A couple of years ago, my husband and I were at “that corporate coffee shop” ordering some drinks. The barista asked me if I wanted whipped cream. I thought about it for a second and then said, “yes, please.” I turned to find my husband’s jaw hanging open, eyes wide, staring at me with an expression that asked, who are you and what have you done with Julie? I couldn’t blame him. In the twelve years that we had known each other, Clayton had endured countless interactions between me and baristas that went something like this:
Barista: Would you like whipped cream?
Me: Is it REAL whipped cream?
Barista: (Blank stare)
Me: Does it come in a can or do you make it on site?
Barista: It comes in a can.
Me: No whip!
Twelve years of embarrassing questions and chastising and probably even face scrunching up in disdain for the fake stuff. You know the stuff I’m talking about. The stuff they can’t even legally call whipped cream so they call it “whipped topping”. The stuff with the chemical aftertaste and the fake so and so’s in it. The gross stuff.
So why after 12 years of being adamantly “no whip!” was I saying yes to the whip without embarrassing conversations and face scrunching? Who was this person?
As you may or may not know by now from reading this blog, I have been struggling with my art making for the past couple of years. I’ve been uninspired and I’m having a difficult time trying to sort out what my work should be about. I’ve lost the passion for making art. I remember making work in my 20’s that I was so focused on I forgot to eat and pee and I didn’t sleep because I was thinking about the work all the time. I haven’t had that feeling in a long time. I want to forget to pee.
Being the descendent of Midwestern farmers, it’s safe to say that the word “passion” isn’t really part of my vocabulary. No one asked you what your passion was because everyone still had this mentality of just trying to survive, to make a descent living and to try not to draw too much attention to oneself. This is my history. I would say that my dad found his passion accidentally by taking a temporary job that lasted for 29 years but he never would have told you it was his passion. He would’ve called it his job. He was lucky. I think my mom has found her passion in her retirement with her gardening and now her new hobby, crochet. Last year during a phone conversation she told me she had injured her shoulder…crocheting. I asked her how much time she spent crocheting and she said eight hours a day! Yep, she had forgotten to pee, so to speak.
that passionate eleven year old just won a blue ribbon at the state fair for her artwork
Two years ago, coinciding with the “yes whip” incident, I finally started to feel good. For the previous 15 years I had struggled with mysterious health problems that no one could (or would) diagnose. I won’t go into details but just know that I walked around in some fairly significant pain every single day. Sometimes I would get some relief when I was asleep. What comes along for the ride on the pain train is anxiety and depression and let’s just invite erratic mood swings to jump aboard too. I’m talking about the kind of sick where every morning your husband tentatively asks, “So how are you feeling today” so he can check the mood barometer and decide how to proceed. I made some really angry art during this time period.
angry work from grad school
So when I finally got some medical help and I started feeling better physically, I also started feeling really good emotionally. First it was just being pain free. Then I decided that I was content and then came the thing that I thought I would never feel in my life. I realized that I was happy. Like, really happy. I had always thought there was something wrong with happy people, that they were weak. They hadn’t struggled enough and had no idea what they were even happy about. Amateurs. What did they know?! Well, it turns out they know a thing or two.
So, now in my search to be healthy, I am finding my authentic self and sometimes she wants whipped cream or even “whipped topping” on her drink. The barista at my local coffee shop has nicknamed me Wildcard because you never know what drink I might order. I like that. What I don’t like is people who use phrases like “finding my authentic self” and I’m trying hard to reconcile that, like it or not, I am that girl. The question becomes, when you find your authentic self, will you recognize her? What kind of art does that person make? I don’t know. I’m going to find out. Don’t worry, I’ll never be a person who writes upbeat quotes on my artwork. I mean, let’s not go overboard here. But what I do know is that in the search to find my new artistic voice, I need to be much gentler on myself. I’ll be honest, I still cringe a bit when someone asks me something like, “What makes your heart sing?” I’m not sure that the Midwestern girl inside me will ever be able to answer that question. But I’ll let you know when I find the work that makes me happy. I’m hoping it comes with real whipped cream and it’s so good it makes me forget to pee.