Introduction to Art Journal Selections

M. Permission from God to make art again and building a new life

In the summer of 2016, I got my square mat board panels that I spoke of in the introduction out for another look. I'd been renting an art studio since December of 2015 and we were having an open house for a Maplewood street festival. Now that I had a studio and a reason to make art, over the months I had been getting more and more old unfinished work out and remaking it into new projects. On the night of the open house, I laid the panels out and enjoyed the atmosphere, which was very conducive to the joy of creativity. Bands were playing outside. People were coming in to visit the studio and inquiring about and signing up for my classes. There were guest artists along with the regular artists. I hoped this would help the studio turn the corner into being a success. I was also on a roll artistically. I was working with some stencils I had recently hand-cut and a few commercial ones, along with some older stencils of my design that I had cut in the late 1990s. I was also collaging and coloring and getting good results from my point of view. It had bothered me that I never finished the mat board squares, and I felt at peace making something good out of them. I thought success and happiness were finally coming my way and now that things were finally coming together I was going to have more times like this to enjoy and share.

The next morning, I called my then boyfriend. I was so excited to tell him how the night went and how pleased I was with the event itself and the work I had done. I told him about being in the "zone" artistically and how satisfying that was. I thought this boyfriend was a serious suitor and discussions we had led me to expect a marriage proposal any day. I thought he would be happy for me and I couldn't wait to share my happiness and optimism with him.

My then boyfriend had claimed to like art. We went to art shows together. He seemed supportive of my activities in the studio. His daughter was an artist. I had no idea he'd been harboring resentment and anger toward me for months over renting the art studio, and had been secretly hoping I'd quit art entirely. His behavior up to this point did not hint at those attitudes at all nor did he mention it to me. We did not live together, and were not financially entangled in any way. I could afford to pay for the studio rental myself whether I made any money at it or not but the income from the classes I taught there had just reached the point where I was making back not only my rent but a slight profit. I thought that was a very good result for six months of work, and I'd been planning to look at the financials after being in the studio a full year to evaluate whether to continue, plans that my boyfriend had known about the whole time we were dating. It didn't occur to me that he secretly objected or had any reason to object. Over the years between getting my art degree and renting the studio, I had taught classes on a volunteer basis to people with mental illness and disabilities, and I had taught craft classes at a craft store. I had worked in retail in customer service, management, displays and promotions. I had worked 15 years as a graphic designer, web designer and front-end web developer. I had an online store with my own line of rubber stamps that I designed. Since my web design career had declined due to changes in technology and the economic downturn, now that the studio was finally paying for itself I was looking forward to using it as an aid to integrating my other past skills and experiences together since the studio provided work space, storage space, retail space and classroom space. I was making more money at the freelance work I did because I had adequate space to work productively and a place to network. I've always experienced my creative inspiration as something that integrates all parts of me into something magic that is a synthesis that makes all the parts better. I first noticed that in college when I noticed that as my writing projects got better, my artwork got better, as I learned archaeology, history and earth sciences, I had more profound concepts to explore in my artwork and more to write about. I didn't feel that one activity necessarily took away from the other - they took time, yes, but made my ideas better which I thought was worth it,

My then boyfriend shocked me by telling me that he'd been hoping I'd quit the studio and was angry that I'd enjoyed the open house. He told me that he was also angry that I'd taken the training to be a Master Gardener, which I had done that spring for personal interest and career development. He was angry at me working on my own garden on a weekday when he had to work, even though I worked some weekends. That seemed pretty unfair to me. I was then and am still the editor of a gardening newsletter for Schnarr's Hardware where I work part time. In the store I often have the opportunity to help customers with gardening questions so the more gardening knowledge I get the more money I can make and the more I can help customers. He had come to the Master Gardener graduation with me and my Dad, met my classmates and teachers and pretended to be supportive, so I was profoundly shocked by this attitude as well. After thinking over these disturbing developments, the next day I wanted to clarify with him what his view of our future was and he told me he'd known from the time we started dating (at that point right about the 1 year mark) it wasn't going to work out. That was the last time I saw him until many months later when we accidentally were at the same event while on a date with my now-husband. He wanted no contact and refused to explain why he led me on and blindsided me.

