So, the other day I mentioned that I was sort of losing track of time a little bit. I mean, I know it’s the last week of February, that it’s winter (well, almost spring…) and it’s 2015. So I’m aware of time and date and all that.
What I mean is that I’m not really as obsessed with time as far as some sort of deadline. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
One thing that I am incredibly grateful for these past few months is perspective. I don’t know if it was turning 40, or if it was *finally* getting “it” after years and years of trying, or if something just finally clicked for me, but my attitude as far as creativity and goals and “life accomplishments” has changed completely over the last few months.
For years and years and years I mourned the fact that I never followed my dream to become a curator. If you’ve been reading my journal or know me for a while, you probably know this about me. At some point in the last few years, that changed for me, and I finally realized that the reality of the job of curator didn’t quite meet what I dreamed the job might be, and I was able to disengage with that regret and dream. I realized that my heart was really in the creation of art, and so I thought I should try to develop a career around making art. Creative business, all that.
I don’t know why I felt like I needed permission – ie, a “formal career in creative business” -to make art. But I thought that if I made it into something “official”, then sitting down and making art wouldn’t feel so indulgent. Also, it felt challenging and something approachable and sort of a nice goal to work towards.
But it was also frustrating. My goal was ultimately to achieve enough success that I could focus on creating art full time- maybe create something that could be printed/manufactured by outside agents and I could just focus on creating the art. Like, maybe I could create a design or painting that would sell a bunch of prints or something.
I knew the first steps to that was to set up shop on Etsy, and research and learn about small business, and promotion and etc and blah blah blah. I needed to create a foundation for what I wanted, then work towards goals realistically- do the work, get it going, and then it could move in the direction I hoped it would. So I did a lot of that, as much as I could.
But I didn’t enjoy it. Yes, there was a sense of accomplishment as I got things checked off my list and worked towards little goals, but it felt like a placeholder, and it also took up so much time that I couldn’t really make much art. I could have dropped the whole “creative business” stuff at any time and just made art, but I never felt okay doing that. I struggled with validation a lot. And when I did make art, I always did it with a sense of “make people happy with this!” hanging over me. I have talked about that before- I worked on shaking that feeling for years, every single time I sat down and created ANYTHING, even a scrapbook page, but I couldn’t stop feeling that way.
But suddenly, that all stopped.
Sometime in the last few months that loud chattering voice that kept saying “make something successful of your life!” and “you have to prove yourself as an artist!” and “making art is only worthwhile if it’s received well!” just shut up. I don’t even think it was a gradual thing, to be honest. Just one day, it wasn’t there anymore. The weird need to have some sort of successful creative endeavor disappeared completely. The need to validate myself in order to create art disappeared completely. The need to make art for other people disappeared completely.
It’s a little weird, I have to admit. After so many years of that tangle of stress and static kind of cycling inside of me, now it’s just quiet. I think instead about things like color and pattern and paintbrushes. I don’t look forward to finishing projects, I just look forward to working on them. It’s a much smaller approach to things.
I think there might have been two things that precipitated this.
The first was Robin Williams’ passing. I KNOW I talk about this constantly, but I can’t tell you the effect it had on my life. Out of everything I have read, absorbed, studied about well-being that drove home the message of “you are enough” and “success doesn’t always bring happiness” and “be where you are”, it was Robin Williams death that finally got it through to me. This guy was beloved, successful, widely loved and appreciated and lauded, he was a legend, he had a huge body of brilliant work, financial well-being, etc. and it was not enough.
I finally got it. Depression and anxiety are serious inside things, and no amount of creative business success (outside things) will make them go away. Happiness is NOT about success. Sure, success can bring happiness for lots of people, maybe even most people, but the thing I wanted more than anything was to create with a sense of inner peace, and I made the mistake of assuming I could only find that peace if someone gave me “permission” to create, meaning they validated my work by loving it so much that they placed enough of a financial value on it to invest money into it.
