Here are some of the posters I have done for my band, Prrr.
That’s what I heard. She actually said a slightly more rambling version of the above; something about needing someone with book keeping skills, compliments about my wonderful phone manner, a moan and a helpless shrug about the tight budget. She finished off with some sort of apology but by that stage I had checked out of my own body. It was obvious that she wasn’t having much fun either. I knew this was coming, but I still felt the unreal sensation of shock washing over me.
I remember the room felt horribly small. Trapped under her sympathetic gaze, I struggled to hide my reaction. Concealing my feelings has never been my strong point. Hard as I fought, I could not stop my facial muscles from crunching together and the tears from spewing forth in an ugly gush. She looked away. She wasn’t making eye contact any more. I mentally thanked her for that. She offered to let me finish up working that day, but although I would have salvaged my pride, I was desparate for money with Christmas just around the corner. I told her I wanted to finish my 3-month probationary contract. She told me she’d leave me to calm down for a bit. I don’t know which of us was more relieved when she quietly the door shut behind her.
I hid in the little front office for about half an hour, staring at the desk in front of me and crying to myself. It had been a hell of a year and I sorely needed a good cry. This job had been hard-won and a dream come true for me. After applying for more than 100 jobs and not getting a single interview, I managed to get a toe in the door by doing volunteer work in this community organisation. I had worked hard to get noticed so when I was given the job, I was stoked. The job was exactly what I had been looking for. It was part time, giving me just enough money to live while also allowing me plenty of time to follow my own creative pursuits. The staff had fruit delivered, weekly mindfulness classes in company time and an ethos of supporting the city’s most vulnerable. On paper, it was my dream workplace. The reality was a little different.
So what went wrong? How did I come to lose my job? I think my repeated failures to secure work for so long had really drained me of self-esteem. I have always been incredibly lucky getting work and because of this I assumed that I would have a job within weeks of moving to a big city. In fact, finding this job had taken the better part of a year. I had felt the sting of countless rejection letters and spent a depressing number of hours perfecting selection criteria only to hear nothing back. It was demoralising and I took each rejection badly. Coming into the job, I was relieved, but also terrified of ever having to go through the insecurity of unemployment again. I carried that baggage in with me on the first day of my job and it clung to me the entire time it was there.
I have always had an artistic temperament and a lot of nervous energy. While it is a blessing, vulnerability to mental illness is the crappy flip side. You win some, you lose some. It’s a bitch, though. When I got the job, I was insanely grateful, but also instantly obsessed with the possibility that I might lose it.
Honestly, my memories of that job were of putting extreme pressure on myself, to the point where I was going home every afternoon and crying my eyes out. Under my probationary contract, I knew I had three months to prove myself as a worker and in my heightened state, it felt like a ‘do or die’ type situation. Every time I made a mistake I beat myself up, convincing myself that my boss had seen. Deep down in my demoralised little soul, I believed I was too much of an incompetent booby to keep such a brilliant job. I drove my family crazy when I came home from work and rehashed my day, obsessing about all the things I could have done better. I convinced myself that this was my big chance to have a good job and if I blew it I would be screwed.
I also couldn’t face another bout of applying for jobs for months on end, while trying to fend off job agencies that were trying to force me to work in a factory or doing some other kind of work that I knew did not suit me. I developed such an attachment to keeping the job that I think I actually scared people away. I apologised so much I ended up getting berated by my boss for it. Honestly, she took me aside and told me I needed to stop apologising because people were finding it annoying. In fact, I think she might have said something along those lines when I was fired. I sucked up to people and grovelled when I made the tiniest mistake. Unfortunately, when you project that kind of persona to the world, some people are not kind. A couple of women in the office did not attempt to hide their irritation.
Still, I can look back now and know that I tried my absolute best. Anyone who has experienced anxiety and depression will know just how much effort it takes to put on that facade every day. I worked as hard as I could to look the part, ironing my clothing, putting on my best smile. The thing is, though, I always felt like a fraud.
