Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Inspiration Comes From...

Untitled by Barbara Fox, acrylic on canvas

Last month I put everything aside to redecorate my daughter's bedroom. As I removed everything from her walls so that I could paint, I took down a painting that has been a part of her room since she was born. Before that, the painting hung in my retail shop, before that in my office, and before that in my living room. The 90's frame is enough to signal I've had it for a while. It was painted by my friend Barbara. With our Synchroblog topic this month of "My Inspiration Comes From..." it was the perfect time to introduce you to this driving force in both my personal and professional life.

At nearly any given time during my sophomore and junior years of college I had three jobs, including being an assistant to a woman named Barbara Fox. At that time Barbara was one of the longest survivors with her type of metastatic breast cancer. She had been diagnosed in her late 20s and was then in her 50s. Her team of physicians asked her to document her care, as they were curious what might be her secret to survival. That exercise lead her into writing an autobiography.

I have so many stories that I am having a hard time deciding where to start! So I will boil it down into one simple point...Barbara changed my life. Barbara was an extremely independent, confident, vibrant, professional woman. I will always remember her bright pink lipstick, bleached blonde hair and the twinkle in her blue eyes. Now, I know that sounds like such a cliche, but seriously, this woman had twinkle.

For well over a year, I would show up a few times a week, be handed a pile of yellow legal note pads filled with her crazy handwriting that only I could decipher, and enter it into her Macintosh computer. We'd spend the last hour of my time visiting. It was during this time that we really got to know each other and became friends and confidants.

About a year after I met her, her cancer returned. Over that year, more often than not when I arrived, she would say, "let's go on an adventure." I'd drive her up the Southern California coast through Malibu in her red convertible Mustang (again...seriously cliche...Malibu, Mustang...but trust me, this is an unembellished true story) and we'd stop for lunch where inevitably we would strike up a conversation with some stranger. In almost every situation, people went out of their way to give her their contact information, hoping to connect more with this charismatic woman.

She'd speak with anyone. For nearly an hour, she and Patrick Dempsey discussed the merit of green beans in the salad we were eating at her favorite restaurant. She chatted up the parking valets at Johnny Carson's house on the night of his last show, nearly scoring a secret way into his party until their bosses showed up. The employees at her favorite clothing store would hold clothes aside for her until they went on sale. And on Friday nights, she and her girlfriends would go skinny dipping in her pool. Barbara had had a double mastectomy, but she was always, by far, the most comfortable one in the pool.

When Barbara became too sick to go out on our adventures, I would show up and she would hand me an envelope with cash and have an assignment for me. They included going to a movie by myself, sitting down at a restaurant and having a meal by myself, or treating myself to a terribly ridiculous piece of clothing. She convinced me to go out and get a job at a newspaper, I was a journalism major afterall, what was I waiting for?

Part of who I am is because this woman demanded that I respect myself enough to be independent. I hang Barbara's painting in my daughter's room as a reminder to pass on Barbara's independence and love of life. And perhaps through this post, I am able to do so just a little more. 

On a final note, when Barbara passed away, her attorney called and said the unfinished book had been left to me. I struggled to finish it for a while, but I could never recreate her experiences or gain her expertise. But then it occurred to me that the true story wasn't how she lived with her disease, it was simply how she lived. So one day, I hope to write our story, one of a woman at the end of her life, and another at the start of hers. Maybe that day started today.

Create (and live a bit) recklessly today!


PS - So, thanks for hearing me out today! Phew...a little more personal than I normally get and I find it curious how uncomfortable and uncertain that makes me feel. But, I'll return to jewelry in my next post when I show you how to use photoshop to turn your favorite painting into a black and white image that can be etched into texture plates...using Barbara's painting of course!

Please visit the other bloggers this month:


  1. wow. lovely and touching. cheers to you and your friend Barbara, and Gwen's piece of that spirit.

  2. I really hope you write that story. Barbara's tale should be told. I find it so expansive of her to give so freely to you, to lead you on a path to your own self-discovery. That was deeply touching and I appreciate that you chose to share it with us! Enjoy the day. Erin

    1. Thanks Erin - I agree, her tale needs to be told. It is definitely among my next projects. Hope you are well, so great hearing from you. : )

  3. Melissa, what a wonderful story! I'm so glad you decided to share it. I wish everyone could have such a person in their life, if only for a short while. I have a feeling you are that person for someone! I'm so glad I got to work with you and know you for a short time and I love being able to follow your life on your blog! Miss you, and all the Bead Clubbers!

    1. Ahhh, thanks Mary! We miss you here in the great NW! I bet the kiddos are getting so big!! I gotta get out your way one day!

  4. Just read your sweet but tough story . Thank you for letting us know a bit of your personal history & yes, please do finish her story.
    nancy in NJ

  5. A wonderful story Melissa. And, just the inspiration I needed after a couple of very uninspired weeks - thank you!