So what is happiness, then? What brings happiness? I had no idea, and I still am not 100% sure, but one thing I DID know was that shipping out Etsy stuff was not happiness. Not for me.
I had to start from scratch, in a way. I knew I loved to create. I knew I loved to learn. That was the bottom line. So what next?
Well, something else happened that changed my approach. My health changed.
My whole entire adult life has basically been about preventing health problems. I had a bone infection at age 18, contracted while I was in college, and when the infectious disease doctors who were treating that bone infection started dropping the word “amputation” in heated conversations about my foot, I suddenly got just how serious my Spina Bifida was. I spent 18 years trying to be normal, trying to “do it all” and it just wasn’t working. I had to come to terms with the fact I had a health problem, and instead of fighting against it, I had to become my own greatest advocate.
I only wound up losing half a toe (and had six months of IV antibiotics, surgery, and bed rest following), but after that experience my attitude about my health did a 180 degree turn and I became devoted to taking exquisite care of myself. It’s been exhausting (come on, let’s be honest) but the older I get, the more I realize it’s sort of like this weird privilege, in a way. Like I was entrusted the care and keeping of something a bit complicated and that required a lot of observation and thoughtfulness. I don’t know…
Anyway, the whole thing is why I swim two and a half hours a day (it keeps my spine strong, it makes up for the time I can’t spend on my feet and doing activities, it keeps my weight way down, which means I am putting less pressure on my feet and spine, it helps with the pain, etc.) , and keep my bathroom sterile, and don’t travel, and a serious myriad of stuff that I NEVER discuss with anyone but my family. I put a lot out there, but not everything.
Anyway, I put my health first. I HAVE to. It’s pretty much my life.
Well, despite all the daily practices I already do for my health, in the fall I noticed a few things changing. Some muscles in my legs were getting weaker. My skin was changing and getting dryer which meant I was more at risk for potential wounds, etc. Muscles were getting sore and tight. Flexibility was decreasing a bit. All part and parcel of getting older, but for me, it could mean huge problems if I didn’t take it all seriously.
I realized that once again I had to step up. I was kinda annoyed at first, because, I mean, come on… but then I just was okay with it. I made the changes I needed to make- more time in the pool, more time tending to myself OUT of the pool. I just realized what needed to be done and added them to my schedule.
And after all is said and done everyday, after doing required health stuff and family stuff, I realized that my schedule is FULL. My health is my full time job. Period. Yeah, I know there are some people with much worse problems than mine scaling mountains and traveling the world and pushing it to the limit, but I’m not that person. I’m also not the person who wants to fight against her body every day and suffer the consequences later.
I kind of see it this way: I’m the owner and operator of a franchise of Spina Bifida. And my job is to keep the franchise going strong. Some days are easier than others, but no matter what comes up, that’s what dictates my time and energy.
Anyway, I also realized something I had never admitted to myself before- I’m busy. My schedule is full. And it’s not just health stuff. It’s other stuff, too- like gardening, which takes up an hour of my day (and is great for my physical body- lots of needing to balance and do lifting and moving, etc- stuff that doesn’t happen in the pool). Swimming. Family time. Stuff around the house. I have very little free time and the new changes in my health thing meant even less.
So what would I spend my time on? What would go? When I sat down to think about it, the choice was clear- the creative business stuff was going to have to go, at least for now. Enough is enough. If it is a choice between actually making art and packaging old art up, new art wins. If it is a choice between spending hours tweaking Etsy shops and doing self-promotion (which I despise) or using that time to take a class and learn something new, the learning something new wins.
So, no, there is no legacy as Chel Micheline, the awesome artist with a successful creative business.
But there might be a legacy of Chel Micheline, the woman who LOVED art and dedicated the time she had to learning about it and making as much of it as possible and sharing it.
