Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coloring Outside the Lines, Or, The Truth I Live With

How Dragonfly began
Two nights ago I came home from work and crawled into my new bed with my new deep purple sheets, completely tired out.  I had just finished two major projects at work and recently completed my third year studying for a Master’s in Public Administration (think MBA with a P instead of a B).   I have one more year of studying and did I mention I was tired?
I took my power nap, pulled myself out of bed and went to the window. There was a storm coming. When the thunder rolled and the rain began, I felt refreshed and energized (I am a big fan of thunderstorms).  I thought about the work I do now, which is not a bad gig if you can get it – writing, photography, design, social media, website.  Mostly I enjoy it, but I often wish for a bigger stage, a bigger impact, a bigger paycheck. 

 As I stood at the window watching the rain and thinking about work, I heard a little voice in my head, like from my seven-year-old self, that said,  "But I just want to make art and write novels."   I have heard this voice saying these words before.   So I whispered it out loud just to see what it would be like, and it sounded….weak.  Wimpy. Uncommitted.  False.  Wishful.  I mean, there was no force behind it, no energy or conviction, just a whiny little kid’s longing for play and fun and frivolity.   And so I said it louder, in a stronger voice (do you think I’m crazy?) while looking at the rain:  
 “I just want to make art and write novels.”  Which felt better, stronger, but still sort of...childish.  And so again, in a louder voice: “I want to make art and write novels!!” 

How I left Dragonfly all those months ago
 This time it had some force in it, some conviction, a lot of energy. And the next thought, which came from the same (now excited) seven year old, was this: “So what are you waiting for? Let’s do it!”    And so I pulled out the canvas holding my dragonfly, the thing I’ve wanted to work on for months but set aside on a dark shelf because I've been too busy studying to even think about, except with sadness and a kind of dread, the fear that it would remain undone or worse, that it would be done badly. 

I pulled my supplies out – the glue, the brush, the scissors, the paper, fabric, and oh! The colors!   I started to work and then watched myself as I got temporarily stuck wanting to get it right, to be perfect, to make no mistakes.  I felt frustrated that it – that I - was all too linear.  I’d been coloring in the lines for months, hard, making straight lines and edges.  Newsletters and postcards and flyers and books and 10 page papers and presentations and logical writing require this, they require you to be exact with straight lines and to get it right.  
What I needed now in this moment was to set aside the scissors and the lines, to tear the paper in ragged edges, and lay it down on the canvas with some thoughtfulness but without a lot of planning, the way I worked on my other projects, the way I live my life, trusting that all shall be well and it will all come together.  Unlike the design work I do for a living, straight edges are not necessary when making collage and sometimes even counterproductive.  So I set the scissors aside and just played. I picked them up when I needed to.

The truth I live with is this:  My mother was a woman who taught me many useful things, like these: be honest, show up for work on time, read a lot, read out loud, be gentle, stay open to life even when you want to shut down, and that I as a woman have better things to do with my time than just cook and clean.  But the one thing she taught me that I have to unlearn is that “you can’t make a living as an artist.”  I love my mother with all my heart, and I know she was protecting me from what she saw as the harsh realities of life, and I know she was only passing on to me what she was taught, and that she postponed the fullness of her own artistic life until she retired, but this is a wound that went deep into my psyche and into my soul, because the truth is, in a parallel universe, I coulda/shoulda/woulda gone to art school as a young person.  I could have trained to be an artist.  And the truth is I should be working toward an MFA right now, either studio art or creative writing, but I took another route.  I took the route that will “pay the bills.” Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my classes and I don’t regret my choice at all.  I knew when I made the choice to go to grad school that I would wish I had taken the other route no matter which one I chose.  My top two choices were MPA or MFA (could they BE more different?)  Either way, I would have wondered about the road not taken.  I would not, however, grieve the loss of one as I now grieve the loss of the other. 

Happiness and progress
However, another truth is this:  I made the right choice.  I chose the road that lets me feed my kids, pay my bills, AND make art. I could not have taken two years off from work and taken out oodles of loans to go into a studio and paint and whatever else you do when get an MFA.  Well, OK.  I could have. But I didn't.  Maybe some day I will know what that feels like, maybe after I publish my novels and memoir and get filthy rich, I will know. A girl can dream.  

 In the meantime, the point is this: while I may not be making a living as an artist, I have to make a life as one, because it makes me happy to make art, it makes me happy to write, it smoothes out the rough edges of worry in my mind, it makes my surroundings and physical reality more tolerable when I create beauty, when I play, when I let go of the outcome and just be open to possibility.  It makes me happy when I color outside the lines.

And here is more truth:  I have to make a LIFE as an artist because I AM an artist, and so there really is no other choice.  

What truth are you living with?

 P.S. In case you're wondering, the child is the Boy Jesus, and the clown on the painted red canvas is Trickster, a larger than usual SoulCollage® Council card.  A universal archetype, Trickster has played a larger than usual role in my life and finally demanded acknowledgement of his existence. And all of it rests on a little card table in my bedroom, across from my big, unsullied new bed with dark purple sheets.  

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