I was devastated by the cruelty and by the knowledge that I had been thoroughly played by someone I thought I loved but didn't really know at all. He had commented a week before dumping me that he was attracted to me because I "looked mannish and had man hands". So putting the pieces together I had a pretty good idea what he had been using me for.

I had to cancel the next class I was due to teach I had because I hadn't slept for more than a couple of hours in a week nor eaten anything. I was a wreck, and remained so for several weeks until my abilities to eat and sleep returned. I was able to struggle through my last two classes at the studio, including my first sellout. Instead of being able to savor my first sellout, the victory was bittersweet because I had just learned that my means to rebuild myself, the studio, was going to close and I had to be out in less than two weeks.

After this I wasn't sure if I'd ever make art again. If it was only going to get me hated and abused and lead to failure anyway why do it? It seemed to me that if I was successful I'd be resented, if I failed I'd invite contempt, so why try? I had to hastily move my studio stuff to a storage unit and in the process I donated a whole van load of supplies to Artists First Studio down the street. (To see all the supplies and other activities of the time on my Instagram, scroll left.) At least other suffering people would get to use some of my stuff in their art therapy and work on healing from whatever had happened to them. I went into therapy myself to heal from the trauma and I took up art journaling in the process. I had a moving sale and tried to put a positive spin on the situation whenever possible. At least publicly. It was months before I could talk about any of this without crying in front of everyone that I happened to be with. It was months before I didn't cry myself to sleep.

If you're asking yourself why I felt so hopeless over losing a fake relationship with one guy, I'll try to explain. It's difficult to describe what it's like to be attacked for doing what makes you feel like yourself, like you have a purpose in this world and for what brings you profound happiness. It's difficult to describe what it's like to get the message from those you love that you don't deserve to do it and you don't deserve to be happy. At my age (at that time my late 40s) I had experienced such attacks before of course but rarely from people who were important to me. There were people in my life who I felt accepted me for who I was and never put me down for doing what I was made to do. On that list were my Mom and Dad, when he's well my brother, my friend June, and my friend Mark. At this point in life, I had a big hollow space in me to fill because my Mom had died in 2010 and June had died in 2003. June and I (like Mark and I) had collaborated on creative projects many times in our lives, and unconditionally encouraged each other in separate projects too. When June had achievements in training and showing horses (both real and models), I applauded her. When Mark achieved in drawing and becoming a book author, I applauded him. They gave me the same kind of support in return with no jealousy. Whatever I was into at the time, they wanted me to succeed.

This is June giving her quarter horse Twist (formal name "Too Twisted To Win") a kiss when I was visiting her in Colorado.

I falsely felt that I had that same kind of relationship with the boyfriend who had just dumped me. The week before, it had been our one year anniversary of meeting. I thought that was something to celebrate and since he mentioned it a lot I thought it was important to him to. I had no clue I was being led on and he was looking forward to it as a reason to end the relationship. I hadn't had a serious boyfriend since 1991 (this was 2016). I had dated, but the most dates I had been on with one guy was three. It always seems to fizzle out then, or before. I'd get stood up or ghosted and that was that. For this occasion, having made it to a year, I wanted to give my boyfriend something that was not too expensive because he was sensitive about not being able to give expensive gifts in return (so he claimed anyway), but also meaningful. I had asked him before if he was open to receiving jewelry designed for men from me and he had said yes so I decided to make him a couple of pieces from beads that were not super pricey but significant to me. Since I felt at least as close to this man as I had felt to my best friend June, I selected as a centerpiece for a necklace the largest and best bear fetish bead made from picture jasper from my bead collection. This along with some of the other beads in my stash had belonged to June. June had left me her bead collection in her will and several months after she died her husband sent them to me. Her beads were special for many reasons. They brought back memories of all the hours we spent in our college years making jewelry together. For a while we had a little jewelry company called "Irresistible Martian". Also whenever we went to each others homes, we spent time admiring each other's stash and jewelry collections, both made and bought. When we traveled together or shopped together, we always looked at beads and jewelry. I remembered shopping for, making, or making things with a lot of the beads in her collection together with her. When the huge box of beads arrived in the mail, I took it to my then studio in Old Town Florissant and sat for two days in my easy chair, for a whole weekend, before I could really do anything. I was just wiped out from the reality of her being gone.

