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Photo of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ever since I can remember, I was always worried about something. My father said if I wasn’t worried about something, I would worry about not being worried.

So I believed that normalcy meant having no problems. I thought TV sitcoms represented real life or life as it should be. Sitcom, short for situational comedy, presents a single situation, which is somehow resolved in 30 minutes, including commercial time.

In my home, talking about problems was discouraged, and worrying was frowned upon. Somehow, I wasn’t able to adhere to that rule, but I internalized the concept, and it became my albatross. In my mind, having problems was abnormal. If I didn’t feel like one of the cool kids at school, I shouldn’t think about it. If my job wasn’t working out, I should stick it out and deal with it. Voicing concerns was perceived as complaining, and that meant not appreciating what you have. As a result, I lacked problem resolution skills, which naturally exacerbated my problems.

Attending a Sight & Sound performance at The Museum of Modern Art last weekend, which combined the works of a composer who was also an artist, I listened to the conductor’s explanation of impressionist art. He said the artist’s visual impression of a scene, the majestic landscape with it’s perfect light and angles, compels us to see the world how we want it to be or think it should be. Either way, it’s an illusion. The reality is that it’s a painting in a frame. And we gladly buy into that.

I bought into the illusion that the joy of life as depicted on movie screens, magazine covers and portraits is equivalent to problem-free. But neither society nor individuals progress without problems to solve. Companies, and employees by way of performance reviews, set new targets each year. Homeowners get the roof fixed and the think about the next home improvement needed. Parents prepare for new hurdles with each phase of parenting. Students shift their attention to the next challenge after hitting each milestone. Normalcy is not sitting in reverie over past accomplishments. We celebrate briefly and then determine what needs to be addressed next. Otherwise, we would get bored, halt progress, or stagnate emotionally or intellectually.

Figuring out the next thing we need to do keeps us moving forward. Focusing on what could be fixed or improved is not only OK, it is essential to innovation. Science is predicated on identifying a need and finding a solution. The same can be said of writing, music and art. We dissect, break down and analyze, and then engineer something better or craft a unique perspective.

If I seem to always be worried and looking for problems, it’s not a sign that I don’t appreciate what I have or that I harbor delusional expectations of a perfect life. I merely want to identify anything that may get in the way of my future, beat it to the ground or figure out how to make an unavoidable situation doable to gear up for new challenges ahead. I enjoy Norman Rockwell paintings, but I don’t live in them.

Expressionist artists express their own interpretation of what they see, which may or may not resemble reality. A forest may barely depict some representation of trees if they even look like trees at all. But the emotion comes through loudly; darkness and light. Maybe, instead of seeing the world as we think it should be or how we want it to be, we need to create our own reality; our own story, problems and all.