June 2018 Update: Blogs, Priorities, Art, and Dysfunctional Relationships

I don’t want to start this post in a cliché way, but I will have to: the fact is, I’m genuinely surprised that a whole six months has passed since I last blogged on here. I know I say that a lot. I really don’t follow the first blogging commandment, “Thou shalt post with regularity.” I get it, it’s a marketing thing. It makes sense. It’s about networking, about building a readership. But I haven’t really had anything to say.

 

Or perhaps, more accurately, I haven’t had anything to say in a public forum. I have written a lot this year, but most of it has been in a more personal journal form. Why? Because I have stuff going on in my real, offline life. And sometimes that requires an inner journey away from the public eye. For me, that’s taken the form of private journalling this year. In that space I can write exactly what I’m thinking and confront it without worrying what others might think. Sometimes typing the sorts of words I wouldn’t say to people in a private journal as a response to these recovered memories feels pretty cathartic. It gives me a chance to deal with the situation and/ or negative memories and then move on with my life.

I have also continued my reading challenge to myself this year, though I am nowhere near the quantity of books I had finished at the same time last year. That’s okay. There’s still plenty of time to catch up. I will write the list on this blog when I get some time.

 

Anyway, by doing some necessary and often difficult inner work, it’s meant that other outlets, like blogging, have taken a lower priority this year. I don’t ascribe to the “just do 15 minutes a day” rule of blogging because, well, it takes me longer than 15 minutes’ worth of writing to make something meaningful. I’m not interested in filling other people’s newsfeeds and notifications with drivel. It needs to have depth or it’s not true to who I am trying to become.

 

This year has been very busy and hectic. Sometimes stressful, but much of the busyness is positive. I’ve seen a lot of criticisms of modern busyness, and quite frankly I usually agree. This elevation of busyness to virtue-status is one of the tyrannical elements of modern life (at least, as far as I personally experience it). It seems like life is very harried and stressful. But I’ve also seen a different side to it.

 

The fact is, when I’m dealing with a lot of dysfunction in my relationships with other people, busyness can be a kind of protective shield. These are individuals in my life who really don’t respect my desperate need for regular extended times of aloneness and positive solitude (ISTP introvert problems). They see solitude and silence as a kind of defect. These include the people who reappear every holiday season demanding that my time and finite reserves of energy be focussed on them. By being able to truthfully say I’m “too busy” to catch up, it relieves me of the pressure to acquiesce to their unreasonable demands. It’s a positive busyness of my own choosing. My busyness serves another, more important purpose too, namely, investing in my children’s education and futures. It involves supporting them in their hobbies and interests. I want my kids to grow up to be educated, happy adults who will live good lives of their choosing. My attempt to achieve this has been to try to ensure, as far as I can, that they have opportunities to explore new interests, ideas and skills, in conjunction with what their school can offer. This year we’ve been to the Museum, to art galleries, to movies, to motorsports, to National Parks, to music recitals. Even just taking the occasional day trip to the beach or into the inner city with its interesting old buildings. Setting aside a regular day to go to the library. Most recently one of my kids (very luckily) had the opportunity to try out a beginner’s lesson flying a small aeroplane – a birthday present from an extended family member whose budget is more generous than ours could ever manage. I’ve personally had catch ups with friends. Since I quit church I’ve had to be very deliberate about maintaining community. It’s no coincidence that my friendship circles consist mostly of other women who also left that church. (So many people were hurt by that church… it’s really sad.) We’ve been to interesting festivals. We’ve participated in the life of the wider community. It’s tiring, it’s busy, but it’s liberating. And I hope that my kids will carry those happy memories for the rest of their lives.

 

That kind of busyness has been good.

 

The other busyness has been a problem. The busyness that results from trying to deal with difficult situations and people. It’s been the main barrier to achieving my goals for the year. By now I had hoped to be well into completing a first draft for a graphic novel I’m trying to write, which entails a lot of time spent on drawing and writing concurrently. And instead? Most of my free time and energy has instead been channelled into the unwanted dramas of trying to navigate unhealthy relationships with extended family and some acquaintances and friends. My facebook being the most recent victim – despite not using facebook much, I deactivated my account. Sometimes I need a break from the one-upmanship and posturing of others who think it’s just another medium for telling others what to do.

