I haven’t written to you in ages, and it’s become like that situation where I haven’t called a certain friend in a while and the longer it’s been since I did so, the harder it is to pick up the phone and connect. In any event, I find that I’m ready to be honest with myself and with you – I feel a sense of shame and embarrassment that I’ve been hiding away.
My story is probably very common. Although I had taken art in high school, I didn’t find an outlet for that part of myself again until I enrolled in a drawing class in my early 40’s. Along with spending time in nature and discovering sacred dance, making art healed me from debilitating depression and gave a new shape to my life. I continued to work a variety of day jobs to contribute to our family income, while experimenting, learning, creating, and exhibiting my artwork as my resources allowed.
And then it happened – I decided I wanted to be a full time artist, with a dedicated studio space, running a vibrant professional practice with a loyal following of patrons who would support my artistic vision. Yup, that’s a big desire, and I spent a great deal of time, energy and funds to make this happen. And its been an amazing process in terms of some fabulous personal and professional growth. I did things that made me a ‘real’ artist. I created business cards and a website, I endeavoured to build my email ‘list’. I started writing regularly and posting a blog. I applied to juried shows and was accepted. I sold work. It felt good. I was successful. And then I got stuck.
I have been stuck before, for sure, but this has felt different. There’re all kinds of excellent ways that life has ‘interfered’ – various losses and challenges – but my life is actually very beautiful and I have much to be grateful for. I stopped writing to you and making art because I haven’t known what it is I want to say, or if perhaps I’ve already said everything I have to say through my artwork, or if anyone will care. I have doubted my abilities and my gifts and my voice. I have been AFRAID. I have known about the fear factor for some time and tell myself – but hey, much creative work is done in an environment of doubt and risk, why can’t you just move forward? And the answer is I don’t know. I don’t know how to move from this empty place into a joyful, energetic, dynamic, fun place. I feel like it’s there waiting for me and I haven’t figured out how to get in. I’ve been telling myself that ‘even though I’m not sure what’s next, I’m ready’ and I’ve been waiting to believe it. And belief has been missing.
So, today I finally approach my studio. It’s still too chilly to be comfortable (ah, yes – the weather has been a huge excuse for me to not get started). I putter around and tidy, wiping away the cobwebs and dust. Then I investigate the results of my flower pressing using the children’s kit bought at a garage sale. With a little thrill I see how lovely and delicate they are turning out, these flowers from my wedding last month. Next I take down a shoebox of negatives from family photos. Tucked underneath is a small, black, falling-apart bible, my maternal great grandmother’s name inscribed inside.
I have seen this bible before and handled it I’m sure, but not before noticed that someone (or someones’ – plural) has tucked in small flower petals, along with a news clipping from the First World War. I am again flooded with that familiar sensation of bearing witness to the past and to beauty and to pain, an experience I had almost daily for several years as I created and then exhibited Birds of Summer, the body of work based on my mother.
My heart sings when I see the tissue paper thin petals, almost see-through with just a hint of color and the barest of ribbons laying neatly alongside.The book itself is rich in texture and history, its inside front cover mottled and discoloured, great-grandma’s name penned in so elegantly 140 years ago and the facing page holding a few notations of births and deaths.
And then the questions come for me: Is this discovery a coincidence or is it important that I listen? Is it time for me to revisit my decision to turn away from the past? How might I incorporate this in my artwork in a fresh way? Will these found objects move me to tell the untold stories I imagine?
And then I decide to write to you, dear reader, to share my shame and my doubt, my sense of joy and of accomplishment. To reach out in the hope that this sharing will encourage me to re-engage with my artistic practice. To be comfortable with the discomfort I feel in exposing myself and my fears.
I need courage. I need to be brave; to keep taking the steps closer to who I really am – an artist.