She sat across the table from me, after spending the last two hours taking my portrait… wherein I stood awkwardly, trying to look stoic, strong, yet without a resting bitch face. I want to appear soft, welcoming, and still.. knowing.
‘Tell me about the artists’ struggle, what is something you struggle with daily?’
it tumbled from my mouth. Instantly. grief is the daily struggle.
it isn’t my artistic struggle. It is my life now.
it was given to me without asking.
and life is my artistic… being.
she pressed further, asking about the ‘struggle’ of being an artist.
all I can think about is the painted picture of tortured artists – all dark and twisty, that their poetry and paint comes from some darker inner seedling within.
I never identified as coming from a place of dark, tortured, lived.. life.
and I suppose because the last time I thought to defend where my art came from – was when I was 20. So sweetly in the world.
Of course then, in those moments – it wasn’t so sweet. It was infertility and body dysmorphia. It was painting images of motherhood as talismans and altars to what it is that I was calling on. It was my way through – and though that journey was dark, the art… it was light. Conjuring up what it is I needed from the universe, surrounding myself in the images. Painting pictures for other women and their babies – pictures that would hang on their walls and be woven into the fabric of their memories of hOMe.
I finally became pregnant.
Life within me, love beaming from my every pore. I loved myself so tenderly, so dearly, so freely. My first time to fall in love with myself – THIS is creation. THIS is my art.
Years of breastfeeding, pregnancy, birth. Orgasmic births on the precipice of death – the assumption that my father would die the moment this body slipped from one watery world into the next. Weeks after his triple bypass, where human hands of a surgeon, an artist, cracked open his ribs, stopped his heart, touched it.. mended it.. and willed it to beat once more – Here he was, walking the streets as the first spring snow flurried down, and a little boy was born blue, then breathing… and my dad, jetlagged, lost, and cold on the streets, trying to find his way back to my home.
I instantly thought.
I knew it. I did it. I waited until 42 weeks to give birth to this baby.. holding on for as long as possible to stop the inevitable.
He didn’t die.
He was cold, and lost, and found his way home.
I continue to find my balance and flow through mothering and being an artist – of baby sleeping in a sling on my back, and toddler set up with something to entertain her. Drawing while breastfeeding, and drawing inspiration from this beautiful life.
pregnancy. Unexpected. Weeks to decide that this would be okay. Early pregnancy unit and a dancing baby, from a peanut to limbs… to suddenly bleeding out all of the floor of the emergency room, being rushed and prepped for surgery to remove the babe that never would be. 13 weeks of evolution – swept from my womb. A son, a summer sun. Leo Moon. I held him in my palm, and buried him – dirt under my fingernails as I planted him like a seed in The Mother. Rose petals and apologies.
life continues. Peanut butter and jam sandwiches, breastfeeding a giggly and deliciously fat toddler. Planting a fairy flower garden to bloom in June, when He would have been born.
post partum depression finds me and sends me through a spiral of all the ways to cure myself –
until I sat with my doctor, talking to her about my hay fever – until the bubbling of words and tears came pouring out of me.
pills in hand, it took me days to begin taking them.
afraid they would dull too much. Afraid I would feel nothing at all, even though at the time I was feeling nothing at all.
I spent too long in the haze and grey depression.
I spent too long staring at the dishes, thinking of the monumental task to run the dishwasher.
I spent too long with an aching body that was tired and needed more sleep, waking from sleep, and still tired and hungry for more sleep.
I spent too long in a haze – that stole the sweet memories of my second child’s early life.
the world in colour again
hearing my children laugh and play
instead of meeting it with the stinging burn of annoyance and overwhelm
I met it with pleasure, breathing it all in, swirling it all around me. Feeling the fullness of life.
all of my creative energy tied up in growing a baby. I can’t paint or write or even take a photo – every ounce of the muse used in the creation of a holy babe within.
Time is feeling precious. My dad’s diagnosis of early onset dementia feels like I need to soak up as much as I can with him- to capture his memories and stories for my children to have. To have him forever.
In this dance of birth and postpartum, I find my new rhythm of motherhood all over again – with the pockets of time to create. The need to create is as integral as the need to eat, and breathe. It feeds my soul, nourishes my mind, and makes me feel like a complete person. Passionate and contributing my whole self to the world.
at age of 55, when my mom met my third baby for the first time at 4 months, we sat in the oncologists office to be given the diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.
spent 9 months living in hospitals, under intensive treatment, with the
fiercest of spirits. Trial after trial until the very end… where I stood with
her, singing to her, holding her hand, telling her goodbye – with my baby slung
on my back…
I drove my dad home from Texas, where my mom had been living in the hospital for months- to Oklahoma. With my babe, I began to pack up the house… organize my mom’s belongings and treasures.. Prepare to get rid of some, prepare to move my dad out of the house and close to my brother.
At night, when my mind wouldn’t settle – the paintings flooded out of me. Standing in her kitchen, painting images of the grief that was only just beginning to make herself known to be. A companion I have grown to carry cloaked around my shoulders, and stuck between the fibre of my ribs.
For a year after, I didn’t create any paintings.
Instead, my energy was spent forcing the grief to sit like a wolf at the door, foaming at the mouth.
had to throw myself into the work.
Her legacy… me.
with the weight of my love and admiration for her – my need to be as good as her, my need to continue to make her proud… the work, it just found me.
In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth was born. My need for community to come together. My desires for voices that are rarely heard – to be listened to. The urgency to have a choice, to have a vote…. The earnest passion to hold safe space for women’s storytelling and generational healing.
As this art/life project gained more momentum… I realised that it was my legacy work for my mother, and for my children. I poured every ounce of my energy into it. I wanted to do it justice – I wanted her to see it…
and yet I knew that when the end date would arrive – it would be a crushing weight of loss all over again. I had subjected grief to the sidelines long enough… I had taken on huge emotional work, I had felt a personal responsibility to women and girls victim of an oppressive government in their time of great need.
This is my art.
This continual ebb and flow of life.create.death.create.
what is more art than life and death?
what is more art than being?
I swam in the cold Lough Rea lake, letting the waves wash over me – imagining myself a selke in the ocean…. ‘thank you for being alive. Thank you for being alive. Thank you for being alive this mantra repeated itself to me from the grey skies above.
I had only just begun to take anti-depressants again, when I realized that I was having the scariest thoughts of no longer existing. When outwardly, to others looking on – I looked like I was standing in my power. Doing BIG stuff. Doing scary stuff. Being active in the world.
Within, I was desperate to escape not only my home, my family, but also myself, the grief, the world, the BEing.
Grief. My daily struggle as an artist.
along with her comes the question of worthiness, the imposter syndrome, the fraud. Along with her comes the voices of mockery from peers that don’t know me, words with the stinging scent of jealousy and spite.
misunderstood ‘the tortured artist’ façade
They were never tortured as such… not in the ways of which we compare with survivor’s guilt, or dramatics.
No… they were merely walking with the experiences of life and forms of deaths – and expressing them in ways others are rarely able.
And I’m learning that this is the only way of healing.