 

And when it’s not negative relationships, it’s other stresses. Bills weighing on my mind, wondering how we will ever save for the relative stability and freedom of owning our own home when landlords and utilities providers want to bleed us dry. Biannual house inspections are always a nightmare, the most recent one being no exception. I’m trying to improve my health and fitness and most days the exertion involved in exercise, preparing food and managing the whole marathon of parenting and housework means that writing or drawing just doesn’t happen. And I know everyone has their magic solution to it: “Oh you just need to try harder,” or “You need to prioritise,” or “Just do a little bit everyday,” but (a) I don’t see them trying harder; (b) they haven’t walked in my shoes and don’t know my challenges (just like I can’t presume to know theirs); (c) I AM TRYING – hence the exercise, meal prep, trying to be a decent damn parent to my kids whose adulthood looms on the not too distant horizon. This magic spare fifteen minutes a day that everyone else has is like the proverbial daily cup of takeaway coffee we’re all meant to give up to save money. I don’t even have enough money for that amount of takeaway coffee in the first place, nor do I have that many spare lots of fifteen minutes. I already don’t watch tv (except for Stories From Norway and Formula One), I don’t use social media a whole lot these days. The fact is – and not making excuses – there are other things in my life that are far higher priority than my own personal word count goals.

 

And let’s face it. Even if I had the freedom to work six hours a day on my personal art projects, very few people in my own life would see it as a legitimate occupation. Most people I know very much enjoy and consume arts (film, books, theatre, art, television, music, politics, journalism, photography, the list goes on), but too often they don’t honour the hours and years of training, work, and space that artists of all stripes need to produce the work in the first place. They want the finished product, they want it now, and they don’t want to pay a fair price for it. At least, that’s what some of the people around me are like. If I said, “I’m not answering your texts today because I’m focussed on drawing,” they won’t listen. They don’t see it as legitimate. They’ll up the ante. They’ll persist even more intensely with the manipulative texts. “Surely you can set aside some time for me.” Except that they all say that. If I try to appease them all I won’t have time to sleep. It’s so hard to concentrate on creating when every time my phone beeps or my email arrives I feel that familiar anxious grab in my chest worrying about which person it is this time whose narcissism needs some supply.

 

And that’s ultimately where positive busyness is helpful. These folks for some reason are more likely to listen when I say, “Sorry, I’m not available, I’m taking the kids to [dance / swimming lessons / maths tutoring / music recital / ticketed event].”

 

Anyway, I’ve been spending a lot of time grappling with negative social interactions. I know, I know… it sounds pretty pathetic an excuse for not reading enough, for not drawing, for not writing… but if you haven’t battled anxiety or depression, like I have every single day of my life since around the age of 10 years old – though not formally diagnosed by an appropriately qualified professional until my late 20s – I’m not sure I can explain to you what it’s really like. As it is, it’s different for everyone. My mental illness journey won’t be the same as someone else’s. But for me, let’s say I have a negative interaction with a family member or friend or acquaintance or even complete strangers at the shops, well, I don’t just bounce back or brush it off. If it sets off my anxiety, it can be a week or more of being on the edge of a panic attack, followed by a time of depression as I recover yet berate myself for once again falling apart. If it’s bad enough it can also result in a day or two lost from my schedule as I seek out a psychotherapy session or visit to my mental health-specialist doctor to get outside perspective on how to manage the situation. In the meantime, that person through a single negative conversation will have succeeded yet again in leaving me in a state in which I can barely think, let alone compose or create art. Whether they are stuffing me around by trying to control or change my plans and schedule, policing my opinions because they think my choices as an autonomous adult are their responsibility, telling me to do unpaid work for them… it’s always the same. I’m left trying to repair what little remains of my shattered stability. Again. It is deeply infuriating to me to go through this. I didn’t ask for boundary-less, manipulative, or co-dependent people to intrude on my life. Further to that, as a quiet ISTP type of introvert, with a huge need for positive and functional solitude, a lot of these folks appear to mistake my quietness for naïveté. To them I am a project to work on. Just the other day I heard from a chaotic relative who pops up in my life about once every six months to tell me that they have found a new friendship group for me: as if I don’t have friends (just because she doesn’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist). Last year it was her berating me for not immediately sharing with her the fact I’d left my old church, as if somehow she had been privy to the details of my personal religious and spiritual life in the first place. And another thing I’ve noticed about the more controlling folks in my world: I don’t think they realise they’re all competing for my obsequiousness. I read recently an article about certain types of introverts attracting toxic people and it certainly rang true to my own experiences. Quietness is mistaken for a lack of personal will and opinions. Thoughtfulness, compassion and empathy are dismissed as weakness. The supposedly weak, non-judgemental, empathetic and quiet person is seen as ripe for the controlling.

