rooms at the same boarding house.
He’d knock on my door to wake me in the morning and leave a cup of coffee in a plastic cup at the door before he left for work. (He left much earlier than I did.)
Whenever I’d come home from a date, Bill would be painting and we’d talk into the wee hours.
Six months later we married.
From Virginia to Baltimore
We moved from Virginia to Baltimore. No money of course. All I had was high heels shoes, so if I wasn’t working I was barefooted. (I remember being barefooted into November.)
During that time I worked mostly for attorneys.
Bill had a variety of jobs, but mainly in air/conditioning and refrigeration.
Still in our 20’s he was accepted and attended Maryland Institute College of Art
. Also attended air/conditioning & refrigeration schools during the years he worked in that field.
When Bill turned 36 we gave serious thought to the possibility of getting into our 40’s and 50’s and never doing what we really wanted to do because we’d always been told it couldn’t be done. (Making a living with his art.)
My guess is that many of you can probably relate to being told what you want to do is impossible.
Starts when we’re young and want to do something that society as a whole, your parents or your peers are not doing. Then folks start telling you very emphatically in most cases, that what you want to do can’t be done. They give you excuses (usually called reasons) like you’re either too young or too old, the economy’s bad, you have children, you don’t have enough money and on it goes.
The sad part is that in most cases we start to believe all that propaganda and accept it as fact. Then we don’t follow through on things that could make life great, rather than just muddling through in the grey zone.
And of course, we make excuses ourselves. The two most popular being lack of time and money.
But the fact is – what you accomplish and what you’re able to do has more to do with how much you want to do it than it does with how much money and time you have. I wrote in detail about this in a previous post.
Helps if You Know Someone Who’s Already Done It
If you want to be successful in any given field, it helps if you know of someone who’s already done what you
want to do. Then copy them. (For example, even if you have absolutely no experience in gardening you can copy my example and be successful. That’s why I wrote the book – to help you be successful almost instantly.)
In our case, we had never even heard of any artist who had taken our approach – so there was no one to copy. Quite frankly, it seemed like an impossible goal – even to us.
Driven To Do It
We didn’t know how to go about achieving our goal, but we were so driven to get out of the city and be where we wanted to be (which was here in the Northern Neck) that we quit our jobs and moved here even though we had no money.
I take that back – we had $80.
To make it even more of what most would call insane – we wanted to make our living with Bill’s artistic abilities.
So here we were, in the middle of a remote area (especially back then), knowing no one, having no income,
with only $80, and everything we owned in a truck that still belonged to the bank in Baltimore. And not a clue as to what we were doing.
When I look back I’m amazed and almost find it hard to believe that we were so driven to take such a hard road.
I had someone say to me one time, “But it really wasn’t that hard was it?”
Yes, it was! It was very hard. As a matter fact when I look back, it amazes me that we got through it.
The only reason we had a roof over our head when we arrived in this area, was because a fellow who had worked with Bill owned a trailer and said we could stay in it.
It doesn’t take a lot of thought to figure out that we were pretty much destitute within a week or so.
Nonetheless, Bill went out every day to draw and paint. And I think that was just as much to remind us of what we were suppose to be doing here, as anything else.
Looking for Work
We also looked for conventional “jobs”, but no one would hire us. Bill went to all the a/c and heating companies looking for work. I went to all the offices (especially attorneys). We both told folks they didn’t have to pay us until they saw what we could do and that we’d be willing to do the jobs that their other employees didn’t want to do.
I remember one day – I made an interview appointment with one of the larger companies in Kilmarnock. Bill and I hadn’t eaten in two days and I sure didn’t “feel” like an interview.
To make a long story short, the guy told me it was so nice to have us in the area (I guess he felt that was the right thing to say)
, but he couldn’t possibly hire me.
That was a downer.
This story was repeated many times.
It’s especially difficult when you don’t have food and other necessities and still have to put your best foot forward to do what you can to try to change things.
Finding work – but
Now the story gets even more unbelievable and I’m sure anyone who would have known this would have really thought us crazy.
After many months, a fellow who owned a company in Kilmarnock decided to take a chance on Bill and hire him. At first we were excited. The idea of having some income was WONDERFUL!
And then things started to sink in and we realized what would happen if Bill took the job.
We may as well have stayed in Baltimore. We’d be right back to not doing what we really wanted to do and never really making more than enough to survive on. (Which seemed pretty appealing at the time.)
