i love you, monster

This morning at breakfast Giles put his hands on my face and said, “I love you, monster.”

Later in the morning a dear friend sent me a link to this article, “Mother, Writer, Monster, Maid” by Rufi Thorpe. 

After a grueling time getting my 2-year-old son down for a nap on a 93 degree, oppressively humid day, I sat down to read the article. My brain popped and sizzled with recognition at every sentence. This is exactly what I was crying about in therapy today. What I have been crying about every night for a week.

(Read the article for yourself, and then come back to this. Or read this first and then read the article. Either way, you should definitely read it, because it’s damn good.)

I’m afraid that I am failing at the life I’ve been building since I was eighteen-years-old. As I entered adulthood, college, the world on my own, I made a decision: I will be an artist who also has a family, a life, kids, love, happiness, and I will not be an asshole.”

An ex-boyfriend once told me about how Albert Einstein’s wife took care of all the daily responsibilities of life so that he could concentrate on being a genius. This was a not-so-subtle hint, I think, at what kind of wife this ex-boyfriend wanted. He also told me about a professor he admired who worked twelve hours a day in his studio with one landline phone that only his wife had the number to, and she was only allowed to use it in case of emergency so that the professor would not be disturbed in his work. This gem of a boyfriend left trash on my kitchen floor and excused himself by saying , “I don’t notice things like that.” He once didn’t call me for three weeks and told me I couldn’t be angry with him because he just wasn’t aware of the need to call me. He was too wrapped up in his art.

I know in my heart of hearts that Einstein would have been a truer and better genius if he had done his own fucking laundry.

The “mundane” things, the daily tasks and responsibilities of life are not boring. They are the beauty, the deepest beauty in the world, and we should be making art about them! Shitty fathers and husbands who also happened to write great novels did not write great novels BECAUSE they were shitty fathers and husbands. I think they would have been even better writers if they had been better fathers and husbands.

I have this memory of something I read that Bruce Springsteen said. I can’t find it, and I’m sorry, and I wish I could quote it directly, but I’ve carried it with me in my mind for a long time. He said he used to think that the moment he had an inspiration for a song, he had to go and write it immediately– disregarding his family in order to do so. But later he learned that the opposite was true: he would notice the inspiration, then let it go, opting to be where he was with his family and not ignore them. Later, when he had time, he’d search for the inspiration and find that by letting it go for a while, it always came back to him better.

And so, I believe that I am (or will be) a better artist because I am a wife and mother. Or, I did believe that until my kid refused to nap for a whole week and did I mention I’m almost 20 weeks pregnant while caring for a 2-year-old boy? It’s really fucking hard.

I’m afraid that my “self” is slipping away. And not slowly either– but off a cliff into the void. It’s not, though. I’m trying to trust that. I am still here. I exist as a mother/artist/person simultaneously. I exist in a deeper way than before. Somehow, by putting my kids first, I am a better artist. Right?

Thorpe writes about all of these ideas with a lot more clarity and elegance than I am doing here, but I’m trying to write some kind of response that echoes what she is saying while adding my own personal thoughts. I want to echo back that we are not alone. You are not alone. You, mother of however many children and trying to be a person, are not alone. This is REALLY FUCKING HARD and we are IN IT. We have to keep climbing this mountain. Because what we are doing matters. The mothering yes, and also the art, whatever your art is.

On Friday, in a text exchange with my sister, I asked her if I am crazy to have another baby. She responded:

“Yes. But full of love.”

 

 

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helpless

helpless 1

helpless 2

this comic was drawn with my left hand (which is my non-dominant hand). i do that sometimes, for specific stories, or to loosen up.

my mom switched to painting left-handed after she developed neuropathy in her right hand. in her own words:

My mind is coming back. Possibly, this has something to do with my recent shift to painting with my left hand (because of the neuropathy). Painting left-handed does not feel awkward to me—just the opposite: It feels like coming home. I feel more like myself , more in-sync with myself, than I ever did in my whole life working right handed.
This has been a powerful discovery, and one I have yet to fully process or understand.
~ Viola Moriarty
7 March 2011

 

women & things

I have a new exhibit of paintings going up at Images Cinema next week. If you are local, stop by and see them during the month of August, anytime the cinema is open. There will be an opening reception on Friday August 4, 5:00-6:30pm.

Women & Things
(acrylics on canvas board)
We are here and we hold things in our hands. Those things are tools or coffee or other types of items that we use for making and doing. 
I am a woman, mom, wife– but I am more than these things. I make stuff. Mostly comics, but also portraits, paintings, still lifes, written stories, plays, dances. I also made a human. I love movies. I teach a comics workshop. 
This is a tough time. I do not know all the right things to do and there is a lot I don’t know. I try. I’m raising my little baby with all the feminist gusto I can muster: teaching him kindness, love, understanding, how to listen and ask questions. 
My mom is dead. She was also an artist, a painter. Making these paintings is a kind of calling out to her. 
art bitch

