It’s struck me lately as kind of funny how life comes full circle when you least expect it …
How two seemingly completely separate, unrelated aspects of your life can meet in the strangest way possible – and yet in hindsight seem completely inevitable and natural.
I don’t really talk about it here, so most of you probably won’t know that my formal education is that of a visual artist.
I have my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Art and English. My concentrations were in Printmaking, Drawing and Contemporary Canadian Art & Lit. It has been nearly 10 years now since I graduated from university, exhausted and completely disillusioned at only 21.
Art school was a lesson in frustration, self-doubt and speaking the truth in the face of pressure to do the exact opposite. I suffered extreme bouts of depression and anxiety so engulfing that it made me physically ill. I struggled with an inability to produce work that would earn the grades I was accustomed to maintaining and producing work that was meaningful, personal and truthful. I quickly learned that I couldn’t have both.
My classmates were showing work that consisted of piles of dirt, rooms full of half-assed pink cupcakes, all sorts of weird stupid shit passing for art. There were lots of people making interesting, beautiful, thoughtful work – and our profs invariably thought it was crap.
Two of my favourite art school moments include my painting prof telling me to never bring a painting into class again, that’s not what we do here . . . And my photography prof telling me that if I wanted to be an artist, I should have gone to art school.
It took completely giving up to finally find my way.
I made a piece about the depression, anxiety and frustration I had surrounding my creative experience at university. I spent an entire term creating and printing 100 etchings, and then I carefully abandoning them all over the city. I tucked them in books where people would find them; next to the respiration system in medical books, in chapters about doubt, the self-help isle, books of poetry.
I hated to leave them; they were valuable and personal . . . but in that literal and figural act of letting go, I learned to let go for real.
I finally began to understand the words I had written in the piece:
If it were easy, everyone would do it, all the time. And then it would be like breathing, instead of like breathing underwater.
My decision to quit my job, be a full-time mum, a writer, a farmer, an advocate . . . None of these things have been easy for me. In fact, the transition has been downright terrifying.
I’ve spent a lot of the last couple of years feeling completely lost, uncomfortable in my own skin, unsure of who or what I am anymore. I don’t know how to answer that perennial, seemingly benign question: “What do you do?” I no longer have the luxury of a simple, impersonal one-line answer.
I have to tell the truth. I can’t answer with what I do; I have to answer with who I am.
I still don’t have it figured out, and I don’t think having it figured out really needs to be the goal.
The goal has to be trusting the process. Having faith. Planting a seed and watching it grow – not knowing the size or shape it will take, but trusting as always the process.
The root goes down and the plant will goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
I never in a million year would have guessed I’d be living on a 120 year old farm, raising veggies and a family. I would never have guessed I’d walk away from a stable, well-paid job to be a housewife. And yet here I am, living a creative life that revolves around seeds, growth, trust and faith. Maybe I wasn’t so far off the mark way back then after all . . .
This new person, this new identity is like that tiny seed I sent out into the world so many years ago. Not knowing where it would land, who would find it, what it would grow, develop, stretch into. No way of knowing, or controlling, the shape it would take.
There is something terrifying in that . . . but in surrendering to that, there is also something very powerful.
Life, my life, will find a way.
If you ever wonder if your life will find it’s way – I give you the words of my favourite artist, Louise Bourgeois, that found me sobbing in the National Gallery of Canada (to the dismay of the confused security gaurds)the first time I saw it. She was speaking to me. I swear it.
I learn, I learned, I learned, I learned, I learned, I learned, I learned you blew it. I learned a lot, I learned something, I did learn. Did you? I learned today and it made my day. I learned a lesson. I feel better; to learn. I learn, you learn, he learns, you learn, we learn, they learn. We learn together and we begin to undertsand each other. Make no demand on me the way I make no demand on you. Let us just learn a little every day. Try to, it is so difficult to learn. What keeps us from learning? Be in a learning spirit. Do not be afraid to spend time learning. You have lots of time, I have lots of time, we have lots of time. If we just learn nothing will go wrong. Just be receiptive, just be accepting, just be tolerant, just be self loving, not self indulgent, not selfish, but self respecting,self forgiving, self relaxing, self understanding, self repeating, self unafraid, self trusting and learning will be less difficult. Do not pass judgement, wait and see. Give it a chance, try again, so many chances, so much time, so much patience, give yourself a chance, as you give them a chance, endless chances, every day is a new chance, tomorrow too a whole lifetime of chances no reason to despair, no reason to be judging, complaining, pushing, wanting, extracting from the others or yourself. The others do not judge you, they do not even know that you are there, no one is against you, do not worry, you are not that compelling, who are they to judge you. They don’t know enough, they are going to learn about you and so they will begin to understand you. To understand is to forgive – no problem – but you certainly have to learn to understand and that is truly difficult. Whether it is mysterious, complicated, heavy duty, or weird. To learn is difficult but it is rewarding. Try again, and start again tomorrow and cry if you have to. Learn to learn, do you like to learn, are you good at it. Do you get there, learn for the sake of learning for itself, be crafty at it. Do you have the knack to learn to discover, to uncover, to turn upside down and side up again. To deconstruct and reconstruct. To make sense out of the unlikely. Learn to answer, to question, to make out the other one for the sake of discovering, not telling anybody that you progressed step by step, from position to position you put the puzzle together.
You learn for yourself, not for others, not to show off, not to put the other one down. Learning is your secret, it is all you have. It is the only thing you can call your own. Nobody can take it away.
And remember, ignorance is no excuse, you better learn or else.