Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The troublemaker

I love Mommicked. I love her for so many reasons, not least of which is that the writer personally is awesome. She also is so insightful, funny, witty and always brings something new to the table in her posts. When she writes, she writes with intent. But she had a post in June was something akin to the perfect post, if there is such a thing. She wrote this amazing sentence, "Rounding the corner and heading for the three-year mark, I occasionally have the sensation that I'm exactly where and who I want to be." Such a breathtaking sentiment, it stopped me in my morning tracks. Coffee down on the desk. Hands on my cheeks to reread.

That. I pointed at the screen. That right there is what I want to feel.

I am not, however, exactly where and who I want to be. I can see that person somewhere faintly drawn on the edges of me, like a thin, clean outline of a well-balanced person, but I am messily colored outside of the lines. Messy. Scribbled. My person is filled in with crayons much too big and thick for the such delicate lines. I want and strive to be kinder, more compassionate, and fail. I try to be accountable to my own failures, and end up confusing the situation. Fail minus one. (I am into the negatives now.) I strive to be honest and realize that I sometimes lie to myself. I want to forgive. I want to not be so damned sensitive. I want to be patient with those who are more fortunate than me. I want to be patient with my own humanness. I want to be patient with other people's humanness. I want to stand true and tall. But I slouch, like only a woman who acquired large breasts early in life can slouch.

After my last post, I felt so much shame as the comments rolled in. Not at first. At first, I delighted in the vocalization of what I had pent up with a guest in the house. "Yes, it is about her! Wow, you are right, that is rude! I am a good artist! People like me!" It surprised me that people were reacting like that, mainly because it wasn't my intent in the writing. But still, I felt comforted that others found the comment abrupt and unkind. I felt loved and accepted, because her story made me feel crappy.

As the initial dust settled, I just felt kind of horrible. I don't want to beat up on my house guest, even though she said something awkward and rude. I actually love my house guest. And I actually like her, though as someone said, her tact gland sometimes seems to malfunction. Still, it wasn't the point of the post. The point was how I reacted to someone not liking my art.

I have been trying to articulate this, so bear with me as all of this explodes onto the internet. I had this need to talk about how I internalize those judgments. I want to dissect my confidence, then reassemble it, which is why I wrote the dang post in the first place, but I hadn't quite gotten past the sting of her statements. But here is what I have come to realize:

Keeping self-doubt at bay is work. My self-confidence and brazen indifference to judgment doesn't just happen. I work hard at letting it go. With Lucy's death came a kind of temporary liberation from that self-critical voice. I needed to make art. I needed tactile work. It was a compulsion and a spiritual quest. But truth be told, my art makes me self-conscious some days. Maybe even a moment or two everyday.Some darker days, the whole damned day. I cringe at myself for putting my art out there on the internets. I cringe when it sells. I cringe when it doesn't sell. I cringe because I have no ability to step outside of myself and judge it. (It serves a different purpose than beauty.) I cringe because my heart is out there and the art it is bound up with is eh, let's face it, sometimes mediocre.

I have a purposeful dialogue with that evil internal critical voice. I sit with it. Try to understand it. Remember where it comes from and how much of a goddamned liar it can be. I acknowledge it then dismiss it. Believe me, that voice is a thousand times more rude, abusive and unkind than any houseguest. I always answer the same way to its mean-spiritedness:

So what if I am not perfect?
So what if I don't paint what you want me to paint?
So what if I am not the most original?
So what if it is sloppy?
So what if it is not what you would do?

So what if you don't like it?
So what?

And so I looked at this houseguest and the conversation. This is where the growth comes, the real learning happens, when someone challenges your confidence and your way of being. Sometimes it is that shitty programming that I grew up wrestling with, or sometimes it is an insensitive story told over first coffee. It is easy to keep doing art, writing, meditating when everyone tells you that you are amazing, but what about doing it despite the critical voices? I can let one comment knock me off my game. Truth is, that is just one opinion, and not even the opinion of the person relating the story. After all, she bought the painting. She framed the painting. She loves the painting. But it could have been the one judgment that made me give it up. One judgment that could make me fold into myself and drop off. Hell, those kind of judgments did that to me for years. The truth is that I don't paint to be the best painter in the world. I don't paint for someone's acceptance. I don't paint for acclaim or love or glory or money or anything but a moment of peace.