Some girls are really great in offices. They love the whole process of dressing up, applying lippie to their already naturally sunny faces. They always look neat and they never seem to sweat or have messy hair. They take messages in perfectly rounded bubble writing with a little smiley face at the end. They are sweet and socially well adjusted, well-liked and do not appear to be tortured with self-doubt. This was the role I attempted to play with all my might. My neat office clothes were a costume I tried desperately to maintain. I was forever catching myself in the mirror with messed up hair, crumpled clothing and something in my teeth. I tried to write neatly but I still scrawled like a doctor. Even if I did know how to apply make up, nothing could have hidden the dark circles and worry lines that seemed to dominate my artificially smiling face.
Which brings me to the Christmas costume that wasn’t a costume.
Normally I am not the type to enjoy costume parties. Well, honestly, I’m not a fan of parties, period. I am far too introverted for all that attention. People tend to drink a lot, which I don’t do, and then they bustle around switching conversation partners with a speed that does not agree with me. You know the person who ends up tucked away in a corner peeling books out of a shelf? That’ll be me.
I am especially not keen on costume parties in offices like the one where I used to work. As I recall, I wore my Christmas costume on my very last day of work. Not exactly a happy day, you would think. Yet, to me, it was my gentle way of saying to myself, “You know what, Ruby? You might not have fooled anyone, but you tried. Now, take that constricting mask off and have yourself a little fun.”
By this stage, I had gotten used to the idea that I was not going to keep my job. I knew another torturous job-hunting session was in front of me, but I had decided it could wait until the New Year. Call me a tacky semtimentalist, but an overwhelming Christmas spirit was bubbling over in my soul. Awww! Like I have done so many times in my life, I realised that I did not belong with these people and for the time being, I didn’t care one little bit. The silly season was here, and my inner child had taken over.
Don’t get me wrong, I still detest those tacky Santa hats and holly earrings that people buy from K Mart to wear for a day. My inner grumpy curmudgeon hasn’t entirely left me. I tend to be that person who puts the rellies offside with my ranting about sweatshop labour, cheap toys in landfill and our overbloated consumerist society. Let’s face it: there are too many people banging on about that at Christmas. Christmas has turned into a time of insanity, greed and waste. That’s old news. Enough soapboxing. These days, I tend to be less vocal about my beliefs, choosing to live them instead. I am big on handmade and second hand Christmases and I do love this time of year.
Enter, wonky handmade costume. If I was going to leave my job, I wanted to do it with a bang.
Something was in the air that summer and I couldn’t resist. The theme for the office party was ‘snowflake wonderland’ or something equally unseasonal for our Christmases here in subtropical Australia. We were tasked to transform our workspace into the most beautiful, Christmassy display we could manage. Each department competed for a gift voucher for lunch out.
Rock and I had already been cutting Christmas snowflakes like there was no tomorrow. No handmade Christmas is complete without strings of paper snowflakes dangling over every possible surface. In a moment of inspiration, I grabbed a handful and began stapling them to my red dress. I grabbed a paper chain too, and added it around the hem. I thought the result was pretty cool.
As it happened, we won the competition. I got a special mention because of my costume. My boss at the time said she would make sure I was invited to the lunch even though I would no longer be working there. She knew she was lying. I knew she was lying. I smiled and thanked her.
I might have lost my job, but I was grateful to be able to unmask myself for a day; to ditch the primly ironed officewear that I detested and show up at work covered in homemade paper snowflakes. I felt that I had shed a skin that never suited me anyway. It might have been a costume, but I felt more like myself than the entire time I worked in that office and it was so very liberating.
In fact, maybe I wasn’t in costume, after all. Maybe, for the first time, I was actually unmasked as the craft-loving eccentric who hated ironing all those shirts. I tried to play the game and I failed. It felt pretty rotten, but it was sort of liberating as well. Some people are built to wear ironed clothing and some should be wearing handmade costumes. What a shame the world is ruled by people in the former category. They miss out though, they really do.
I’ll not deny that it hurt to lose my job, but that day I felt like I reclaimed myself, the person who wasn’t trying desparately to be someone she wasn’t. You are not alone, black sheep. We are out there, also feeling like we are trying to belong in a world that wasn’t geared for people like us. It’s not easy. A suggestion though: if you ever get the chance, go to work with stuff stapled all over your clothes. At the very least, don’t iron them. It feels great!
