Monday 6 April 2015

Who are you, and what do you want to say?

Julia Wilson, mother, MND sufferer, says that all she has left is time.

When I work on a portrait and interview for the A Graceful Death exhibition I ask two questions of my sitters.
  • Who are you, and 
  • What do you want to say.  
It is important to know who we are, and it is difficult to know what we want to say.  It is difficult to know who we are too, come to think of it.  When we are facing the end of life, when time is limited, when all the plans for a future stretching out before you are not going to happen, knowing who we are and what we want to say must be very hard.  Working with someone in this way we are very much in the present.  Who someone has been, what they did and how they lived their life has brought them to this moment, and to who they are right now.  The person in front of me is the person I paint, the person in this moment at this time, however they look, however their illness is making them different to when they were well.  It is important to know that now is all that matters.

But what about you?  It is likely that you are not facing the end of your life, and the question is just as important for you.  Who are you, and what do you want to say?  If I was to sit with you and ask you, what would you say?  Who would I see when I start to paint? Who would you want me to see?

I asked myself these questions.  Who am I and what do I want to say?  I have no idea, was the answer.  I ask the questions of other people, I don't answer them for myself.  But I have been feeling a little at sea over the last week and a little uncertain about what I doing, and so it was a light bulb moment on waking one morning that I need to ask myself the very questions I ask of my sitters.  Who are you, and what do you want to say?

I began the year by saying yes to everything.  Oh what fun that was, the most surprising things came my way, and I rushed hither and thither doing all the things I had agreed to do.   For a while that is a good idea, until the time comes to focus.  If I say yes to everything, I can do lots of things quite well, but nothing very well.  There isn't time, I have to skim the surface.  After a while, that becomes a challenge, I don't want to skim the surface.  I want to concentrate on what I am doing, linger longer over it, and go much deeper.  So the question of who I am and what I want to say becomes exactly the right thing to ask.  It requires focus and it requires some thought.

We don't know who we are until we experience who we are not.  I am not good away from my painting.  My painting is where I focus, become quiet, experience myself with no distractions, get real.   I am not good as a teacher, I need to do, not teach. I need teachers for myself, and I don't have the patience or application to be the teacher.  I am not good with restrictions unless they are sensible and enhance the quality of what I am doing.  And most of all, I am not someone else.  It is no good feeling I can't do things as well as someone else, whoever they may be, because I am not required to do their thing, they are doing that and I need to do my thing. Simple.  So what is my thing?  And who am I and what do I want to say?

It strikes me that we are all changing and adapting throughout our lives.  Who I am and what I want to say today may be different to another time in my life.  I have noticed that as soon as I think I know what I am doing, everything changes, and I am back in the place where I don't know any more.  Perhaps this is a good thing.  We are all so complex, and at the same time so simple.  The meaning of life could be any number of things, at any time, to any one.  When I was a young mother, the meaning of my life was my children.  Who am I?  A mother.  What do I want to say?  My children are amazing and all absorbing.  Now I am older and my children are all adult.  I am still a mother, but there have been many different identities between the young mother that I was, and now.  Ask me today and I am not the same - who am I?  An artist, an individual, a soul midwife, a vulnerable adult, a nut case - and what do I want to say?  Oh - I want to say be kind.  Practice loving yourself.  Listen to each other.  Give me lots of free holidays.  Do my housework for me.  I can say so much but it doesn't yet feel as if I know what I really mean.  A few months ago I had my identity sorted.  I was a soul midwife artist and I wanted to say that this is fun.  Life has moved me on from that description, and now, it does not answer for me.  It is still much of who I am and what I want to say, but I have shifted and I need a new description.

