I almost wasn’t going to post this – it seems so personal. But posting anything else about this experience will feel false, if I don’t admit the truth, and I want to post about the rest of it as I go along. Being an AIR is a worthwhile experience – but the start can be rocky.
First, I should tell you that like many artists, I’ve dreamt of doing an Artist-in-Residence program for, well, since I first started really painting. To have time to throw yourself into your work, to have your total goal to be to develop as an artist, to isolate yourself for months on end and find out what you really can do, to stretch to your limits … wow. What artist wouldn’t want to do exactly that?
Once I was selected to participate and began telling everyone I knew (if you didn’t get the telegraph perhaps you saw the message on the blimp?), most friends and artists cheered me on, but some gave some strange feedback, like, “You are so brave!” and “I could never do that!” At the time, I brushed those comments off, thinking that they wouldn’t apply to me.
My partner caravanned up here with me on October 1st, helped me set up my studio and studio apartment in the Mendocino Arts Center, in the lovely village of Mendocino, where we are in walking distance of bluffs and crashing waves on three sides (okay, the third is a bit more like a hike). The night of October 3rd, I was alone for the first time in my new place, but Duane would return in just a few days with a load of finished paintings, in time for the AIR (Artists-in-Residence) Presentations, where this year’s AIR’s would present speeches and a slide presentation about what our work was and what we intended to do during our stay here.
The first week was all setup and focus on the speech, and a little sightseeing, all soaked in a thick layer of poignancy around parting with Duane. When Duane left on Sunday the 8th, all of the sudden I was really alone. And that’s the night when the California Wildfires ignited.
I always enjoyed time alone before. I thought I loved being with my own thoughts.
But – I’ve never lived alone before. I always had either a child depending on me or a partner to share life with, or both. Being alone occasionally is very, very different from really being alone.
And, being in a place where no one has any idea of who you really are, what you are capable of and what you’ve done is both familiar and new, like re-breaking a bone but not as painful. It’s like moving to a new school, except you can hole up in your studio and avoid people completely, here, instead of having to interact during classes, lunches, all that.
Getting to know others, and others getting to know you, well, it takes time. It’s really impossible to bring up your accomplishments without being a braggart – and after all these years of being who you’ve grown into, and having a sense of confidence around all that – wow, having arranged your life so that you lose all that is, in the beginning, a bit terrifying.
Add the wildfires to the mix, and to say that first few weeks were a bit anxiety-ridden is an understatement. Even though the fires were many miles away, there were tens of thousands of acres ablaze in this County, my new home for six and a half months. It was my new neighbors that were losing everything. I wasn’t touched except emotionally, but I had repeat evacuation dreams, night panics that felt so real but truly were nothing like what those poor people had gone through, were going through, are still trying to get through.
Plus I missed Duane. And the cats. And my son. And knowing my friends were so close. Oh, and my crockpot and our really nice knives with edges sharpened by my partner, especially the one my best bud Marj gave us for Christmas. And the bathtub and a bunch of easy conveniences. My own studio, where I knew where everything was and how it worked (even if it was so much smaller than my space here). I missed my life. Boy, I normally had it so good.
I took a trip home and took a bajillion baths, saw my son and my cats and Duane.
Let me expound on the absence of Duane, my partner. I missed him with the keen intensity of realizing that we are both approaching old age rapidly, that anything could happen to either of us any day and the chances of that increased exponentially with each midnight … WHAT HAVE I DONE? We could lose each other any day! Yes, this was one of the night panics, as I’m sure you can tell.
And, I felt strange here, like I didn’t fit. I’m so not used to this. Even tromping around the Headlands, I just didn’t fit. The beautiful pounding surf just didn’t feel real. Like a pretty backdrop without the power I normally feel around crashing waves.
It’s not just that, either. A confident Linda Ryan can be a little hard to take, I know, but it’s who I am, or at least I thought it was. Once I started painting, I’ve generally known my worth. And that I’m a pretty decent artist. Usually. An insecure Linda Ryan? Once in a while, sure. But – every waking moment? It really made me question where that confidence comes from. From things? Paintings? From people knowing what you’ve done and can do? It should be a thing that is anchored inside you… What does it all mean, if just being isolated can change that?
I wasn’t sure how to get past it, either. But, sometime in my fourth week, things started to click. I began to make friends with some locals. The art started to work. I cooked myself a real meal instead of a can of soup or a sandwich or something grabbed downtown. I tromped the headlands and it started to become real. I wish I could explain that better. And, when I headed home to help with a Halloween event, it wasn’t with my mental tail between my legs.
It’s easier to look at a wave of low self-confidence when the tide has shifted again. I think it’s probably necessary if you are going to do some serious work, to strip down to skin. Maybe even shed some skin. Get some light on who you are, underneath. Mixed metaphors and all.
When I got back here after the Halloween Haunt, and passed the first Highway 1 amazing coastal view of those waves pounding the bluffs, the power of it took my breath away. Yes. Next day poured a big 30×30 painting that is gonna really rock when I get it done. And I’m excited about the work and happy to be here.
Mostly. I’m still a little off. And I still really miss Duane and the cats and my son and the bathtub. I’ll get along without the crockpot, and I did bring one of the knives with me, to make cooking for myself a more pleasant experience. It’s the Christmas knife, the one Marj gave us.
Glad to have some confidence back, too. But I think the lesson here isn’t fully realized yet. I have work to do – painting, sure. The rest of it may be more important.