I think I have used art as therapy naturally since I first learned how to draw. Lots of kids do, I guess. Something about the getting lost in the hypnotic practice of creativity is profoundly therapeutic to me.
Art and creativity allows me to express myself, but also discover facets of myself that might lie dormant in the mundanity of everyday life. For me, my creative self unearths a certain wisdom that really helps me in times of trouble.
I have always been a highly sensitive soul, prone to angst and frustration at my inability to carry an unhealthy chunk of the world on my shoulders. Art therapy helps me know myself, but also my life; what is and isn’t in my control, who I am, how I can be my best self. It helps me to unravel the knotted, gnarled parts of myself, or accept those damaged parts that are beyond salvaging for the time being.
Lately, I have been going through a fair amount of inner turmoil, and art has really helped me. The pictures I share in my art therapy might not be the most brilliant pieces of art work in the world, they have really helped me a lot. I tend to do art therapy when I am in a raw emotional state that is beyond words. I tend to use it when a darkness I cannot identify descends. So a lot of my art therapy is actually done when I am in my darkest self. I worry that it might give a skewed image of me as a depressive, self-absorbed character. No doubt, that is exactly what I am at times. But it is only one aspect of me. Hopefully, my other artworks show me in a more palatable light.
Nonetheless, art therapy has helped me SO MUCH and I wanted to share some of my experiences in the hope that others who might benefit will be inspired to do some art therapy of their own. I would also like to see other people’s art therapy work – I think typically art therapy is meant to be an interactive practice done in groups, so if anyone is interested, I would love some company as I work through!
The workbook I am using is available via Smashwords. It is called Art Therapy for Dealing with Depression. It is a real mixed bag of art therapy exercises; some are probing and heavy, others are fun and light. I have done a few with my son, for fun, while others are definitely not for his eyes, although I may keep them so one day he can understand his old mum a bit better. ;-). I’d love to see what other people make of these exercises – I would like to start an art therapy group one day, just an informal one. Even an online one would be fun. I could make it private if people preferred. Anyone interested? Let me know!
TO BE CONTINUED.
This post is dedicated to Megan Newbound.
I’ve always been a creative person, but my inner artist lay dormant for many years. As a child, I went through prolonged periods of obsessive drawing. Drawing was my way of making sense of my life and the world around me. Heaven was a stack of paper, a packet of textas and a free schedule.
I remember the first big prize I won was for my art. I won a book voucher. It is one of my happiest childhood memories. Not that I did art for recognition – far from it. I did art because I loved doing art – it was as simple as that. It was one thing in my life I felt very confident about.
Fast forward to high school, and my relationship with art transformed completely. Our art teacher was an insecure woman who had some very severe issues. Hello, Megan Newbound. Thank you so much for doing everything you could to completely ruin my confidence in my creativity.
She was a young woman then; probably younger than I am now. She was blonde and mousy and highly strung. When I had her, she had a spiral perm that made her look like a sheep with glasses. It was obvious to me that she was insecure about her role as a teacher. I suspect she was someone who did a fine art degree, realised she needed a job and did a Dip Ed. She certainly didn’t strike me as someone who was born to teach.
I remember her sucking up to the kids she considered ‘popular’ and trying to socialise with them outside of school hours. That’s creepy, right? She had a select few favourite kids, and they could do no wrong in her eyes. She also identified the misfits and gave them absolute hell. I was one of those misfits, and she never wasted a moment to berate me in front of the class. There were two of us who I remember her picking on. Both of us did actually try and both of us regularly got marks like 16 per cent. I don’t know about you but in my world, you don’t give a kid 16 per cent unless they totally make no effort at all. There were other factors eroding my confidence at that time so I remember convincing myself that she was right and my art sucked.
You were were my worst teacher ever and I will never forget you, Megan Newbound, you poor, insecure, nasty human being. Here’s hoping you mellowed with time.
She never, ever, ever gave me one single passing grade, and her classes were the worst I’ve ever had in my life. I tried to complain about her, but when a teenager accuses a teacher of ‘picking on’ them, noone takes much notice. Today, as a 36-year-old mother I still remember the frustration and helplessness of being targeted like that and not being believed. I know from that experience to listen to a kid and give them the benefit of the doubt in these situations. Yes, I know. Kids can be twerps. I wouldn’t be a teacher for all the money in the world because I remember how mean teenagers can be. But teachers CAN abuse their power too, and some choose to do just that.
