When do you give up on trying to fix your mistakes? I make a lot of those in art. People whose proportions just don’t seem right, subjects that aren’t as interesting on canvas as they were in my head or, as my husband once said, “he looks like he was punched in the face.” So I paint over a lot of failed attempts in order to save the canvas.


Occasionally, there is too much paint to be able to use the canvas. The picture I try to paint just doesn’t work over so many layers, and so much texture. How hard I work or how well I draw doesn’t matter in the face of this disaster. This happens not just in art, but of course, in life in general. The same can be said about relationships that have gone sour or that turned painful, even toxic. When do we give up and write it off as a loss? When do we try to save it?


It comes down to the question: are you willing to continue knowing that it could be a total loss in the end? Is it worth it to make a huge effort, to be creative, patient, swallow any anger, knowing that even after all that there might not be anything to show for it? If nothing can be changed or saved no matter how hard we try, are we wasting our time and energy?


Ultimately, I think that if we are willing to accept that we can get something out of the trying, out of the process itself of working to fix a wrong, then it is deserving of our time. At the very least, we gain self awareness. We learn about our willingness to give of ourselves, our values, our standards, and we learn our limits. Hopefully, we also grasp just what our mistakes were and figure out how to avoid repeating them in the future.


I tried to save my disaster of a canvas. I placed it in the bathtub, poured rubbing alcohol all over it, and started to scrub. I scrubbed and scraped and some layers started to peel away. Pictures emerged that I had forgotten about. I was forced to confront past mistakes I hadn’t even remembered making. After hours of scraping and smelling the toxic stench without much progress, I got discouraged. I got to a point where I realized that there was only a tiny chance I could restore this canvas to a clean slate.

Sometimes we are too tired, the effort is too much or the anger wells up and we see today is not the day to make the effort. And that’s ok. It’s ok to take a break and regroup. Sometimes it could turn into something completely different we wanted. And that’s ok too. It’s ok to let go of the perfect picture in our minds.


In trying to rescue this canvas, I knew I would learn something. I could experiment without the fear of wasting a valuable asset. I wanted to test my creative limits and develop my patience.


In some relationships, like with family, we know that we will grow just by trying. For years, I have watched my mother work hard at saving relationships that I thought for sure were lost causes. I am truly inspired by her ability to bare her heart knowing that she might not get much in return. I also watched her let go of other relationships that she felt had come to an end. I saw the great changes in her that resulted from all the self examination. I enjoyed the unexpected consequence of our relationship getting stronger through all her hard work with others. She also taught me that there is a difference between giving up and moving on. And each time we come to that crossroads we need to decide what we are ready for.


In the end, I wasn’t able to rescue the canvas to its original state. I moved on from that idea and took it in a new direction and transformed it. It is completely different than I had imagined, but I like it. That’s the great part about letting go of expectations I guess- we end up surpassing the limits we might have put on ourselves.

Sometimes before we push through to the beauty of a painting or a relationship, we need to pass through the ugliness. All the layers of missteps, misgivings, mishaps need to be scraped away. A new foundation has to be built up. Only then can something worthwhile be created.


My hope for all of you today is that you are able to create beauty in your lives, in whatever form that takes.


Marla Bender

The Rescue
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3 thoughts on “The Rescue

  • February 23, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Dear Marla,
    What a beautifully written, sensitive essay on the process of facing and discovering oneself. I feel honored by the tribute you paid to me and grateful for all we have created together in our relationship. You have taken the best of psychological awareness and put it to use in the art of living and loving.
    Your piece deserves greater readership. How could I help you with that? 💕👍 mom


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