This day last week I celebrated my birthday. And by that I mean I really did allow myself to celebrate it. Just my birthday. Nothing to do with the fact that it was also Valentine's Day. It was just my day. And it was the one thing I kept missing out on for the past many years of my adult life. Because I had often been too carried away by the Valentine part, pressured by my own and other people's expectations and moulded by media and marketing. This year it sank in, finally, that there are two separate things and I am not obliged to take them as a package. Yes, that was a long time sinking in.
I have felt a definite shift in energy this year. Like something falling into place to set other things in motion. Another chapter beginning like in other previous years, but this one more marked than usual.
I cannot tell you the one thing that made it happen because it is a series of processes. But perhaps what I can tell you is that the most crucial process of my lifetime so far that led to now -- was when I stepped out of all expectations and started defining things on my own terms. By this I mean not forcing others to take my point of view, but simply living by example, if it can be called that. I have been told I have inspired others, I am happy to hear it. But I am not preaching nor prescribing. This is simply what worked for me, what made a difference in my life that is now both more and less ideal.
That particular moment when my current life took its own path away from my old one was when I decided that I am an artist, and began to shape my life accordingly.
It took me a while to realise and accept that the change will affect everything. Down to the smallest details of my everyday life. I thought at first it would be like revising bits here and there. No, it was a square one, total blank page beginning, with maybe a few tokens of random wisdom from the old life. The whole structure of how I live and why had to change.
This new odd difficult life poses questions that have no satisfying standard answers. I can only answer from my own experience. I cannot say that my process will work for all or for anyone at all.
Since my new year began, I started the draft of a book, painstakingly putting it together by hand. I write in my journal and draw in my sketchbook everyday. I've found my reading groove again. I am painting a lot of new pieces. I'm showing up more often in the tribe community again. I have new music playlists (one of the ultimate signs that the magic is flowing well and strongly). I am showing up where I can carry the Impossible Garden with me to spread the seeds of story and magic.
But behind this seemingly idyllic artist life is a heap of harsh realities. I feel a little bit more tired than usual because this is not a first year of explorations and experimentation with its novelty but a third year with its growing baggage of failures. Putting out fires every single day. Fighting through the defaults and the mundane. Battling with regret and resentment. Disappointments layered upon ever bigger disappointments. I've had many nights when I wished I would not make it into the morning. How much help can one ask for? How to justify asking for help in the first place? How many can comprehend the why of the decisions I have made for my life? How do I even begin to explain why I can no longer be what I used to be, or why I even needed to change?
Today I will juggle day job tasks with studio tasks. Used to be that I would totally push aside the art to do the dayjob. Now my routine has evolved (and finally without the feeling of enormous guilt) into something like : Start the day with studio, do the day job in the afternoon to early evening, late evening with studio. Before that I would give day job the prime spot of early morning until early afternoon which would usually leave me too exhausted for anything else after. (My secret dream is to find a day job more attuned to who and what I am now -- such as a job in a library, bookstore, museum, or book publishing house...)
What's especially new this year is that I find myself surprisingly calm. I am never calm. I may look calm but I am a catastrophe inside. But now my outside calm is actually reflective of a strange inner calm. Maybe this is temporary. Maybe this is a calm before a storm. Maybe I will break down in one way or another in some near future.
In reality, everything is shaky and uncertain at the moment, heart-in-throat tension, broken-heart kind of despair.
I was in some kind of college theatre club. And for some reason I was part of an audition. I had two male actors to work with on a scene and they, too, were auditioning for the parts. There were maybe half a dozen similar groups. But everything felt something like a magic school training test instead. Each group was given its scene to practice. Each group member was given his or her song -- except that the song had to be deciphered from a puzzle. My song was fragments of a poem hidden in an old manuscript that had drawings and marginalia -- very Nick Bantock, with the exception that the manuscript was magical and the text moved around. I had to find the words and memorise them before they shape-shifted on the page. Somehow I found a way to write it all down on another piece of paper. And then that piece of paper got seized by magic and would not stay still in my pocket. The auditions began, our group was last. As our turn neared, I was still chasing the piece of paper because the words were slipping from my mind. My group was able to practice a few times though, and strangely enough, and because it was a dream, I could sing. My voice was loud and strong and when it sang the magic song small things happened around us like a spell. Like colours appearing in swirling patterns in the air, or strange flowers peeking where they shouldn't be.