I’m older now, and know that I should never have taken one jot of notice of her. But kids are impressionable, and I just assumed that she knew what she was talking about when she said I was no good at art. She didn’t have a clue.
Chances are, most of us will encounter a Megan Newbound or two in our lives. The trick is to NOT get bitter or let them affect you in any way, I think. In the end, the ultimate revenge is to take our passions and be sickeningly, disgustingly passionate about them anyway. And yes, I know, Megan Newbound. I will never paint the Sistine Chapel or the Mona Lisa. Hell, I can’t even draw a properly proportioned stick figure. Guess what? I don’t care one bit! I wish I could go back to my teenage self and tell her that enthusiasm eclipses talent every time. I don’t care how much a person sucks at something! If it brings them joy, then they should do it every chance they get. Particularly something as personal as art. The Mona Lisa is ok, but I wouldn’t have it on my wall. Take that, art snobs! Give me a colourful kiddie drawing any day.
I suspect Megan Newbound was a frustrated artist who knew she wasn’t good enough to make a living out of art. Whatever was bugging her, she took it out on a bunch of nerdy kids and that is really rather pathetic. It feels good to reach a point where I feel nothing but pity for people like her. My only regret is that I ever let her affect me to the point that I abandoned one of my great loves. I might never have become the next Warhol. So what? I’m not sad about that but I am sad about the hours of joy I denied myself because some idiot told me I sucked at art. I’m determined to make up for lost time, and if my son comes to me with a similar story, I will BELIEVE HIM. So, check mate, Newbound. I win.
It’s only quite recently that I’ve re-discovered my love of art. There is nothing more fun than tooling around with Photoshop, snipping away at a pile of National Geographics to make a collage, cutting, folding and painting. There is nothing quite so satisfying as making a really cool work of art. It’s wonderful to re-discover a passion that lay dormant for so long! My only regret is that I ever listened to that horrible, mean-spirited, narrow minded woman. Art makes me a happy, happy Ruby. I hope you enjoy my art. And if you don’t, too bad, because I enjoy my art.
PS. I’m not really a bitter, twisted person, I promise… xox
This year, I have decided to minimise my time spent vainly looking for decent Christmas gifts in flouro-lit chain stores, and more time making handmade Christmas decorations and edible gifts with my family.
So many reasons. Firstly, because I’m on a tight budget. Secondly, because I love making stuff.
Thirdly, because making gifts and Christmas decorations with my son seems like a far more pleasant way to prepare for Christmas than trudging around the shops.
I think about sweatshop labour and flimsily made products that are destined for premature landfill status and it depresses me. I’m concerned about the pollution in manufacturing or disposing of these products. I worry about the short lifespan of most of these ‘cheap’ products on the market, and the subsequent waste. I think about all the tinsel and crappy plastic toys that are tossed straight from the Christmas cracker to the bin, and I think about the fact that these will be sitting here, thousands of years from now, still polluting the world.
I think about the politics of excess and the exploitation of workers at the point of manufacture. Is the cocktail umbrella on the drink worth some poor sucker working 12 hours a day, never seeing their children and not even earning a living wage? I can’t see how this is ok.
This might sound horribly bleak, and I don’t want to be a tinfoil hat-wearing, doomsday proclaimer. Nor am I a purist. I will be buying a few *gasp* new things for my son for Christmas. I’m not holier than thou, I promise.
I don’t want to preach to the converted, or alienate the non-converted, so I’ll say no more on the subject.
I just hope blogging about all the fun I plan to have with my family will show the tremendous possibilities that come with making Christmas about family, fun and DIY.
This year, I will deck the halls with handmade decorations made from upcycled fabric remnants and magazines. I will eschew overpriced liquor and instead make my own homebrewed Christmas plonk at a fraction of the cost. I will make and share my edible gift ideas for Christmas, and make an aged Christmas cake. I can’t wait to make this blog about my family-oriented, fun-filled Christmas!