The bear fetish beads were the most representative of June and what she meant to me because she told me the closest beliefs she had to religious beliefs were Native American influenced and she considered the bear as her spirit animal. I explained to my then boyfriend what the bear fetish bead on the necklace meant to me and what its origin was. In essence, I felt I was transferring best friend status from my late friend to him because I thought we were looking forward to giving each other that level of love and support for many years to come. Under the circumstances I now feel he should not have accepted the necklace, or returned it later because he knew he was planning to dump me at the time I gave it to him. It couldn't have meant anything to him except as a trophy to enjoy remembering how much he hurt me, if he even kept it. Here is a quote of something he posted on Meetup just a few days after dumping me - "I'm single, again. So what better way to celebrate my singleness than by going camping with friends". When I read this out loud to my therapy group, everyone in the room gasped. There is more to say about why this betrayal was especially hurtful. I had been holding out for marriage to have sex since I am a practicing Catholic and I thought that's why he had agreed to wait too but I now know better what the real situation was. It was the worst betrayal I had ever had in my life to have my religion used against me, not as a reason to reject me, as had happened for the first 47 years of my life, but as a tool to fool me into thinking our relationship was serious. I felt that everything that had made me myself was not only rejected but used as leverage to tear me down. That's a worse feeling than just being rejected - for months I hated myself because everything about me was made to seem like a reason that I was unworthy of being loved. And when you are 47 years old and at the age when most of society sees no use for you any more, to have your appearance mocked is another blow that lands hard. If you are interested, here are some articles I've written that address different aspects of the experience and recovery process.

But at the time I gave my ex boyfriend the necklace and the bracelet that I had also made for him, I had no clue how he really felt about me. I thought the next phase of my life was just beginning. Well, it was but not in the way I'd been led to expect. As you can probably imagine, it was months before I could even bring myself to look or touch at my beads and jewelry making supplies again. With most of my other art stuff in storage, I relied on art journaling for quite awhile because it was portable and didn't take up a lot of space.

As I recovered I sought and did find other outlets for teaching to replace the studio situation I had lost. Teaching seemed like an acceptable way to continue to be involved in art in some way. If I was not ever going to do it again for myself, at least I could help other people do it. Maybe they would get something out of it besides rejection, abuse and failure. Maybe someday I would study Art Therapy - keeping my teaching skills up and building on them would be useful in an Art Therapy practice if I ever did that. Maybe in time my experiences could be used to help other people suffering from severe emotional trauma. Perennial was one venue that took me on for awhile. I still teach at JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts, Schnarr's Hardware and very occasionally Litzinger Road Ecology Center where I volunteer as part of my Master Gardener activities.

I felt that I had to give myself "acceptable" ways to stay involved with art and if it was to help other people through their trauma or to teach them things, at least there was a purpose. Just doing it for myself did not seem like enough of an excuse because I saw myself as having no value.

After I got out of group therapy, I was a lot better but I was still scared to spend too much time alone. I was afraid I'd start dwelling too much on the trauma again. I looked for groups that I could hang around with to have some companionship. One of the new activities I tried was a gathering of the Creative Arts Fellowship, a worship and art sharing session for Christian artists. This group and some of the friends I made there reminded me that God made me creative for a reason and he wants me to use those gifts to help other people and being an artist is not something I should be made to feel ashamed of. This new attitude helped give me the confidence to seek and find new teaching opportunities.

When I started dating the man who is now my husband, I was careful to see what his attitude toward me doing art was going to be. He was willing to accompany me to art shows, even while I was the one exhibiting. When I had Open House weekends for my JoAnn teaching job, he accompanied me to some of them. We got engaged on December 3, and on Christmas morning my gift was a new art studio in the basement of his house, where I would be moving after our wedding the following August. I had found someone who actually loved me and supported me and wanted me "even though" I was an artist!

Things to be grateful for: