Artist – As Mother – As Artist

MOTHER/ARTIST DICHOTOMY: Are we first artists, or women destined to be become mothers by the biological yearning of our DNA? Growing up, I was told that a woman could not be both.

I was ARTIST FIRST.

I found my craft in suburban NewJersey in the 60’s and 70s. My mother mothered the cocktail party approach: children as show pieces for their guests — to be seen but not heard.

Women in their cocktail dresses, high heels and bouffant hair, and men in their suburban bread winner wear professed about their wealth and stature, while the children looked on.

Her purpose to marry off her four daughters (which she had in five years), set her on a course to make sure each little girl had the right skills for the corporate husband: right dress, right speech, right traditions and right sexuality. Wearing my first black dress at 12 began the process of rejecting all of that. I professed to never be like my mother. I proclaimed myself as an artist – not corporate.

As a result, I became the black sheep – literally – black dress, black eye make-up, and a lioness mane of black curls, stark against my three sister’s coiffed corporate republican mod daywear.

By the time I got to high school, I was an official outcast. My people and me cut school to listen to Parker, Mingus, Miles, or banged Thelonious percussions, spending days rambling in Beat-speak, or sneaking out for Zappa’s midnight show in the pits of Passaic N.J. — all of it — challenging my corporate mother’s mothering, who eventually declared I was unfit to show her friends.

Said my first fuck you in those years → a go-to phrase ever since.

Thinking my life in crisis, Moms sent me to “finishing” school. The John Robert Powers School of Modeling attracted rich kids who dreamed to walk the runways, or desperate mothers to give their ‘challenging’ daughters a leg up in corporate lifestyle. A 1950’s approach, instructors taught how to walk across a room with grace (yes, in a straight line, one leg over and in front of the other with a book on your head). They instructed how to apply make-up for different soirées, and most importantly, how to be interesting at a cocktail party with limited knowledge of current events.

Music became the portal out of that reality – the first craft.

My straitjacket upbringing gave way to non-stop improvisations, endlessly playing the piano, with the occasional respite reciting lines from Ovid’s Metamorphosis to whoever would listen.

By the end of my high school daze, I intuitively understood the following:

“Artists must learn a tradition to challenge it. [They] are products of their times and context. Like natural talent, the vision is innate. Yet the way that vision comes to fruition depends upon the artist’s time and place, the surrounding artistic tradition, training and life experience.”

After my junior year, I talked my way into a New York City College, and moved to 58th and 6th Avenue. Desperately, I sought my people on the bankrupt streets of 1976.

Although just 17, Mom agreed to pay the bill because it was college.

NY’s Gritty streets of ‘76, had rats, piss, more poor than rich, and opportunity shadowed by crime around each corner. I searched for collaborators at Max’s Kansas City, at the Circle Theater of Greenwich Village, in Harlem doing performance art, or at school creating dances for actors and then a chorus bit in Lysistrata.

I lasted about 6 months, and then transferred to Bennington College.

Moms glowed with pride her “kooky” daughter was legit. She believed saying to her friends “She’s attending Bennington College, cousin to the Seven Sister Colleges,” garnered a special type of adoration in her Woman’s Club. My acceptance gave her “pseudo” ivy league cred. She paid the bill.

In the hills of Bennington/Vermont, along the corridors of simple structures, my people gathered. We journeyed together, talking, partying, performing, partying, creating, partying, and discoursed existential philosophy with the likes of Camille Paglia.

Time flew by. The feelings of a limitless invincible future opened to our practiced crafts, and we boldly created “things.” After our liquid graduation, I sobered quickly.

I was pregnant. My world as artist – and mother – collided.

To be or not to be?

I always believed artists needed solitude and suffering to create. We existed in and out of relationships, wielding weapons to shield our vulnerability at becoming responsible or failing at surviving emotions. The “Hemingway Effect,” where alcohol, and all things created like it, drove my creative process.

My practice of craft, sitting meditations, became a trance like state, often enhanced by the debauchery, yet in some moments of clarity true enlightenment. For the musician, the actor, or the visual artist, the process of constructing a “thing” rests upon losing oneself deep into that creation: an unconscious process. The artist intuitively strokes the canvas, or hits the keys, or speaks from a place deep within, bringing the story alive. My music flowed out of my heart – through my veins – directly onto the keys. No deliberate thought in-between. If I cried, smiled or frowned, the sound, the words or the image in my imagination became absorbed fully in storytelling through my fingers.

