Art from the margins: The story of an almost midlife crisis

Long ago, in the time before children (B.C.), I had hobbies.

I splotched paint on canvases. I wrote mediocre poetry. I attempted yoga poses. I sang in choirs. I read books that challenged my brain. I played the piano. I volunteered my eager little heart out. I wrote blog posts. I threw my time around like rainbow confetti.

Here’s a self-portrait I painted in 2006(ish). Even though it’s fairly true to life, I look at it now and don’t quite see myself.

In university I bravely explored the edges of the musical universe like Carl friggin Sagan, blissfully lingering in record shops then lying on my bedroom floor listening to obscure albums deep into the night.

In high school, I was the strange, artsy kid. Flipping through sketchbooks from my teenage years is like going on an odyssey through the mind of a deranged addict. I never actually did drugs; I was just that weird. Here are some of my less freakish drawings from the year 2000, or about 20 years B.C.

It’s difficult to reconcile that willfully eccentric young person – her pink hair, scuffed Dr. Martens, pierced brow, and penchant for The Smiths – with the utterly boring (but admittedly reliable and fairly decent) adult I am today.

My transformation started long ago, with my first office gig, but parenthood certainly finished the job. Since April 2017 (when my son was born) most of my unpaid hours have been spent nurturing, feeding, and cleaning. There’s little time for eccentricity or art.

Me, in the most important role.

I love Arthur and Florence so much it makes my heart sore. They’re magnificent little humans. They make me laugh every day. I’m deeply grateful for them. I enjoy being a mother. But here’s a hard little nugget of truth: I’d like my identity to stretch beyond them.

So in August (as I lay awake at 4 a.m. wishing they would stop crying every two hours like an adorable but exhausting pair of dueling banjos) I resolved to have an Artistic Autumn. I would miraculously scrape together the time I needed to go on a creative journeyto see if I could dust off some old parts of myself.

I enrolled in painting classes with the Barrie Art Club. I signed up for a graphic design course at Georgian College. I committed to writing and playing the piano every single day.

Day 1 at the Barrie Art Club. Can you feel my stress?

Was it a midlife crisis? I think crisis is too strong a word. But yeah, probably. Was I going to let that fact stop me? Nope.

To save a few pennies, I asked my maman to unearth old gear from the most remote nooks of her basement. My acrylics had coagulated. My palette knife was rusty. But holding them in my hands felt like hugging old friends.

Was it a midlife crisis? I think crisis is too strong a word. But yeah, probably.

The night of my first physically distanced art class, my palms were damp as I pulled on my backpack and jammed some blank canvases under my armpits. JF is a great parent. I knew the kids were fine, but I felt guilty, nervous, and self-indulgent.

Those feelings intensified as I realized painting wasn’t at all like riding a bike. My eyes had forgotten how to mix colours. I couldn’t remember whether Bs or Hs were the darker pencils. My first piece was truly dreadful. I almost didn’t attend the second class.

Thankfully, I didn’t let cowardice and pride get the better of me. I kept going and even managed to produce a few not totally shameful paintings. I’ve since set up a sort of studio in my basement and am determined to get better.

My graphic design course just ended and I’m delighted to report that I truly enjoyed every messy, imperfect assignment. I’m going to sign up for GD2 soon.

I kind of like this flying pig logo I drew for class.

I haven’t quite succeeded in playing or writing every day, but I often manage to find a quarter of an hour to produce something: a verse, a horrid musical cover (I included some belowyes I know I look exhausted), a sketch, a shadow of an idea.

San Diego Serenade, Tom Waits
These Days, Jackson Browne

Every time I eke out a moment to do something creative—something for myself—I feel totally invigorated.

It means planning naps, neglecting housework, finding a babysitter, or creating a sort of entertaining padded cell for my toddler(s). It’s not easy. But it feels good to squeeze selfish minutes out of my otherwise relatively selfless existence.

I’m creating art from the quieter corners of my life – art from the margins of motherhood.

Here’s a scribbled and rather sad poem I also call “Ode to 2020.”

To be clear, none of what I make is truly good. I know that. But I think the act of creation is therapeutic and valuable. I need it. I extra extra (times a thousand) need it in this strange, virtual era.

As my maternity leave ends, and Artistic Autumn with it, I can honestly say I’ve rediscovered a small but meaningful piece of my being. I’m sharing it with you so you can know me, too.

And now—because all of my blog posts seem to end with advice—I’d like to say that if you ever find yourself mired in the relentlessness of parenting, try picking up a paintbrush, or plucking at guitar strings, or scribbling on the back of a takeout menu. You won’t regret it.

Apocalypse, Cigarettes After Sex