One thing this shoulder injury has done for me (besides foot me a physio bill) has been to really affirm what I am now. Who I am. An artist. A visual artist.
This would seem nakedly obvious a fact, except it’s taken me an unusually long amount of time to own this fact. In fact, I think I owned it yesterday. In the physiotherapists office, as she asked me what I do for a living, and I replied without a blink, that I’m a portrait artist. That I paint. Digitally. Actually. But painter. And then demonstrated the motions that are currently killing my shoulder. She had me sit back and as I did, I thought “Yeah, man, I am a painter! I’m an artist. I’m living the dream! Fuck, I’m so lucky!”
I’m totally the adult equivalent of this! Except, with more paint on my face! 😀
And I felt it again, that ownership over what I am, as she told me I should consider taking a break to let my shoulder heal. Give it a rest. Maybe for a week. Or two. And I felt that sense of panic. “Break? I can’t take a break. I create! I can’t stop creating! How the hell am I going to paint if I’m supposed to rest my shoulder?” Then she bandaged it up in a make-shift bandaid like material sling, and suggested propping a pillow under my arm and I thought “Ah ha! Done! Back to painting I go!” Like I couldn’t live without doing it.
And it’s true. I can’t. I get the same joy and peace from making art as I did from writing it. And it’s taken me a long time to accept that. In fact, a few months ago, I jokingly retired from the writing profession. Because, at that juncture, I realized it had been over a year since I’d actually written anything of substance, besides scribbling down ideas. And I was always a ‘writer.’ I’ve been a legitimate fiction writer since I was first published in 2007, and an aspiring writer since my first story in ’91. I’ve owned that identity at the exclusion of every other identity. As though by suggesting I was anything but, I’d no longer be a writer. Even being a mother once seemed to threaten my very being as writer. It’s why I internally rebelled so much when I had that brief stint as puzzle maker. I even mini rebelled against being a short story writer because it threatened the myopic label of ‘novelist’ I’d been clinging to. I went about shutting so many doors, that reopening them felt, well, weird.
But the thing is, writing was — and I’m going to come out and confess this now — never my first passion. When I was five, I remember declaring I was going to be a visual artist. Drawing and painting was my favourite hobby. I remember being told that I couldn’t grow up and do that because it wouldn’t make me any money. Only after you die, did you make money as an artist. I was all “So? I don’t need to be rich!” And I heard, you don’t sell anything until after you’re dead. And I was all “Oh?” It made sense in my child brain. And I collected examples of why this was true as the years went on. Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime. And it was to his brother! But in that second of getting career advice (if you want to call it that) I instantly declared that I’d be a writer instead. Because writers make money. And because I also liked to write stories. Potato, potah-toe. Trade one for the other. And then I didn’t look back.
Well, five year old Shaylen. Let me tell you. Writers getting paid for writing? Yuh, not so much. In fact, I think by the time I’d sold two portraits, I’d actually made more money that I’d made writing for 6 years straight. And I’m not kidding. It took me six years to earn $100. And 24 published short stories later, an additional 40 awaiting publication, a published novel in progress, AND two additional novels, a short story collection, and a novella. Go ahead and do the math on how little that works out per work? Or per word. SHUDDER. I knew something was sorely amiss when the writers I was looking up to, the ones who had ‘made it’. With several books under their belt, were getting royalty cheques in the 2 figures. PER YEAR. $13.98 to be specific. I’m sure back in 1985, writers did make money. At least, a lot more money than they make now. And without the internet, there surely was no business model I could replicate to sell my portraits as I can now. So 5 year old Shaylen wasn’t that deluded. But it’s when I shut the door on my art, and devoted myself to words.
I’ll tell you this. They’re different hats, for sure. Writing is more vexing. More freeing. More an expression of my internal self than I do in my custom work. It’s harder but more gratifying in the end. But art, right now, feels better suited for me. Feels more right for now. It’s more rewarding in the short term. I easily have been able to blog more about the process here, than I ever could when I was running a writing blog. I know, what kind of writer has a hard time writing about writing? Me! LOL! And I love the people in this profession. I love the instant gratification of starting something and finishing it in the week (or sometimes in the day). I love the stories behind the work. I love creating something meaningful. But mostly, I like the affect. People aren’t reading these days. Writers are reading. But I’m not sure many people are reading anything (that isn’t Twilight or a Shade of Grey). But people look at what I create. They hang it. I’ve got the proof! (It’s why I love those testimonials so, so much!) Because I feel like I’ve put something out there into this world, of meaning. That means something.
And that it actually helps pay some bills? Well, that’s literally icing on the cake. Because if it’s one thing I got pretty good at through my years as being only a writer, it was living the starving artist’s life. I didn’t declare I wanted to be an artist, or a writer, thinking I was going to be well off. I wanted to get by, doing something that meant something to me. And so long as it means something to me, I’ll keep doing it. And making art, felt right.
So, fuck yeah, I’m a painter! I’m an artist. I’m owning that.
Now to take a break cuz all this typing is causing my shoulder to lock up! LOL!