Nice Girls Swallow. Sensible Girls Spit

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Life is complicated: the choice of potential options, vast; the possible pathways, many, meandering, overgrown and steep. Just thinking about it is daunting. Trying to affect our fate – making more than taking, succeeding more than failing, smiling more than crying, is overwhelming in the extreme and more than some of us can endure. It’s no wonder there are so many miserable people, so many hiding in their beds. We see a mountain and we run, reacting as if it were a spider. Maybe we have already climbed too many? Maybe we just don’t have the right kind of legs? Perhaps we have a fear of heights, an aversion to vertical? Whichever… whatever…: we are all doing the best that we can with the tools that we have; with what we were given when we arrived, when we came out. If we are lacking, if we are struggling, if we have given up sooner or not travelled as far: it’s because the appliances weren’t there at the start. They either got left behind, left inside; or they were never presented to begin with.

My house was well-furnished and my box is fairly full. I have equipment. It helps. Heaven knows, I have needed it. I still do. If I had a pound for the number of hills and mountains I have encountered, the rivers and seas I have crossed: I would be a wealthy woman by now. Alas, it doesn’t work that way and I am as poor financially as the day I arrived. I owe my existence to benefactors and generous souls. But I am rich in other ways – in heart and in mind, in spirit, if a little disappointed, broken and sad. Trying and not getting; hoping and being denied, taint the image. The picture fades. The paint cracks. The brilliance is dimmed. I am older than I should be and upset by that. The mirror no longer presents a shiny object. I try not to look, and I look away. I go out with ink marks on my cheeks, toothpaste around my mouth, sleep in my eyes. People eyeball and I have no idea why, I have stopped caring. Or at least, I pretend to. In reality, there is no switching off, no numbing. Opinions hurt and I cannot help but be affected by them. I am only human.

Maybe that is why I spend so much time and energy on my art, on creating? Am I trying, perhaps, to make up for the lack in other areas? If I shine on the page, on the canvas, will others be more forgiving; will they remember me for longer; will I mean more, have more value? It’s not a bad theory.

Then again: creative people are characteristically hard on themselves and mostly unhappy, their glass having a tendency to remain empty in the realm of life; Life (the bitch) taking out as many drops as ‘they’ (the individual) puts in. It’s a long road and it’s bumpy. There are challenges. But without these challenges, we wouldn’t grow and growth is vital for creativity, for art. The brightest flowers come from the sparsest of gardens, the thickest of nights, the heaviest of storms. We cannot fight this: it’s the price of the gift. And we cannot knock the horse: what’s given belongs and what’s there is there: full stop, end of story.

So let’s all be thankful for that which we have and make the best of what we possess and wish for less and expect as much. That way, we know where we are and won’t be tripped up.

That said, here are some rules to live by. Take them or leave them. Digest or deny. Think me wise or consider me a fool. It makes no difference… I write as I see. I live as I encounter. I rule as I see fit.

1. Tackle what is beyond you:

The best protection is to be working on hard problems, that way you are always moving forwards and aren’t so easily distracted. And when you succeed, conquering a hurdle, facing something odious that cropped up, you feel great. There is nothing quite so powerful, so healing, so cathartic, as a conquest you can attribute to yourself. Carve up your bedpost. Make your mirror heavy with medals. Fill notebooks and sketchbooks with the stories that you write. Immortalise yourself.

2. Be curious:

View everything as an opportunity to grow and expand. Act like a kid. Probe and question. Reach out and touch. Grab onto and take with you. Sign up and attend. Dive in, go swimming, explore… Discover, find out… Be in charge of what goes in and take responsibility for how you interpret that. Be the captain not the victim. Write your own beginning, middle and ending.

3. Study the sky:

Count stars. Collect clouds. Become an expert at weather prediction. Take time each day to look around you. Absorb your surroundings. Be grateful for beauty and appreciate ugliness. Unsightly is also pretty. Sometimes, it’s exquisite. Think of an old person’s face and the stories it conveys, the life it reflects, the people and places. Think of a ruin, the history contained in what still remains, the things it once stood for, what it has survived. Be mindful in the moment and see the world for the magnificent thing that it is: big, chaotic and complex; incomprehensible, all-knowing and wise; multi-faceted, unpredictable and proud. Do this and do it often and live your life from it. Swallow don’t spit, unless what you savour offends.

by Rebecca L. Atherton
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