Both my parents had grown up in material poverty. One of them (my father) still wound up with a terrific education, going to a Catholic school where he wound up liked classical music and Gilbert & Sullivan musicals. He himself was intensely pragmatic, going into engineering. When he enters buildings, no matter how old or beautiful they are, he’ll still talk exclusively about their engineering or design flaws.
This makes it hard to compliment buildings in his presence. Even 5 years ago I was kicked out as a regular vendor at an indoor craft market because, after market hours, he yelled at and hounded the building manager over some lights being turned off. He had no place to do so and I had begged him to stop, but no use; his behavior impacted my income. I was livid at him, but apparently had no right to be. HE was an engineer.
To go backwards in time, my paintings and the subjects in my fantasy paintings, which I had been producing since my early teens, were impossible to defend. Art was fluffy. Unproductive. Impractical. Hard work AND unrewarding. An endeavor that would land me in certain poverty. Plus who or what were those things in my pictures?
I learned to not paint at home while he was around, but sometimes I couldn’t help it. For this, I’d hear: “What are you wasting your time on?”
When I was done, all the paintings, all the manuscripts would go deep deep deep into the wardrobe in the corner of my bedroom, as far from the door as possible. Where I kept the personal things that were taboo for males to touch, so maybe, maybe there, they were safe. Where I also wanted to hide myself when I felt useless.
It’s been a continuing process to uncover how deeply all this affected me. I even thought I was done, until this week, when I wasn’t.
You see, I still have a fear of attention. Two things affected me today. The first one that was uplifting and beautiful, but somehow still scary: The Self-Love Oracle was reviewed by lovely Ethony on her YouTube channel, so I received many orders within hours. (People looking at my work! PANIC! But it’s OK! There are people who like it! Perhaps I could keep telling myself attention can be good?)
And also in a short time: Getting “caught” by my father while recording a video. I stopped and couldn’t start again, even when I was alone again later. My body froze anticipating another attack, while my mind spun through all the judgey, pointed questions I’d long learned to expect. An old program, running itself again.
It was another legacy of my childhood: Listening to my parents rip into the people on TV who they didn’t like the look or sound of, anyone who dared put themselves in the limelight for mediocrity.
“Who do they think they are?” was not an uncommon refrain I heard when we watched TV together. And sometimes, “Who do you think you are?”, to me, when I challenged them. And later in myself, towards others: “Who do people think they are, for daring to show off THEIR work when it sucks?” That boomeranged on myself too, of course.
I was miserable. I had learned to criticise everything and everyone too, to establish my position in the pecking order. It took me a long time to unlearn, and to appreciate positives instead. It doesn’t mean I let problems go unnoticed. They just don’t make the whole picture any more. And I’m less interested in competition than cooperation and compassion.
Giving others courage to create? IS FREAKIN AWESOME.
So while it’s been a difficult day (and I don’t expect this shtick is over), I also know I’m not the same scared person any more. Again, among some of the conversations this week, it was gratifying to know other people were realising, yes, we can be negatively conditioned by our childhood experiences.
But they do not need to define us. Overcoming our past is difficult, but not impossible.
So yes, I lost time today. I calmed myself down by doing busywork with my hands. I shared the experience with people I trusted. I was reassured. And I drew a card from my own deck.
I finished recording the video forecast for next week. I will go on painting. I do not look forward to future condescension on my efforts (and they WILL come and it will probably still hurt) but this is certain: I’m not hiding my work in the closet any more.