Art Bitch, NFS

 

romance.jpg

Romance, $250

woman in kitchen.jpg

Woman in Kitchen, $250

 

typewriter & books.jpg

Typewriter & Books, $250

 

phoebe in red.jpg

Phoebe in Red Sweatshirt with Red Mug, NFS

 

phoebe painting.jpg

Phoebe Painting, NFS

yellow dress.jpg

Yellow Dress, $250

 

self-portrait at taco place.jpg

Self-Portrait at Taco Place, NFS

 

coffee and tools.jpg

Coffee & Tools, $150

 

iced coffee & arm.jpg

Iced Coffee & Arm, $150

 

pencil sharpener,coffee, pens.jpg

Pencil Sharpener, Coffee, Pens, $150

 

jar & norebook.jpg

Jar & Notebook, $150

 

 

 

 

 

until the last minute

From my mom’s blog:

…Right now I’m starting to see myself in some new ways:  forgetful and distractable beyond the fog I’d come to know through chemo, radiation, whole brain radiation, radiosurgery and more radiosurgery.  I’ve started to hear my husband and children say things like “Mama, you really did know about that, you just forgot”  more often than ever before. I’ve gotten lost and damaged trying to find a path I use every day….I need help in ways I didn’t think I’d ever accept. I run into things.  I have numb pain from toe to waist on one side.  My head hurts.  I’m so cold.  Then I’m hot.  I’m not allowed to roast the chiles alone anymore.  I use a coffee pot that turns itself off so I don’t burn down the house.  I make brutal decisions about time and energy.  I ask my friends to walk with me, or to sit for me in exchange for my poor company. To give me healing or massage. Mostly I ask them to either paint with me,  or leave me to paint. Often I refuse most food I don’t make. I’m spending my grant money on a sink for the studio and a bed easel so the days I can’t walk down the stairs or just can’t get out of bed, I can still work.  A woman to drive me to drawing groups.  Paint and tubes,,,adding up how much I think I can actually use over the next few months.?  Now they don’t call me a survivor, or cancer clean, or any of those things.  THey tell me I’ll always be STage 4:   Stage 4 metastatic cancer with metastesis to the brain, CNS, around most organs….The only place I don’t seem to have breast cancer is in my breasts–but that may have changed, too. Tenacity is my other name. I ask for help, and I ask for understanding.  I am compassionate to old and infirm people in an even more profound way as I bumble through the woods…

But the main thing that scares me is that my energy level is dropping.  I’m tired.  I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.  Help me work, study, think, hold my brush…set up my easel—which way do the knobs go? Righty tighty, lefty lucy. I still have this fiery desire to make my work.  Even drawing boxes to learn linear perspective feels like achieving a goal, gessoing and sanding boards feels like living the dream.  And when I put brush in paint to board I know myself again, still, more deeply…that lets me know I am still here…

And to Life, I add, please help me to choose deep time with my husband and daughters, with my family and my soul friends.  Help me make the most of what is left of my energy.  Give me my husband’s love and help me not think of what it will be to go somewhere without him driving me, without him loving me.

 I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I now give away things each week, wrap up projects….organize the chaos so my family won’t have to.  I write the letters my daughter asks me for her wedding and when she has a baby.  I remind my daughters and my loving husband that I am on their side—always.  I arrange to make a trip home to Denver to connect with my family and friends.  How many kisses do you want I always ask my youngest nephews and they almost always say 100.  I ask for a million.  A trillion.  I always want more.

I see myself now as a weeping woman who is walking toward the door now, not with arrogance or tenacity or attitude but stooped with humility and deep tiredness, begging for a little more love, a little more work done, a little more time……

Viola Moriarty, 14 October 2012

This was written 6 months and 4 days before she died. I didn’t know then how close we were to the end. But it’s there, in her words:

I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes. I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Today is March 24. In 25 days it will be April 18, the four year anniversary of my mom’s death. It is four years, a marriage, and a new human life since she has been gone. I don’t understand it. And yet it’s my whole life. I live inside this fact.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I repeat this in my head. Watch my baby on the monitor as he breathes in and out, steady in his sleep. Paint, draw, write. Dance with my husband in the kitchen.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this today in particular. But here it is. Trying to make my own great work until the last minute.

art as life

unnamed

Today I was interviewed on the community radio station in North Adams for a show called Creative City. I got to talk about my art and my life, how they inspire each other, and promote my upcoming comics class (is183.org for more info and to register).

It felt really good to talk about what I do. I’m proud of my life, and it’s validating to be interviewed on a radio show and have someone besides me refer to me as an Artist. It’s important to remember that I work, and it’s good work, even if it’s not a “regular” job. It’s a “real” job and I love it.

My mom and I used to discuss our lives as artists all the time– how we balance time/money/desires and manage the business side of art. I loved talking about that stuff with her. I don’t get to talk about it that much anymore. Not the way she and I would talk about it. I’ve never found another art friend like my mom, and I don’t expect to.

I miss her.

I wish she could’ve been with me on the radio today, talking about her art life. I can’t really talk about mine without talking about hers too.

My dad and Giles listened to the show from the lobby of the station while we were broadcasting. Julia played a couple of my song recordings, one of which was the “Giles Fox” song. My dad held Giles up so he could stand on the floor in front of the radio, and he danced.