And maybe there might be some happiness to be found in that process, because the whole creative business set-up wasn’t doing it for me. I just felt like I was always striving, and as much as it brought lots of little moments of satisfaction (in a “cross that off my list!” way), it never completely fulfilled me the way spending hours working on a painting or really investing my time and effort into an art class does.
So the last few weeks, I have been painting. I took Flora Bowley’s Bloom True class (which was another game changer for me…) in the fall for the second time, started a bunch of canvases, took a break over the holidays, and then reviewed the class and returned to painting again in January. And it was really different. I just… painted. No ideas, no real worries about whether or not anyone would like what I was doing or if I was working quickly enough or whatever. It’s just all about playing with paint and translating something inside me to canvas, in a way.
After I’m done with all the health/family stuff every day, usually around 5 or 6pm (some days it doesn’t get done, and so some days there’s just no time in the studio – yesterday was one of these days), I sit down in my art studio and turn on a podcast or an art class video, pull out my paints, and just work on the painting until it’s time to get dinner going. We eat super late, so I get an hour or two of decent work in there if the day goes as planned.
Not much gets done- I’m a S-L-O-W painter. It’s ironic that a lot of Flora Bowley’s method is about letting go and just flowing through it, but after two years of the class, I finally realized that for me, being “intuitive” and “letting go” means being thoughtful and very contemplative in my approach. I like going slow, taking my time, looking at different options, trying different things out, refining, always changing things up, tinkering, etc. For me, there is no swashing paint all over – the early layers, absolutely (that’s all I do!) but after trying to force myself to do that in the final layers, it just doesn’t work. I LOVE the details. I love working small. I love creating tiny patterns and making different canvases within the canvas. I like messing with tiny dabs of paint.
So one painting might take me months. And I’m totally cool with that. Because for the first time in my life, I am painting not for anyone else, but because I really enjoy it. Not every day is fun- don’t get me wrong- I go through many evenings where I make little progress and it’s frustrating and a slog. If those days start to string together, that’s when I know it’s time to switch to another creative project (the art journal, the scrapbook, some writing, the watercolors…) for a day or two.
Also, if I don’t have much time in the studio because health/family stuff takes a lot more time than I imagined, then I work on something smaller in the little time I get- I sketch (I do this so much now, whereas before I never felt like there was ANY time or reason to do it!), I print out photos for the scrapbook, work in the art journal for a little bit, write a bit of a blog post, whatever. I just try and use whatever free time I get to do *something* that I enjoy.
So that’s where I am right now. And with the elimination of little milestones that comes from having a bigger, tangible goal (ie having a successful creative business), that weird sense of time that goes with it (ie to-do lists and deadlines) goes, too. So now I’m sort of in this in between space where the days sort of measure themselves.
It’s interesting and a little disquieting. I think for the first time in my life, I get what “be here, now” means. And it’s not exactly a comfortable thing in a culture where goal setting and deadlines are sort of prized as the way to operate. It’s just sort of fuzzy.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still goals- write two or three blog posts a week (which I am enjoying doing after not having the time for it for so long…), work consistently in the art journal, keep up with documenting Gracie’s life, keep up with art classes, etc. But I’m the only person who can really say whether those goals have been met, you know what I mean? There’s no reception for those things. No launching into the greater world and waiting for feedback or results. And it’s different. It’s weird, but also good. It’s quieter.
I do think I want to find a way to measure and celebrate the days individually, though. The blur of time is not for me. I know I should sort of just let it be and be mindful of the moment and zen, and I will definitely embrace that. But I also don’t want the days to all glom together. I want there to be some distinction.
But all in all, like I said, I’m really insanely grateful for this shift in perspective. It’s such a huge relief, in so many ways, to be finally free of the pressure of needing validation. It’s been such a huge thing to realize how busy my life is instead of trying to find more things to “fill” it with that might give it some sense of meaning and accomplishment. It really *is* enough. It always had been, I just hadn’t been in the right time or place of my life to actually get it.
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