Sandy Meisner referred to true talent as having a creative eye that could not be taught.  The it. “It.” The artist who has “It.” Being in the presence of “it” lifts us.

My mistaken perceptions believed, in some divine moment, I had an “it,” and Bennington’s breeding ground nurtured that “it” inside me. Graduating into Meisner’s study further intoxicated me to think something “it” lived inside and needed to come out.  How could I give all that up for a child?

I was too afraid to walk through the fire.

ARTIST AS MOTHER (REJECTED):

The aftermath of my decision to not be a mother became part of a suffering artist narrative lasting five years. My delusions believed at the expense of the child the artist would prevail.  It only led to darker places, like a needle in the haystack. Shuttering veins flatlined, but resuscitated in the end.

As I cleaned up, the unexpected happened. I became pregnant, again, but decided this time, the right time. Every person I asked — I mean everyone — said “You’re making a mistake.” Ignoring them, I became the artist as mother. I played my last gig at CBGB’s 7 months pregnant.

ARTIST AS MOTHER (Acceptance):

Poohkie was born the first day of spring with Baby Daddy right there beside me. Artists Bringing Up Baby!

The Dad, a messy artist, always worried about being kool and in the right place. The Mom, transformed by an OCD lens, cleaned and moved everything in its right place – order — all business — form and function — serious craftwork, nothing street.

I wanted my little girl to always make right decisions, and never make my mistakes. To make sure that happened, I went straight khakis, loafers, and nine to five teaching, ensuring all the resources (money) for success were in place.

Art as I knew it took a backseat — she was more important, and besides, the world didn’t want a mother artist on the road. Who would take care of baby?

Her Dad claimed I sold to the other side, and he was right. I became my Mother, classical straitjacket, while the Dad remained punk artist throughout his life.

Despite our divorce, Poohkie became the coolest cat – the girl other girls hated, but the boys loved and could trust. Never boring — always thinking in creative strokes. Life was art.

She had the eye at an early age. The “it” – the creative imagination. She is an “it” girl.

After her Dad died, so much fell apart. I had to be both business and artist for her, yet the artist was out of practice. Her graduation to adulthood left me longing for a long lost past as artist. My life felt adrift. No longer care-taking the baby artist an obsession to create some “thing” creeped in. Turning 50 will do that.

The artist as mother as artist: my third leg.

Motherhood took me back to my mother’s mothering, and then I came all the way forward in a new way. I found empathy for my mother’s creative suffering, her mother’s stifling, and her grandmother’s stifling of her mother. My daughter does not fall far from this tree. We are linked by a creative DNA. She just happens to have double creative DNA from both parents. So here I am, returning to the stage  – different – seasoned – ready to hopefully make some kind of “it” happen. I started a company, and my daughter is my partner.

My greatest artistic achievement remains the parenting of my children; accepting each different child as their unique self; passing on basic tools; and guiding them in finding their unique ‘creative’ voice in whatever they do. This gift steadfastly remains the most cherished.

The artist doesn’t stop with a change in how they ride. We take on new activities that reinforce our intuitive process. On this journey, I came to believe the following —

 

A Moment of Clarity

fingerprint

The room, the last office along the beige corridor, cornered to the right. Its windows, showered light that enveloped the walls. She sat in front of the windows facing me, while I faced the windows. The desk bore no personality, or ownership. Just semi-empty drawers occasioned by pencils, napkins, and salt and pepper pouches from a lunch long past.

I couldn’t feel my body. Still in dismay from their lies to get me there, my stoic body stared with wide eyes open. She asked questions, and I replied with calculated quips that at first strategized the best right answer to get me out of there, but then gave in. Leaving was not an option.

My mind raced with what had just happened.

Cringing from the betrayal, I craved satisfaction that would not come for quite some time. I needed sedation by the doctor’s remedy to numb the uncomfortable pain of transitioning. Sitting there, motionless, I wondered how my life came to this instance of reckoning: the end of a long road of running. It took endless seconds to realize this confrontation, between nurse and patient, marked an opportunity.

