As an artist and creative person, my prime preoccupation has always been freedom. Freedom to spend the limited time I have on this planet thinking, dreaming, creating art and thoughts about life and art.
The freedom to be a creative person can be conceived on different levels. Each of us has to come up with a strategy on how to meet our most basic physical needs as well as how to create the type of lifestyle that suits our personality. This is and will be different not only for each individual, but also this strategy will evolve and change at various stages in each of our lives. Ann Patchett, author, explains in the introduction to her recent publication of non-fiction essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, how she became a free-lance magazine writer to finance her writing habit. At first, she tried waitressing, but it is was too physically exhausting. Then, she attempted teaching, which was mentally extenuating. Free-lance non-fiction writing became her bread and butter and ultimately taught her much of her craft.
For myself, I have always sought out a very simple lifestyle because I am a dreamer, an introvert, and the logistics of the physical and social worlds bore me, make me anxious, and take up too much of my time and energy. When I was young and a student, I lived without almost everything that contemporary humans consider to be indispensable. I had what I needed: a place to sleep, some rudimentary clothing, food to eat, and art supplies. I rented small rooms without kitchens or bathrooms. I didn’t have a phone or a car. I worked weekends, and I managed to live without buying hardly anything. This simplicity allowed me to spend the remainder of my time painting, dreaming, drawing. I did not consider myself to be poor, because I was incredibly content. All of my needs were met!
However, I was able to lead that lifestyle because I was living in France at a particular point in time. Working part-time, I still had access to healthcare if I needed it. I was able to find places to live that were very basic, but affordable. The food was good, and access to culture and to educated people were plentiful. But at some point, I felt lonely. I didn’t have family in France, though I did have friends. My family scattered throughout the world, didn’t really care about me, my plans, my dreams.
As time went onwards, a desire welled up inside of me to have a family of my own, to have a child. As a younger person, I had never felt this need or this desire. Perhaps on some level, I had hoped that acceptance of myself through my art would compensate me for my desire for connection to the human social experience. A disillusionment occurred, and with it came a feeling of despair. The art world would not embrace me fully, and the strangers who saw my art would never be able to validate me and my existence as a human being.
This period of depression was critical in my life. I no longer embodied a single-minded desire to create art. The world I had created for myself, simple as it was, fell apart.
As the desire for a family grew in my heart and mind to replace the dream of being connected to all of existence through art, I still sought to create art. In fact, after my son was born, very intense emotional experiences and deeply buried memories emerged into my awareness, and I painted some of my best work in the two years after my son was born. Soon, I became aware that the “perfect” family I had tried to manufacture was not beneficial for my or my son’s well-being, despite my intuition urging me away from this image. I married my son’s father, and this was a big mistake. We didn’t love each other, and I don’t really know what his reason was to agree to the marriage, as his heart was obviously not in it. Perhaps he wanted to stay in France and obtain citizenship at some point. In any case, I wanted my son to have his father in his life, and I wasn’t yet aware that I couldn’t force this issue.
Over time, this marital situation became very painful and even abusive. What I had tried to create in life, ie connection and family, was not working. I was becoming painfully aware that what was outside of myself was not going to fix my ability to be or feel connected to other human beings. Art had taught me how to feel connected to everything…except other people. And maybe it was in the process of teaching me, but I had lost patience and wanted to control the process.
When I tried to live a more conventional life for the sake of my child, I think in some ways my life became richer and others, less rich. The complexity of the logistics in having a child and family were a little simpler when living in France because of the social system. When the level of abuse in my marriage escalated, I had to make a decision. It was very difficult to leave the life I had built, all with my own effort and invention. I didn’t want to return to the U.S. and to a family who had never loved or embraced me.
Eventually, my desire for my own family led me back to the city and country where I was born. Many struggles ensued after my return to the U.S., just over ten years ago. Making enough money to survive has been a constant challenge, and for some reason, I have not been able to simplify my life as much as I was able to in France. The need to have a car, the inability to find part-time work that pays enough to cover basic living costs, and the rarity of finding part-time work that provides health insurance are a few of the reasons I have struggled to find the balance I need between supporting family, being connected to other humans, and supporting myself as an artist and creative person.
Currently, in addition to my blogs (for I have since childhood loved to write and to read), I am nurturing a project to create a small business. The goal of the business is to paint portraits of pets and their people in various media and formats. It is hard to reconcile an idealist vision of the world, an introverted personality, and the need to be constantly creative and interactive with the world, in addition to being a single parent. But I am doing my best to accept myself and my reality.
Perhaps by society’s standards, I am not successful. By my own standards, however, I am beginning to realize that to submit oneself to the process of unfolding of one’s own being is a courageous and creative process. While no one may notice or acknowledge this process, it is fundamental to the growth of the human race and condition. We cannot make collective peace or contentment without us each struggling with our own shadows and coming to terms with our own reality. I think that this is the most important work that any human being can do…this self-awareness is crucial for the survival of all humans.
And so, while I may not have all the accouterments of success or financial abundance, I do have everything that I need not only to survive, but to thrive. I am working on my state of mind, on my thoughts, to tweak into balance the parts of myself that still struggle with me being me. It’s not always easy to celebrate being incomplete. The wealth that is me, that is you, is really all that we need to make a world, to create peace and happiness.