One morning, a little less than 3 years ago, I woke up with a mass in my throat. I could feel it all the time. It was ever present. When I talked, swallowed, yawned, laid down to sleep, it was always there. I could actually press on my throat and feel a little "pop" happen. I went to see my doctor...and there was nothing there.
I’m choosing now. I’m choosing happy. I’m choosing the path of least resistance. And want to know a secret? We can all make this choice. It may seem scary and it may not look how we think we want it to look, but then that’s the point, isn’t it?
The adventure of becoming a West Coast Abstract Artist, has led me closer to finding my Ikigai. I have seen a few things pretty clearly over the past couple of weeks and I’m now aware of what I DO NOT want to see happen. I do not plan on being surprised by my negative thinking habits and the confusion that it can cause so here, in no particular order, are some changes that are going to be implemented immediately:
Illness, death and injury can be seen as HUGE diversions from the things we should be doing. I challenge that and suggest that perhaps being of service when our family, friends and community needs us does more good than harm. Service feeds the soul.
My Mom always encouraged me to listen to my gut. To be honest, I wasn’t very good at it at all. Strike that…I could hear it, but I was terrible at basing my decisions on what my instincts were telling me. I would become confused by what I thought others’ expectations were of me. What did they want me to do? How could I best please them? It has taken me a long time to not only listen to my inner most self but also base my decision making on these gut reactions.
Step 1: Throw some paint on a panel.
I brought a serious art practice back into my life about 3 years ago when I quit drinking. It was during this time that I had to learn how to do basic things…like how to make decisions based on my best self. To thine own self be true became words to live by. Words that I had heard a million times but never truly grasped their meaning.
This re-learning became the hardest process that I have ever gone through to date. I realized that I was a liar. Sounds harsh, I know, but I had lived my life ignoring what I knew what was best for me because I was scared others would disapprove, and thus I had lived my entire life coming from a dishonest place. It was a blow. I had always prided myself on being a good friend, a good Mom, one whom others could depend on, but how good a person could I be when underneath all of these good deeds was a horrifying resentment of nearly every person I had a relationship with. “I made these decisions to make you happy and it’s not working out at all!!! How dare you?!” Or, “I did this for you! So obviously it is your fault!”. I was under the illusion that if I based all that I did on how it affected others, I was not only a better person, but I was selfless and giving. It was a lie. I was doing a disservice to myself, my family, my friends. It was heartbreaking to realize how I had let myself down and in turn, let everyone around me down as well.
Step 2: Try some letter stensiles and paper with a random floral pattern.
Step 3: Add more paint in a totally different palette.
Step 4: Add crazy dense pattern and some striped paper.
There’s a Luscious Jackson song where at the end they chant “Live Slow. Die Old”. I have taken these words to heart over the past three years. I lived hard and fast the first 36 years of my life and slowing down feels good, but I admit, I get squirrelly. I enjoy listening to my teenage daughter’s drama at school because I miss drama. I don’t miss drinking, but I miss the excitement. It makes risk taking with my artwork easier because it is risk without any fallout. I can take a screwdriver to the wood panel that I’ve been working and scratch the heck out of it. I may not like the outcome, but then again, it might be awesome.
I believe that in my art, there are no mistakes. Only opportunities that come from taking chances. It keeps me fresh and alive. It creates interest and depth. It makes the rebellious twinkle in my eye stay bright and let’s face it, I do and have always tended to lean against the grain and that is where I am comfortable…and that is ok. It’s who I am and TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE. So excuse me…I have a few canvases to go and blow up.
Step 5: Draw large graphite oval. It was obvsiously missing.
Finished painting here and at top is called Brainiac 30"x30" Mixed Media on Panel
I am a master of disguises. Not just because I grew up in New Orleans and I’m quite the experienced costumed reveler. No, I am a master because you would never know that I battle anxiety and to a lesser degree, depression every single day. Outwardly I have spent the majority of my life an extravert, a social director, hostess with the mostess and, up until I quit drinking, the life of the party. First one out and last one up.
Alcohol allowed me to hide in plain sight the feelings of inadequacy and fear so I could be alongside my peers in what I perceived to be how one should be in order to be social and popular. When alcohol stopped working for me and sobriety crept in, I was suddenly an introvert. The social anxieties that I had hid from for 36 years were suddenly ever present, terrifying, disorienting and at times debilitating.
Coming to grips with the fact that I have probably always been an introvert wearing an extrovert costume was an insight into myself that wasn’t all that welcome. The people that I saw as “cool” were most definitely not introverts. Without drinking, the mask became harder to put on. I could only be myself and I have never necessarily liked myself very much. My physical attributes were never “in style”. The things I was good at have never been the “right” things. I have never felt right in the world. I know exactly what Smokey Robinson was feeling when he wrote Tears of a Clown:
Now if I appear to be carefree
It's only to camouflage my sadness
In order to shield my pride I try
To cover this hurt with a show of gladness
That’s what it was…a show. Three months after I quit drinking, I started painting. I have an art background, but I had not stoked that fire in many years, and painting was never my favorite medium. But so it began. Not having many painting supplies (I had long since given away most of them from my art school days) I started with simple paintings on paper. I would sit in the corner of my dining room and paint; sometimes for hours at a time. I didn’t know what I was trying to paint or if I had any clear intention at all, but I could feel the pull of a far off realm encouraging me to dive into the paper, into the color, to make any stroke with the paint brush that popped into my head.
I wasn’t at that point thinking about color wheels or composition. It was a call from my Self to myself. I began painting with fervor, experimenting with anything and everything that came to my hand. It was within these arts induced trances that I was calm, breath and heart beat steady, without thought of the terrifying thing called sobriety on which I was embarking. In fact, I wouldn’t be thinking about anything.
