Swimming through mud…

These are two recent shares from the sketchbook on Insta. The gnomes are from almost a year ago, June 2020, and the house hidden in the trees is from June 2021. It’s very appropriate to put these two side by side in my mind. When I drew the gnome friends, I had very recently been diagnosed. A medicine they were trying me on made my hands shake so badly that I could barely hold the pen correctly, and my hand-eye coordination was frustratingly awful. (I can’t tell you how many things got broken in the early months- my ability to grip, to tell where my hand was, where the object was, and connect the two resulted in a very rough case of butter fingers. Thankfully most of my favorite coffee cups survived! The French press didn’t, though, alas, alack.) If you look closely, you can see that all of the straight and curved lines almost vibrate in tight squiggles. Getting these little guys out on the paper was an incredible fight, and there was a point that I just wanted to throw in the towel and stop, utterly despairing that they’d ever make their way from my head to crawl out on the page. But they made it. Ever since, when I pass these two as I flip through the sketch book, I just feel an incredible sense of accomplishment and hope. They are there, and I am here, and together we somehow figured out the new skills I needed to keep making art.

The house in the trees is a full year later. In somewhat similar fashion, it had been almost six months from my last foray in making art (the folktale pieces I shared here earlier). That week, I had been told that I was having an allergic reaction to one of my medications, and because it wasn’t clear which medication it was (as I had been on all of them for nearly ten months)- I’d have to come off every single one to see which one was causing the reaction. Now, my friends, the medications are what have slowly, slowly been returning me to a more functional state, and as I mentioned above, every addition to the medication regimen were hard fought adjustments. I am just getting to the point that I can conduct my days somewhat normally thanks to these meds. And now I will lose every single one until we figure it out. I remember sitting down to the page- angry, frustrated, feeling betrayed by my body yet again- and quite worried what would happen to me as all the medications made their way out of my system. Would I just crater? Or would I be able to function somewhat? I remember being quite angry that of course I would be hitting the time of year that I’d finally be able to paint and draw more, and of course everything would be flipping upside down again, and fiddlesticks! I just wanted to make art!

As if that wasn’t enough, I think every artist struggles with imposter syndrome and blank-page-itis, and it’s really bad when you’ve been away from the desk for awhile. Do I even know how to do this anymore? was ricocheting around my head. I remembered the gnome friends though, and the lesson they taught me. Just make a mark on the page. Any mark. The rest will come. And it did. Trees appeared, and grass, and then a little yellow cottage informed me it needed to be tucked in between. And there it was.

Now, are either of these my best work? Not particularly. Are they valuable work? Yes! Absolutely priceless. Hard earned lessons, both.

I don’t really like the pat cliché answers anymore, especially when it comes to disability or making art, and I really abhor the whole just try harder, pray harder and you’ll heal attitude, the fake it till you make it, pull yourself up by the bootstraps way of thinking. I really do. I can’t tell you how much hearing any of those attitudes just makes me want to spit nails. Don’t mistake what I’m saying next for this toxic way of looking at life.

Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes…

You just have to start. And start again, and start again. One mark and then two. One step, and then another. One drag of the paintbrush, and then another.

Even when the world is turning upside down, whether that’s your own inner private world or the world at large, spinning on its axis or tilting off of it, its okay to take a deep breath and trust the process. Just one step. And when you’re ready, one step more. Even if it literally feels like swimming through mud. You’ll be amazed at where you end up, and they might just smile up from the page at you and remind you to hope when you need it most.


  • elizabethroosje

    I’ve had, in many ways, this so many times – I get in a routine towards something I want to build and suddenly life swipes and topples it. I am actually working on a new project and just hoping that life does not destroy it before I can finish it (And the project will take over a year for sure!) We are praying for you and still holding out hope for more peaceful times where you can do art and such…

    • Joy

      So very true. I think what I am mulling over is that the routine *is* the process. The year may change (hello, Covid year!) or circumstances change- illness, a move- but if we can trust the process of the routine as the rails on which our little trains run, and just return to them over and over regardless of the changes, we might find the train (or goal) has moved down the track quite a bit. I used to have a very all or nothing approach- if I can’t do the whole thing right now and if I can’t do it right, if I can’t follow ‘the way I like to do things’ to a T, I wouldn’t start it at all, and everything languishes that way. Prayers for fruitfulness in your project!

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