An 'Alternative Life'. Something I have been giving a lot of thought to lately. Something I have been interested in for many years but never imagined I would actually embark on myself. An Alternative Life.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when I was completely conventional. I owned a house with my then husband, worked a fairly normal job, was reasonably financially secure. All the usual stuff.
Then, about 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, which, being the embodiment of youth and health that I was, came as a bit of a surprise. I recovered from the cancer but the effect it had on my attitude to life was lasting and profound. Cancer, according to popular belief, 'changes' you. But it didn't change me at all. It did the opposite. It made me myself. And it made me brave.
My life is a little different these days to how it was 10 years ago. Rightly or wrongly, one way or another, I forced my way out of conventionality and began pursuing the things which truly made my heart sing. It was a long journey to get from there to here. My marriage buckled under the strain, I spent another stint in hospital having so-called 'preventative' surgery, I sold my house and moved to the other end of the country, I enrolled on and completed an MA, and I fell in love.
The journey is ongoing. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm currently taking the first steps on a new one, having recently graduated and taken stock.
At the moment I am busy working on a new set of drawings for an upcoming group exhibition in February, as well as setting up this website and blog. I have also given a lot of thought about the artist I am and what I want for my work, and how I am going to sustain those beliefs and ethics over a long period of time. A while ago, I stumbled across these words from Alan Watts (1915 - 1973), an English philosopher and writer who played a large part in popularising Zen Buddhism in the west, and they have stayed with me ever since:
What if Money Was No Object? ~ Alan Watts Lecture
"What do you desire? What makes you itch?
Alan Watts was clearly way ahead of his time with this kind of thinking. Sometimes, although less and less as the years go by, I feel quite alone in thinking that there must surely be alternatives to those that western society lays down for us. I'm pretty confident in thinking that there are a lot of people out there who dream of the alternatives but feel too trapped, for whatever reason, to make changes.
For making changes, big changes, is scary. It's terrifying. I should know. And as the experience of having cancer grows (thankfully) dimmer each year, I find myself having to dig deeper for yet more courage to pursue those dreams and passions, to keep on track despite the fear of poverty and the negative judgement of this increasingly right-wing society.
Still, I am a great believer in things coming into your life at the right time, just as long as you are open-minded enough to recognise them. Draw that deep breath, take that first step, whatever ... If you dare to put yourself out there, it is true that things will start to happen. You will meet the right people. You will find the right places ...
I first met Tim 20-odd years ago, in Cornwall, at art college. It is mighty strange indeed how life can take us round in a giant circle, but 20 years later we met again, in Cornwall, whilst I was at art college. This time, however, he had a boat.
Not a particularly fancy boat, by any stretch of the imagination, but just about as impressive and 'alternative' as they come ...
Tim and I got together for many reasons, but one of them was because of a shared passion for an alternative way of life. He is far more hardcore than me and is now enjoying his third winter on the boat. He's battled howling storms and sub-zero temperatures, but with a wood-burning stove now in place and an apparent immunity to seasickness, he could hardly be more content. After all, for every winter, there is a summer. And his days are his own.
I don't live on the boat, but I spend enough time there to have become completely besotted with it. It is a romantic, simple existence, though perhaps not for the faint-hearted, and Tim's story of the boat and how he came to sail it across the ocean from Ireland to Cornwall inspired my imagination so much that the tale seeped into my work, grew into a book, and eventually an installation replicating the inside of Albacore was created.
Albacore and Tim currently reside in a small community of other boat-dwellers in a beautiful, semi-forgotten corner of Cornwall. It is a place of magic. Of hidden creeks and beaches, ancient woods, ferocious storms and still, golden sunsets.
On The Estuary
I will be moving up there soon to help him with work on the boat and I can hardly wait. Fear of the future still persists, but I am learning to live one day at a time, to breathe, to enjoy the journey, and to stand by the life I believe in and the work I need to do. No life is perfect, and nor should we expect it to be. You have to make your choices, understand what you might be sacrificing and what you will be gaining because of those choices.
And then all you have to do is go out into the world and live them.
I've been updating my website this week and one of the things I've put together is an account of how, back in September 2014, with the help of my lovely, technically-minded, other half, I built a boat. That is, I built a pretend boat. That you could walk into. With full surround-sound. And a film. It was made almost entirely from cardboard. This is how I did it ...
Every year for the last 3 years I have made a 'Wish List' of the things I most desire for the year ahead. I have deliberately tried to keep it humble and have thought of it more as a manifesto for living than any kind of 'Resolution' style list. This year, 2015, I can no longer ignore that each wish list is largely just a variation on a theme ... It would appear that what I desire most is to be healthy, courageous, loved, wise and An Artist. It all seems simple enough, but each of these things have, at one time or another, seemed to be impossibly beyond my reach.
This year, one of my priorities (residing just below my need for a bubble bath!) is to continue to find the the courage and the self-belief to be an artist.
Since graduating from my Master's Degree in September 2014 I have given a lot of thought about what kind of artist I wish to be, about what kind of a person I am, and how to find the courage and the inspiration to stay true to myself and my work.
I am an illustrator. What seems like a million years ago now I originally graduated from art school with a degree in illustration, and in between a thousand 'day jobs' I attempted to be just that ... An illustrator. But I am also a storyteller. I love to weave narratives out of air, to find the extraordinary in the mundane, joy in sadness, beauty in the plain. And I do this by creating stories. Creating fairy tales from my own life, from memory. I failed dismally in my career as an illustrator, that is to say I failed to have much enthusiasm for putting images to other people's ideas, but I still longed to tell my own stories and to put them into images as well as words. So when I returned to university to pursue my own voice, I was pretty determined that on graduating I would not fall into the same traps that I had fallen into in my previous life.
As it turns out, maintaining this kind of determination takes (yet more) courage.
Courage to pursue your own dreams, to realise your true potential, to live the life and do the work you're meant to. And it takes courage because the potential to fail is ever present. The self-doubt. The fear. The worry about having enough money to eat, that normal people will think you're insane, that you don't fit in to mainstream society and that you will be judged for it and so on and so on and so on ...
So I have thought about the people I myself admire, and why. Such as the woman who lives in a shed (her studio) so she can afford to spend her life writing music. The man who lived in his car for a year so he could pursue his dream of writing for a living. The woman who gave up a promising and well-paid career in publishing so she could become a photographer. And my very own man, the love of my life, who bought an old fishing boat off a bloke in a bar in Ireland so he could change his life and pursue the things which matter most to him. Sometimes, I realised, choices have to be made, resolve has to be hardened, life has to be embraced. So this year, clutching my graduation certificate and holding close to me all that I have learned on that wonderful MA, I choose to be the artist I always wanted to be.
So, Happy New Year 2015, as yet a year of mystery with adventures and secrets yet to be revealed. This year I hope to remain true and honest to my passions, to pursue my art and my words with my own authentic voice and to be brave in my choices. I also hope to document my experiences and to share my thoughts on life and passion and courage and on creating inspiration as myself and my partner continue work on the infamous Trawler, now safely moored here in beautiful Cornwall, and as I continue to create stories from the world which surrounds me.
... I also look forward, maybe, to having that bubble bath!
I look forward to sharing my journey with you.
Happy New Year!
I am a ...
... Teller of Tales. A Creator of Books. An Artist, Illustrator and A Boatbuilder. A Professional Daydreamer, Occasional Mermaid, and always The Eternal Optimist.