Photo of me feeling camera shy...and scoping out some waves
(Photo Credit: Chris Goodyear)
It was and is an active meditation for me and it carries over into my every day. The more I practice this, the more influence it has on my confidence. I can speak up with a greater ease. I’m not so worried about what people are saying about me (because let’s be honest….usually they’re not saying anything at all). I am sometimes amazed at what I create. The process is what keeps me active and the end products make me proud. This is not me pretending to be anything. This is not a deception because it would be impossible to fake it. It is as honest as I can live and honesty is the base of my confidence; it is unshakable. It allows me to live peacefully in the present, leaving resentments and expectations at the door.
I’m always expecting something to go wrong. I’m constantly taking deep breaths so my heartbeat doesn’t pound in my chest. I’m scared of saying or doing the wrong things around people that I don’t know very well or who I look up to. Three years and a body of work later I know now what has happened. Without getting into a long spiritual conversation, I can say that I was given a gift. I began painting at the same time I started a seated meditation practice and began taking surfing to another level. These are all the same practice and when I don’t tend to these activities, my anxiety grows and depression is usually pretty close behind.
Staying active in mindfulness is about as easy as getting to the gym to exercise. So hard to begin and yet the feeling of accomplishment and nourishment is unparalleled. So I keep at it. I know that my feelings are not always facts but I do know that when I paint, the dire feelings that I have about going to the grocery melt away. The fear of living up to everyone’s expectations is squashed. I actually feel more beautiful when I paint and more comfortable in my own skin. Even when I’m not happy with how a painting is going. At least I am doing it. I’m putting myself out there. I’m taking chances. I’m excited about what comes next instead of terrified by it. Those feelings stay with me after I wash my brushes and clean up my studio. I am less likely to slip into negative thought patterns and I am in general, a happier person.
So I think I’ll stick with it. Plus, I see how far I have come over the past 3 years and instead of being terrified that I’m going to lose it or that people won’t like it, I am excited to see where it will go next. I look forward to surprising myself over and over again.
Painting at top is Storm 28"x22" Mixed Media on Canvas
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As I sit down to write my very first blog post, I thought I should probably start simply and to the point. Why is it that I make art? In order to answer this question, I have to clear my head of all the complicated, swirling explanations that want to manifest, because it is really quite simple and I have a habit of over complicating things. I make art because I have to. I didn’t always know that it was such a huge part of me. When I was a much younger and an active artist, I knew. But somewhere along the road of college majors, different career paths and having a family, I forgot. It seems silly now. I mean, how do you forget who you are? But I did. Now, middle-aged and quite tired of playing the career game, it is very clear. I am an artist and thus, I make art because it is the only thing that I have ever done that I was truly comfortable doing. It fits effortlessly.
When I was in my late teens and in the visual arts program at Boston University, art felt stifling. It was too classical and there was not enough experimentation. I ended up with a business degree from the BU School of Hospitality. The culinary classes were more of a creative outlet than the art program was. It was there that much confusion began. I never believed that art was a career where I could make a living. It was a hobby. An outlet not to be taken seriously. The funny thing is that my family, teachers and friends supported me in my art. They all seemed to think it was a realistic path for me. I have been plagued most of my life with negative self-talk and a lack of confidence. Thus, when I switched majors to study accounting, marketing and food & beverage management, I was leaving the only part of me that really mattered behind. Since then, I have been a round peg trying to shove myself into square spaces.
I have always been an all or nothing kind of girl: Relationships, food, alcohol, jobs, whatever it was didn’t matter. I was either all in or all out. It was the same for art. Once I left the BU art building, I think I stepped foot in it once over my next four years. In my nearly 20-year search for my career path I worked in restaurants, for caterers, yoga studios, accounting and brokerage firms, a city magazine sales office, an internal education department at a medical school and finally, organizing other people at a non-profit where I have been for the past 8 years. In that time, I busted out the hot glue gun and papier-mache to make Mardi Gras crowns or other costume accessories and I created elaborate meals and table settings, but that was the extent of my artistry. During the “Big Search”, my alcohol intake continued to grow as a crutch to mask feelings of inadequacy and not fitting in. I drank to feel confident. It wasn’t until sobriety hit that I realized what I had been ignoring for so long: I am an artist and I need to make art.
I was sober only a few months when abstract paintings began flowing from me. Painting became my meditation. I then started focusing on the activities that would aid my creativity. Sitting meditation, a practice of which I begin every day, became habit. Being outside, especially in the ocean surfing but also mountain biking, skiing and hiking was how I prioritized my free time. I realize that all of these practices have this in common: they put you in the moment. Learning how to shut off the constantly nagging (and mostly negative) internal dialog. Because my art is an expression of the present and if I don’t actively stoke that fire, it grows dimmer.
I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since February of 2013. In that time, I have created a body of work that I am proud of. I haven’t felt pride like this since my art room days of high school. It seeps into all areas of my life. I can better speak up for myself with confidence. I recognize self-care as a life line for myself and all those around me that I care for. And…I’m surfing like the Bad Ass Mama that I am. So I ask myself, “Why do I make art”? The simple answer is because I HAVE to. Because without it, I am an empty shell constantly searching for answers that have been there all the time but I chose to ignore. I make art because it lights up my face and my daughter can see that light and she tells me that she’s proud of me. I do it because it brings happiness to me and my family. In fact, after doing this consistently over the past 3 years, I can’t help feel a sadness that it took me so long to see what is now so obvious. I suppose I had other things to do, and I know that all those experiences will help me down this new, yet old path. I’m so glad that I’m back here. I missed it so much.
Painting at top is Derby Day 12"x12" Mixed Media on Birch Board.
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