 

where we are now

The first thing I did this morning was cuddle with my husband and baby. Just like every morning. Giles giggled and kicked his legs. We kissed his face.

I am angry. Even if Hillary had been elected, we would still have to face the fact that so many people in our country support a man who feels it is okay to sexually assault women, who spouts racism and sexism and hate. There are problems here. It is not okay.

My friend Alexander shared what he wrote on his classroom board today:

Do Now: The election is over. No matter who you wanted to win, at least one thing is true: you have the ability to do something today to make the world a better place. What can you do?
HW: Do that thing. 

I am making a list of the things I can do:

  • raise my son, teach him to use his privilege for good. show him by example to stand up for people who are marginalized. teach him to respect women. teach him to love and be loved. teach him to use his own brain and listen to his gut, and be himself.
  • speak my mind, both in person and online. say things that are true and right. call people out when they say things that are racist, sexist, offensive, wrong.
  • continue living in this country. we need to stay here and make it better. organize. speak out. be kind.
  • support my loved ones and strangers who may be put in danger by this administration.
  • keep learning. be open. listen.
  • make art.
  • continue to be a woman who demands to be taken seriously, who demands equal rights, who does not want her pussy grabbed without permission.

I’ll add to this list as I go. Live my life in the way I believe is best. Be the change. Today I will make coffee, hold my baby as he naps, play with him, laugh, read, sing. I will cook. I will write a bit in my journal, maybe do some drawing if I can. If it stops raining I will go out for a walk and smile at my neighbors.

What can you do?
Do that thing.

my mom

Giles is crying again. That scream-crying of yesterday, a sound we haven’t heard too much yet, in these four months of his life outside the womb.

So I walk him around the house and stroller him and nurse him and talk to him and sing and try and try to figure out what is wrong. Finally I sit down at the computer and I put on this video and we listen to my mom’s voice.

Giles falls asleep. I hold him, trying not to move.

My mom talks about the breast cancer playing cards she made. She talks about how there has to be something positive to come from the fact that one in eight women has breast cancer.

And then we watch this video.

What do you have and what do you need? 

Seeing me and my mom together both heals and breaks my heart. This video takes place at a really lovely time in our relationship. December 2012. A time I am so very grateful for and need to be reminded of.

I wish she could see the life I’m making now. Maybe she does, in her own ghost way. But I have to do it without her, with only the memory of her to guide me. Memories of my childhood. The photo albums, notes and emails from her, conversations that are only recorded in my mind and have faded and changed as I take them out again and again to examine and mine for her presence. There is so much longing.

 

 

portraits of women i know

Women friends are very important to me. These portraits are mostly of local ladies who’ve come into my life in the past 5.5 years, with the exception of “Phoebe” who is my sister and has always been my best friend. Each of these women is beautiful and does important work for their community. Each of them is an artist (with food, animals, the land, plants, homemade beauty products, pottery, sewing, books, printing, photography, movies, drawing, painting, dancing, love, life). Each of them has touched my heart. Each of them inspires me. Each of them sat in front of me and let me look at them and translate what I saw onto paper.

(click on each image to see it larger.)

I’ll hopefully be exhibiting these somewhere at some point in the fall or winter.

art life/life as art

I’ve been looking through my mom’s blog, and found this photo of us from her last exhibit at Images Cinema in November 2012:

dsc04282

This show was called “Still Lifes and Figures in the Still Life.” The painting to the left of me in the photo, the chairs and lamp with the lemon tablecloth, is hanging in my apartment now and is one of my favorites. She looks so good here, so healthy. This was during a good period before she started a new and very strong chemo treatment in December which made her very sick. It’s hard to look at this image and believe that she died only five and a half months later.

I think we look alike here, with our smiles and teeth and eyes. My mom was my best art friend. I’m getting ready to hang a show on that same wall in April– my first exhibition as a full-time artist. I’ve hung several shows since she died, and it’s so strange without her input and perfect eye for hanging things straight without the aid of a level. My dad helps me, and brings Mama’s hanging box– the toolbox with all the nails and hangers and other stuff, with her name written in thick sharpie on the outside. She labeled everything with her name.

101_3186

This photo is from July 2011. Mama painted at Cathy Link’s house that whole summer and sometimes I went with her and modeled in the landscape. The finished painting of this scene is hanging in my baby’s room.

Just thinking about my mom and art. Our art together, the way we talked about it and supported each other in this Art Life. How much I wish she was in my autobio comics workshop. How much I just wish she was HERE. Physically. Alive. Making art. Making life.

It’s almost three years since she died. April 18, 2013. On April 18 this year I will be 19 days from my baby’s due date.

This spring there will be new life. A piece of my mom will come back with this baby: maybe he will have her ears, or her hands, or just something undefinable that he got from her and brings back into the world in that beautiful way genetics have of keeping things going, or a secret she whispered to him in the womb.

mama and me, just born

This is my mom and me, right after I was born. I love this image. It will be me soon, holding baby Smokey, a happy new mom just like her.