 

As for controlling behaviours, I have also had multiple run ins this year with folks who want to dictate the content of my art store (which I will discuss further down), and who wanted my work and business to ultimately serve theirs as a proxy advertisement for what they do – with no regard whatsoever for the fact I am not employed by them, not their personal artist, and certainly didn’t asked to be used this way. It’s a reminiscent of those women from the prayer group at my former church who used the sacred medium of prayer as a selfish space for promoting their business. I am not joking when I say that in that context prayers were often to the effect of, “Father God, in Jesus’s name, I just pray that more congregants see the value of [insert their business name here] and how these products will help them to serve You.” I don’t know what it was about that church but there were a lot of people there involved in pyramid schemes and trying to get rich quick. They couched it in spiritual terms about Jesus blessing them financially, then spent an awful lot of time confusing the value of their faith with the value of their bank balance.

 

I don’t want to give away my labour, my obedience and my commitment. Certainly not without fair compensation, income and recognition of my own motivations, goals and life situation. In our 16+ years of marriage, my husband and I have had multiple occasions in which different people have asked us to join their “great business opportunity,” or to “buy my products.” It didn’t matter how calmly, clearly, or reasonably we responded to these unwanted invitations, the response from the initiating person was always the same: anger, indignation, even sometimes there were accusations of our having betrayed the family… and never, ever have these folks acknowledged that it was mistaken of them to demand our labour without fair compensation nor healthy boundaries in place.

 

As for my art store, mentioned above, I closed it. It was sad but freeing. Ten years (well, 9 years and 9 months) of work and *boom* I decided to hit the delete button. There were several factors precipitating this decision, which I made after a year of careful consideration and weighing my options. For something that was “just a hobby,” it was taking up a lot of my time and energy. It was definitely not fun anymore. Quite frankly, I’d forgotten how to do art for fun. Anytime I sat down to draw or paint, I found I wouldn’t work at something unless I thought it had potential to be sold. As a result, my art really suffered because I wasn’t willing to take creative risks, nor was I willing to practice new techniques. I was looking for the money. And yeah, I need money (don’t we all). Our rent is really high. Our bills are high. The cost of living in suburban Australia is generally acknowledged to be pretty pricy. And don’t come at me with the simplistic “just move to rural Australia” response: the only reason I moved to the big city is because we couldn’t get any jobs in rural Australia. The choice was to either stay unemployed, but live in a low-cost rural area, OR get a good job but sometimes struggle to pay the rent and deal with a higher cost of living. It’s hard. I get that rural Australia has many wonderful aspects – after all, I lived there for 24 years. But moving rural isn’t the right answer for everyone. Thus, instead of working at my craft, I resorted to easy designs that would be more likely to sell well on t-shirts. Because I felt that art for my own sake was not as justifiable as contributing to the household income.

 

In addition to this, some people commissioned me to do work that had no relevance whatsoever to the art I actually do. To say it stressed me out is an understatement; and whenever I said no or pushed back or tried to modify the request to something feasible and reasonable and within my skill levels, these in real life acquaintances responded aggressively. I hated it. It made me profoundly miserable to think about it. I stopped uploading works because I always dreaded the subsequent pressure to alter my style and content to appease in-real-life folks.

 

On top of that, some family members had chosen to obfuscate the meaning and intention of my work, too, by misreading themselves into it. I realise now the profound, deep, absurd self-absorption that entailed on their behalf, but at the time it made things thoroughly unpleasant for me. Instead of creating, I had to field absurd charges from family members as to who they assumed my various art pieces were aimed at. The private messages, the awkward confrontations, the “she said that he said that she said you drew that about them” nonsense. How any of them could see themselves in my fantasy, spirituality and nature art I can’t even fathom. I ended up having to confront some relatives to point out the absurdity in their logic if they could link, say, my sketch of an animal with themselves. I hate confrontation but I also hate being falsely accused of being so insanely petty and passive aggressive as to target my cutesy (so I hoped) animal drawings as relatives I barely knew. As if my whole lifetime of art and creating was about distant cousins I spoke to maybe once every second year at Christmas time.

