Artistic Identity

No matter how busy motherhood gets, I can’t imagine giving up my creative activities. I just read an article by a woman who did exactly that. She was a blogger and photographer, and she did no work for two years while she took care of her children. She said that she needed to be more present with them. She’s not the only one I have heard of who has done that. I have friends who have done that as well.

I admire the self-sacrifice and self-control, but I can’t really imagine doing that myself. Maybe it’s good that I have to stop at one child, as much as I wanted to have more. But if I had 10 kids I have a feeling I would still be squeezing in time to write poems or to paint. That maybe I would be in a situation at that point where I shouldn’t be doing those things, but I would do them anyway.

Poetry is such a part of me that I can’t imagine giving it up. I go through spells where I primarily read poetry rather than write it. When I do that I am often soaking up inspiration and gearing up for a period of intense writing. But to simply not have poetry in my life? I can’t even imagine.

Painting and photography have become primal urges for me. I can’t imagine putting my camera down as some of the mother photographers do. I might sometimes get lazy or too busy to take out my expensive camera, but I’ll at the very least be taking photos on my phone.

Perhaps all of this is selfish or self-absorbed, but I’m not so sure about that. Everyone needs their own identity. Everyone needs something that they love to do and an opportunity to do it. Naturally your husband and children have to take priority, but you can’t draw from an empty well. If you want to give them more, then you have to give yourself something. So many women say they’ve lost their identity in motherhood, and I just can’t relate. When I had my daughter I became even more myself. I still had all the artistic aspects of myself, all the general personality traits like introversion, I still liked the same foods and movies, only I was finally fully tapped into my maternal potential. Having a child didn’t sap my sense of identity. It completed it.

Not that I think I am really at risk of this, but I pray that I never put down the pen or the camera or the brush. These things are apart of me. Without them I think I would fall to pieces.

Getting Brave

As I work through therapy, a lot of things have come up. One of them is challenging the overwhelming messages I received as a child that I wasn’t good enough. In therapy one of the questions asked was what I would do if I felt I was good enough.

Taking my art more seriously was my first answer.

Overall I am pretty confident and strong. I learned over the years to be true to myself, to not let even the most overbearing people erase who I am. Yet still, certain messages persist – trepidation about criticism because I have received so much of it.

I want to move on completely from my childhood. Some things are just toxic, and sometimes beneath the surface of the beautiful pond is something grimy and filled with leeches. Sometimes things don’t work.

Yet to truly move on I have to get rid of the negative emotions and negative ideas I got from those years of my life. In most childhoods there is something good to be gleaned and that is true of my own childhood as well. I received an upbringing of good manners, as well as an emphasis on academic excellence that served me well as an ambitious student. There were definitely positive things about my upbringing. However, many of the messages I received were critical, unkind, and demoralizing. My basic needs were met, and I am grateful for that, but I was not liked or even particularly loved.

It’s time to take my art more seriously. And in answering the prompt in therapy about what I would do if I knew I was good enough I actually ended up coming up with a list of over 40 items. Some of them were very big and important and some of them were very small, but there were over 40 things I would do if I could get past the echoes of my younger life. It’s time to start doing those things. I am 30, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life stuck in the same headspace I was in in middle school. Tomorrows are never guaranteed, so I want to make the most of today.

I go through my day expecting censure and ridicule. But is that really fair? It’s no way to live, and not everyone is going to be out to criticize me. And if they do criticize me it doesn’t matter. I’m not trapped in a house with someone who criticizes me all the time nor am I economically dependent on them. If some random stranger on the internet or a local mom I don’t know that well has something to negative to say about me oh, who cares?

There are so many things on my list to go through. Another major thing I need to address is my inability to trust people. That’s pretty important. Some things on the list are just small though, but they would make me really happy. For instance, I always really want to wear glitter on my cheeks or my arms. That’s not the most important thing in the world, but it would feel so nice to do it. As a kid I loved the idea of body glitter, but when I received a bottle of it from a friend in middle school I was told even then that I was too old for it and shouldn’t be wearing it and that it was silly. It’s time to get past the point in life where I really care who thinks it’s silly. It’s my body and my money and I’ll wear whatever I damn well please. To reiterate the point, whether or not I can wear glitter is not a life-or-death issue and is not earth shattering. It’s glitter. But the idea behind this is very important. I’m not doing something I really want to do, something I would have fun with and enjoy, because of the criticism of others.

I have a lot of things I want to work through and so far therapy has been helping. I was in therapy years ago and although it helped me with certain issues, it did not help me with everything I would have liked help with. This time around it has been really productive so far.

Changing Dreams

I have always wanted to have books of my poetry published. I wanted to be a professor as well, although publishing was always the priority dream. But I wanted to teach at the college level, and I wanted to have books published and to travel the world and do residencies and win grants. I wanted to get my MFA and get a doctorate.

