Am I There Yet?
I’ve been making art all my life. I’ve also been writing all my life. I’ve been tested twice on left brain/right brain assessments and both times I came out 49% of one and 51% of the other… each time, though, the 51% was a different side. In addition, I’m fully functionally ambidextrous although if I try to write with both hands at once the left hand writes the mirror image of what the right hand writes which is not so when I paint. What it comes down to is that I’m equal parts thinker and feeler and I don’t follow directions well.
When it came time to pick a college, because some of my poems had seen publication already, I picked one with a good English department. But because my mother — a pathologist — was the one paying for my college education, I went to and graduated from (eventually) an art college. My mother had an exquisite sense of composition, loved art, and had wanted to be, of all things, a librarian. She ended up being the youngest woman, back in the 1920s, to have entered medical school in the US. That was her father’s decision. So, following the example her father’d set for her, she decided that she was the right one to make my decision for me. “Writers,” she told me, “don’t make any money.” I rather suspect that that had been based on the fact that what she wrote were pathology textbooks.
Like so many art students before me, when I graduated, I went to work as a salesperson in a local shop. I met and married an art teacher, a man who was actually an excellent painter and ended up doing quite well for himself as such. I had two children and I stepped back from art. I lost custody of my children in an ugly divorce and married a man whose only acquaintance with art was doodling but he was one of those people who valued himself and his opinions so much that he felt sure that we could make it as an artist together and indeed, for over 10 years, we functioned as a collaborative painter and sold some work; we also lectured and worked together writing articles for artists magazines.
He doodled, and I painted trees and clouds and people in fanciful ways but it never felt quite right to me; it felt as if I were making something, yes, but that something didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel like art to me; it felt as if we were just making something to sell. And that’s all. After a few years I became desperately ill, got crippled up all over for a number of years, and painting stopped. Well, to be more correct, painting together stopped. Because of the severe crippling of my hands and the pain I was in, I painted when it felt necessary for me to process some of what I was going through… and that felt like art. That felt like what I wanted to be doing.
When I miraculously recovered instead of dying, we were both faced with the unpleasant fact that I had grown used to going my own way. To my surprise, his response to my desire to paint on my own was the following: it would be okay for me to paint by myself but I couldn’t exhibit the work. It would detract, he said, from our brand, from the paintings that were already out there, a number of them in corporate collections. He then defaced the most recent painting I’d created.
In retrospect that was probably the beginning of the end of our marriage, but the complete dissolution took a while; I had a lot of growing up to do even though by that time I was almost 50. By that point, as a result of everything I’d learned about healing, I myself had become a person who helped others to heal. I ended up translating the experience of surviving a fatal, incurable illness into a technique (and eventually a book) that could help people help themselves to process emotional trauma affordably, on their own. I began to use the technique on myself. That is what grew me up and five years later, in 2008, I left the marriage. I was feeling pretty damn functional for the first time in my life. I headed for New England.
Alone and on my own after being married for about 27 years total, I dove into art. I was broke as all hell and marginalized every expense I could to buy art supplies. Because of circumstances beyond my control, I ended up moving four times in the next nine months and when a flood drove me out of the last place I was in, relieving me of about half of my worldly possessions, a gentle and generous woman with whom I worked a day job offered me space in her basement. I took her up on it. I’d been holding up pretty well mentally but, damn, I needed a freaking break. I decided to scrape together what money I could and run away for a weekend to dance naked at a clothing-optional resort, an activity which had always brought me joy (and the safest place in the world for a single woman)!
There, I met the man that I would eventually marry, the man who has since provided me with a safe space and a secure life in which, over the last seven years, I have grown more productively— as an artist, as a writer, and as a person — than I did in most of the rest of my life. I got a for-real publisher and last year had two one-woman shows. Mom’s prediction aside, it’s the books that pay the bills for my painting, so I don’t have to worry about creating anything that anyone besides myself is pleased with and, I am more satisfied with what I am creating now, at 70, crippled hands and all, then I have ever been.
Whatever it is that you’re in love with doing, stick with it! There’s a reason you love it and that reason is you.