“We know how to care for each other”, was how the email began.
A multitude of feelings poured forth from me as a result of this simple sentence, wondering at the truth of it. Do I indeed know? Do any of us in this modern society know? Separated from the land, the cycles, separated from one another, do we know how to care for ourselves? And by extension, for one another?
In my heart, I feel the call of stillness, of solitude. I crave it like a beggar in the desert craves water and shade. If I were to care for myself right now, in this moment, I would retreat into my studio and simply be with me. Be with my work. Be with the ideas and the possibilities and the glorious mess of it all.
But how to be solitary in a world which beckons me back with the rising of each morning sun? How to find solitude when there is a child to raise, income to earn, food to prepare, a business to run? How to find solitude with the requests to share a meal, the demands of my time from so many sources outside of myself?
Am I depleted by these interactions, or am I filled up? Is there a heart in the center of the path I walk, or is this path taking me further from my heart?
It is solitude I crave, but I wonder if my solitary nature was learned or is inherent. I spent many years in forced solitude, grounded as a young child for some small infraction, (usually speaking my mind), and kept there by my own stubborn resolve. I decided a long time ago it was better to be alone - safer, possibly. Safer from whom? Safer from what, though?
A man just came in to the shoppe and asked me, as they do every single day, where I get my inspiration from. For the first time in my career I had an answer that actually felt right; solitude. I get my inspiration in solitude. It is the time I feel most centered, most calm, most clear. In solitude I am without the demands of others, to which I inevitably acquiesce. Even if those others do not ask, I sense their wordless requests. I bend myself to their needs, anticipating the proper way to be in order to negotiate around their pain. Did I decide, perhaps as a young girl, that their feelings were somehow my fault or my responsibility? Or more valid than my own? Because I certainly act that way now.
Back to the question of the heart. Where is the heart on this path? Is the heart in sharing the results of my journeys, these artworks I make as a result of deep and unrelenting introspection? Or is the heart in the path of creating them, and these works I bring back just souvenirs of the journey; the places I’ve seen, the feelings I’ve sorted through?
It is a marvelous life I have created, and even now, as I wish for peace and quiet, I am more satisfied than not. I am happy to be in this place today, in my shoppe. I am happy to share my work with new eyes, to touch the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life. Most of the people who come in here are not expecting to find art that they resonate with; they’ve come to the bookstore for something else, perhaps, and leave with a little piece of their own truth. I like that.
Maybe that is the answer to all these questions. Maybe it is as simple as one of my heroes said, “Your job as an artist is to observe, interpret and report back.” I feel so much gratitude for this chance, the ability to do what I do...but it is not without its confusion, it is not without its pain. I crave so much more than this small room can contain - how to make that balance?
To circle back around to where I began in this note; I do know how to care for myself.
It is in making the work. It is in solitude; measured in quality, not quantity. And for how to care for others? Perhaps it is just to share these universal truths I stumble upon in my quiet solitude. It is in the filling up of my own spirit, and then responding from that overflow to the needs of others. It is in giving what I have to give, which is vulnerable and personal, useful only in the way art can be useful. Art gives a moment of quiet, a moment of beauty, a moment of truth which we all need in our own reservoir in order to carry us through this rollercoaster ride which is our human experience.
...and then I wonder if that is 'enough'.
"Enough for who?", I snap back to myself. I suddenly realize the absurdity in the question that I've always asked. Enough. It's not meant to be enough. It never will be enough. The journey is never ending - we are not meant to fill up the tank once for a lifetime of exploration.
To take care of oneself, to care for one another means we must gather resources along the journey in all the ways that are available. In all the ways that are useful, necessary and meaningful to the immediate needs.
Thank you for reading.
December 26, 2016