Two months after living in a tent and communal ceramics studio, it didn’t take me all that long to get used to sleeping indoors and in a bed again. When people ask me about what happened, starting off with a “…so, I hear it was pretty ridiculous down there,” I reply with, “Yeah, but it’s water under the bridge now.”
Is it? I’ve been berating myself for not getting as much done as I used to: looking for a job, taking classes, building a studio, and selling work. I feel guilty for giving myself a bit of a break- traveling, spending time with friends and family. I also haven’t been doing much talking about my experience in Virginia.
If you know me, you would think that I’ve been thinking about it a lot, obsessing even. I’m avoiding thinking about it. I have been downplaying it to everyone because I needed to downplay it to myself to deal with it bit by bit, an sometimes, not at all.
I somehow don’t feel like I’m allowed to be hurt by that experience. There are people down there still living in tents and at least making a little bit of art- and they somehow deal with it. Don’t they?
Out of six, one lives in a nice apartment nearby.
Two is from Virginia and has family and a boyfriend that she can visit anytime (and talk to at length). Every time things got really bad down there, she was gone in her car for a weekend that had a habit of turning into a week.
Three is not from Virginia and doesn’t have family there. However, he spent about half the time I was in Virginia traveling. Sometimes he’d leave to go up north without telling anyone.
Four came to ‘look at the place to consider it and be considered for a residency’ with a dufflebag containing all his worldly possessions. He came on a bus, walked the rest of the way, and stayed.
Five came burnt out making production ceramics and with baggage he hopes to unload through drinking and burning things. When I left he still had not even tried to make the one idea he’d been talking excitedly about since I got there. He has built a tee pee and adopted an abandoned puppy.
Six has been there a long time. He’s a passive aggressive mask living in the kiln shed on a couch where he watches the Simpsons on dvd, smokes, drinks, eats, and leaves the communal dishes.
These people, as far as I know, are still there and getting by. So I feel like I can’t act like it was such a bad experience if people are still there and surviving. But then I remember what it was like. People are getting by at the post-college club for wayward kids who may be ambitious and want to make art. For the ones that do want to be serious artists, it’s a fight against those who just want to feel as good as they can doing whatever. More than living in a tent, that was the real issue that made living there hard. I blamed the tent because I thought that if there was a quiet room somewhere to relieve my stress, I could deal with the struggle in the “mentally and creatively rich studio environment (ha)”. It was hostile, tense, immature, and lawless most of the time. One of the residents, I think it was Three, called it Lord of the Flies. That’s the easiest and most accurate way I’ve ever heard it described.
The reason I left was a sudden lack of income. It was also a final breach of trust. Most things I was told while I was there, I believed. Most things I was told were said to me to put me off and make me: go down there, deal with it for another little while, wait for it to get better, and just wait because you have so much invested. I even paid for three months of rent on the studio and then left because the news on my lack of income was at the same time as when rent was due.
Living in a place where you can’t trust that people aren’t deceiving you, eating your food, taking your things, breaking your things, talking about you, going to yell at you, and invading what little space and privacy you do have is not living. It’s surviving.
I survived, but I’m not myself. This past summer in Maine I lived in a space I didn’t feel safe or welcome in. I held in there and saved money, pinched pennies, to go to another place that was supposed to be better, yet was somehow worse. I didn’t feel like myself at the end of the summer. I’m just starting to feel like myself again. I don’t know that I’m ready to think or talk about it much in any real way. I can put people off with jokes about the south versus the north (and how some people think that Virginia isn’t even really the south). Silly tid-bits come easily enough.
Not being myself means I’m not working like I used to. I know that in me, I have the ability to finish up my novel. I know I have the ability to get my studio together faster and get some work made. I know I could have a near perfect score in the it course I’m taking. I know I could have more posts and more site updates. I could have a few more web programming languages under my belt. I could be looking for that perfect job more aggressively.
Would any of that help if I’m not myself? Working harder isn’t going to help me concentrate on doing a better job. I feel like everything I’ve done since I’ve got back has been sub-par. I see the bar that I normally meet or exceed and stare at it. I don’t know why I’m not up there. I tell myself I’m lazy. I am starting to realize that is an easier answer compared to admitting that I took a big blow these past several months. I let things not just get to me, but actually push me down.
I’m going to get up. The sooner I can admit these things and sort through them, the sooner I can be me again. Regardless, I think it’s going to take me some time. I’m relearning how to live and strive again rather than just survive.