There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. That said, there are many ways to truly honor and appreciate each of the 566 unique tribes.
You don’t realize how strange your life is until you start sharing it with other people, telling your stories, and seeing the shock on people’s faces. Not to say that everybody hasn’t had a strange life, but everybody’s life is incredibly different, if even just in the way a person retells it. But it also feels really good to talk about it, to counteract the weight of holding it all in; of normalizing it in your head so that it doesn’t hurt you anymore (or so you think). Sometimes I even tell myself that all the anger I hold in is useful, but deep down I know that’s not true because it feels more like pain than anger most days. I want to tell you everything, and one day I will, because even though I’ve told myself throughout my life that I am an empowered person, I realize that I’m not. Being unable to speak about my life experiences is a result of the overpowering shame that I feel for the things that have happened, and the fear of what people will think and do if they knew. How can I be empowered when I am ashamed of myself and afraid of everyone around me? It’s really the opposite of empowerment, it’s oppression.
I plan to change that one story at a time.
It’s OK not to be a genius, whatever that is, if there even is such a thing…the creative life may or may not be the apex of human civilization, but either way it’s not what I thought it was. It doesn’t make you special and sparkly. You don’t have to walk alone. You can work in an office — I’ve worked in offices for the past 15 years and written five novels while doing it. The creative life is forgiving: You can betray it all you want, again and again, and no matter how many times you do, it will always take you back.
The last month or so I’ve been making a concerted effort to be more social. Or perhaps it was that I’d noticed I’d let myself become more of a hermit than ever and it wasn’t good for me. Either way, what I realized is that I have this idea of who I am - a shy introverted artist - which isn’t exactly who I want to be, I’d rather be more of an extrovert. When I think of extroverts, though, I see someone who could go to a busy art opening and charm the room. I could never be this person. Of course, there are many levels in between a hermit and this extrovert. I learned I’m probably closer to being an extrovert than I thought. I’m still not the type to start a conversation with a complete stranger, but I am the type who will email a stranger and meet in person after a few exchanges. It did take some conscious effort to even become this way, but it wasn’t impossible.
The reason I’m writing this is because a) I was a bit shocked to realize I am different from how I perceive myself to be, and b) I’m often asked about how I get myself out there, how to “network”, etc? I’m not an expert, of course! But I can tell you what’s worked for me. It’s all about working with what you’re comfortable with. I know I’m much better at conversing online and through email, so I’ve utilized that. In-person meetings will always leave the most lasting impressions (and also cause me the most stress, anxiety, and fear!), but emailing can break the ice and get you to a place where you feel like you’re meeting a friend instead of a stranger. It’s as simple as sending an artist a nice email if you appreciate their work. You may or may not receive a response back, but there is no harm done either way. The goal isn’t to get noticed, it’s simply to express admiration and possibly make a new friend.
Another important thing I’ve done is to leave meaningful comments for people on social media. People recognize when you’ve taken the time to think about something they’ve posted long enough to respond with more than a 1 word exclamation ( I leave plenty of those too, mind you). You can never expect that someone will take notice, more often than not they don’t, but it’s wonderful when they do.
All of this probably sounds like canned advice, and I do feel weird about writing it down, but I doubt it would hurt if people received more friendly messages. I also think it’s important to observe some semblance of internet etiquette, if nothing else. I’ve received more than one “look at me! look at my work!” or “follow for follow” comments and it only turns me off. Yes you may really really really want to get noticed, I know I do! But nobody wants to feel as if they are a rung in your ladder to success. At the same time, everybody is aware that networking is useful, so you will be surprised at how open many people are to making new friends and doing favours for them. I mean, if you meet someone nice and they are talented too, why wouldn’t you want to help them succeed (Of course there will be feelings of competition and sometimes jealousy, but you can’t let that stop you from being kind to people. Negative feelings will hurt you more than you realize). It’s not about hoping that they will return the favour someday, it’s simply about giving your energy and support to deserving people.
My favourite thing about being an artist and using social media is having made friendly connections with people I admire. Even when it’s simply mutual appreciation for each other’s artwork, it feels great to know that someone else understands me, my creative process, the good and bad aspects of making a living as an artist. The more people I connect to, the more this good feeling grows and I come to understand who I am - which is really who I’m striving to be.
During a conversation with a friend yesterday, she talked about how happy, stable, and productive I seem. Of course that’s how I would like to be and may appear to be online, but the reality of my daily life is very different. I thought that it would be helpful if I went into detail about myself, because so many people, myself included, fall prey to the illusion of other peoples lives being perfect.
As I’m writing this, I’m lying in bed with a cat in my lap. It’s lovely, what most people would dream of being able to do on a weekday afternoon. I, however, feel as though it’s the only thing I can do even though I know that paintings and people are waiting for me. I am so lethargic that typing this and answering emails are about the only things I will accomplish today. This is a very regular, predictable occurrence for me. Fortunately, my life is structured to allow for this.
I’m quite certain I have PMDD, though I’ve never been diagnosed because I’ve found ways to cope with my issues without needing professional help. There are certain times of the month where I can get a ton of painting done and my creativity and energy feel limitless, while other times of the month I have to sleep for days and even standing upright is difficult. My moods follow my level of energy, and during my best months I get a week of optimistic happiness, while the rest of the time I’m functioning at “charmingly morose” (as my partner describes me), with a few days of utter darkness. It’s a fairly predictable cycle. What often gets me through is creating, or at the darkest days, simply knowing that “this too shall pass”. The closest I’ve come to any kind of medication is coffee, which makes me feel infinitely more stable and functional. When I’m at wits end I turn to writing and walking in the forest. At the risk of being too honest, I’ve become very good friends with death. I reflect on it often as a way to gain perspective, and it reminds me that life is best served doing the things that are important. It’s taken me years to recognize my cyclical nature and it’s signposts; finding ways to work with it and accepting that the trajectory of my life is a result of what I am capable of handling.
I do think I’ve accomplished a lot in my life so far and I think it’s because I recognized early on that I couldn’t survive in a 9-5 world. More than anything, being self-employed allows me the freedom of flexibility. I can pay my bills, make the art that needs making, and fulfill my few other obligations, all because I have the freedom to do it in my own time. And I feel like I need an inordinate amount of time to accomplish things. Perhaps that is why I try very hard to use all of my time and energy to it’s fullest. If painting isn’t an option (I typically only have the energy to paint every few days), then perhaps drawing or writing or answering emails is - anything to keep some semblance of a flow happening, which is important for keeping my stress in check. Scheduling is another stress-reliever, and I allow a lot of space for things to be completed. I always plan to finish things at least a month before they are due so that I have wiggle room. Once that becomes the routine then it’s easy to stay ahead of upcoming projects.
Not to babble on too much, I realize that all of this comes from a very privileged perspective and I don’t want people to take this as advice. I simply want to be honest about myself because the more people I talk to, the more I realize how important it is to share our experiences with one another.
In-progress snippets of my piece for the Kubrick show at @spoke_art in Sept. I’m sneaking in some of the impasto oil technique and other textures that I’ve been playing with lately. I tried to censor as little as possible so sorry if boobs offend you 😕
I’ve had this incredibly visceral recurring dream since I was a child. In it, I am a fox running for my life through grassy meadows, being chased by hunters. They shoot me and it’s very painful. The pain wakes me up.
I tend to have lucid dreams, so the more times I have this dream, the less painful it is when I’m shot because I’ve already recognized it as a dream.
Maybe this is why I use foxes so often in my work.