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December

Every December I try to take stock of the year. I think about the things I've accomplished, I consider making resolutions for next year, I look through photographs, I miss my dead beloved people and I wonder at the surfeit of good fortune that grows each year in the form of my children and my friends. I am outlandishly lucky. At the beginning of December, two of my kids have birthdays within two days of one another- this year, this means that I am suddenly a mother to three teenagers. I will have just under one year of this experience before my eldest turns twenty and then another two years to wait for my youngest to move into his teen years. In some ways, I did not come easily to motherhood- it didn't feel like a thing I needed to do. I had a baby and I felt out of my depth, terrified, inadequate, incompetent. Helpless before the scale of my love for him, so I had another, and then two more. I mean obviously I didn't accomplish this alone. I married someone who wanted a lot of kids, and I was so carried away by the surprise of the love I felt that I kept obliging, even as the marriage fractured and later shattered. I haven't always been a great mother, and I have never been the kind of mother I always believed mothers were supposed to be. I have always prioritized painting, and I made my children fit in to my painting life rather than squeezing my painting around my children, much of the time. I feel a strange mixture of pride and guilt when I think of younger me breastfeeding a baby in one arm and painting with the other hand. At the time, it wasn't because I thought my work would ever go anywhere, or because I needed a hobby, or because I cared so much about making good pictures, it was just because on some deep level I knew if I didn't paint I would just die. It sounds ridiculous and it sounds melodramatic, but it's really really true. When I struggled with postpartum depression, I painted my way through. When my marriage broke down, I painted. When my mother died, when, years later, my partner died, I went to my studio. I painted broke and I painted broken and it saved me.

This has been a truly terrible couple of weeks. Nobody has died, but a relationship I cherished and carefully tended and relied on broke down in a very hard, very public, very painful way, and it has affected my children and me in ways I would never have even thought to imagine in my most catastrophic anxiety dreams. It has been a long time since I have felt so utterly helpless, so horror struck and so betrayed, and when I am in the middle of those feelings it's hard to remember that this is not the worst thing that has ever happened, and it's certainly not the worst thing that will ever happen. It's hard to remember that I know how to cope, that I was born knowing how to cope, that I have always coped with every huge and painful thing by putting it down in pencil or in paint. This week, between baking birthday cakes and wrapping gifts and putting up the first real tree I've had in a decade, between lying awake at three in the morning in a sweaty panic and crying in the grocery store, I've had to really cajole myself into going to the studio. But once I'm there, I remember that I'm just there to be me, to do what I do, not to make anything good, not to prove anything- just to be the animal I am, doing the thing that comes most naturally to me, and that's when the good things happen. They always happen, every single time, and of all the lucky things in my very lucky life, that's maybe the very luckiest of all.



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