About eighteen months ago I was feeling very, very low. I had an infant and a three year old at home and was watching a good friend’s toddler 3-4 days a week, also from home. I spent most of my days inside my third floor apartment, managing chaos and trying to numb the boredom with hours and hours of social media and cups and cups (and cups) of coffee. I was a crabby, angry mom and a resentful, joyless wife. And that was becoming my sole identity.
I’ve never had a strong sense of direction in life. As a child and through my teen years I was heavily into the arts, taking entirely art electives in high school, taking dance classes for twelve years, performing in several high school musicals, and attending several summers of theater camp. The latter half of high school and into college was spent predominantly playing volleyball, during most of my free time, year round. I bounced around from missions to youth ministry to history to secondary education to elementary education and back to history, never considering taking a single art class in college. I graduated with a dual degree in history and elementary education with lukewarm feelings about a career in either. I launched a career in substitute teaching and was immediately miserable and disillusioned. From there, I dabbled in being a cook, a call center operator, a nurse’s aide, and back to the classroom as a teacher’s assistant. Most were fine, some were miserable, but none were truly fulfilling. I left my most recent job as a teacher’s assistant in a cloud of sadness and disappointment, but hoped that being home, with my only daughter at the time, would be exactly what I needed. It was not. Just a few short months into my new stay at home mom/child care provider gig, I was bored and irritable and stir-crazy and was unsure that I could ever be happy or feel a sense of fulfillment.
I entered that winter feeling trapped in my three-flights-up apartment with three small children and little to no adult interaction and/or mental stimulation. By Christmas, I was terribly unhappy (probably depressed) and feeling little hope about my future. I went out to coffee with a friend from church and after listening to me talk about my life and the trajectory it appeared to be on, she said a string of words that changed everything. “It seems like you need to take up more space in your family.” TAKE UP MORE SPACE. This concept was foreign to me. I’d spent most of my life trying to stay out of people’s way and take up as little “space” (time, resources) as possible. I’d carried that into my marriage and into my mothering. I let everyone else fill the spaces first and filled in all of the (often very few and very small) leftover spaces.
I began by going to spiritual direction once a month, which felt unconscionable. One hour. Once a month. Unconscionable. Then I started taking one morning a week at Starbucks to do whatever I wanted- usually read blogs and catch up on the news. In early winter, some friends posted a few pictures of their practice calligraphy they were doing and I thought that looked SO FUN. I bought a calligraphy book and went to the art store and bought a pile of art supplies and thought I would just play around. I immediately fell in love with calligraphy.
I’ve always loved to do art, deep down, even when I didn’t think I did, I did. Even when I never would have called myself an artist, I cared deeply about how my dorm or apartment or house was decorated and arranged. I would spend inordinate amounts of time and energy creating classroom materials for my lead teacher, making them as perfect and beautiful as possible. Pre-calligraphy, friends and family would ask me to write things for them- signs, placecards, chalkboards- and I used to think wistfully, “I wish I could do THIS for a living.” It felt impossible, silly, unrealistic. And then all of a sudden, it felt slightly possible. It turns out hand lettering is a craft, something people are looking to buy. And it felt less silly. I got a lot of positive feedback from friends and family who encouraged me to put my stuff out there. And it became realistic. There’s a fabulous platform, called Etsy, which allows independent artists to sell their wares online.
The last year has been the most fulfilling and rewarding year of my professional life. There have been ups and downs, disappointments and triumphs, for sure. But I know now, that I want to do something creative for a living for the rest of my life. I have come to life. I fall asleep at night with pretty words swirling in my head. I wake up in the morning thinking about what beautiful photos I’ll share on Instagram that day. I spend my work time carefully packing up people’s orders, sketching out pieces, dreaming about new ideas, full of JOY. I am so, incredibly grateful to every single person who has told me I was good enough, given me a new idea, ordered a print, liked or shared a post on social media, and in any way helped me along over the past year. And I am so, so thankful for other artists and creative people who have inspired me with their tenacity, their bravery, their vulnerability, and their honesty. I am honored and endlessly grateful to now count myself as one of you.
I head into ThreeLetterBirds’ second year, daring to dream big dreams and full of hope, and full of tears as I write these words. “I am not afraid. I was BORN to do this.” -Joan of Arc