A moment of peace for me. 
A moment of peace for someone grieving.
A single, quiet, lovely moment of calm.

Later in the weekend, I received an email from a woman whose twins had died. She birthed them a day earlier and she used one of my jizo paintings for her mizuko kuyo. I wept for her boys, and knew deep within me that this is why I do what I do. I could point to her beautiful email and say to that bastard in my head, "So what if you don't get me or get my art, because I get it. My intent is clear."

I was reminded of a beautiful little teaching of Pema Chodron. She calls those people the troublemakers:
The job of a spiritual friend is to insult you...In order to become a completely loving person, a flexible person, you have to see where you are culpable. You have to see where you shenpa arises, so you can work with it. In the Vajrayana tradition, there is actual a whole practice and teaching you can do called Heightened Neurosis...where your neurosis gets heightened to you, and the idea is if you don't see it, if you don't first see where you are hookable  and where you get provoked with complete honesty and directness without guilt, but just a straight look at where you get stuck, then you are always going to have that blind spot to drag you down. So, if you really want liberation and freedom, you need people around who are going to be provoking you to show you where it is you still have work to do.
Word. (The whole teaching is below.)

One thing I have learned after the death of my child is that no matter how much we protect ourselves, someone is still going to say something stupid. In the early days, I was just so raw that stupid was like vinegar. It hurt and ached in every pore of my body. I avoided situations where I thought someone was going to put their foot in their mouth. I avoided public places. I loathed small talk. But it never prevented me from being hurt. A flippant email, or errant comment in my own kitchen, could evoke those pinpricks again for days. Knock me on my ass. Now, I think I expect uncomfortableness. I expect awkward. I have grown new stupid-resistant skin.

The more I thought about my guest's story, the more I felt grateful. Grateful for reminding me that I need to work to not let my own negative programming sabotage what I love to do. Grateful for reminding me that I paint and draw and do art as a spiritual practice as well as for the pure enjoyment. Grateful for reminding me that I don't give a shit about what anyone thinks.


  1. I feel the same way about my blog. Cringe if people do read, cringe if they don't.
    Great post to get me thinking. Thanks for this.
    Love to you, Angie.

  2. Good for you, lady.

    Do you know the Rumi poem "The Guest House"? If not, I'll send you a copy. It was in my mind the whole time I was reading this. So hard to do. So necessary to do.

  3. Ah, such a lovely expression and lesson for us as readers to see how you've absorbed and transformed the experience. Thanks.

  4. Well, gosh. That first paragraph made me blush. Thank you for the compliment. I think you're pretty awesome too.

    I think this post covers some very important ground. It's easy to stay on the path of least resistance but the best stuff happens when we overcome doubt or criticism. It's all just part of figuring out who we're going to be in this new existence.

    For what it's worth, I'm un-evolved enough to still be a little peeved at your house guest but I'm willing to forgive her if she helped you achieve a new level of commitment to the art you create (which I think is also pretty awesome).

    I guess that was the point of the post that I wrote. I'm not who I once was and I may like the new and improved version better. I don't think that my daughter died to make me a better person but I'll be damned if I let her down by becoming a less confident or petty person because of her death.

  5. It must be so personal, putting your art out there, period, and then to have it judged...yeesh. I'd feel naked, personally, and not a good kinda naked. Thanks for doing it though, Angie. Much love.

  6. It must be so personal, putting your art out there, period, and then to have it judged...yeesh. I'd feel naked, personally, and not a good kinda naked. Thanks for doing it though, Angie. Much love.

  7. Oh, Angie, so much I want to say and yet the words don't say what I want to really say. My heART to your heART. Trying to appreciate the things that stir us up -- yes, that is where the learning is to be had -- yet after all we've all been through, I want to scream ENOUGH. At my own house guests, at my own gremlins, and at all those out there in the houses and heads of other dead baby moms. I don't know. This year has been particularly bumpy, and it feels everyday is a wrestle... just thank you for sharing your bumps and wrestles and shifts in perspective. My heART to your heARt. xo k-

  8. Serenity's death led to a major removal of my writer's block. Which seems to be back now.

    And I find it terribly difficult to have house guests in my space. I am sure it's me and not them.

    Sounds like you are really growing from this. Don't know if I can...


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