This was a tremendously disturbing realisation for me. That my art, at some point in the past weeks or so, almost lost all its heart. It had enough but not to carry me forward into any worthwhile direction. If I had not realised it when I did, I could have spent the next precious months finding it and resurrecting it, for it would have been lost to me.
It would not have been so evident in my recent works but the fact that I was finishing less pieces and at a slower pace were already signs.
This is what happened : I had burdened my art with too much, and forgot to let it be itself, very much like how I have been with not letting myself be myself.
First I burdened it with the responsibility of bringing in income -- fast and in large amounts. Its failure was a frustration, and my expectations poisoned its potential which I suspect further slowed down its own growth. My focus became more about getting rid of my dayjob as soon as possible and less about deepening my art. Because my dayjob was exhausting me too much. I was thinking more about my art in the context of products and promotions, about making sales rather than making meanings. The meanings themselves became selling points, measured by profit instead of passion. I was impatient and constantly disappointed. I began to judge my creative output by its sale potential more than its soul potential.
Second I burdened it with replacing love. And by this I mean I expected it to take the place of any need for connection or intimacy with an other. Whenever I felt lonely, I painted. And when the painting was done I said to myself: There, I am fine. It's been taken care of. I do not need nor am I craving for that fairy tale that used to lift off my life from the mundane. My art is my love now. But guess what, it is not enough. And during my last bout with depression this has been made clear to me, and I was sent emergency intervention through an encounter with a Korean series -- a string of overheard dialogue that simply sliced through my stupor, lines that spoke aloud the exact words with which I discourage and tame myself into the belief that when it comes to love stories and fairy tales, everything is impossible. That's why I turned to art in the first place. Art is possible, even realistic compared to my aspirations about relationships. But those words from inside myself taken out and spoken aloud shook me enough to find out what happens next. And then a chain reaction occurs. And it was that very chain that pulled me out finally and fully from the depths of my despair. (Look out for the post about reclaiming my fairy tale.)
Third I burdened my art with my own fears, doubts, and expectations to the degree that it could not move as well as it should. Just like how writers (and being also a writer I am guilty of the same), would sometimes be over-ridden by their inner editors and censors and stifle the spirit of a story before it even had a chance to be whole -- overthinking and over-correcting and second-guessing and anticipating with anxiety What Others Will Think Or Say. I have been over-sensitive and over-defensive. Constant comparison was my weakness, particularly how and why I was never the chosen one -- a sentiment that echoes a deep-seated ache tracing back to my being repeatedly un-chosen and unrequited when it came to love. I have a long drawn-out struggle about being loved and being enough of a person to be loved. And at the same time I shied away from giving love, or trusting and being open. I dealt with love, and then later on with my art which I substituted for love, clad in full armour. I have been true and honest as much as I could, but I also held back out of fear that I would be depleted, defeated, and disappointed. There is so much waiting to be born on my paper and canvas but I have been rationing how much to show, because it will be showing so much of myself as well, opening myself up, opening myself to rejection and being deemed not enough. Un-chosen, un-preferred. Too odd, too old, too independent, too difficult, too much of what a woman my age and station should be. I have braced myself for the worst even before I began.
I am fixing all of that now. A perfect time as this old year comes to a close. A perfect time as every path of my life flows into a single road that has not yet been taken. In one of the recent stories I have seen, it was said "You have to take a path for it to become a road, and then it will show up in the navigation maps where it was invisible before."
I believe that nearly losing the heart of my art is part of the process. Though difficult it was not wasted time, for the lessons I gained are not only for my art but for my whole life. Love, which I have denied, which I have been ashamed to admit I wanted and needed, is now gathering its scattered pieces from the graveyards of my possibilities.
For now I'm not fussing over my "productivity" in the studio. I'm simply enjoying this phase of frenzied feeding. Like a reading rage, this period of almost manic consumption of fairy tale stories is all part of the process.
Signs and significances. Seeds. These are what I am gathering. Distilling and filtering through the ocean of details, tracing threads of connections from one meaning to another, linking back and forward, pulling at tangles and unraveling loose ends.
Cleaning the slate. Calibrating defaults. Redefining the givens.
But yes my head is in the clouds, and it is all I can do to keep my feet touching the ground. And my heart, well, my heart is a kite on a fraying string, tugging to be free.
There will always be a period in our lives when things will seem to click and fall into place like crumbs on a trail that lead us to where we hope to go, or at least to where we can begin to go where we want. In such times we need to be alert, awake, and brave. We must be ready to flow while at the same time navigating the current with clarity of purpose.
