In 2016 I finished a poetry pamphlet but then found myself unable to send it out into the world. Its power was overwhelming and I wasn’t ready to be exposed in that way. It was written about abusive relationships that were taking place within my family at the time. I made the excuse that I would hurt the person whom I was writing about (who had hurt me and others) and that I wasn’t prepared to face their wrath if they ever found out that they had been exposed, so I decided to publish incognito and spent hours choosing a pseudonym and working out the damage limitation to all the publicity and attention I thought the pamphlet may receive. It was like I was arranging the complicated logistics of going into battle (‘An Army of Me’ as Bjork once sang); I became so completely obsessed with protecting myself against all perceived repercussions, that bringing my work out into the open became too hard to contemplate. No matter I had spent the good part of two years writing it; it was, I concluded, just more water under the bridge. No matter that it would sit on the shelf and quietly rot until the time that the abuser had died and I could publish it. No matter at all. I could cope with the wait.
The fear of publishing that pamphlet was a strange, somewhat invisible force that I realise has manifested in my life in many different ways and continues to control me and keep me half-hidden. It keeps me from coming out into the world a full shining version of myself. In response, I fashion a workaround; I immerse myself in metaphor, myth and archetype, in fairy stories that speak directly to me so I do not have to speak directly about myself. I am deeply fascinated in masks and mummery, the otherworld, of walking in the shadows; poetry and fine art always appealing to me because of the way they allow me to hide within them. Even in my dreams I am constantly covering myself in protective wrappings, constantly finding the smallest place to squeeze into; I dream of many-roomed houses that remain shut up and unexplored, make elaborate costumes and disguises for myself to wear out in public. I align myself to creatures who run close to the earth and sleep underground. When I dream I am exposed in any way, be it through nakedness in public or being asked to perform in front of an audience, the dream becomes a nightmare. I am frightened of flying and I am unable to fly in my dreams and although I regularly have a plane journeys to make, I nearly always ‘arrange’ to miss them through the inability to pack the right belongings or get to the airport on time. When I do manage to make the flight, the plane never leaves the ground or flies so low that I feel that it is all a pretence.
Since leaving the solidity and solidarity of Art College, my creative life has moved in inexorable circles; always galloping ahead to a certain point and then collapsing inwards like a blackhole when I am on the cusp of success in my endeavours. The saboteur still reigns supreme. I create for myself and never tell anyone; I write poetry pamphlets and never publish them; I start knitting projects but never finish them; I draw only in very small sketchbooks; I spend hours planning but rarely start; I get to the point where one or two people find out about what I’m doing and I swerve off in a different direction, I run for cover; ever the beginner, ever starting over, with a knowledge base spreading ever more thinly over more and more disciplines. I make sure my footprints are always swept up behind me so that I can never be followed back to my den where my pups are always waiting hungry and thirsty. They need to be fed yet I am always drained. And each time I start afresh it gets harder and harder. In my 50th year, it is not so easy to start dancing like the 20 year old I wish I still was or pick up that creative spark I wish I still had when I left college 25 years ago. Sometimes I feel I absolutely must start again but most days I don’t feel strong enough, so that act of bravery is put off for another year. I often look back at my journals and realise that I have been struggling with this for a long, long time.
I recently read of other people who have braved everything to expose their abuse through their art. They talk openly and oh, how difficult it must be for them to face their audience alone and still unflinchingly endure. They use their work as therapy and it rewards them in a myriad of ways. I know that in this way, they make Real Art. This is the art that inspires me most. Although I tried (and failed) to do the same myself through publishing my poetry pamphlet, I know all is not lost and I can at least try again with something else. I cannot give up. I take one small step; one baby step. And I am trying not to feel afraid. And if it feels like no-one will ever read this then yes, I will press the publish button and not dwell on it too much but I must summon the courage to leave it exposed without taking it down after a few hours like I have done with other posts in the past.