A lot has changed over the past 10 years. My mental issues have frequently been intense. They have left me a bit too tired to pursue a stressful life. But I think impacting my dreams as well is my happy marriage and my wonderful child and my beautiful home. The truth is that really ambitious people are hungry for it, and at this point in my life I’m just not hungry for it. I’m not saying I’m not writing poetry. I write poetry all the time, by hand and on my phone. And I like to revise it, and to do projects where I use Google Translate to create new editions of the poems and edit those. It is just that I have submitted to one magazine this year (and got accepted!) Poetry is my passion. I am blooming creatively, producing more than ever, since I stopped submitting.  But I have felt less of a drive to do the endless book publishing competitions and to send my work out to magazines. I may still try to get a chapbook published because I have another one waiting in the wings and I tend to enjoy chapbook publishers the most. I like the format and I like the creativity that goes into them.

I just like enjoying my home life and focusing on creating. I want to focus on writing, not submitting. I like to pick up additional creative outlets like blogging, painting, bookstagraming, and editing photos too. I like to spend my time reading. Any time spent searching through thousands of literary magazine or book publishing competitions takes away from doing what I really love – writing.

Once upon a time this wouldn’t have mattered to me. I was so ambitious and so determined, that I would do any amount of drudgery to get published and to achieve what the world would consider to be a measure of success. I wanted to get my voice out there to a reasonably large audience. But now I’m not so sure. I’m comfortable with my life and I’m happy with how much time I get to spend creating, and I don’t want to cut into that time. Maybe when I’m an empty-nester and I’ve reached a new phase of life I will feel differently and try to get published more. Maybe even in a year I will feel differently and go back to submitting my work.  I do understand that without doing the work of submission I will not  be successful,  at least not by the common definition of success. But for now I’m happy with the chapbook I have published and the few magazines that I have been in. It was an honor to be accepted by those publishers and I cherish that.

I guess I’m so busy living a happy life that I don’t really care if other people think I’m successful. I know that I have a good life, which is more than what some of even the most successful people can say. I have a family I adore and I spend all day doing what I love. Maybe it is enough for me to publish my creative work on my blog and just be happy with the readers I have. I appreciate the readers I have. I love to blog. I don’t love submitting my work to magazines

Maybe I am just not an ambitious and type A person anymore. I am much more relaxed and softer. Or maybe my ambitions have just changed. I literally have my ideal life. Happy family, a beautiful home, an amazing collection of books to read, and tons of time to write and do all sorts of other creating. As the years go by I may decide to go back to publishing and I may develop professional ambition again. But for now I like just putting my work out there on my blog and spending time doing things that I love. I am perfectly happy to put my poems out in front of a few people and just enjoy the process of writing more than anything else. This makes me a very different person than who I once was. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but I will tell you I’m a happier person than I was.

Maybe a joyous life with the family you love and days spent doing what you are passionate about is the best ambition to have, and I have met my goals. Besides, as I write I am building a greater and greater volume of poetry to submit to magazines so that when I decide I’m ready again, I will have a lot to work with. And I will be much more practiced at the craft because of all the reading I have been doing and all the hours I have been putting into writing. So hopefully I will come out of this period of reclusion a better writer.

It is time though for me to acknowledge that I am at a different point mentally and emotionally. I have only submitted to one magazine this year. My work has been accepted, which is very exciting. This magazine  is one I really believe in. At this point though, I need to reconsider what my values are and where I am in my life, and what I really care about. Because I make time for the things I really what to do, and I have not been making time to submit. I think I just needed a break. The question is how long the break will be. Right now I feel like my life is a beautiful creative retreat, and I want to focus on that rather than the business end of things.

My New Studio

Today I went a little wild and I tried a small art store at the south end of town. I’ve been watching videos on abstract painting on the Coursera app, and I have really been getting interested in it. I have always loved abstract painting, but through watching these videos I have learned a lot about how to do it. I’m sure I will never be a great artist but I think I could have fun and make some interesting images if I keep trying at it for a while. So I bought textured mediums, paint, brushes, mixing pan, gesso, pallet knives, and some panels and artist trading cards to paint on. I have set up the studio in the laundry room instead of at my craft room desk. First of all my craft room desk is in a carpeted room so if I get paint on the floor, like I did at the yellow house, it probably won’t come up and we will end up owing base housing a lot of money. I really don’t want to have to pay that. But the laundry room has enough space on that big counter for me to spread supplies out and work on creating. And right next to it is a deep sink. That means I have easy access to immediately wash my paint brushes clean. And I can do so in a sink that I don’t have to worry about staining or getting any gunk on. It’s a laundry room deep sink. It is designed for dirt and paint and anything else you can think of. So it’s a perfect environment for me. I’ll be sharing the space with Parsnip, who lives in the laundry room, but so far he seems interested in what I’m doing and he nuzzles my feet.

I’m really going to try to stick with this for a while. I’m not going to give up if my first few images really suck, which they probably will. I’m just going to enjoy the process and see what I can create. And it will be fun to photograph what I create and edit it on my phone and see what I can make out of that. I think this will be a lot of fun.

I Was Never Mild

Divine qualities.

Sparkling waters.

I thirst for sour songs that make me salivate.

Born to rise,

I was never mild,

a lava rolling over lives like a yawning lover in bed,

first one side than the other.

In the end I wasn’t a rock or a cliff.

I was mud.