I began 2011 with a poem I wrote, and I’m going to begin this year with the same poem because, as I look back on it, I amazed by how I set the tone for the year so accurately. I would call 2011 the year of transition and change, something I was clearly preparing myself for last January 1st…
I can’t say that 2011 was a lot of fun, but I did do a lot of walking toward the unknown—it was an intense period of shifting, dreaming, and creating an entirely new life. The momentary discomfort was well worth it…a theme that repeatedly showed itself throughout the year.
Last New Year’s, I sat on my couch on the 15th floor of a modern high-rise, writing a poem, while the noisy city bustled and honked below, the New York City smog chocking me. I had no idea where I was going, but knew everything was going to change.
I began the year still in a honeymoon/newlywed haze after spending two romantic weeks in Antigua with my husband. We had all the time in the world to ourselves at the beginning of 2011. We slept in, we watched every movie ever made, we ate waffles at midnight, we went on a date every Friday night, we made out on the couch.
Life began to change. I spent 6 months nannying two little boys. I took an 8-hour train ride up North to help take care of my newborn niece. I didn’t sleep. I was completely exhausted for months. Amidst it all, I was ready to make babies of my own.
I watched my mother-in-law become Secretary of State. I walked down the longest red carpet I’ve ever seen, totally blinded by flashing cameras and TV reporters. I suddenly felt incredibly mournful, wishing I hadn’t lost my childhood ability to paint. I started painting again. I painted A LOT (here and here and here and here…on and on). I had my first photography art show.
I finally got my wedding photos. My husband quit his job. We spent months in utter panic, cursing the job market and having no idea where in the United we’d end up. We traveled and visited new places. My husband accepted a job in the Berkshires of Western Mass. The very next day we heard from a school in Colorado….our dream location….we’re already committed…it wasn’t meant to be. We pack up the contents of our first home together and reminisce about the best two years of our lives.
We move in with my mother-in-law for the summer. We desperately try to find a house to buy, and stressfully fill out paperwork until our fingers bleed from paper cuts. We close on a house the very day before my husband starts his new job. Phew!
We find a little peace on a yoga retreat. We find a little more in Vermont….and some more in Vermont. We camp in the Adirondacks….a trip that changed our life forever. I spent a lot of time with my nieces. One of my nieces tells me I have a baby girl in my belly when I am 2 days pregnant. I cry because I don’t think I do. The pregnancy symptoms crop up left and right.
At 6 am one summer morning, my husband tells me to get out of bed and take a pregnancy test. It’s positive. Woah. Life begins to change rapidly….and I spend the first 4 months in our new house surrounded by boxes I can’t unpack and food I can’t eat. I’m convinced I have the world’s longest running stomach flu (hello momentary discomfort). Then we see our baby girl for the first time on a fuzzy black and white monitor. I am in love. My body is no longer mine. I watch in awe.
Today, I am sitting on my couch in a cozy white house nestled in a small country town, reflecting on a year of crazy tumult and exciting changes, while the silence and mountain air outside my windows soothes me and promises to let me breathe this year. I look forward to the year my first child will be born. That will surely bring about a lot of new changes, but in a way it makes me feel more stable and settled than ever. Here’s to 2012!
The tortured artist is a stereotype we are all familiar with and one I’ve contemplated at great length. While I’ve certainly seen the proof that happy artists can produce copious amounts of brilliant work, that artistic genius can be derived from joy rather than pain, I still debate whether or not I personally can create without accessing my tortured artist within.
Interestingly, I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I’ve been pregnant, because this transition has caused me to look back on my life in great detail. As I’ve mentioned, it seems that I am combing my history in order to glean from it the pieces of myself I would like to hold onto as I journey through motherhood…the pieces I know I need in order to keep my identity (somewhat) intact. In looking back, I’ve realized that my chosen art forms have depended on whether I was going through a tortured phase or a joyful one, and I’m having trouble accepting that I can only seem to access the art form that corresponds to my current phase.
Throughout the greatest portion of my life thus far, I have been in a definite tortured phase, which propelled me into poetry, non-fiction writing, and music. My pain was palpable and impossible to ignore on a daily basis…..and I couldn’t be without my notebook. I would write poetry in bed, in the corner of a bar while out with friends, on the back of receipts while driving, on napkins while grabbing a cup of coffee…anywhere and everywhere, almost daily. I would write non-fiction pieces at night while locked in my room, listening to moody music, by the light of candles. And then there was song-writing. I have been writing lyrics all my life, but then one day I decided to learn how to play guitar and I unleashed my tortured emotions in a way that was so cleansing and powerful (for me).
It was in listening to some of my (self) recorded music a few weeks back that I was reminded of the tortured artist within me…..and I missed her. The fact that I wrote and recorded my music for myself, not because I think it’s good (because I sort of cringe when I hear it), makes it so emotional and personal. It’s been so long since I’ve listened to any of it, and when I heard it again I was blown away by the amount of emotion I heard in my voice. One song in particular, The Consequence of DNA, left me weeping on my couch. In a way I can hear how much I am holding back in this song, knowing that unleashing it all would lead to screaming and crying into the microphone, but at the same time I was reminded of how raw and powerful my art used to be.
The art I (mostly, but not entirely) create from joy is my photography and painting, and it’s the type of art I’ve immersed myself in for the past 3 years. Through all the pain and joy, I have always been someone who dedicates herself to healing and finding genuine happiness and a peaceful way of life. But, throughout my (long-standing) tortured phase I was that person while simultaneously clinging to the dark part of my soul, not wanting to completely lose it, because it felt like such a huge part of my identity. As I wrote in one of my poems long ago, I enjoyed the duality of smiling with tears running down my cheeks. When I met my husband, we bonded over this shared trait. But, eventually, the joy I experienced with him and the new life I began to lead, enticed me away from long nights lost in tortured emotions, away from moody poetry and depressing music making.
Now I find my inspiration in the angelic smiles of babies as I photograph them, in love, in moments of peace, and beautiful views. And I haven’t thought of that tortured girl in years…..until now. Now I find myself questioning her exile, questioning the effectiveness of the art I create these days. I’d certainly like to be a “happy artist” for my child’s sake, and wouldn’t choose to return to my “tortured phase,” but I also find myself mourning the part of me that could write poetry and music. Mostly, I find myself wondering: do I need to be tortured in order to be a great artist, or am I simply meant to use the art forms provided to me by the Universe at any given time? Perhaps it’s all part of the plan—perhaps my path from painting to dancing to acting to photography to pottery to poetry to music making is leading me toward something bigger, and greater?
I have so much on my mind today. That’s a pretty normal occurrence in my life given my introspective, introverted ways—I think I’ve been lost in thought since birth. But, since I’ve been pregnant it’s been a bit different. I’ve read that it’s quite common to find yourself thinking about issues or events that you haven’t thought about in ages, and dreaming (quite vividly) of the past while pregnant. It’s a biological instinct to purge what you can from your psyche, and work through old issues, before your child is born. Given my previous perpetual state of introspection, you can only imagine how exaggerated this is for me now! I find myself remembering long forgotten events in detail, like the day my parents told my sister and I they were getting a divorce when I was 5-years-old. Or I am woken up in the middle of the night by nightmares about such random memories, like being teased by the boys in middle school. I have also been doing a lot of “taking stock,” looking back at the many phases of my life and how I’ve evolved and grown….and that has allowed me to sift out the pieces of my collective former selves that I’d like to take with me into the future, into this adventure called motherhood. It’s more than that though—I’ve been searching for the pieces of me that I can’t let go of, that I hope to cling to, as my identity shifts from woman to mother. More on that to come…..