Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Number One Daughter, Redux

Yesterday, I caught up by 'phone with the woman who has been my accountant and a valued advisor for the past five years.
We hadn't talked in a long while. Semi-retired from a high profile corporate career, she had been traveling through Europe for a few months. Our conversations are never simply about money or numbers: once we've dispensed with her review of my parlous finances, we move on to art, love, travel and mental illness – the stuff I don't talk about much with anyone else, at least not with such candour.
In many ways, she's the woman I wish I was: controlled, calm, smart, savvy and really tough. Nothing rattles her. She has also been a relentless supporter of my work – and of me. She has steered me through bankruptcy, visited me when I was committed to a psychiatric clinic, and loaned me money to buy materials when I had to start my career from scratch. Her belief in me is unshakeable but she can be ruthless in her criticism, pulling no punches.
She asked me about my blog. She told me she had missed reading it and enjoyed dropping by every few weeks to catch up a bulk of entries. She also told me that she had enjoyed the way my moods fluctuated markedly through the various posts. That one passing observation jabbed me and got me to thinking about why I had stopped writing here.
I stopped because I no longer wanted to be the person depicted in these passages. Suddenly I was embarrassed by my own honesty and lability, with its weird spikes of intensity, sexual frankness and anger. I wanted to appear sane, stable and grown up. I realise now that this had something to do with my father's awful decline and death, from cancer, the threads of which are woven throughout all my posts at the end of last year.
I wanted to my father to see me as a capable, assured adult before he died. Although he loved me most for the things about me that make me different, they were still the things that he found the most difficult to accept and they caused persistent tension between us. So I started shutting them down. I wanted to be the prodigal daughter made good. I wanted to make him happy. I wanted his approval.
As with nearly everything I do, I went too far. Even after my father died, I tried for a long time to be unfailingly 'nice' and likeable: less selfish, less abrasive, more diligently respectable, reliable and community-oriented. I stifled those parts of me that might contradict my carefully scripted performance as a conventional member of society. It didn't leave me with much, and what there was bored the hell out of me. I ended up conforming to all the strictures others had tried to impose on me all my life. An abject, inglorious surrender, I did it all by myself.
And I was left with nothing to write about.
Now I've come full circle. I am sick of pretending to be someone I'm not. I'll always be clinically insane, hyper-sensitive, unreasonably ambitious, vain, intolerant, obsessive and sexually-driven. I am not a people person. I want to spread ideas I care about but I have no interest in being a mentor or role model or even being encouraging of others. Small talk makes me angry because I think it's a waste of my time. Sure, there are issues I care about but what I care most about – almost to the exclusion of everything else, including love – is my art. I send cheques in private to causes I believe in and on occasion, spread awareness of them via social medial. But my humanity is, at best, remote and on my terms. This does not endear me to many and more and more, I accept that.
My art is better when I am not trying to be someone I am not. The theme of one of my favourite novels, The Vivisector, by Patrick White, is whether it's possible to be a humane person and an artist at the same time. I'm not sure it is. But then, my perspective is entirely egocentric: I care only about being an artist.
I've resolved to stop worrying about what makes me a better or worse person. I've also stopped worrying what other women my age are doing – becoming wives and mothers, and buying their own homes. I don't want to become yet another woman artist who was wild in her youth then spends the second act of their life rehabilitating the public's perception of them: look at Tracey Emin, sadly desperate for approval, whining about being childless and positioning herself as an establishment figure, supporting the Conservative Party and angling for a royal honour. And I am not going to be one of those who retreat to the suburbs once they hit 35, marry for financial stability
"Every female artist should find a rich husband," a female art dealer once told me – raise kids and reprove those who don't.
I am an artist. I measure the value of my life by what I create. I have wanted to be an artist since I was a kid because to me it means the freedom to pursue whatever interests or provokes me – or in plain language, to do whatever the hell I want. My only responsibility to others is in making art and being ethical in my business dealings. My only responsibility to myself is to live life on my own terms. I've returned to the acceptance that deep down, my sincere belief is that everything – and everyone – else can go get fucked.
This blog is back to 'business as usual'.

13 comments:

natalie said...

i love this. always be true to yourself. you aren't doing anyone, including yourself, by being otherwise.

Sheila said...

Welcome back!

Meliors Simms said...

I am so happy that you are blogging again, and even more, that you are being true to yourself. I have savoured you in small doses on social media this year. But, oh joy, to have your thoughtful, candid, funny, angry, intelligent, thought-provoking, informative writing at blog-post length again, on a regular basis! My cup runneth over.

Purky said...

Very happy to see you back here, your blog always touched me and inspired me to blog honestly and truthfully about myself.

Seeing a new post in my blogger feed brought some joy into my day :)

urban butterfly said...

So thrilled that you are blogging again! You've been missed! :)

Elizabeth said...

And that's why I keep coming around.

sue beyer said...

Yay!
I have decided to stop being 'nice'. Instead of smiling and walking away I have started to tell rude people to get fucked. I love it! Their slack jawed response is magic!

onirical said...

Another thought provoking post. Had been reading the archives lately, missed you. Welcome back!

Erin Richardson said...

Excellent!!

Zoe Tan said...

Welcome back! :) Stay true to yourself and your art!

John Biscello said...

Bravo, and many blessings in the New Year!

J.B.

John Biscello said...

Bravo, blessings in the New Year!

Jamie Davison said...

We at Bard College, NY, USA are glad to have you back ...