Portrait of the Artist, My Mother

My Mom is going to semi-hate the title of this blog.  I say “semi” because she adores Anne Lamott and she secretly loves slightly subversive humor, but she also wouldn’t let me say “butt” let alone “ass” when I was growing up, so there’s that.  As such, I thought I’d write a super flattering post about her so she’d have to approve.

My mother has been a writer and an artist for as long as I can remember.  The two images I most associate with her are her face with a camera in front of it and her sitting by the window in the morning, writing in her journal.  She was the sort of person who did not discover just how talented she was until middle age.  After I left for college, she began really entering the world of professional photography and has since become so sought after that she’s gone from being a full time stay at home mom to working essentially 18 hours a day.  In addition to doing portraits, she sells prints of her nature photography (the photo above is one of the first she ever sold), has her own line of products, and owns a store.

When it came time to create her website, she asked me to help edit the copy, and we had a long exchange about her tendency to “undersell” herself and her abilities. Despite being so gifted with the art of communication, capable of writing so beautifully in her journal, she had a difficult time translating that into copy that effectively “sold” herself. If there is a central theme to this site, it is that sending your writing into the world for others to see and absorb and critique and respond to is as much about personal growth as it is figuring out how to string the right words together. When we write, we meet ourselves, and that means coming up against our prior psychic damage. From what I know about her childhood and early adulthood, girls and women weren’t encouraged to use their voices very often. But for anyone, entering the world through art requires the heroic act of silencing the voices of our past that tell us not to speak, that if we do we may be shamed or killed. As Lamott herself says in Bird by Bird, perfectionism (a characteristic my Mom and I share), is the “voice of the oppressor.”.

I think that something…happens with our psychic muscles. They cramp around our wounds–the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both–to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again, to keep foreign substances out. So those wounds never have a chance never have a chance to heal. Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. In some cases we don’t even know that the wounds and the cramping are there, but both limit us. They keep us moving and writing in tight, worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.

I respect my Mom not just for what she has accomplished as an artist and a businesswoman but because of what she had to get past to get there. It seems cheesy to just come out and say that she is an inspiration to me, but that’s just the truth.

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