I've kept a written journal nearly all my life, dozens, no hundreds, of notebooks - from the 89-cent spiral bound notebooks (for morning pages) to hard cover books - zillions of letters forming a record of my life, the better and a lot of the worse parts in detail that I don't think could be any more vivid, even if I had known how to draw. I made money writing, ad copy, articles, public relations and marketing campaigns, technical copy, video scripts.
I made the leap from personal essays to writing short stories and an entire universe opened up. In search of help I wound up with teachers who are among the best in the country, the list of authors they've edited reads like a literary Who's Who; they've taught at Iowa Writer's Workshop, edited Esquire Magazine, published novels... How did I get in that program?? Naively, of course, by responding to a classified ad for editing services in Poets & Writers, sans credentials. It wasn't until after I'd sent off a manuscript "so Tom could get a feel for my writing style and I for his reading, that I found out how well they are known in literary circles. Like much of my life, things just sort of happened, I was signed up for a workshop and it felt like I was on my true path.
I dove in head first, worked harder and more intensely, got shredded, constructively of course, and learned more in a week than I imagined possible. My existence began to revolve around fiction; if I wasn't writing I was reading. I felt guilty for taking time away from my family though I worked a great deal at night and early in the morning.
A couple of years later I flew out to San Francisco for my third workshop, having filled in with private tutoring; I had an MFA's worth of knowledge and several promising stories. The weather was perfect, chilly with brilliant blue skies. After an early breakfast with my comrades, we walked the two miles to class ready to engage. But, on the fourth morning when I got out of bed, I was swollen from head to toe; every joint in my body felt hammered and I couldn't think clearly, in a haze I felt drained and exhausted. I couldn't focus and the conversation I had been plugged into so tightly whirled in the air around me, clouds of discourse on the resolution of conflict, condensing a plot outline into 150 words, writing every word to do at least three jobs. I struggled through the final days but with little success.
As soon as I got home my internist got me in to see a new rheumatologist and a diagnosis: psoriatic arthritis, a systemic form of inflammatory arthritis very much like RA. In the ensuing months I tried several different drugs that compounded the fatigue, confusion and overwhelming task of coming to grips with significant life change, a bend in the road. Thankfully it isn't terminal and my joints aren't permanently damaged. But, life as I knew it was over. I was no longer the healthy, thin, very active small business owner and mother and promising writer. I couldn't make a sentence.
The grief process that results from releasing your identity and shaping a new life is lengthy, for me anyway. And I've come to terms with it, most days. In November it will be 4 years since I last wrote fiction; this illness lops 30 or 40 hours a week off my schedule and even if I had the resources, writing would consume every last minute. I've written in my journal, a few poems here and there, an introduction to a photography book. But my stories are buried with reams of notes in the closet in the studio. I hear whispers from the shelves now and again, so I stop to visit my creations, the characters I knew so intimately, as I shaped their lives and built dreams and drama and destinies. Destiny. Apparently becoming a short story author is not in my plan.
So, what is my point in all of this? After several roller-coastery months, with the help of a very dear friend who also has this illness, I realized that I was gripping a safety bar not a steering wheel, Realizing how little in life we really have control over, I stopped trying so hard, And, I started puttering around with art. I had experience with photography and a little with collage and altering came naturally to me, a metaphor for my life. But, I still wrote in my journal.
I embellished, embossed, drilled, dremeled, sanded, painted and wired; the art journal remained elusive. I have a number of wonderful books - True Colors, 1000 Artist's Journal Pages and others, and I've met so many wonderful, supportive people, including a blog buddy who is a master at the process - Karin at Beyond Words.
Finally, I pulled out an oversized 8-page board book and started to gesso the pages, search for images and words and objects I might want to use. As I 'tackled' the first page I realized the theme was life stages. I'm not finished - how do you ever know when you're done with an art journal page?! It's even more subjective than other forms of art! But I think I'm ready to reveal bits and pieces anyway.
What's the story in all of this? Four years ago I was a writer; now I'm a mixed media artist. How much of what we do in life, who we are and the journey we take, is really up to us? If you'd told me then that I'd have a blog and be swapping art pieces, I would have either thought it crazy, or realized that where your heart is, truly is where your treasure lies. My heart has always yearned for self expression and if one avenue closes off, another opens. I am just so thankful that I went to that ballet scrapbook fund raising event three years ago, the one where I used a rubber stamp for the first time, fell in love with shape, color, process...
If you're still reading (awake:) I'd love to have your comments - about art journaling, creating a life or managing a bend in your road.