Then it was our turn to perform, and my mind was blank. But from nowhere there were half-invisible beings who whispered things to me. And instead of singing I was presented by the panel with a multiple choice quiz. I was placed before a closed window, and beyond the translucent glass were the two actors from my group waiting (and cheering) for me to pass each question (there were three).
The quiz was on paper similar to the old manuscript. I had to literally pin down the answer. And I saw that among the multiple choices were the seeming gibberish words that were whispered to me just before, and I realised the beings were telling me the answers. As I picked a correct answer, the window opened, and one of the actors (who was suddenly beginning to remind me of someone disturbingly familiar -- disturbing because he looked too much like one of the sketches in my notebook...) handed me what looked like paper money that was also a ticket to something or somewhere. I answered the second question and the second window opened and the other actor (again looking like someone I knew -- like someone I read in a book) handed me a similar token. I realised I was only given two answers and had no idea how to answer the last question. But I was told I only needed to get two out of three to pass, so the last question was taken back, and I was allowed to pass through the third window to join my two companions.
And then I was told by one of them that everything was a test for something else. That they needed me to unlock a magic that no one else could access. That because I passed, I am now responsible for that magic to use it to help their cause -- because, as to be expected, they are not fully of this world but need to be both here and wherever their "there" is. Already as we were speaking, the magic was leaking from my fingers and causing the very air to shimmer, and there were strange things growing on the ground and the walls, and the sky was a certain shade of blue. One of them reached out a hand to mine and the magic flowed to him and his edges became sharper, and I felt the magic binding him in some way and he was letting it.
Then I woke up.
I barely broke even at this year's first pop-up hahaha! However, there was something else more important that happened. You see, in my many years here on this earth that's currently struggling to regain and reclaim its old magics, I've come to realise that the things that happen that we pay attention to are not always the main things. Sometimes we are actually distracted, looking not exactly at the wrong things but the less important things. It's like when we have just one expectation from one thing, or when we believe or assume that events will or should only turn out a certain way to be considered a good thing.
We make plans, of course. Everyday is a balancing act between order and chaos, within our own lives and in relation to the spaces we live in. But plans go awry, often through circumstances beyond our control.
On the first day of the pop-up, everything was slow. There weren't much people. I sold a few small things. But my mom gave me money for dinner as an extra birthday treat. If not for that I would have gone without a meal and just waited to get home to eat. If not for that I would not have discovered how very delicious the meals are in this nice Korean restaurant across the street. Service was excellent and for a few minutes while waiting for my take-out order I got to rest in a quiet place out of the relative heat of the outdoor market. The food was simple -- I only ordered gimbap (which came with four side dishes) -- but flavourful and generous. That meal sustained me through the rest of the evening and uplifted my mood. Last year I would have panicked already at selling so little. I'm still behind on rent and a couple of monthly bills. But it felt like a waste to worry after such a heart-full meal.
The second day, which was yesterday, the road traffic was horrible. We inched our way along. We had planned as the previous day to set up early so we could get a nice spot. But the travel time took more than an hour, and it was less than half an hour to opening when we arrived. Fortunately we still got a good spot.
While caught in the middle of standstill traffic, I could have worried about losing a good spot, or gotten annoyed at the wasted time of preparing and leaving home early. I would have done that last year, especially knowing that there are often buyers who browse and shop even before the market officially opened. I had sold a painting that way once, having gained a head-start by being set-up and ready an hour before opening. But instead I turned up the volume on my Spotify and settled in for a light nap, daydreams weaving in and out of the music, trying out various permutations of possibilities -- of being invited to go to Japan with all expenses paid, of being sponsored by an anonymous art patron who would turn out to be a real blue-heart princeling, of being commissioned to make art for a music video or a book cover or an album cover, of being offered a day job sideline that is actually more related to my creative path and thus bring me closer and into the kind of social circles that would eventually pave the way into Japan... yes, we keep coming back to Japan. I want to go back to studying Nihongo.
