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Letting go

Last night I sat down to write, and I managed to produce three or four not very good paragraphs before packing it in, telling myself that the main thing is words on the page, that I could edit in the morning. And then I didn't save it and this morning it had vanished, which is just as well.

Letting go of work gets easier as I get older, but it remains complicated and I still struggle. I'm talking about all work: painting, writing, the hard work of relationships, parenting, the work I put into my own sense of who I am, my body, my home, all of it. When I took my death doula training a couple of years ago, our class did an exercise wherein we wrote on small pieces of paper the people and things that mattered most to us; five people, five possessions, five activities, five things in nature. We then folded the pieces of paper so that we couldn't see what was written on them, and our instructor narrated a scenario about terminal illness. At various junctures in that story we were to surrender our folded pieces of paper, until finally we arrived at the scene of our own deaths, and all of the beloved parts of our lives had been taken away. It was absolutely devastating; even to write about it now is painful. I felt as though my children had been pulled from me, that the nights I have spent watching moths in the beam of my flashlight, listening to homing salmon digging their nests at the bottom of the river were being wrenched from me without my consent. Which is, of course, what happens. It happens to us all.

This week I have been painting over a piece I quite like but never quite believed in. Somewhere along the way, I lost the thread and it shows. It's a good painting, but it's not really my painting in some ineffable way- I can see now where I rushed it, where I wanted to be done with it. Probably I was feeling some financial pressure, so there's a sense of it being a people pleaser. Anyway, it's all under something else now; some nascent, messy, hopeful thing that will possibly please no one but me. This is the only way anything good ever happens. I have to let go of the thing I think I should make, the thing that demonstrates that I deserve to call myself a painter, that I am good at painting. Only when I throw that whole idea of myself out the window am I free to do what I want, and what I want is not to recreate some vision in my head, but just the mess. I want the mess at every turn. I want to see what happens. I want to fuck up and luxuriate in fucking up, I want to waste a hundred dollars worth of paint in a day on my glorious mistakes. So I do, even when I can't afford it, which is most of the time. I do it in the studio and I do it in my life, and to me that is the sacred force at the centre of everything. The only freedom I really care about is the freedom to make an absolute fucking mess.

I have spent a lot of time with dying people, many of them people I believed I couldn't live without. Not one of those people had failed to make a mess of things at one time or another, and eventually every last one of them have had to learn to let it go. To let go of their vision for their lives, to let go of the mistreatment they had endured and that which they'd doled out. To let go of trying to make something perfect, to look at the mess of their messy lives and to see it for what it is: the place where all miracles, all hope, all love, every single good thing that has ever happened has been born.

That goes for the studio too. And for blog posts.

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