Sometimes the first clue, or crumb, that is given may seem almost silly or strange. Fateful encounters often are. And by fate I do not mean the kind carved in stone and unchangeable. I mean the kind that is loose-ended depending on how we choose to take it. Remember that things become or stay as they are as we choose. It is we who write the story of our life.
Each of us also have our "signature" signals. We respond more to certain stimulus than others. We assign meanings on particular things more than others. It's our frequency, or wavelength, or whatever we want to call it. That is something that stems from the core of who we are, our inner language. That is why we get along better with some people and not others -- it has something to do with that inner language and what we find positive/negative, encouraging/disappointing, good/bad.
But sometimes we ignore the signals we are given because we think they are crappy or corny or cheesy, or just plain embarrassing to admit that we were moved by such. Sometimes we try to ride on other people's wavelengths but fall short because there will be dissonance at some point, and then we end up with half-baked selves based on someone else's core blueprint. The language we tried to adopt become gibberish and we could not penetrate any further, nothing makes sense.
The signals are based on our personal myths, drawn from the bigger mythologies, expressed accordingly to the times that we live in. They are the main vein by which we connect to the bigger scheme and receive our "messages", our answered prayers, and divine intervention. It's like a structure of meaning with which we are programmed, and the program is unique for each individual while at the same time it overlaps or resonates with others. It is how we are able to make sense of ourselves and the world, and it carries within its coding the answers and solutions to everything -- if only we are going to be willing to listen, if only we are willing to embrace and speak the language we have been given.
For some it is expressed in music, and the learning of life comes in songs or musical scores or soundtracks. A certain song heard on a particular time of day becomes a premonition. A line of lyrics leads to an epiphany. For others it is expressed in business, following hard logic and interpreting situations and people on economic and financial terms, measuring relationships by gains and losses.
The trick is to develop discernment, and to go deep. Again that saying about not getting stuck on the finger that points to the moon. Sometimes the medium is also the message but not always, sometimes it is that and much more. That saying about tips of icebergs.
I do not know why we are more attuned to some signals more than others. Why we are "programmed" a certain way, and thus why we are affected by one thing and not another. I put it down simply to what we are potentially meant to become, our role and purpose in the bigger scheme of things -- the change or difference we are capable of making for the world.
My signal, my mythology, is the fairy tale. And I don't mean just the Grimm kind but in all its many manifestations. And I came to a point when I was ashamed by it. That I tried to coat it in more respectable terms befitting my supposed maturity. I didn't know that I could evolve it along with myself, and keep on listening and learning from its language and maps and symbols.
Yet in the worst moments of my life, especially when I find myself having slid down into a pit of depression, the only thing that is able to pull me out is when I allow myself to listen to the fairy tale. But my mistake in the past two years has been to censure myself out of a conditioning that I should not still be believing in fairy tales. That to give in to that affinity was immature and irresponsible, not to mention delusional and foolish. At my age and stage in life I must be practical and sensible. I must be past that "phase" of daydreaming and fantasies.
Well, enough of that. I'm reviving my spirit roots and attuning myself into the frequency where I hear the voices that genuinely speak to me. And no more feeling ashamed about what thrills and delights me, about what inspires me, about what stokes the fires of my soul to a raging roar.
I have decided to let go of many things. I started with my material possessions and minimalised what I own so I can have more space. In fact, I am doing a second round this weekend just to fine-tune what's been left. In the process I removed from my life anything that only elicited regret, sadness, or disappointment. Things that have outlived their meanings and usefulness. Things that have never even managed to be useful at all. Sentimental value only counts as long as it inspires a forward movement.
I let go of an old love, the last from a series of lost loves, that has long ceased to be love but merely a thin desire for possession and validation. It was something that did not survive outside of an experiment in a cold artificial laboratory. Its variables were too specific and the conditions were impossible to replicate in real life. It took me very long time to understand and to accept that everything else that happened had nothing to do with me at all. That it was all over the moment we both stepped out of the borders of that country in the surge of spring.
I let go of the old rules by which I conducted my daily life, my relationship about my dayjob that has long ceased to bring me any emotional satisfaction, that has become mere duty and default. In the process I had to make a decision about my creative life, about how I will live it truthfully despite the many obstacles and limitations that threaten to derail it.
I let go of my subscription to the beliefs about success, and by doing so I aim to free myself from the heavy weight of guilt that had perched on my shoulders for many many years. I let go of the guilt for wanting to be happy for reasons of my own rather than for the reasons that others say I should. I let go of the guilt for messing up my life and having to go back on all the unspoken promises I have made out of the unspoken expectations from others.
