I stared at the woman in the mirror. She was horrifyingly unfamiliar to me. Dark circles hung under her eyes, her stomach was soft and stretched, her hair ragged and unkempt. What had I become? Motherhood had shaped my body into someone I didn’t know, just like it had shaped my mind into someone I didn’t know. Throughout my pregnancy, I struggled with anxiety like I never had before. Panic attacks set upon me when I woke up in the middle of the night. My thoughts had become slippery; I had a hard time holding onto memories and tasks. I didn’t know who I was anymore and it felt like my heart was breaking.
I felt lost. I had lost my physical abilities. I had lost the shaky art habit of painting once a week. I had lost my more solid habit of working out three times a week. I had lost friends who just didn’t understand how hard it was to have a husband switching between nightshift and dayshift every three weeks while having a newborn. I had lost my husband in some senses, when he was home exhaustion overtook him. Dragging him into a deep sleep for over fourteen hours some days. Then he was away almost six days a week for work. Life was hard, and I felt it in my body and in my soul and my heart. I felt like I had lost the parts of myself that I liked the best.
Then came Anna.
Anna and I had been acquaintances in middle school. We shared a study hall together and teeny tiny homeschool tutorial we both attended. We shared a love of art and books and often talked quietly when we were supposed to be quietly studying. We reconnected years later when we both married Marines, and we started encouraging each other during some of the unique challenges that being a military wife presents. Anna and her husband DJ would come over to our apartment after my daughter Joy had been put to bed. They’d pour encouragement into Sam and I. Anna specifically would talk to me about art theory and practice. During these deep, life-giving talks, we conceived the idea of creating an art podcast where we would share our thoughts on a variety of art related topics.
We attempted to record a couple of times, unsuccessfully. We tried to talk about a couple topics, but without any real structure our talks became halting and stiff. They were so unlike our natural conversations; I wondered if we should just abandon the idea of an art podcast.
Then I cleaned out my bookcase. I have a lot of books. A lot. I’ve read most of them, and those I haven’t read I am excited to one day. However, there are always some that need to be discarded whether due to age or lack of space. Diving deep into some old boxes, I discovered my copy of The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. I had started the Artist Way many times, probably five or six, but never got further than the fifth chapter before giving up.
“Morning pages are too hard,” whined my blocked inner creative, “This is pointless, you’re never going to be a professional painter.. You’re never going to get into galleries… you really shouldn’t even try.”
I had had some marginal success in the autumn of that year. I had applied to show at a gallery my grandfather had displayed work at. I had applied and gotten in, to my surprise. Although getting in the show was great, I didn’t feel successful. When I attended the reception, I realized I had vastly underpriced my work. I felt ashamed and sad. Although I had a reason to celebrate, I felt like I had let myself and my work and my family and the whole art world down. After processing with my husband Sam, I knew that relationship with my creativity was becoming more and more toxic. I wanted to be a healthy artist. I wanted to have a healthy relationship with my creative process. I wanted to have a healthy relationship with money and creativity. I wanted all these things, and I knew that I had the tool to get there, or least get started. The Artist Way could help me foster a healthier relationship with my creative self… and I knew that I couldn’t do it alone; I need some accountability to keep me on track and actually doing the painful work of recovering. So I asked Anna to do it with me. This could be the thing we talked about on our podcast. This could be the center of it.
At Christmas time, Anna and I planned to meet up for coffee to discuss our how to conceive our podcast. The week before, Anna messaged me asking what I thought of asking my sister Beccah to be the third for our podcast. She thought three people would create a more dynamic conversation. I agreed.
Beccah is a monument in my life. An ever present sister. She was my first friend. My constant encourager. She was a natural person to ask. She pushed me to be my best all my life, and I knew that she would push me to be my best at this podcast.
So we met at a coffee shop. We drank coffee and talked about our families, having children, coffee we love, and so much more… Then we talked about starting the podcast. The conversation was quick, lasting not even five minutes. And those five minutes changed so much.
Starting Coffee and Creatives changed my creative life. It helped me build my creative habit. It helped reconnect with an art community. It helped me rebuild a habit of painting and drawing. It helped me fall back in love with painting. Since beginning coffee and creatives, I have had more commissions than ever. It helped teach me that I avoid pricing my work… and when I do price it, I don’t do it well. I now have an art website/blog of my own which has been a goal of mine for a while.
I think most importantly, starting Coffee and Creatives changed my perspective. It helped me realize I needed to stop trying to return to who I used to be, and work on becoming who I want to be. Yes, before I had my daughter, I looked differently, I thought differently, I painted differently. I was reminded through The Artist Way that the goal is not to live an unaffected life. The goal is to take what has changed me and use it for good, to fuel my art in a positive way, and to not let the changes in my life hold me back or to idealize a different period in my life when I had less structured time.
Some days I still don’t know who the woman is in the mirror. But my relationship with her is improving. I’m gentler with her, kinder to her. I might be a little lost, but I’ve got a compass now because I know where I want to go with my art and myself. I don’t want to return to who I was but continue figuring out who I am as a wife, mother, sister, friend, and creative.