So as hard as it was, Bill turned the job down.
Nickles and Dimes to Keep Going
In the meantime Bill had put notes up at the various post offices stating he would do odd jobs.
A fellow who was building a home a few miles away showed up at our door and asked if Bill could do some work for him. That was exciting. A bit of income — but a job that didn’t tie up your life forever.
Found in the Middle of Nowhere
And somehow, I can’t for the life of me figure out how, a newspaper reporter found us and wrote the first article ever written about Bill. (No money came, but it seemed encouraging at the time.)
Getting Those Bums Out of the Trailer
Within the year, the fellow who owned the trailer we were in decided to sell it.
The real estate agent told him “Let’s get those bums (that was us) out of there so we can sell it.” (The owner of the trailer repeated her comment to us.)
And by the way, the same real estate agent called me years later. After she introduced herself, I said “Oh yes, I remember you.” She then went on to say how proud everyone was to have Bill in the area — and could we contribute something to whatever cause it was that she was promoting.
And in case you’re wondering, no, we didn’t contribute anything.
Bottom line – the guy sold the trailer.
House Sitting, Cottage in the Woods, and Finally an Old Farm House
We had a week to find another place to reside.
Fortunately, a couple who wintered in Florida needed a house sitter.
When they returned from Florida we moved to a tiny one room little cottage in the woods across the creek from where we wintered in return for Bill doing odd jobs for the owner.
That lasted almost a year.
After that we moved to an uncared-for old farm house that was occupied by thousands of crickets, snakes, mice and the occasional raccoon and rat.
No heat (later we were able to get kerosene heaters), no running water in the house, no bathroom, no phone. But the price was right. We got it just for living in it.
And we stayed there 20 years.
It’s what we had to do, and I can’t say it was easy. Poverty’s not fun.
Somehow we got through more than 20 years of doing without just about everything.
Life, in the best of circumstances, presents challenges. On the road we chose to walk some of those challenges seemed insurmountable.
We met the challenges. Some times better than other times. And we learned. But it was slow going.
One of the things we learned was that you can’t always wait for conditions to be perfect to take action. We probably did more with nothing during those years, than many people do with a lot.
A few of the things Bill did:
About the first thing we created to sell were notepapers. When all was said and done, Bill did over 150 notepapers, most of them pen and ink drawings of our Chesapeake Bay area that were popular for more than 20 years.
Hundreds of original watercolors and oil paintings were created and sold.
Some color reproductions. (a/k/a prints).
In 1986 Bill was one of 86 artists in the U.S. chosen to take Robert Bateman’s Master Class at Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in
Wausaw, Wisconsin. (Bateman, for those who don’t know, is a world reknowned Canadian artist.)
By invitation Bill had many shows throughout the area, including one sponsored by the Northern Neck Audubon Society. And almost every bank within a 5 county area invited him to exhibit and/or hold a show there.
We visited and Bill drew life at Smith Island and I wrote a little book about that adventure. We also visited Tangier, but I promised everyone we’d never write that story. 🙂
Created the first two travel guides for the Northern Neck.
Taught for a few years at both campuses of Rappahannock Community College.
Held workshops for artists.
Over the years he did portraits by commission (two of which hang in our county’s courthouse). Created letter heads (including county letterheads), logos for businesses, and designs for various organizations.
In 1991 Bill did a design for a tee shirt that was so popular we sold out just by word of mouth within a week. That’s how we “accidentally” had the idea for Bill’s line of sportswear that we named Chesapeake Bay Designer Sportswear. It was a good accident because it enabled us to live a little better than we’d been living. We sold primarily at our shop and the boat shows creating a good following there.
Created commissioned commemorative prints for 4 of the 5 Northern Neck counties.
Created the Chesapeake Bay Watermen commemorative print in 2000.
Created and published the Northern Neck Illustrated Journal in 2003 with well over 100 drawings of the 5 county area.
In 2006 he was asked to paint George Washington’s Birthplace, which took him two years to do. The event unveiling those paintings took place in 2008.
He was honored posthumously by the James Monroe Sons of the American Revolution this past May and was credited with doing more to preserve Northern Neck history than any other single person.
Over the years Bill’s goal as an artist (in addition to earning a living) was to be the best he could be and continually improve his artistic ability.
He did that.
Just this past November that accomplishment was recognized by the former Director of Collections at the Hirschhorn Museum of the Smithsonian Institute.
