When I was in graduate school for a community arts program, one of my professors told me during a thesis critique, “Nataki, you have to take responsibility for your work”. At the time, I didn’t quite grasp what she meant. They trained us to ask questions, the importance of the question and how to ask the question. I was asking lots of questions! It was time for me to define my own answers. I expected the answers to be given to me. And in life, I expected answers, situations, desires, needs to be granted like answers.
I work a recovery process in a 12 step recovery program. I love it because the workbook has lots of questions for me to answer, lol. As a member, we have the choice to work with another member of the group called a sponsor. This sponsor listens and guides you through an awareness process called the 12 steps. My second attempt at the steps, my sponsor suggested I look at two areas of unmanageability in my life. One of those areas was self honesty, not being true to myself. I was confused at first because I am, for the most part, transparent. I easily share my story and thoughts. My sponsor wasn’t talking about that. It took me a moment to realize she wasn’t talking about what I present to others, but rather, what I feel and know about myself.
When I surrendered, I utterly surrendered. I was willing to give up everything I knew to save my life. I was willing to do anything to live differently. I couldn’t take the torturous dark spaces that plagued me, that cajoled me to self destruct, anymore. So, if that meant I had to leave my children, I would. If that meant, I had to learn some new things, I would. Even if that meant, the very thing that drives me and gives me purpose (creative expression), was a part of my disease and destruction, I would let that go.
X artist. The last work of substance I created were some crocheted pink satin nuces that hung all over the pipes throughout the ceiling of my art studio. I found comfort in the soft texture of the material and enchanted by how they swayed when the windows were open. I really didn’t know how to make a coiled hangman’s knot so I tied the loop with a simple knot. The knots festered in me. I obsessed on the knots. Clearly, what I am describing is… sad, deranged, sick, interesting, not well. I was not in a good place. (Shortly after, I was admitted into my first treatment facility because along with knots, I obsessed on the color of blood.) I was trying to hurt myself. I was hurting myself.
There has always been a direct link between my creative expression and pain. Most of the time, pain was masked as anger. My creativity was propelled and operated on anger and fear. I only wrote poetry when I was in pain or angry. I painted beautiful faces in opposition to ugliness. I organized and mobilized creative groups to fight against… whatever. See? I was willing to let the art go because I felt the source was spoiled. If it meant I no longer create, in order to save my life, so be it.
I knew I had to confront those emotional states of anger and fear. I deduced the art, a sour arm of me, had to go. So, I began to embrace the idea of leaving art behind. Thus, I became x artist. (There is another piece of this puzzle, loosing my inheritance. In this recovery process I lost my mother’s, who was an artist, life work. I lost my everything. I still haven’t looked and dealt with that yet). Nonetheless, I didnt trust that I would use it for the good. And further, maybe art isn’t good for me. Or I wasn’t good enough for the creative force.
Obedient Daughter. Another false belief I held was that my mother made me do it. My mother was a full blown, ahead of her time, create by any means necessary type of artist. She sacrificed for her work. She was an artist when being an artist wasn’t cool. But she was equally ostracized because of how deep her creative mind, emotions and presence could be. As a result, I was raised to accept life on the periphery. Periphery is that space in between madness and acceptance. She instilled the ethics and values of the “work” in me and fostered creative expression in every aspect of my life. My artist statement used to say, “I was raised to be an artist”.
2.5 degrees later and years of dipping my toes in the water, I still didn’t own it. I threw around my talent half ass like a wet rag. My entire life has been dictated by my circumstances. Circumstances brought me to all the cities that I lived in. Circumstances made me choose the schools that I attended. Circumstances even predicated my relationships. It wasn’t until well into my recovery process, that I learned that I had a choice! And perhaps, art wasn’t my choice, it was imposed upon me.
I hadn’t completed a body of work for over five years. And it was torture. Every day I would wake up and I would have those moments of inspiration, and I think; “OK now I’m going to do it!” The moment will pass and I would get caught up in the mundane. How am I an artist if I don’t create? So, I gave it up. I wanted to be free of the torture of not creating.
Acceptance. I got bum rushed. I can’t really distinguish what open the door, however, once that door was open, the flow resumed. Just like I would say to my students, “let go of expectations”. I don’t have to agree with the art industry. I don’t have to produce a certain product. I don’t have to paint. All I had to do is take a look at myself and what I was doing. Art is at the living breathing source of me. At meetings, I’d draw mind maps. I constantly uploaded conceptual selfies on Facebook that depicted what I felt and thought in that moment. My written posts grew more thought provoking and poetic. I was doing what I know, using creative expression as a vehicle for change! I was using art as a means to document and critique my journey.
Fruit, not tree. Today, I accept that I can not function in any other spectrum! And how great is MotherGod to have given me these gifts, these tools, this voice. I got a lot of apples on my tree! Art is what I do. The miracle is… given the capability and limitations associated with my psychological diagnosis, as a woman learning how to deal with trauma, abuse, emotional imbalance, an overactive mind and depression; art is a field to which I can choose to resign appearances and express my living-honest-authentic-self. That’s power. These abilities contribute to the freedom of awareness. I am learning, as a practice and my actions, to accept fully my abilities. That is what my professor meant when she said, “You have to take responsibility”.