“What exactly are you going to do with that?”
A simple and harmless question, boobytrapped with judgement and expectation.
Ten years ago, I was faced with inquisitions into the trajectory of my creative (but non-lucrative) liberal arts degree. What felt like a positive achievement for four years had precipitously felt like a long-winded and expensive failure.
So I did what any lost creative would do: I dove headfirst into the 9-5 world of sales (amidst a recession). And when that didn’t work out, I sidestepped into fundraising and development. I met a wonderful man, and we moved to London together.
Triumph at last! I felt successful and secure. I had a steady job, a kind husband, and an apartment in a cosmopolitan mecca. I met some amazing people and enjoyed going out for drinks after hours. It was far from bad but it wasn’t necessarily good either.
I contemplated a career as a practicing artist but always came back to the same conclusions: no guarantee of stability, lots of roadblocks, and what if people didn’t even like my work? I began to resent my art and, even worse, myself.
So I lived in the office during the week and painted at home on the weekends (in between hangovers and bouts of panic attacks and depression). I was restricted to working on a commission-only basis, and my art painfully reflected that: it was pretty but uninspiring; colorful but controlled. Each week for seven years, I felt progressively lost and self-destructive – until one morning, not long after my 30th birthday, I woke up and realized I couldn’t do it anymore.
So I quit.
I gave notice at work. I told my husband I wanted a divorce. I applied to graduate painting programs, and was accepted to a university in my hometown.
I packed my things and moved in with my supportive (albeit dubious) parents, and back into my childhood bedroom. Within six months, I had changed absolutely everything about my life.
Most who knew me thought I had officially lost it, that I was taking more than several steps back, and that I would soon regret walking (running) away from that secure life. But I didn’t.
Despite all the fear and uncertainty, for the first time ever, I felt like I was doing the right thing and that I was absolutely going to be OK.
It can feel scary to take a chance and to change habits, particularly those that once brought us a certain level of comfort. But it is all too easy to forget that we, and only we, curate the reality in which we live. We dictate our day to day; our choices reflect our actions, and those actions form each minute of our lives.
I finished grad school with a renewed sense of purpose. My art evolved in ways I couldn’t have dreamed, and I sold enough paintings to allow me to create full-time. I met another wonderful man and I moved to France, which is where I live today.
I’m doing what I love and I feel incredibly grateful, despite the uncertainty this bohemian lifestyle brings. Things aren’t always perfect or easy, and I’m not always blissfully happy, but the difference is I’m okay with that now. I’ve realized that chaos and beauty are inextricably linked – and that is glaringly obvious in my life, my love, and my art.
I believe that life is short and messy – so make the most of it, embrace the chaos, and create something beautiful.
This article was first published in CWL, December 2018.