I let go of my constant second-guessing everything, my overactive defensiveness. I must learn to be open again. I must learn to be brave again rather than simply enduring. I must push back if I am being cornered. I must say yes or no as they mean not as a safety. I must not be afraid to ask. I must not be ashamed of my truths. Authenticity is a beacon that draws the kin of spirit, those who would effortlessly weave their lives into mine with genuine affection. Disguises and masks draw only that which frustrate and disappoint.
I let go of the boundaries and lines I have drawn around myself that somehow keep me from pursuing what my heart wants while letting what restricts me dictate my choices. There will have to be a completely new way of navigating through the challenges and the obstacles and the disadvantages.
I let go of the selves I have reined in for fear of being unacceptable, unlovable, unworthy.
I let go and I open up and I lift myself out, and shine and flower and grow, and I won't be afraid to be seen or to be heard. I will be brave. I will live. I will love.
I have made many shifts and changes in my life this year. And as 2016 ends I find myself clocking in a few more.
But this time it is a more difficult undertaking because what I am trying to shift and change is myself at my core. Not the whole core of what I am, because that is the essence of myself, but I mean the shades of definition surrounding that essence. You know how a diamond or a crystal reflects light differently depending on the angle of its setting or how it is polished? Something like that. I am shaping how my true self is presented and seen so that it is as close to the truth as well as the best of itself as possible.
This is not about not caring, or caring too much, of what the world thinks. This is about caring about what I think while giving the world a fair chance to meet me halfway to a win-win compromise. The compromise is inevitable. There will always be a gap between the needs and wants of individual and the group. But there is also always a way to strike a lively balance. Lively because the decision to enter that relationship is not a one-time thing but an every moment thing. It moves with us, and affects every thought and action.
Most of my life I have acquiesced to what the world expected. I have changed my outer self into so many forms that sometimes I did not recognise who was looking back at me from the mirror, nor who was speaking in my voice denying what I truly felt or thought. Most of my life I have been too careful and overly defensive. At the same time I have had experiences of being completely irreverent of the rules and disregarding of responsibilities. Extremes are hard. So is the supposedly safe middle ground. So is sitting on the fence suspending the unavoidable.
After squandering years trying to make my life an eternally preserved snapshot of a dream I finally come to the realisation that life is instead an eternal movement. The question is indeed not the destination but how I keep on the journey, because every point of the way is both an ending and a beginning, and every step is a choice every time. What I have been trying to do (and failing) is to capture a moment and keep it still and perfect. Life is not that way. Life wriggles and squirms and jumps and shivers.
Life is also adaptation, change, evolution. The mistake I often make is that I assume it means I have to change what I am at the core. But my core is my difference, the purpose and magic of my life, my token of participation and contribution to this present universe. I cannot negate it otherwise I negate myself.
The change and evolution I need is growth, transformation from that core. Not replacement or substitution. Not conforming or copying. While nothing is ever original -- it's all been done and all that -- there are infinite connections and combinations that have yet to be made of the raw materials we are all given. Creativity is connection and combination, and the output is both familiar and strange, old and new. I am creating myself into becoming, coaxing the seed of myself into full bloom.
The same is true of love. I cannot say, I am done with love. Or that I will never have a chance at love because the rules are fixed. The rules can be bent and broken. Or there can be no rules at all. Love, if it is true, like the selves we are meant to nurture, will find a way to be. Love will make bridges where there are none. Or simply evolve wings.
My sister and I had a most interesting discussion last night, over an imaginary map made up of empty cups, saucers, and glasses. We were in a Korean cafe on a very late Friday evening. We talked about doors, and how some movements must be the act of opening doors and walking through them.
It's quite a record, actually, that I was out last night. I was just out on Wednesday to spend an afternoon with a friend (who helped trigger awake a number of suddenly possible directions). And then Friday night I made the effort to dress up (discovering without a doubt that I really have to upgrade my recently minimalised wardrobe) and went out to have dinner with my sister and her friend.
After dinner we browsed and shopped a little -- me forking over the cash oh so carefully but also recognising the necessity of allowing this expense in order to further my own forward movements. I have been very stingy on my own personal spending since I would rather not have anything new than worry about how to cover next month's household bills.
I bought two plain shirts of different colours (which echoed my own painting palette preferences), a pair of brown tights, and a pair of brown leggings. These are meant to expand the possibilities of my current skirts and dresses. I have mentally marked one perfectly fitting dress to return for once I've slept over the idea of buying it. Half the stuff left in my closet after I minimalised are leaning too much into the shabby-but-not-chic side and while they are favourites I may really have to let go of them soon or re-assign them as houseclothes.
