Ever since I became pregnant with my first child I’ve become painfully aware of the conflict between living a ‘normal’ life and being an artist. Well, no, maybe that’s not exactly true. Having children just happened to yank me out of living a self-seeking life.
Last Friday I came home from a brief visit to a place where art is validated, appreciated, and an essential part of life. This, I realized, really contrasts with my own reality (as much as I’d like to think otherwise). On a bad day in my world, art is a frivolity, a luxury, the byproduct of unproductive deviance. Artists are heathens, self-absorbed and idle. Spending too much time focusing on the sensuous aspects of life is ‘sinful’. OK, so this sounds pretty harsh, especially coming from an artist. And I don’t believe these things. But there is a shriveled up old cynic who lives in the back of my mind who I can’t seem to dislodge (that Puritanical German geezer who just won’t leave me alone sometimes) that makes me feel conflicted when I try to follow my bliss. He tells me that I can’t be a mother, a productive member of society, or even a decent human being if my life revolves around art.
At times I have to fight tooth and nail to carve out the physical space, time, and emotional room for creative energy. I often put everyone else’s needs before my own. Not only making sure that lunches are packed and baths have been taken, but advocating at the school on almost a daily basis for the special needs of both of my girls. I’m constantly working against myself- most of my day I’m consciously numbing my senses so that I can just survive (against the noise of children, the thoughtlessness of a disconnected husband, the pain of not feeling understood and supported). And then, during my precious four hours alone each day, I walk into my studio and think that I should be able to flip a switch that negates the other 20 hours.
When I got home from my little trip, I felt invigorated and full of creative energy. I was inspired and focused. I jumped back into a painting that has been sitting for a few weeks, and started another one. For the first few days it was great. An artistic maturity was glowing from my canvases, and the paintings were inspired and almost painting themselves. But as days went by, the poison of my daily life began to seep through my mind as I worked, and I noticed that the paintings were beginning to wilt and draw in on themselves, becoming self-conscious and tense. When I became aware of this I tried harder, which just made everything worse. At that point I disconnected, and, experiencing the familiar feeling of extreme frustration, began to analyze why this pattern seems to always overtake my process and sabotage my ability.
And then it struck me. Just yesterday I was reading a paper about twice-exceptional children and what affects their ability to perform to their capability. (To be twice-exceptional means to be gifted and either learning disabled, physically disabled or psychologically dysfunctional.) I’m a twice exceptional adult, but the whole time I’ve been on this crazy odessy trying to make sure that my both of my twice-exceptional daughters’ needs are being met, I’ve been ignoring how all of this really profoundly applies to me as well. In order to function well, people need to balance their cognitive, emotional and physical energy. I need cognitive AND emotional energy to do creative work. And I need it in balance. Because of my ADD tendencies, manic and depressive swings, profound sensitivities, and the demands of my daily life, it is really hard for me to find and maintain that balance.
I try to do it all. I want to be an artist, and I want to be a great mom. In the end I realize that the only thing that I really CAN do is live a life in which I am true to myself. Sometimes I lay awake at night worrying that my kids are going to be ok. But it always comes back to this; I have to be that example of what ‘ok’ is. It means being imperfect, but being me. It means following my bliss but acknowledging my limitations, and dealing with them head on with eyes wide open. It means that my life isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect for me.