We have been so lucky with our family. Mornings are still my favourite time, curled in bed together, pale milky light coming through the big bedroom windows. Poppy sleeps beside us, legs resting on mine, cheeks flushed pink after nursing. Lately I’ve been waking early and wanting to go to bed early. Twenty years ago this was my sleeping pattern, I don’t know why it’s returned now. But lying here in the dark beside her, she smells of sweet rain in my arms. Her hair is a mop of thistledown, her breath smells of milk. I love her so much my heart aches. I’ve waited my whole life to be a parent, and now I am it’s such a comfortable fit. It’s incredibly hard work, but there’s an anguish and emptiness I used to just live with that’s full of contentment now. Both my girls are beautiful and perplexing, brilliant and challenging and so very loved.
Life as a working parent is exhausting, delightful, sad, and a wonderful privilege. Driving away from Poppy in tears is a sorrow that’s hard to let myself feel. Coming home to a bundle of excitement who wraps around my legs and shrieks “tuddle!” While I try to unload my arms to cuddle her is sheer inconvenient, ebullient joy. Earlier this week I went to several meetings with orange marker scrawled down one leg from where she had decorated me the night before. I was delighted.
I have new clients, new projects, and good prospects for my business. The business development course continues to be an intense rollercoaster of emotions, as I unpick the mess and touch on deep connections – identity, place in the world, worth, and old traumas. From stuckness confusion and overwhelm a new model is emerging with a new clarity. The clarity is wonderful and painful in equal measure, opening some doors and closing others. My system is in upheaval, each of us mourning the compromises we make, that none of us can be entirely who we are on this world, but share our work between us. We mourn the days not spent in the studio, the days not available for collaborating on projects, the time we don’t have for further study, the hours spend away from our children. The clarity heals and hurts. We find new languages: you are a community development consultant, she tells us. And we feel whole. And we feel sad. Oh, this is who I am in the world. I’ll never be a psychologist now, or a doula, or a manager, or an art historian. I’ll never run a clinical mental health service or be part of the army or work as a naturopath. I won’t finish my arts degree or go for that curating doctorate or join that post graduate group. So much sadness and it’s hard to let go. Wrenching.
But also a system coming into joy. Yes, we are community developers. We are a community! It’s in the bones of us; multiplicity, plurality, duality, polyphony. We are artists. We are writers. We are educators. This we do, paid or unpaid, thanked or unrecognised, on display or hidden. This is who and how we are in the world, gravitating to the meaningful, creative, authentic, and communal. Seeking to ease suffering and loneliness, to promote compassion and diversity.
There’s no guide for me for multiples and work. No mentor, few peers anywhere in the world. It’s lonely at times. We explore, trying to figure out who thrives where. Learning different outfits are needed at studio and office, for grounding the best parts and being able to function. Meltdowns, behind the scenes, are frequent. Overwhelm and exhaustion are constant questions to self: do you have a viable model yet? Do you know how to thrive?
The Dissociative Initiative was our baby before Poppy and Star. The business has been my love, my great passion, since Rose. Trying to find a place in the world. Learning to unpick the traps I got stuck in along the way. An alternative mental health community full of brilliance and rage who attack as exploiters those who make money from their work. Clients who think you work only for the money. A welfare system that hides how it works and treats you as a cheat, a thief, and scammer if you ask for details and try to understand or predict the money. How am I supposed to develop literacy? It’s still almost unbearably shameful to set up a budget to track spending. Years of grinding poverty have left me toxic with needless shame and afraid to look, unable to control what I do not believe I deserve. The triggers and feelings mimic eating disorder stress. Just as invisible to the outside, just as deceptively simple to solve (‘just eat a steak, you’ll be fine’), and just as paralysing and destructive.
It’s okay to look at it. It’s okay to understand exactly what I’m earning, how it impacts welfare, how my rent is recalculated based on income, how much I would need for a house deposit and how many years that would take. It’s okay to look at what my art costs me to make, how long it takes, at how many unpaid hours I spend on the road to do training and workshops. It’s okay to rejig an approach that was about charity and covering costs to be about income and supporting a family. It’s not predatory or manipulative. I feel like a young adult who has known only rape trying to believe in the idea of sex. Kissing my first lover and then shaking and howling as my body panics with dark memories and shame. And yet holding them. Seizing them.
Seizing this beautiful thing and holding onto it while feelings shake me from ecstacy to despair. Just holding on. From all the wounds and grief and tangled sorrow, I believe something amazing will emerge. So many have midwived this with me, believed in me, held hope for me, paid bills for me, fed me. Piece by piece I have crawled away from a life and a belief system utterly destructive to me. And I’ve dragged with me courage, and joy, and honesty. The kind of wisdom you get from screaming yourself hoarse at 3am. The poverty and my own wedding to it, is just as self destructive as taking a knife to my skin. The way it became safe, a haven from fears of my own greed, of exploitation, manipulation, slick deception. Self preservation until I could see a different way and believe in a different path, just like the knife was.
All things want to grow. It is their nature. 6 years ago I was offered this beautiful home, and I slept in it alone. Now it overflows. Now I sleep sideways in the space between my lover and my child, tangled in sleepy limbs and writing about life in the sleepless early morning. It’s beautiful.