My addiction started long before the first drug.

Memories go as far back as when my little sister was born. Dad, taking charge of his three little girls, seemed overwhelmed, yet elated with welcoming his fourth. Each small hand holding the other sister’s hand waved to the hospital window above us. A shadow of our mother waved back, and we all felt special.

Having a little sister meant I had someone smaller than me to play with. I quickly learned that the specialness of being the “baby” passed to her. Now, relegated to the third out or four, I represented the child in-between: no longer the one cuddled and cooed over, or given full attention. All that hubbub came to its end, and a different self awareness awoke, unfolding to a darker, saddened worldview.

Little sister and I were a twosome pod in a family that grouped into twos. With six, this kind of compartmentalization seemed natural and effortless. As besties who looked to each other for companionship and compassions, I loved the idea of loving her and being loved by her. We pretended all the time: to be wealthy, talented, scholarly, and fashion forward.  But dreams don’t often manifest in real-world self actualization. Although a twosome, I always believed myself alone: distant and outside the group.

My daily growing up stared into the abyss of my parent’s 1960’s TV. No books. No conversations at dinner. Little time for connecting. My inner dialogue tethered to the TV sound track, which brainwashed my imagination.  Overtime, when I took to exploring deeper meanings from within, and mindful thought found spoken words, these meanderings met criticisms, or ridicules, from older sisters and their friends, who mocked and beat down any lingering confidence.

Craving a connection to hope, which I couldn’t imagine for myself, I believed that anything better existed beyond my reach at home. My sole purpose in finding a means to the end only led me down darker alleys with g-o-d centered smack as the elixir to open imagined doorways at dead ends.

I wandered off, looking for like minded fiends, yet craved fixing the damaged spirit. Some days happened without issue, but one day, I stayed away longer than usual. The return home only convinced me to leave for good. Moving to New York City, in the fall of 1976, marked the beginning of a ten year run. The beige room with the chair facing the windows marked the end of the marathon.

The nurse locked the doors behind me. She put the key in her drawer. She expected me to learn to live a new way of thinking. Although given this moment and many others to confess, leaving was not an option until I believed in a life without regret.

Enduring Eyes

Creativity-Imagination-Banner
So much talent in their youthful exuberance walked in another direction, out of the necessity for survival. To those who stayed in the game despite the conditions, you are pioneers on the frontier of unyielding creative imaginations.

  • We need your visions to help give life to our mundane perceptions, creating worlds and possibilities beyond our wildest dreams.
  • We need your visions to give breadth to our suffocating exhaustion.
  • We need your visions to help context the symbols and words we use each day in trying to express our own identities.
  • We need your visions to laugh, to cry, to feel a sense of belonging.

Thank you for staying the course against waves of insecurity, poverty, and fear, which in your endurance to survive, you arrived at the other-side, and privileged your imagination to pour onto the page, canvas or stage.

As your audience, your endurance creates opportunities for us, however brief, to shed our self-centeredness; strip away the contrived thoughts as we take in the raw emotionalism you put before us.

As your audience, while examining your work, our emotional life journeys through an array of fears that question identity; that feed obsessions, sometimes grandiose, sometimes of uselessness, but in the end, experiencing joy in witnessing a new form of understanding.

As your audience, the painting, sculpture, book, poem, play or film catapult us, if we let it, to find ourselves on a frontier of believing in something better.

As your audience, we transit outside of ourselves, and in that instant place of reflection, we somehow, magically walk taller, more assured, and with greater meaning in the obsession for our security.

As your audience, we give to you, our contributions, to keep this world afloat.

The selfishness of our nation of states, in its quest for power, greed and promiscuous consumption, seeks to kill, to silence, the images artists reflect of our world by starving them of sustenance. Your messages become our messages to ourselves, to face truths we turn away from. The more truthful they are, the more they threaten the liars, cheaters or thieves those who revel in the conspicuous consumption of lust and exploitation.

Stay the course. Believe in your third eye. Believe in your process of bringing enduring creative images or dialogues from within to us. Believe in love. Believe in higher beings. Altruism is not dead. It lives in your enduring eyes.

