My torn heart

Oh my heart. Yesterday I borrowed a memoir of Judith Wright, wonderful Australian poet. This morning Poppy slept fitfully and woke me at 6. So I’ve been exploring the world on my phone, looking at artist’s books and reading about illuminated manuscripts. I looked up Wright on Wikipedia, hoping she might still be alive so I could write to her about how much her poems have ment to me. But we’ve already lost her. 

A line stands out to me, how she explored the relationship between inner experience and objective reality. Yes, that she did so well, spoke with such a clear voice I feel I know her. Like all my favourite artists, you can see her in her work, and she was a balm to the loneliness I suffered for so much of my life. 

It’s nearly the end of the year. I stand upon a precipice. 2017 has been kind, harsh, strange, sad, wonderful. A coming out of the desert and into communities of work. My online groups of freelancers are a treasure of wisdom and practical advice. I’ve wrangled with clients and invoicing and admin, read books, contracted mentors and support. Earned money and invested it carefully. I stand some days in my dining room – which is now a hub for my family, with chairs and a dining table where homework gets made and meals eaten and lately, Christmas gifts wrapped. I look at how small the space was I used to sit and paint and think about how frustrated I was with myself that I couldn’t do more, when it’s amazing that I accomplished what I did in such a tiny spot with so few resources. 

Now I have a studio and my heart, which was torn into several pieces when I pulled apart my home earlier this year, is putting down roots and growing strong. My home, my studio, and my office gallery. I adore being among the other artists at the studio. Even when I’m alone there, there’s a sense of recently departed company in their empty spaces I find companionable and comforting. I can create there, freely, and play with my supplies. I’ve never had enough resources to play, paper and paint have been much too expensive to experiment with. I’ve recently moved my beading supplies there, and taken trimings of silk and velvet. I want to make another Art book. 

It’s not the wilds but it is on the edge of them. Close enough to create. The wilds themselves, that inner place of experience, those are elusive to me. I don’t often go there, rarely write from that place now. Children and family and my work fill the hours. They don’t come to the wilds with me and I have never much liked going alone, feeling exiled. But I speak the name of it, Narnia, and I remember it exists. I sneak into it a moment, under the stars, putting out the bins. I touch it in my artbook. I step in and out of the world. 

I talked to a new therapist this week (she writes, sharing more than is wise for a professional. Working people, especially women, must split their lives and show no human weakness in their working world. How will clients trust me? How will they meet my eyes when they’ve seen me naked? One must respect the divisions of the role. The stripper’s stage name. Don’t blend the worlds. Don’t remind them you’re human.) The new therapist offered me ways to be always calm, assuming that was my goal. Ways to meet the world with equanimity, come what may. We argued and she smiled at me in a way that was possibly intended to be disarming but felt merely humiliating. The props may be cardboard and gold paint, but the magic was never in the stage. It was never about what’s real. 

I work and I live as lover, partner, mother, and that gap between inner experience and outer reality opens wide and closes tighter. I make art and people buy it. I write a blog and people send me money to thank me for sharing and changing a story in their mind that was harming them. I help projects happen and get paid. The world doesn’t end. I leave behind the cult of activists who claim that only unpaid work is holy. I walk away from the communities where anyone who is paid to help another person is an oppressor. I begin to understand that intentional ignorance, financial illiteracy, programmed shame when I ask to look, is part of poverty and welfare and it binds me to a broken, abused machinery that was intended to protect me, but instead hurts me and then blames me for it. I am in recovery.

My experiences transition to a shadow of a different kind. I stop writing, sharing, being naked in public. New categories force themselves into my life, change the shape of things. Is being at the studio work? What is work? I can’t share personal things on a business website. What is personal? What is business? My world shifts to family. My writing shifts. If I write about sitting in the dark with an infant at my breast and the other nipple weeping a sad milky blood trail over my body, have I transitioned from a mental health blog to a ‘mommy blog’? Are they the same readers? Does that matter? Is loathing the term ‘mommy blog’ mysogynist, or is rejecting the implied derision feminist? 

I’m looking behind the scenes of career paths and it’s becoming less abstracted more concrete. My anxiety reduces. I’m beginning to understand that spreading myself – ourselves – so thin (despite our sense of sacrifices and comprimise) has slowed everything, that building the skills and networks and becoming literate with the industry of each profession is time consuming and requires dedication. That the skills to make the thing or do the work are only half or less than half the job. The rest are the skills to be employed or freelance, the skills to get hired or contracted, to navigate bosses or clients, to spot and take on opportunities, to walk away from bad situations, to deal with uncertainly, to create a career. I’ve had no useful training in those things. This year I’ve done so many things; facilitation, illustration, copywriting, service design; I’ve worked with people at the very top of heirarchy and prisoners at the very bottom. I’ve watched the Pursuit of Happiness and other stories of breaking out of poverty and noticed the same message reoccurring – don’t show behind the scenes. Don’t let them know you’re not one of them (yet). 

I’ve thought about being homeless and letting the fun colours grow out of my hair because I learned those in the services only look out for their own. I’ve thought about what it might be like to be black and unable to meet that requirement, of the affection of relatives who wish I was more like them, less queer. Identity and public identity. Who we are and how we present ourselves. The dictates of professional identity in various industries. Corporate identity with reduced individuality, rooms where the windows can’t be opened. Task focused spaces. In another world entirely, the farmer who lives in the land with his labor. No personal and professional divide. The copywriter who rarely meets her clients, working from a stone house in the hills and doing video meetings over the internet. Such different lives! Such different ways of working, networks, business skills, industry norms and challenges. Different worlds. 

Have I learned enough yet to thrive? Not yet. But I know vastly more than I did at the start of it, and I’ve begun to build professional networks, not in a slick, manipulative, or abusive way, but simply the community of people engaged in work to learn from, share with, and take part. Clients, companions, competitors, mentors. Many questions remain. I love and need to make art, do I really want to keep selling it? I love to write, can I keep sharing personally or will that cause problems with my work? Can I earn any income for my writing? I can make resources for vulnerable people, can I show they are valuable to those with money to fund them? Can I help people care enough about multiples or prisoners or voice hearers or homeless queer kids to fund projects? Can I learn who and how to ask? Can I put down some of the big lingering projects I’ve not been able to fund, grieve them, and move on? Or let go of work I’m good at and love but that doesn’t fit well with my life anymore? Can I figure out the easy path for me instead of proving myself by doing the hardest things and taking the biggest risks? Can I get through a year without being diagnosed with exhaustion? Can I make my work sustainable? 

We’ll find out. Here’s to the next year, friends and readers. It’s been one hell of a ride.

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