“You are not an artist.”



Yesterday I completed a little sculpture for a woman artist who is also a friend. It is her 75th birthday. I had been collecting sticks and pine cones, and my friend Iren had sliced sticks, cut noses, and provided me with giant acorns from Texas (which I had never seen before) and a glue gun for the three owls I was going to put on a unique piece of river driftwood that Iren picked up when we were wandering at the edge of Red Willow river… “Perfect, we both murmured at once.”


(Iren, I have come to see, is a Muse without parallel as well as my friend.)


All I knew yesterday was that I was going to make owls…


As the little sculpture emerged I heard someone in me say, “don’t think just do it.” I listened to this voice. However, reflecting on this thought as I chose eyes for the owls I noticed that I felt very nervous. No one was pushing me to do anything and yet I felt as if someone was peering over my shoulder whispering “this is not good enough, you are not an artist. Hurry up and get this silly thing finished.”


The intrusive idea became boringly repetitious as I worked. Annoying in the extreme. Discovering that I was making “reindeer owls” because I had simply made them up delighted me! And yet, there was that voice…


Suddenly, I had an illumination. My mother was a gifted artist who worked in many mediums. The child in me recognized very early on that there was no room in our house for more than one artist, although she did support my brother’s love for music, his athletic ability, and even complemented me on some of my poetry as a midlife adult, saying once “there must be some place for that kind of writing,” a kind of back handed complement, I see now. When I began publishing my work about 20 years ago my mother remained silent. Needless to say I had already spent 40 years as a closet journal keeper up to that point.


Throughout her life my mother was tight – lipped, sharply critical, and short on praise, a perfect Victorian woman. Eventually I came to understand that much of what she said was more about her than me, but unfortunately this mind/body knowledge and personal truth became mine only recently.


The fact that my mother’s voice was still attempting to kill off childhood joy and my need to create also reminded me that her perspective was just that, and not “truth.” It also speaks to memory in Nature and how this can manifest through family systems. It is amazing to me how pervasive childhood words and phrases stay with a person throughout her life. Gosh, I am 73 years old now!


My mother has been dead for many years and the difficulties between us have been resolved. Mostly, I just feel sad that she was never able to please herself, which is probably why she could not tolerate having a creative daughter. Envy stole her life in many ways… but it freed mine to appreciate the work of others.


I finished my little sculpture thanking Iren in my heart for helping me deal with a destructive part of myself that still lurks beneath the threshold waiting to sabotage any creative effort.


It is true. I am not an artist. I have no formal training although I grew up in New York’s metropolitan area and spent my childhood at art museums with my mother, and did inherit a sense of proportion, love of color and form as well as my mother’s love for Nature, although her connection was academic and mine comes through my heart.


Here in Abiquiu, especially with Iren, some part of me has been set free, and even though my humble creations are simple, I am possessed by the joy of making.


Thank you Iren