Living with Dignity

One way sign
Dignity: the quality or state of being worthy honored, or esteemed

Being accused of harassment in a brief, protocol driven letter, and then put on hold because there wasn’t any evidence, is a cruel joke. The eventual meeting of the principals revealed the “witch hunt” aspect of this accusation, which inspired disdain, and fear. Such stressors do not subside easily, nor do they inspire loyalty to the system.

Despite my attempts to let go and let good orderly direction prevail, the feelings, at the base of my being, sought to resolve the unresolvable conflict with the “enemy” in my midst, who wanted me either removed, or a least harmed. Their remained anonymity, because of protocol, would never allow such a resolution, thus increasing my level of stress. I will never know my accuser.

Making decisions from burning impulses never goes smoothly. Taught to come from a place of reflection and adjustment, friends reminded me to reach out to my support community, which operates on the assumption that a collective moral compass, rooted in a spirit of forgiveness, will lead to a right view, thus a right path forward.

As a sentient being, who’s arrogant brain pride-fully feels its self-importances, often, my steps walk into troubled spots, and stick in the mud for a while. Reflection and adjustment are the only available frameworks for amending my poor behavior. But this process takes time, and many times, my efforts see-saw: I shine or muddle; cajole or insult. No matter where the words, the feelings or the instances take me, they are mine to reckon with; mine to accept, how logic and feelings drive ideas versus misperceptions, self-righteousness versus compassion.

Although I butted heads at work from what I believe were grass-roots efforts, the leadership and I usually came to a common ground: or so I thought. This incident changed my view of those I sit across the table to negotiate with. Now, efforts are to quietly accept the misperceptions.

The accusation, a concerted effort by a colleague to create smoke where there was no fire, could signify some denial on my part. This event, forced me to face the possibility of an unwilling acceptance of truth, which too easily led to a grave and dark place of fear.

Can one live with dignity in a state of fear?

When we live in a state of panic there is no peace. And where there is no peace, there is no faith, thus removing our state of freedom. So, how do we get it back? It begins by connecting with our higher power and gaining clarity regarding the necessary steps for our lives to count for something greater than ourselves. Having faith in real change, starts with us changing how we view life. No longer can we depend on society, family or careers to bring value to our lives. We must begin to see our own value, and then bring value to the lives of others.

— Charmaine Carraway, “There is No Freedom Living in a State of Fear,” THE BLOG 08/05/2016

Alone in the world – in solitude — we can receive the daily repreive of acceptance, courage, faith, and love, if we strive for positive decision-making. Service to society depends on these individual values. At the same time, solitude breeds self-centeredness.

Recently, someone close to my heart told me how I enjoy my solitude, which paused me to consider what that meant in relation to how my life has unfolded. Solitude is a double-edged sword: a prison of self, but also a necessary place to create.

In my tower growing up, high above the forest below, the birds and trees were part of the alter where I saw my potential. In my youth, the world seemed overwrought by competition, gendered stereotypes, and the inability to see any potential living outside the “box.” I found what little faith in myself I could gather within that vestige of nature. I found a creative center. However, that gift of building a self in my solitude also gave way to limiting my ability to have relationships: limited interactions obstructed smoothly accepting social norms that built thriving communities.

Aloneness led to darkness, and no one sought to guide me toward a light. When children make their own decisions, they often fail to see the lessons those who previously lived learned to avoid. Since I was someone not seen, I had to see for myself without a dialogue to appreciate or understand the innuendos of a growing youth.

Throughout my walks in public places, my choppy paces ashamedly forced me to look at my negative self-perceptions. I needed a place to work through balancing liabilities and assets; the stressors of bad choices and healthy living. Such a resource did not come easily, and only remains thru due diligence.

There is no perfect human being. The qualities appreciated in one situation can be negative in another: both celebrated and denigrated. Choices to remove my obstacles to success only work with a sincerity of walking on a path of dignity. Successes have only happened when my practice balanced the fears manifested in solitude with a courage, and fearlessness, to reach out, and publically serve to give voice to the voiceless.

In Progress

In an instant one post can send you into a tailspin. Scrolling thru the mulch of social media, and coming across an innocuous post celebrating something or other in someone else’s life, far from my own world, I confronted myself in a way that struck me with fear.
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My feelings, digging deep into my psyche, in an instant, told me my path was a beeline to Loserville.