If I drew anything – mermaid, unicorn, marine creature – it seemed like there was always at least one family member making it about themselves, or complaining about how they didn’t like unicorns and could I please draw something else instead. But such is the disordered mind, I guess: paranoid, narcissistic, and deeply concerned with controlling others in their orbit. And then there were other family who expressed deep anger that I, by having the same surname as them, was bringing down their reputation and potentially ruining their job opportunities (the mind boggles), because my art and writing didn’t reflect their specific religious and political values. They invented wild scenarios in which potential employers could fire them because I didn’t adhere fully to their oddly specific worldview from their cultish religion. It just got stupid.

 

What was a fun hobby very quickly morphed into just another relational battle ground for others to use in trying to manipulate and control me. The weird group think, the perceived notion of, “our family is like this…” It’s so unhealthy. It has the effect of obliterating space for individual diversity. It falsely assumes that we each have the same interests, motivations and personalities purely on the shared surname or shared ancestors. Never mind that most of us were raised and educated in different towns and suburbs, that we patently are diverse (some introverts but the vast majority extroverts), that some are university educated and others are high school drop outs, and everything in between, that some are book readers and others haven’t read since their school made them and are still embittered by the memory of it, that we have different ideas about politics (as evidenced by our facebooks) or music… the point is, we are all very different individuals and I will never understand why that is perceived as a threat to their romantic notions of family cohesion. As if people can’t have meaningful connections with those different to themselves.

 

But ultimately, the main reason I closed my store was because of my shifting priorities. I liked making art prints, stickers and t-shirts that people enjoyed. I also appreciated being able to make a tiny bit of pocket money as a result of something I usually found good. But ultimately, running a barely successful RedBubble store isn’t what I want to do with my life. I am taking a huge leap of faith by taking away a source of income (meagre but better than nothing) in order to focus on something that will take a long time to create properly, which has no promise of success. But in the end, I don’t envisage a life selling unicorn print cushions or cat cartoon mugs or giraffe t-shirts. That’s not as meaningful to me as is writing stories. I’m not getting any younger. As my husband pointed out, I’ve been saying for my whole 30s the things I wished I was doing. Will I still be saying the same thing in my 40s? There are reasons for the delays, most of them legitimate, but the fact is that as long as I was prioritising a style of art and design I don’t particularly love, I wasn’t pursuing the art I want to do. The fact is, even when I was 8 or 9 years old I was telling my school teachers I wanted to write a comic book (like Footrot Flats or Asterix). And here I am almost 30 years later still saying the same thing. It’s time to stop standing in my own way.

 

By deleting my store, I was giving myself a clean slate. Since I started the store, I have gone through so many huge moments in my life I couldn’t list them here. The last decade since I started the store has been a massive journey. It’s been hard. I’ve changed (hopefully for the better). Many of the works no longer represented the person I’ve become today. None of them represent where I want to go artistically, either. And if I ever start over again, it will be with a markedly different portfolio style and theme.

 

Anyway, I am granting myself a kind of temporary holiday to mark the transition in my artistic journey. Like an Anne Rice vampire I’m sinking underground for a healing rest. (Metaphorically. Obviously.) I will be working on my art, and my writing, but without the intense self-imposed pressure to sell the work. I have been watching tutorials, and trying to learn new techniques. I’m giving social media a major break. I haven’t read much lately but I’ve spent some time watching films that inspire me. I’m not a big film buff but I have enjoyed exploring the medium for stories that resonate. I am exercising most days – nothing massively intense, but a huge improvement on recent years. I’m doing everything I can to alleviate the impact of negative relationships. I’m focussing on stuff that makes me happy, as hard as it is (my psychologist is regularly telling me to be more kind to myself).

 

I haven’t forgotten this blog exists. It’s just that it has faded into the background as I try to deal with my lived reality, rather than using public online writing as a procrastination tool. I hope next time I update I’ll have some progress to share.

 

Failing that, I have signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo again. I tried Mermay this year but wasn’t too successful. I have been proactive about my health. I have been trying to enjoy life a tiny bit instead of always deprioritising my joy. I’ve become aware that as my kids get older, it is not too far away before they enter adulthood. I want to make sure that there won’t be any regrets. I don’t want to be left saying, “if only I’d spent time with them while I could.” I don’t want to be a controlling helicopter parent. I want to send them out into the world healthy, stable, happy adults. And yeah, blogging can still be a part of all this. It just isn’t the main part.

 

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Today’s soundtrack: The husband is working from home and listening to a playlist of Star Wars film soundtracks. I don’t know how he can concentrate with such rousing, emotional, powerful music. For me it’s bringing up mental images of moments in the stories that affected me. Personally I find it easier to write in silence or with less intense music!

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