Monday, 1 August 2011
How Can I Not Work?
This may look like the cry of a workaholic who is seeing the light.
It may look like someone who is snowed under and longs for Batman to come and take it all away.
What I am actually saying is No, really, what can I do to not work?
Today is my first day back in the studio for ages. Today I am not only doing all the washing and getting some food in, I am dealing with my desk and all the backlog of papers piled up there. I am going into the painting part of the studio and saying Pah! Chicken Feed! I can do this. Bring it on. I am saying to myself - Now what is it I am avoiding most, and then saying That is the thing I will start with. The phone is with me, the computer is on, my teapot is full and my diary is open. The paintings that need to be done have been set up a while ago and I will joyfully remove the cobwebs from them and blow clouds of dust from the paints and brushes. I have lit a scented candle and opened the windows, and have practiced smiling while doing all this to get myself into the mood, to tell my subconscious to tell me that it is all so much fun. Look what you can do today! I want my subconscious to say to me, what a lark! So much painting, so much creativity, you know you love it and Lo! There is tons of it to do! Piling up! (Easy, easy. Deep breaths and Smile. Do, as my dear cousin Maddy says, Loveliness. Do Loveliness)
But what is really happening is that I am afraid. I am afraid that I am not able to do it any more. I dread the idea of starting because it feels like a mountain to climb, and I am only wearing flip flops. At the top of the mountain are my Goals. I am at the bottom feeling weary and fat, empty and boring, and having to put my sunglasses on to glimpse at the golden shining Stuff at the top of the mountain. Which, if they are my goals, I have put there. How did this happen? How did my goals get so distant and so dazzling? If I put them there, where was I on this metaphorical mountain when I did so? And then how did I get to the bottom of the mountain and feel I can't look up to these goals without shading my eyes?
I don't really know how it happened, but it did. There have been Family Issues, yes. We all get them. Decisions to make - big ones, yes. We all get them. There have been personal issues too, like getting older and being different to how I was a year ago. There have been health issues which have come to nothing and as far as we know, I am as tickety boo as I have always been except - except - I have become terribly terribly tired. I am coming up for 51 and am menopausal. I am well but changing. My family are changing too, the children are getting older and are trying to prove that they are invincible, that they are always right and that I should blinking well get a life, but after I have proved I love them by getting in their favourite ice cream. My parents are getting older and are saying what they really think very loudly in public, and my friends - ah. My friends are changing like me. They are often terribly tired, and they have, from time to time, ground to a halt too. It is reassuring to try to explain to a friend how blobby and unexceptional and miserable you feel, to hear them say, I hear you. I too am a Dowdy Frump.
I have been to Ireland again. This time I went for my annual stay with Darling Dublin Friend and her husband, The Nicest Man In Ireland and their family in the cottage they have by the sea in Arklow. I have been going there with them from before I had my second and third child, and they had their two. There is history there, tons of history, and it is full of happiness and memories. My history there is only that I go every year from just after my daughter was born, then bringing each of the boys with me as they arrived in my world. The deeper Irish memories and histories of this cottage are generational, full of the myths and stories of all those that have been there over the years. My visit to Arklow, with my two sons in tow, was to mark a turning point for me. I had decided this before I went. While at Arlkow, I told myself, my introspection will have reached its limits. I will make a plan for a sensible and practical return to the studio and my life therein. I will, I said to myself before I went, prioritise. And if I come first on my list, well blow me down, lordy luvaduck, it's not such a bad thing. So now, having spent that time in the silence of the cottage in Arklow, where there is no telly, no radio, no music, no distractions but the gentle and uplifting conversations with those around me; no distractions but the very cold sea to swim in and the sand dunes to lie in; no distractions but the books to read, the board games to play and the mammoth meals to cook and eat, and having spent that time in silence, I am ready to come back to the studio and just Start. Theoretically.
So here I am. Not, as it happens, tired at all. Onto my second pot of tea, and some phone calls out of the way. The washing is done and is drying nicely on the trampline. The shopping is done, so Furiously Independent Son, who is upstairs at the moment, will have ice cream and green tea when he wants it, and daughter is unexpectedly collected from the train station. The mess of papers on my desk has been marked, sorted, stapled, hole puched, and thrown away. I am wearing a very fetching summer dress, I am wearing perfume, I am challenging my inner blob. Tomorrow I will paint, tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I will wear my painting boiler suit, and that means Business. Can't back out of it then. I will arrive early, and say matter of factly to my studio - Morning. Just going to do some masterpieces, don't mind me, just doing my job, thanks very much, and so on. There will be a little pouff of dust as I sit on my painting seat, a brief intake of breath as I select a brush, and the day will begin. I will bear in mind that even the most accomplished of artists have spent a day gazing at their work, and just before sundown, tweaked a single tiny detail with the smallest brush they own. That will give me scope to do quite a lot, if doing the single late-in-the-day-tweak is still acceptable. Even is I do two tweaks, that is progress.
In the meantime, I have begun the steady trudge back up the mountain in my flip flops. I have been thinking, that you do have to stop and think about things. You do have to spend time not being effective and not being productive. You do have to give up and give in and crumple like a slow motion video of a tower block coming down, and you do have to allow youself to be vacant. It is good to sit in your blobbiness and try and remember what you are here on this earth for, and eat white bread sandwiches with Nutella. But there is no other way out of it, I think, than eventually saying to yourself (as if speaking to a very old dog that needs to come in out of the rain and keeps sitting down in the mud with exhaustion, tail wagging, and still trying her best) - Come on old thing, time to shuffle back into the day to day out there. Can't be that bad, can it? Start at the beginning, don't expect too much, and just do what you can. There now. (Dog falls nobly but pathetically over the threshold and tears all round from the assembled kitchen staff).Watch this space.