Sometimes I fear that if I don't have a name for who I am and what I want to say, I will have no identity.  That is rubbish of course.  But I have to remember it is rubbish.  I am still all the things that I do not name that make me who I am, I am still the sum total of all my experiences so far, and I do not disappear into nothingness simply because I do not name what I am.  But not naming who and what I am is uncomfortable, and confusing, and I am not wise and strong enough to simply exist without needing to describe myself.  I thought of the word identity when I sat with a lady who had nothing much to say with her dementia and her illness, and no photos or reminders of who she had been in her room.  I had no clues at all as to who she was, I had to sit with who she is. As it happens, she was beautiful inside and out, and I would not dare ask her who she was and what she wanted to say.  Her identity seemed to have been safely locked away inside her, and she did not give the impression that she needed to question it and probably, would not have been able to.  But who she was when I sat with her, was simply herself.  It was lovely, and simple, and good.

Father Dominic Rolls.  The finished article.

Dominic, for those who may not know, is my youngest brother.  He is living with stage four bowel cancer that has spread to his liver.  Dominic, a Catholic priest, is doing very well with his treatment, and is now choosing to live a healthier, more self aware life than he has been able to do while running his huge parish in Dorking.  While he is coping with the treatments, Dominic has the help of another priest who has taken on the parish, and Dominic does what he can.

The portrait of Father Dominic for the A Graceful Death exhibition is finished, and has had its first showing at the Dying to Know event last month in Bournemouth.  The painting and the interview - which I hope you will read, because it is a wonderful insight into the hard work a religious man has to put in to maintain and keep his faith when something so terrifying as a terminal illness affects the man - is on the A Graceful Death blog here  I will show the painting here too, the full interview is on the A Graceful Death link above.

Fr Dom.  Holding his intravenous chemotherapy bag attached to a pic line directly into his body.  After the chemo at the hospital, he had a slow release extra dose he carried around with him, day and night in his pocket.  He is pointing to it with characteristic good humour and  a sense of fun.

While we are working out who we are and what we want to say ...

Both my sons are staying here at the moment.  Giant Boy is discovering that although he loves his mum, he loves the high life and the low life even more.  I can generally count on him to appear normal if I need him to be so, but it is often a very close shave.  I believe his brain is still plastic at 18 and it hasn't got much of an off button, so I have to work out which dreadful thing has been moulding it at any given time before I address him with things I want done in the house.  My other son has an alternative take on life, is clever, funny, and living way off the radar. Time and space for him exist in a whole different universe, and life for him should one day be made into a film.  He will, however, do anything for chocolate.  This is good over Easter.  And so,  Easter Sunday lunch with my boys and Alan and me went very well.  We discussed the tax implications of prostitution and whether it was an option in a general kind of way, if your benefits didn't cover your living costs.  Because we all smiled and ate and were very nice to each other, I consider my Easter Sunday lunch a rip roaring success.

Today, another lunch.  My mother joined us, and the potential for unusualness was once again there.  The food was excellent, Mother was appreciative, Alan carved and one son joined us with a black eye, and the other could not be roused from a mattress in the sitting room.  Everything OK?  I asked a very polite, nice but rather tired young man who seemed to have stayed over on the sofa.  Yeah, you know...he said, and shrugged, before gathering his coat and disappearing off home.

Still, we all had fun and later on when the son who could not be roused did appear, he seemed surprised that we had had our lunch and that much of the day had disappeared.  Never mind.  Mother, Alan and I left for a walk by the sea, through a garden full of the celebrating family of my Anxious Pole having a barbecue, and the day continues.

And so.

What I have come up with, having written this blog and thought about it, is that who I am is Antonia, and what I want to say, is that it is all fine.  It is going to have to cover all the sub identities, and sub what I want to say stuff.

All the talk about how one can be anything at all, anything that one wishes, is of no help right now because what the question asks is who are you now and what do you want to say now?

So now - who are you, and what do you want to say?

Dancing with my daughter at her wedding.   I am here artist, soul midwife, mother, nut case, floozy, all things making up Antonia.

This is who I am at the moment, and what I want to say is, for the moment, it is, absolutely, all taken care of.  It is all, fine.

See you, whoever you are, next month.  With love.