One thing about starting a creative enterprise is that everyone is super excited for you. Being a cranky, reclusive artist makes it hard to really appreciate the cheering section, but I’m learning to reframe my opinions so that I can look at it as people being excited for me and not just trying to tell me what to do. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
My Mother and I don’t get along much these days and it’s been pretty rocky for at least half of my life. I’ve been kicked out of the house a couple of times; the last time was when I showed up on a Christmas Morning and my key no longer worked on the front door. I’ve run away a few times too. Once when I was probably five or six years old I cruised across town to where our former neighbors moved, several miles away from home, with only my memory to use as a map. I guess I have always had a pretty good sense of direction.
Lately, I’ve noticed that when I spend time with my Mother I get angsty, irritable, and usually come away feeling really shitty about myself. She’s said some pretty awful things and I’m not claiming to be the best son in the world, but it’s hard to reconcile how one minute she tells me she supports me then spits on my dreams the next. This past winter she was asking about my illustration, how the Art Walk went and everything seemed fine. I admitted that I didn’t make a whole lot of money at the Art Walk, but before I could lay out my plan about how I want to grow this into a full time gig she told me, “You’ll never make any real money from this. Maybe some beer money.”
I was stunned into silence. It made me furious because this is one more shitty comment stacked onto a pile of shitty comments that stretches back to my teenage years when she assured me that I would never make a living as an artist.
Then, in the last couple of weeks some really nice things were happening in my Mother’s world. She was given recognition and a prestigious award for her time on a college board. Something in me told me not to go to the ceremony. I fought it internally for a couple of weeks, having a mental tantrum. I eventually caved thinking, “You know, this is a good thing and it means a lot to my Mother. Let’s just get it over with.” Everything went fine. We had an… okay time. At one point she seemed to be panicking over her speech for the ceremony and I tried to offer a suggestion to which she simply said, “You don’t understand,” and then mumbled something about wanting to read her diary.
There’s that shitty feeling again. But I can shrug it off. This is the way she is and I’m not sticking around for the rest of the ceremony anyway. Only I didn’t shrug it off. Not really. The water was set to boil.
I get a couple of random emails from Mother over the next couple of weeks about how she’s so excited to feel like she’s back in action. Friends that she hasn’t talked to in years – due to her reclusive nature and poor health – are coming out of the woodwork to see her. She feels better than she has in a long time. Whatever.
This last weekend I get an email from a friend that she had lunch with. Someone I’ve heard around the house but not someone that I’m familiar with. He’s asking if I know a trustee at the college where I work. Personally I’d prefer to ignore the email, but my Mother was copied on the conversation to which she responded by saying that she thinks this guy might have something up his sleeve which in my mind reads, “Do me a favor”. Enraged is how I feel. The water starts to boil over because I’ve spent the last ten years building myself up from bottom without asking for a single favor. I feel rage because I am more or less a self made man and people that I know nothing about and a Mother who doesn’t really care about what I am trying to accomplish are putting their noses into my business and I overreact. I spend the morning writing ten or fifteen different draft emails as my anger bleeds off, but by the final draft I feel pretty confident that I have reached the perfect balance of hostility and confidence. So I shoot an email off saying back off – mind your own damn business.
I get a reply, “Yep, yes, yep. Understood. Send the photos from the award ceremony.” I’m a little relieved. Maybe I’m in the clear. But then there’s a follow up to an email. I sent some words to her friend where I explained that my Mother’s house was falling down around her ears and that she needed help. My plan was, still is, if she has such great friends then maybe they would be willing to help her get her head back up above water after years of being ill, unable to clean house, take care of finances, and just being a stubborn mess who doesn’t accept help. She was copied on the email again and she replied that I’m selfish and vapid. We have stopped talking to each other for the moment.
I could go on about all the shitty things we’ve done to each other. Years of complicated history that has verged on abuse. Decades into making this Gordian knot are going to be difficult to unravel but I have a secret weapon in the best person to come along in my life: my wife.
She has done so much to ease the raging beast that burns inside of me and while it’s not gone completely I can say that my wife has been the biggest contributing factor to changing my mindset about letting people into the inner circle. For the first time since probably childhood I feel really good about life largely because of her.
Everyone has advice. It’s not usually solicited and that used to drive me insane. The problem is that it takes much more effort and resources to make things happen that when people start suggesting business ideas I get stressed out just thinking about the extra work. Plus, with all that background noise echoing in my head from years of hostility I start getting defensive. It’s a protection mechanism trying to keep a fragile sense of self on life support and by curling up into a ball or lashing out I can keep that tiny seed safe.
However, instead of giving into those feelings when caring friends talk to me about my work I now just kind of nod, smile, and say thanks. Sometimes I even use the conversation to springboard into trying out new ideas that I’m dreaming up. It’s a small step in the right direction, but I’m starting to see a different perspective now that I surround myself with people who are excited about my work and want to join in the fun of making something cool. It’s flattering and if I can hold on to that then I can start to build on this good feeling I get with such supportive friends.
Framing how you see the world is important. That’s what determines whether or not you push forward and feel confident enough to take risks. But you can’t do it in a toxic environment. The people in your life will either lift you up or tear you down and until you can get away from the people that hurt you, their poison will slow you down. Whatever, whoever is poisoning you, cut it out of your life. Get some space between you and that evil so that you have time to heal and build up your strength. Nothing works better to heal those wounds than being truly loved by encouraging people.
For my Mother, I hope she can find peace of mind too. As I am writing this I am making plans behind her back to bring her friends together in an effort demonstrate that she doesn’t have to keep up her stern facade and live out her hardships alone. I don’t know if it’ll make any difference or just anger her in the way it used to anger me. I can only hope.
But for me, things will get better now. I’m in control of my happiness thanks to the people that have helped me through the hard times. I hope to share that sweet-sweet goodness with my tribe too, because good times are only sweeter when everyone’s dancing at the party.
PS. To any friends out there reading this: keep giving me your thoughts. I love that you guys are as excited as I am and I think you have good ideas. Just give me some time and know that I appreciate everything you do.
copyright © 2016 Robert C. Olson