The second day of the pop-up had more visitors but sales remained slow. But a lot of people took a card, and a lot lingered. I would have been disheartened halfway through the evening. Instead I wasn't. I could have started complaining internally and blaming the traffic and thinking it was a string of bad luck.
But instead I went around the market and connected with fellow artists especially those I've already met in other markets, and those I've met through Instagram. As the event drew to a close, there was this surprising exchange of gifts! Artists exchanging art, encouraging each other, happy for each other's journeys, and looking forward to meeting again. I didn't really have money to spare but I bought stickers that would be perfect for my journal and which I felt were seeds in disguise.
An artist (and her mother who is also an artist) whom I had met more than a year ago and who has become a very dear friend dropped by for my birthday with a gift, and there was a bit of catching up that passed the time with much heartwarming joy. There was a seed of a possibility that sprung up in the conversation, but it needs to ripen and we will wait. Things take time. And the time does not matter if it is meant, because it will happen eventually, and in the best and only way it will. Serendipities, synchronicities. Things that fall into place have been falling for a long time, seeking their destinations. The right place at the right time can only be found and navigated towards by a heart that is true and one that clings to hope.
Because of the previous night's satisfying meal, I decided to indulge in another meal from the same restaurant. This time I had the tteokbokki meal. Consistent excellent service and delicious food. Check them out here.
Despite coming up short on the financial rewards, the evening ended on a high note. With warm goodbyes that promised meeting again, with gratitude for the art foundation who made the event possible (Thank you BGC Art Mart!), with hope that next time it will be better. I'll show up again in March -- because in a dream from three to four years ago, I was told that I should keep showing up. The message came from a person, an artist, whom I have admired and have deep affection for. In the dream he said, "If you keep showing up, I will grow to love you."
So, I'll see you in March, maybe? I'll be on the lookout, as I've always been, for the signs and the clues. I know that the face you used in the dream is a mask. I know now that most things of the heart are not literal, but a language of symbols and myths and music and colours and poetry.
I'll just be pouring out thoughts today, in no particular order or purpose.
I'm thinking about seriously starting on posting videos - by this I mean videos on my creative process, materials, maybe a studio tour (which will be short and quick because my studio is tiny). Maybe it will help gain more views, generate more interest, find more people with whom the Stories resonate.
I need to expand reach and awareness of my work in order to be seen by those who would buy and support my art. I would like to join more pop-ups but the investment costs have become higher while the chances of breaking even have become lower. This year I'm sticking to the monthly Art Mart - it has very small crowds but the fees are low and I actually get better odds at selling something because it is specifically focused on selling art.
I need and want to make big pieces (larger than A3). This has been a lament for the past couple of years but big pieces take time and need materials. I will try to start one later today. There are at least three to four pieces ready to be poured into paper or canvas.
With my recent series of Garden work (which I suspect will migrate into the Forest eventually), I realise that a booklet/ chapbook that has been in slow (nearly glacial) progress is very much ready for more work and even for getting finished. I have the materials, I just need the chunky stretch of time to put into it, and by that I also mean not being weighed down by the nagging of bills to be paid. One thing that really slows me down with studio work is being paralysed by the oppressive worry and anxiety of not having enough funds. While the past eight years have been nothing short of a miraculous creative existence, the day-to-day has often been wrought with mental and emotional pains.
I realise I may have become utterly unemployable in the traditional sense. As I go deeper into my Forest and Garden I become more feral and impossible to cage. I have to rethink every single thing about earning day job income. The ideal, of course, is for the art shop to be my main income source but we all know that will take time that I am not even certain I could afford (and will likely have to go in debt for).
I've been headache-y yesterday and today. The long insomnia curse (that started in early December) has finally lifted and now I am constantly pulled by sleep like a treacherous undertow.
I do not know where and how far my recently reduced palette will take me. At the moment everything that needs saying and showing seems to be made up of only these colours. I did not expect this kind of leap and shift from a chaotic profusion. It has coincided with the increasing arrivals of creatures.
I want a fairy tale love story.
There's a poem in fragments lost in the woods. It is trying to find the crossroads.