Every time I fill a journal, I feel like I’m closing a chapter of my life and embarking on a new one, even though nothing in my life changes other than the book in which I write my thoughts. Sometimes it’s crazy to realize that I’ve filled an entire book.
This last journal is a special accomplishment. I’ve never learned and grown as much as I have during the time recorded in my most recent journal. I’ve gone from overweight, depressed, anxious and nearly hopeless to grateful, joyful, conscious, and at peace with my body and life. I’ve reconnected to my creativity and I’m laying the foundation for a career that mirrors who I am.
I always wonder who will end up reading my journals and whether he or she will need the help of a handwriting analyst to do so. Probably my children and grandchildren. They’ll learn more about me than they ever wanted to know. Sometimes I worry about what I’ve written, that it will shame me someday. My journals are intensely personal, and I often cringe when I read my teenage journals; the love drama, disordered eating and thought patterns, over-dramatic musings over things that seem so trivial now.
What can I say. I’m an emotional person. I feel things deeply, and for a long time I didn’t know how to handle those feelings. I thought they’d eat me alive. Every unrequited crush, bad grade, pound gained or bad day felt like the end of the world, like it could swallow me whole.
I’m far from perfect, but I feel like I’m in a good place. I’m far more balanced now than I’ve ever been before, and I feel more alive than I did as a child climbing trees in the backyard. I think I have a healthy sense of perspective, direction for my life and career, a solid foundation for handling emotions and caring for myself, and my self-esteem is better than it has ever been. It’s sad that it took me 23 years to discover my own worth, but not unusual. Everyone hits this point at different times, and some never arrive at all. I may not always be this healthy either, I may have to rediscover this place a few times throughout my life. Now that I know where it is, hopefully it will be easier to find in the future.
I wonder if the word “journal” shares a root with “journey”. That’s what a journal is to me.
I’m sitting in the lobby of the Kimball Art Center right now at one of the café tables where I used to do homework and eat dark Dove chocolate bars during class breaks or sip mandarin orange Tazo tea on cold days. I think of the time I eavesdropped on a group of professors discussing an article on nudity in art and how pompous they sounded. I love eavesdropping.
I remember the ceiling three stories up and how I used to scare myself by looking down from the top floor. Footsteps echo off the concrete walls and no one speaks above a whisper, but somehow this space is as comforting as my own living room. I remember the ache of my tailbone grinding into the floor as I drew crumpled cardboard sculptures and the men in the African totem sculptures, and how amazing I felt when I completed a drawing.
That drawing class. The teacher required a paper pad and clipboard so big I used it as a lean-to to ward off sunburn when we spent the afternoon the sculpture garden drawing the lights. The professor told me I’d produced the best work in the class that day, that my work had “soul”, that mysterious, elusive quality that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He often made us draw the same light switches and doorknobs four times across the page, which I found agonizing. I loved it and hated it at the same time.
Even though I loved being an English major, my art experiences are what I really remember when I think of my college days. My year as an art major awakened me to so much; I’d always been an artist, but I was eighteen and the world of “serious” art was completely foreign to me.
I changed my major because I couldn’t learn art as a science, trading emotion for hard parameters and judgment. I always missed it though. I felt comfortable with English, but for the rest of my college career, I’d visit the building with a sense of longing, feel something ache inside of me as I looked over the student work on the walls or the BFA exhibits. When registration rolled around, I’d flip through the catalog and mourn the classes I’d have no room to take. It’s ironic, because I that first year as an art major, I missed writing so badly, it hurt. I loved English, but something was always missing. I left art behind. I made the mistake of choosing my writer identity over my artist, believing one was more important than the other and not realizing that I need both in large amounts. They’re both me, and I’m not just one or the other. I’m not half and half either, but completely both at the same time. Without them both, I am not me. I wasn’t truly happy, because I let the artist in me starve.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around this; how I am two seemingly different things simultaneously. I tend to think differently in “artist mode” or “writer mode”, but I never produce my best work if I only use one or the other at a time. Lately, I’ve consciously tried to maintain both mindsets, even while painting or writing.
I am simultaneously artist and writer, completely encompassed by both. Though I can’t really comprehend the logic of that, I know that it’s true and it feels right, and I am learning to embody both at all times, in everything I do.
Embody who and what you are, and live authentically.