Today I have plans of going to the mall and shopping for fabric to be made into skirts. I have an aunt who sews so I can have new skirts without having to pay the full store prices. Then also fabric for a few dresses. I already know the kind of clothes that make me feel both comfortable and nice. I do not have the face nor form (nor the finances) for following fashions. I also do not have the patience to make the effort to keep abreast of trends.
It is quite an awkward feeling, and I admit to feeling a bit sheepish at all this attention being paid to how I look. Last night my sister and I also dropped by out favourite local skin care and makeup brand, Snoe, and she got moisturisers. I, on the other hand, with much internal wrestling, bought a bottle of lemon drop spritz -- a definite upgrade from my all-time go-to baby cologne. The spritz smelled like how I would imagine a lemon orchard would smell like while the trees are heavy with ripening fruit and all the spaces in between trees are carpeted with flowers and everything coated with sunshine.
While I remain a total fan of solitude and spending as much time in my studio traveling my inner countries, I believe that the time has come for me to balance that inward movement with outward movement. Certainly the person who comes out of that voluntary seclusion is a different person from the one who went in. But different in the sense that I am better equipped (I hope) for any encounter. It does not mean I will start going to parties and chatting up strangers to "reach out". Or joining clubs and workshops. I still want to bring my quiet with me.
It means I will go out and relate to the world according to who I am and what I am. I will, however, concede to the compromise of being a character in order to participate in the common social language. But the character will be of my own choosing, and will not be a betrayal of my own values. But I will be open and receptive, and honest, and kind. I will also be mindful of protecting myself while respecting the truths of others.
I will be out there, moving into larger spaces, daring the labyrinth, mustering up the courage to keep opening doors and walking through them, both real and metaphorical portals.
I will be out there, silent and shining and real, in the best possible way I can.
This piece, now titled "Seeds", took longer than the usual. It was conceived in a storm and born while still in the midst of the storm's rampage. Yet one would not suspect its tragic roots, because it is what it is, a flowering of hope despite the devastations.
I was able to fix a money task today, which gave me a tiny inch of breathing space. I know the task list is suspended, but I fix what I come across without having to deal with the rest of the chain.
I sleep fitfully. I exhaust myself with reading and with watching those just-discovered highly entertaining fantasy fairy tales of Koreanovelas (it's been popular for years but I'm a confirmed late bloomer). Very escapist, but at this moment also very crucial to keeping that link between myself and the ground, if that somehow makes sense.
I eat fitfully. I crave for very specific foods eaten in specific places that I cannot afford, so I eat just enough of what's on hand to stay not sick and fully functioning. At the same time I crave with a hunger of the soul and the heart. So I create my impossible gardens with the expectation of rain and sunshine and bees to help them grow, and with the hope that something unexpected and new and meant will find its way through, a sleeping seed waiting for its own blooming. Synchronicities and serendipities. Every painting a prayer to the gods of the spaces-in-between.
Today I started original work on two small pieces. Next I'll do another big piece. Then two small pieces. And I'll keep making more of those round paintings (that some people won't or could not take seriously as art).
I'm also warming up for adding more fauna and fungi (specifically mushrooms) in my garden's ecosystem.
This is as much as I can manage given realities and circumstances. I've changed the settings in my email auto-reply to indicate that I am on an urgent personal leave until Thor's Day. I need to put away that heavy, heavy cloud of tasks hovering over me every single day, laden with to-dos and to-finishes and to-begins. I need to breathe. I need to stretch and expand without hitting my edges on walls. I need to let go. I need to go away.
I want to strip away all the duties and obligations, the shoulds and the expectations, the endless routines, the vicious cycles of nothing happening.
I want to dive deep into the places where that in-between state of waking and sleep takes me. I want to slip sideways into those slivers of somewhere glimpsed at the edges of a glance.
I want silence, and the solitude that is pregnant with possibility.
I want to not be alone, for my silence and my solitude to be encompassed in an embrace of recognition and love.
I want to be away, away, away. In a place surrounded by trees and mountain and ocean. In a place where it is always more cold than warm, where making fires makes perfect sense.
I want my own merry band of raven princes, on leave from their kingdoms, some for a while, some forever, taking only their crowns and their magic with them, to run away with me. Away, away, for the world is full of too much weeping and woe. Find the boon that will fight the battles and win the war for the good in the human spirit.