So conscious of the negative feelings, I held myself, trying to figure out what to do with them. Conscious of fear’s growing depth, with a feigned denial I continued forward, posting a few ‘hellos’ on various friend’s Facebook pages.

When uncomfortability continued, despite my efforts, I then switched to Instagram as a getaway, tring to shift up my point of view. Although I moved deliberately thru the mundane, my body quivered, with regret, fear, and loneliness rolled into one giant pit in my stomach.

After realizing the computer was only making things worse, I texted a query to someone about their apartment hunting. We started up small talk about the business of searching for a place to live, and while winding down, my text blurted a — DO YOU HAVE TIME TO TALK? I NEED TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE.

A message of such intense magnitude quickly garnered a “call” response. As soon as the voice on the other end of the phone said hello, I knew that I would be OK. I believed because that person believed in me, when I could not believe in myself. They loved me, in some odd but incredible way,  and that sense of connection, helped me to right size myself.

I’ve always been good at talking to myself, and grew to celebrate my solitude. Tonight however, the power of conversations, of talking things through with people you can trust, became the very medicine to reconnect with my true best self.

My dilemma is that I need people, yet in so many ways, constantly reject them at the same time.

I recently finished a fantastic writing group with amazing individuals. We found a safe space to open up our craft to each other, and in the process I made new friends. Small collectives binding each of us by our common purpose, but not forums of indoctrination. Working as a group, our support of one another provided each a needed sounding board. Here a new voice emerged from within me, which tempered my tenacious arrogance, while at the same time, allow me celebration of my individuality. So exciting, yet sad to end.

The picture catalyzed the fear of losing those I shared my heart with, as if the emptiness that followed became an invisible, impenetrable wall shutting those very people out.

Fear must be stopped. The solution rests upon faith it can be stopped. While the place of becoming grazes my horizon, the only foundation that must persist is to stay in the game. If one stays, and remains open to building sober references, then overcoming eventually wins out.

Switching Things Up

tortoise and hare

Taking one’s time at figuring out the next step in a situation is not a bad, or weak, thing to do. On the contrary, moving slowly with major changes allows for a greater opportunity to have things be more successful. In this age of fast tracking information, and constant gratification through internet feeds, the old road of the tortoise still has ground.

In the beginning of my life in academia, I took on whatever task I could fit into my schedule, which meant each day was filled with multi-tasking, and late night sessions to complete an assignment ready for submission the next day. There was little time for play, and if there were extra moments, those belonged to my daughter. As a result, the marriage failed, and gaining my freedom just became a greater opportunity to get more done, in as little time possible. I was the “hare” in the race.

I competed with myself, through the eyes of others. A good decade, and then some, older than the average student; married then divorced; a single mom on welfare, while very insecure about academic writing; these essential elements of me only fed my desire to make good. Determined, I set out to become something that was shortchanged right from the beginning of my life. Success.

I created a competition for myself, which shaped my approach to everything I set my mind on.  As my children grew, and have slowly left the home nest, the hare eventually became exhausted; tempered down from mediating academic and domestic life. The creative flame, which once burned bright with passion, although dulled over time, continued a low, hidden light in the shadows. Slowly the tortoise came to be. So slow that she grew into grey.

So as the ages come to the salt and pepper phase, I am blessed with switching it up. Starting the race again, in competition on an unknown playing field, with eyes wide open, and fears in check. Like the students in college, some 35 years my junior, we are both leveled by hearing our words give import to fictional moments in time, showing loves, jealousies, insecurities and sometimes death.

There are no visuals, no lecterns to lecture behind, or advertising of a portrait. All these things would expose the greyed novice and feed the bias of audiences. Blind to the writer, the audience and performers speak whether my truth is real or fodder for what they see, not who made it. Knowing age compromises, or blurs the lines of acceptable art.

So, a new decision, long in the making, has switched things up. I show up each week, hoping to find some inner humbled light shining on a jewel, hoping my words see the place, and understand the psyches. Words that for so many years failed me — so I sought out others with similar talents, as a way of turning up the light burning inside.

The maker, or builder, of tableaus creates images that move on a stage. I sit as this computer, marking when the curtain rises, and at the same time, for this moment in a life’s journey, I can more confidently choose when the curtain falls.