When she visited me prior to the last show this past November, she talked at length about Bill’s ability, calling him an artist of quality. What impressed her most, she told me, was his continual improvement over the years.
She mentioned that many artist’s that are now dead and famous, plateaued at a certain level and stayed there. But, she said, it was so obvious to her that Bill continually improved.
It would have been nice for Bill to have heard that compliment with his own ears and know that someone who really knew what they were looking at saw that in his work.
Some Tips to Get You Down the Road Less Traveled (should you chose it.)
#1. Walking a different road than the majority is seldom easy.
It’s a bit easier when you know up front that you can’t expect anyone – no matter how close they are to you – to share your point of view, your goals, or to see exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing.
In all probability if what you want and are doing does not match what the vast majority is doing, you’ll be criticized.
Start walking in the direction you want to go.
You don’t have to take huge steps. Tiny steps will get you there.
Hopefully your “road less traveled” won’t be as hard as ours.
I had to make myself walk in the direction we wanted to go even though I sometimes felt in my heart we’d never get there.
But the fact is – you have a much better chance of reaching a destination in the north if you’re headed north rather than south.
Keep a Check on Your Attitude
Sometimes life can be like a card game. You don’t always get the hand you want, but you have to play with hand you’ve been dealt.
So if something can’t be avoided, work with it the best you can. Sometimes the only choice we have is what attitude we’ll embrace.
The right one can get you mentally past the unavoidable and help you see opportunities in the situation.
It’s not so much the event that shapes our world, but the thought process we adapt in going through it.
I’ve come home many times with a bad attitude and Bill would said, “Nothing can change for the better until you change your attitude, Theresa.”
Surround yourself with quality people.
Statistics prove that people we’re around definitely make an impact on our life.
Ask yourself, does this person move and inspire me to do my best, be my best and give my best?
Also turn that question towards yourself to find out if you’re being a quality person. Do you inspire others to do their best, be their best, and give their best.
The very same can be applied to what you watch for entertainment, the books and magazines you read, the newsletters and websites you subscribe to. Are they helping you to be your best?
Set your Standards Ahead of Time
If you’ve not already determined what you stand for and what values you’ll hold to, you’ll be caught off guard many a time.
Just about everyday we’re given opportunities (in the form of choices) to show what we’re made of.
Some are seemingly more insignificant than others.
But make no mistake, every decision is taking you either towards your goal or away from your goal.
Each decision either makes you stronger or weakens your resolve.
Don’t allow the noise of the opinions of others to drown out your inner voice.
For the most part, turn a deaf ear to all that.
Had Bill and I listened to all the “noise”, our life would be void of the things that made it wonderful.
We were told
- Our marriage wouldn’t work. (We were married 51 years and hoping for another 50.
- It wasn’t possible to make living with art. (I must admit it’s not easy, but we finally did it.)
- Can’t garden without chemicals. (I’ve been organic gardening for almost 40 years.)
- When we created sportswear with Bill’s designs other exhibitors at the boatshows couldn’t get to us fast enough to tell us
that we would not be able to sell goods of that quality at a boatshow.
- The Annapolis Boat Show was another thing we were not suppose to be able to get into. We were told we had
to be on a waiting list and it would take 5 to 10 years to get in. My reply was, ” Well – I don’t have 5 to 10 years, I have to get in in one year.” And I did.
I mentioned earlier. Keep in mind: what you’re able to do has more to do with how much you want to do it, than it does with how much money or time you have.
Thank you for taking time to read this.
I hope you’ve latched on to something useful in our story as well as the tips that you can use to propel you forward in your life’s goals and desires.
Today, Bill would have been 75 years old. If I could have him here with me I’d start by saying:
I love you Bill Martz and I will always love you. Having had you in my life for 51 years was a tremendous gift.
I’m saddened not to have you here with me and miss you more every day. But I know that each day is part of life’s curriculum with it’s own lessons to be gleaned and learned. So, I’m trying to go forward.
I now face life’s challenges alone. If I can meet those challenges, it will be because of what we learned as we walked through life together.
I love you. Happy Birthday.
Gardening and Life In General Walking in the Direction You Want to Go
Choose Your Path Carefully
Your Focus Will Determine Your Outcome and Lifestyle
Simple Secret to Increase Your Chances for Happiness and Success
Choices – Making You Stronger or Weakening Your Resolve
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