When I graduated with my MFA in May 1998 Rosanne Cash was our Commencement speaker. She spoke about art and creating and told us that as artists it is our duty to go into the dark places, but be sure to build some bridges back. Occasionally over the years that sentiment has drifted across my mind.
I have gone into some dark places of disappointment, failure and lack of an art career, and while I have attempted to be positive in the face of my dark moods, I haven’t always been successful. In the past few years, since our ‘Crash’ and move to Indiana, I have gotten stuck in the dark places. I need to build a bridge back.
After receiving my BFA in 1989, I didn’t have enough confidence in the artwork I produced. It felt like I had to go back and learn basic skills I didn’t get in my degree program. I kept looking back at those senior year paintings, disappointed I couldn’t do anything with them and had no idea how to get them ‘out there.’ I thought I had to wait until success was bestowed upon me by a gallery owner somewhere. At the end of my MFA program I was doing The Journaling Project, drawings and writing on small pieces of paper. I continued this for about 12 years, looking back over the little pieces and disappointed I couldn’t do anything with them and no clue how to get them ‘out there.’ Many years too late, I tried putting them online, but nobody found them.
While we were in Seattle (2000-2003) The Journaling Project got a boost living in such a beautiful place. I decided to organize all of my photos, letters and mementos and in going over them to put them in order, I started writing about my life: “The Self Esteem Project.” I thought it would be a good way for me to figure out why I am the way I am.
It was not.
Having read Martha Beck, I now see why that was a bad idea. I got too caught up in the facts and details. As Martha often says, negative stories from our past may be interesting, but they aren’t very helpful. What is helpful is to stop telling ourselves these stories, calm our fear-based Lizard Brain, and come completely into the present moment. (Easier said than done. I have put four years of work into this already).
When we were in Misery (2003-2006) I compiled all of my Self Esteem notes and tried to make sense of it, but could not. I had only questions and blame, but no answers.
While in Laurel, MD (2006-2011) I discovered my first Martha Beck book, The Four Day Win, in 2009. I also discovered mixed media art and Suzi Blu, taking several of her classes. I also stopped The Journaling Project, which had descended into an overly obsessive exercise in drawing anything not to miss a day and too much complaining. We were very unhappy in MD, the unhappiest we’d ever been. Steve had a master’s degree, but couldn’t get a job in his field in DC. I hated my commute into DC (an hour and a half one-way) and wasn’t thrilled about my job, either. We wanted out.
So we jumped from the frying pan into the fire. I withdrew cash from a retirement account and we moved to Evanston, IL, just north of Chicago in early 2011. Neither of us could find jobs and we crashed and burned. We ended up at my brother’s house in rural Bloomington, Indiana.
I felt lost. But we got Symon as a kitten, the first day we arrived.
My brother helped us get on our feet. We had each other. And Symon. And I was taking Suzi Blu’s ‘A Lovely Dream’ art journaling class, which got me through the summer. Steve got a job in a machine shop. In the fall I got a job at IU. We got an apartment. And we’ve been here ever since.
I continued with my Martha Beck exercises. Steering by Starlight was listed on Paperbackswap so we both read it and did the exercises. Then this year (2013) her new book came out. I call it the Wayfinder book. I have done a lot of work practicing calming my body, calming my mind, learning skills to cope with stress, trying to figure out how to change my life.
Part of this work has been clearing out old possessions. The Journaling Project had much too much writing in it so I destroyed a lot of it before we left Laurel, and continued to cull pieces here. Before we left Evanston I purged a lot of mementos, cards, letters and photos. I was really angry so was more brutal than I needed to be. Not only did I burn the bridge to my past, I razed the entire house. Scorched earth.
I started making large journals out of Stonehenge (my Go-To paper for The Journaling Project and most other artwork). I made one for my Lovely Dream work, and others to put away everything – photos, letters, papers, Journaling Project pieces, other artwork. I continued to purge, even burning things last year (my brother has a burn pile in a ditch).
The project came to a halt this year because after last year’s holiday break Steve didn’t get his overtime back, so we have been short on money. But I want to get back to it, even if I can only get a few sheets of Stonehenge at a time.
Maybe it’s a byproduct of these exercises, but I have had these periods of blankness. I feel empty inside, but not necessarily in a bad way. It tends to come and go – peaceful and blank, but then I obsess over my lack of progress and I’m eating ice cream to calm myself which is why I haven’t lost any weight.
I find myself asking: Who am I anymore? I can’t answer that question. I have gotten lost in all of my questioning and looking back and lamenting that I never did things I wanted to do. So much artwork and so many ideas and none successfully put before an audience.
In Steering by Starlight terms, I have gone through my mind tearing down the dungeon walls. It’s like I started with a giant hoarder house and had to clear out the junk and clutter, then start tearing down the walls, then discovered hidden rooms and levels, then down to the basement, then tearing up the foundation. This is very tiring work. Martha isn’t kidding when she says that rewiring your brain may require a lot more rest and sleep. This has been my pattern throughout most of 2013.
I know I have made progress because I am looking at things differently, finally. But I feel that I have gotten lost in the dark places. I have been trying to get back to The Journaling Project, but every time I try it’s like I’ve forgotten how. It is time to build a bridge back.
I am afraid of bridges. Anytime I have to drive on a bridge over water, it scares me. I am afraid of driving off and into the water, as unlikely as that is. But bridges have to be crossed, even if figuratively.
The bridge will be made of my old artwork, my old stuff, my writing and new artwork about my life. I will build a bridge back.