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Who You Really Are

Enigma, a painting by Dutch artist Peter Klash...
Enigma, a painting by Dutch artist Peter Klashorst. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago I read a very powerful statement, “Our bodies come from a place of health. Our bodies want to be healthy.” But don’t you just feel like pulling the covers over your head some mornings? Don’t you just want to stare off into space for a few weeks because you’re feeling so drained?

All people of a certain age suffer from some sort of  apathy and fatigue after years and years of doing the necessary day-to-day,  functioning  like robots on an artificial clock and calendar. We no longer connect deeply to cycles of harvest, abundance, abstinence or the waxing and waning of the moon.

 We look for reasons that we feel dragged down and tired. Can you check my vitamin B doctor, and maybe my sugar? We start thinking of ways to increase our energy, “I should exercise more. I should buy a light that gives me extra vitamin D at my desk. I should buy vitamins. I should pay for a fitness class and massages and yoga pants and an iPod and shoes for running and biking and hiking and getting the groceries.

We need to pay for these things that we think will magically make us feel better. We become our work to buy these things. We become a cog feeding a beast that was a parasite on our mother’s womb. We are balanced on the side that favours order and rejects spontaneity, which has admittedly given us a nice cushy safe spot on the global political landscape. But the plates of this landscape are shifting, and we need to rethink how we are in the world.

As you know, I’m madly working away, writing a novel that has the potential to change the world. Ah-hem…no comment on that please. It’s been a quiet, rumbling hunger of mine for years and years. Finally I’m feeding it with untold hours of ink, fingers on keypads and ponderings that saturate so many levels of space and time that I need bottles and bottles of bubbly and lengthy sojourns to galleries, pubs and prolonged dinner conversation to bring my powerful mind back to the physical world.

Did you know I’m an artist too?

If you ask the people who I bump into every day you might hear them describe me in different ways.  She’s  a mother and a friend. She’s  a neighbour and colleague. She’s a bitch and hard-ass. She’s this and she’s that. None of that stuff matters, because that’s their opinion. That I know I’m a writer and an artist is all that matters when it comes time to put pen to paper or splatter paint all over my floor.

Perhaps it’s my hormonal intuition kicking in as some folks believe. Perhaps I’m just fed up with the labels that get stuck to us when we’re all grown up. Perhaps I just started living and breathing what I love. Yep. I think that must be it. 

I’m a frequent visitor to the AGO. I can spend hours and hours in there with the paintings, taking in the beauty of the work. I can also be knocked flat by some of the beautiful graffiti in our city, and by simple sketches I see my client’s draw.   Art – all art – written word, visual art, music, dance…it’s all an expression of the human spirit, and since we are all indeed human spirits, I believe that we are all artists.

Tracey Chevalier gave one of the famous-for-putting-you-to-sleep TED talks about viewing art today.  I enjoyed her novel Girl with the Pearl Earring and I love Vermeer’s painting, so I thought I’d listen  during my lunch break.  The essence of her talk is about viewing art, and the stories that we can create for ourselves about the paintings. It’s a personal experience, and unless the artist is so narcissistic to write a tome on how to consume his/her art, it’s there for us to take in. It’s there for us to process, and make meaning of for ourselves. It’s there for our deep contemplation and spiritual growth.

Having no formal education in visual arts, and being a solid ‘C’ student all the way through public school, I spent years feeling like an-art-challenged moron. I could write, I could sing, I could act, but draw anything resembling anything – forget about it. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I felt compelled to create. I bought some canvas, some paints, some brushes, and had at it. I think I frightened my son and the cat. No one was more surprised than I was when the emotions I slopped on the canvas turned into images reflecting my desire, despair and dreams. 

It felt wonderful when my son pulled at my shirtsleeve and said, “Mommy, hang that one on the wall. It’s so pretty.” The pretty one was my dreams.  We tapped a new nail in the wall, and hung my dream painting . It came down shortly after, replaced by a painting that I bought in someone’s living room in Havana. My dream painting came with us when we moved. “Don’t give that one away Mom, ” my son said, ” I love that one.”  That painting even did a brief stint on my office wall during a particularly dark period in my career. Now, I think it may be tucked in my storage closet behind cases of champagne and my leopard print shirt that I save just for hard-core rock and roll soirees.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have talent – I merely have freedom about my spirituality and a lack of giving-a-hairy-rat’s-petunia about anyone else’s opinion.  The first time I ever felt the impact of great art, was when I was a little girl sitting in church. The way that the sunlight boldly sang through the stained glass and the way that the stained glass told a story gave me hope. Hope that whatever I was in church for wasn’t really the judgemental arse at the pulpit, but something more, something happy, something inspiring and good.

I travelled to Paris in my twenties and fell in love. Perhaps my academic background in classical studies, religious studies and literature influenced my reaction to art in that city, and maybe not. The light captured in original paintings has no equal. The beauty of sculpture in the sunshine of the Rodin garden left me speechless. I sat on the grass and spent hours just taking in the curves and form, letting my imagination run wild. I imagined Rodin reading Blake and wondering about the same great mysteries that I had contemplated.

If there is an emotional connection to a piece of art, it is automatically a masterpiece. It doesn’t matter that a glutted corporate foundation hasn’t recognized it, it doesn’t matter that the artist is only four years old. It only matters that the work has connected you to a deeper level of yourself.

We are so busy making ends meet, paying bills, feeding the machine that our economy and consumer values have created, that we’ve lost ourselves. The way we communicate today in short messages, using cave-man like language in our texts and tweets is robbing us of our voice. The corporate world is demanding that we silence ourselves with truncated, efficient  messages devoid of emotion and original thought so that we can continue to produce, produce, produce.

During the 1960’s, our national committment to post-secondary education changed in Canada. We got behind the well-known idea of, “If-You-Build-It-They-Will-Come”.  And we did come. By the tens of thousands. Now, our post secondary education has been digested by the powers that be. It has been spit back at us as something to be consumed at a high cost in order to sustain a false economy rather than to be experienced. 

The failure of consumerism is written on all of our post-industrialism DNA. What to do? 

Why don’t we built art; Paint, create, write, fill the city alley-ways with art, gather and read and write and perform and give our ideas breath? Transform our suburbs into expressions of the human spirit on the huge roadways that make way for our transport to the office. Guerilla art I know, is much more powerful and long-lasting than guerilla warfare. Sorry Che.

As much as I am all of those things that people may say I am, I am also a writer and an artist.

Be who you want to be. Don’t get stuffed and squeezed into an identity that serves only to pay the bills. You know who you are. You’re the runner. You’re the writer. You’re the guy who does a mean Roy Orbison impression and makes the kitchen come alive. At the core of you, there is that steady-heart-beating-deep-breathing-animal that wants to stretch and yawn and make you come alive again.

When you feed that deep-breathing animal, when it stretches and struts, it makes you powerful. It makes you anything but apathetic and tired. It helps you see things more clearly, makes you more compassionate as you recognize that same animal in your peers, and offers  you perspective. You will be energized, inspiring and you’ll make better decisions for yourself and the rest of the world.

I. Am. A writer and an artist. These two ways of being make me a better, more powerful mother and friend than any title or professional designation could ever bestow.

Just be who you really are. I promise you, every cell in our body will thank you for it.  Just be who you really are.