Have you seen the movie “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”?
I love this film.
Aside from the fact that Cate Blanchette is most certainly forever my Personal Icon Of Style and unknowing Official Third Wife (following Kate McKinnon and Brandi Carlile), her character Bernadette is also me.
Or at least she’s the me that takes up residence whenever I put walls up between myself and the relentless force of creation that is both my master and my muse.
In the film, Bernadette is a brilliant and award-winning architect who has stopped designing houses.
More specifically – she’s an artist who has stopped making art.
And it’s not working out so well for anybody. She is, quite frankly, an anxious and paranoid mess of a human.
As Bernadette’s colleague tells her over dinner “
“People like you must create. If you don’t create, Bernadette, you will become a menace to society.”
Me without that unyielding force of creation rushing through me and into the world?
A menace. Pure and simple.
That’s what makes a year like 2020 really fucking hard.
I create from life. From the spark that happens when I am not just ‘breathing a little and calling it a life” (forever nod to the creative goddess that is Mary Oliver – pure opposite of menace as any human could be), but when I am LIVING.
All caps, full out, flinging myself headlong into this wild ride called life.
My spark comes from interaction. Experience. The edges of my comfort zone. New people. Novelty. The rush of discovery. Movement. Desire + sex + pain + bliss and all that lives just past the deepest kind of opening I can manage. From the clusterfuckery and brilliance of a life entered willingly and with curiosity and enthusiasm and fear and a dash of reckless abandon.
In recent weeks Facebook has been (as Facebook so kindy does) serving up proof of my wide-open living from the archives. Reminders of adventures and new lovers and risks and becomings and a body laid bare with pleasure and concerts and dancing and the long expanse of road from here to the sea.
You know, all those things we so took for granted in the before-time.
Last year at this time I was riding full force on really sweet fucking ride – and I was milking it for all it was worth, creatively speaking. I was deeply embodied, words tumbling out of me faster than I could catch them. Whirling and spinning, siren singing me into the sweet center where things get really good. Last year at this time, things felt really, really good.
This year, of course, life slowed way down and got super small. For most of us, a life once lived large shrunk to the confines of the walls of our home. Our community, at least the ones we could hug and hold, as small as our immediate family, our coworkers, and maybe a carefully selected quarantine pod. The rest of life… the fun, the sources of joy, of coming together, of wild abandon. Gone. Poof. Just like that.
This year, I’m breathing. Sure. I’ve worked through the worst and made my way to some sort of resentful contentment. Like most of us, I’ve made the best of this that I possibly can. Some days are better than others.
But do I feel all the way alive? Hell no.
I don’t. And neither does my art.
I’m chafing at the confines of this new life. Hell, almost all of us are. We didn’t know what would be taken from us and we have no idea when it will be back. And god damn it all to hell, everything changed, just like that. And yes, I want to scream at the heavens about it, I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
Collective trauma and grief? Holy fuck, yes.
In the midst of the logistics and the loss and the ‘what the hell do we do now?’ there is the artist of me.
The one who craves the rush and the burn and the wild and the new as both the source of the flame and the crucible where the alchemy of creation occurs…
I’ll be honest. She’s been struggling.
So I’ve recycled words from my vast stores compiled from years of writing. I’ve found new ways to breathe life into past creations. I’ve pushed and pulled and prodded and knitted together the embers of past fires into something that I hope speaks to the here and now.
Now and then I magically catch a brand new spark and I hold and nurture it with everything I can to try and coax it into some sort of fire.
But am I always teetering right on the border of ‘Whew – She’s Gonna Make It’ and ‘Straight Up Menace’?
You bet I am.
I can’t trip over that border for a million Very Sensible Reasons (like motherhood and rent and self-employment and my very real desire not to make a shitty time any shitter by sinking into a pit of my own despair).
But it takes a hell of a lot of effort to keep myself on this side of the line.
It takes a dedication to mining every ounce of these small and quiet days for anything that holds the slightest amount of heat.
It takes intention and willingness to create a different relationship with my creativity.
It takes a hell of a lot of radical permission and a relentless sort of grace to accept that this is just how it is right now.
It takes a circle of friends who catch and hold me whenever I begin to tiptoe into Menace-Ville, dragging me back over the line as necessary.
Most of all, it takes a wild sort of trust that the muse isn’t going anywhere.
Faith that she’s biding her time just as impatiently as I am.
A steady knowing that she will be ready and waiting for me when life picks up its spin once again.
I want to burst out of the gates full force, all engines blaring right now.
I want to live and dance and dream and travel and taste and fuck and sing.
I want to walk for hours and hug strangers and get my heart broken by so much beauty.
I want to live and breathe air that has not yet met my lungs and set my boots on ground that has never known my footsteps.
I want first kisses and rainstorms and crowded night clubs and ocean sunsets and museums filled with art older than time.
And I want it all to fill me until there is no choice but for all that living to overflow into art.
So much art that it obliterates the Menace in me, at least for a little while.
If you’re like me – part Artist, part Menace, and this year has you doing battle with yourself just to keep the spark alive… just know you are not alone.
Just know that your art will outlast this year.
That the doors will open again, and we’ll all come tumbling out into the streets.
And that when we do, we are going to be so hungry for LIFE (and the living of it) that we will all be filled with an insatiable hunger for creation.
And when that happens – it’s the artists like you and I (and Bernadette) who are going to need to get the hell to work.
So steady up, my friend.
Pick yourself up and dust yourself off and be relentless about carving a path to the work of your heart, even if it doesn’t look or feel like you want it to right now.
This shit ain’t easy.
And yeah, you’ve been a bit of a Menace lately.
But that’s not all you are. And it’s not all I am either.
You, my friend, are (both simply and extraordinarily) an artist who lost the source of her art for just a little while.
But darling, it’s coming back.
I promise it is.
The world is coming back and I am coming back and you are too.
It’s coming back and you and me —like Bernadette when she finally finds her spark—are gonna kick the shit out of life.
And holy sweet hell, it’s gonna be beautiful.