I had my first shot of the vaccine today, which feels momentous. Are we allowed to acknowledge that light at the end of the tunnel yet? Are we allowed to feel a tiny moment of relief? I bought myself a very sugary treat of a donut to mark the occasion. I breathed out for what felt like the first time in a long, long time. We need a new storyline.
For the last year, I have grounded myself with daily rituals to keep me on an even keel – yoga (badly) walking (slowly), and journaling (daily, mainly about how badly I am sleeping) – the usual. The term self-care makes me want to punch someone, mainly because it’s used to sell you something or make you feel guilty for not doing it enough, so I won’t use it – but lockdown forced me into it.
I found a community of people online hosting women’s circles, offering photography courses, sharing creative journeys. I carved out time to pick up The Artist’s Way again, once on my own and the second time hosting a creative cluster, and the coming together online, WhatsApp, social media has been life affirming.
Storytelling has been my touchstone throughout
I have been a story teller my whole life, writing short stories as an eight year old, making up vast imaginary epics, with a propensity for being the Bad Witch. You could have so much more fun when no longer constrained by Being Good. I knew this at eight
By my teen years, I had switched up the story telling into Very Bad Poetry, vastly misunderstood, furious at everyone and trying to figure out what story captured me best. Around this time, as girls’ bodies’ stop being their own, our stories started being told for us. To teachers, older brothers of friends, random men on the street I was; lazy, troublemaker, slut, mall rat, druggy, stoner, cock-tease, smart mouth – all before I was 16. While the Bad Girl story line felt so much more freeing than the alternative, it started to take on a more sinister side, which I know now, had nothing to do with me at all.
In my twenties, I had a slightly better sense of who I was, but warped by some catastrophic relationships, my self-confidence was smashed to bits as I attempted adulthood. I had moved countries, thinking I could really start my own story now, with a blank canvas to play with. Predictably, I slipped into many of the old tropes and by the time I was 26 found myself with a new story line to add to the mix –hitting rock bottom and getting sober – and, not having a clue which story made sense anymore, I threw them all in the bin.
By thirty-six, I had woven myself a new clean and tidy narrative. A thread that included ten years of hard won sobriety, a husband, a small son, a mortgage and a cherished career in my dream field. A thread that had very little room for messiness. Or misbehaviour. But I had done it. This is where all the fairy tales end right? The stories you hear about turning your life around. From the Gutter to the Stars. Rounds of applause, closing credits… and then?
Sitting in amongst the detritus of a family home punished by an Actual Plague, the battered backdrop of The Perfect Ending, I am trying to answer that question. What next? It’s very much not the end. I am not even forty.
If the last year has shown us anything it’s that life is precious. And short. We are all going to die. Plague, or climate change or old age (if we are lucky). I can’t keep straining to keep with one worn out story. While I could do without the soul-destroying co-dependency and the brain itch of addiction, I miss my Bad Witch, my Trickster, my Bold Adventurer, my will-try-anything-twice-fuck-it-why-not mantra.
I want to reclaim that something lost, our stories matter, and we get define who we are in them. And this couldn’t be more important than now, staring into a very possible future where our rights begin to be stripped away.
I have been exploring this in self-portraits, which is hard. To be confronted with my unfiltered face and the reality of my body, has undone me – which is kind of what I wanted – but also totally terrifying. A call to challenge myself, what I have accepted as ‘normal’ and to be confronted with the things I usually try to hide. I figure I am onto something
As we all come out of this cluster-fuck of a year, I am experimenting with that storytelling, through portraits. I want to mark this transitional moment as we slowly, tentatively come out of lockdown. What story are we telling ourselves? What are we emerging as? How have we changed? What have we lost? What have we gained? What has kept us tethered? What are we leaving behind, and what are we hoping for?
I’ve had a few brave volunteers to join me on this trip, if you want your portrait taken, and are happy to explore these questions, let me know – I’d love to have you along for the ride