August 10, 2005

Dropping the Watermelon

I changed my life today. I let go of my watermelon.

Rewind - to 1989.

In order to escape a fate worse than death - staying in French immersion - I begged my father to let me apply to the local high school for the arts instead of the suburban french school I was bound for. He said ok, but that if I failed to get in, I would have to stay in French immersion. (By the way, I LOVE French. I just hated my bratty, over-privileged schoolmates.)

Years went by. I studied art, photography, music, and completed my education with a Master's in creative writing.

Then things got weird.

After moving to England, unfortunately I was unable to land a job in publishing. So, I took temp work with an engineering firm. When I eventually got back to Canada, I decided to make a go of it as an artist and writer, working part-time for the province. Before I knew it, I had started doing full-time work and my art supplies, darkroom and manuscripts were gathering dust. Hell, who was I kidding, I thought? I had no inspiration anymore and was no genius anyway.

So I took my father's advice and applied to the feds... and I got a GREAT job. I became a diplomat, ME! Little arty me! Everyone envied me... except the friends who knew me best and weren't at all surprised by the shitstorm of misery I woke up to every time I stopped admiring my red passport and license plates.

I was doing great work, though. Way more important work than the oil paintings that I slugged my way through late in the evenings whenever I had the energy. Like my dad said,
who needs more art and literature? There's already enough to last anyone a lifetime.

And then the bottom fell out. My health feel apart: my arms were so seized up from all the frantic days typing up policy and reports that I could barely push a shopping cart, or pull my bra strap up. Plus I was completely burnt out. I was so down that I didn't even know it.


I was released from my duties and went home to my parents farm in rural Ontario to spend my days doing physical therapy and trying to remember why anyone would bother living in a world where the environment was completely deteriorating, culture seemed to be of no importance to anyone, and no one cared if I ever made a painting or wrote a poem.

But I rallied! ...and I made all these grandiose decisions! I was going to live in the country and do art and finally finish that manuscript of poems and get a part time job and, well, just let go.

But predictably I kept thinking about how I was going to be leaving behind a job that everyone envied, leaving behind a salary which was probably twice what I could ever expect to make as an artist, leaving behind my dream of owning my own home, my need for security, which happens to have grown at the same rate as my health crisis.

I started to think about how if I went back to the government and really made an effort to just take it as a day job that I could still be an artist and not give up everything that makes people see me as successful and makes me a absolutely secure for the rest of my life and that allows me to work on things that I have secretly always believed are more important than the things I genuinely care about. I found out about a job doing international arts and culture work for my own department. And it seemed like such a great compromise. I figure that may be eventually I could quit my day job and make a living as an artist, once I had a big nest egg and a bit of an artistic reputation.

This is where the watermelon balloons.

In the middle of the misery before I left my job to go on disability, I read a book called SO WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY LIFE? It wasn't a book telling you how to figure that out exactly, it was instead a chronicle of interviews with different people who had changed their lives and with people who had wanted to change their lives but never did.

The one thing that I kept reading over and over was that people who waited until the right time to change their lives, that is, people who expected to save up enough money to finance their pottery or chainsaw art dreams, simply never did. The people who actually achieved their dreams were the people who did it when they wanted to do it, not when the time was right or safe.

Every one of these people was carrying around a weight of anxiety that was preventing them from embracing the world and seeing people and situations clearly, that is, from a place that was right for them emotionally and spiritually. The author called it carrying around a watermelon. Just as you could never embrace someone if you were carrying around a watermelon, just so you could never pursue your dreams if you didn't let go of all of your anxiety and fear: dropping the watermelon.

I was all set to live my life with my watermelon in a basket on my back when last week I strolled into an organic food store and cafe to visit an old boyfriend and catch up. He introduced me to the owner, a man whose life, I swiftly realized, exemplified everything that I was about to turn my back on. He runs an organic food store and cafe, which is no money maker in the country, lives in a house owned by other people, and spends his time thinking about plants, food, and trying to be a better friend to the people that he cares about. He doesn't have the life that I want, but he has made his decisions according to the same principles to which I am so attracted but that I am also so afraid of.

I have always wanted to know more about what matters to me and to work on those things. I worked on international environmental issues for the federal government and I really believe that I accomplished absolutely nothing, but I was exposed on a daily basis to people who were working on local projects that were truly making a difference to their natural surroundings. And I envied them. And I wanted to do art about the environment, too. So during my disability I realized that the two things that matter to me more than anything are the environment and art. I want to live in the country and do art and learn more about the community and nature around me. This includes everything from growing my own food to composting to supporting community level projects.

While I have been on my sabbatical from work I started a series of paintings about the environment, a comic book and poetry manuscript that touches on these themes. After meeting this fellow who runs the organic store, the cold bucket of water on my face which was his example forced me to realize that going back to the government would not allow me to pursue in any serious way any of these goals.

An old boss back at the government once said to me that working as a diplomat is like being in a room of "brains on sticks," all these little brains talking to each other, working things out, not really bodies or people. Just brains and mouths.

So here's my watermelon: I'm scared of disappointing my father! He thinks there's a window between the ages of 25 and 35 within which you can succeed, that you can make that jump. He's glad that I'm a professional, a successful woman with a job that people covet and keeps me safe. And I'm also scared of people looking down on me. And thinking that I'm a fool for throwing it away. And I am afraid that no one will ever want to buy my artwork, or that it is unoriginal in every way.

Yesterday my best friend read me the riot act. She said, you are 30 years old and you have to do what you want no matter what anyone thinks.

So at four in the morning I wrote a letter to my personnel officer requesting a leave of absence, thus forfeiting any chance of getting that arts job. Later on I got a message from the department asking me to come in for a second interview. I am weak enough to be very grateful that I had already sent my letter before I got that message.

This blog entry is my way of saying thank you to Po Bronson for his wonderful book and to say thank you to Steve, who runs Fresh Organics in Flesherton, and to my best friend, all of whom gave me the courage to let go of my watermelon, and to my sister and friends for supporting me the whole way through.

3 comments:

  1. see now i would have sliced up the watermelon and eaten it for dessert *hee*

    congrats lady... have fun with your freedom!

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  2. what a WONDERFUL post! i loved reading it and i love you!
    sorry about the riot act.
    hee hee...
    serve some of that watermelon to dad.
    i am proud of you!!!

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  3. Well done...you have choosen wisely!

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