When I arrived back in Athens, I had no more rage, or even anger. I was humbled by the unconditional love my father showed me, allowing me to live with him despite the friction between his wife and I. He helped me get back onto my feet. I recall well the day I had a smidgen of road-rage at another driver—I was like “YES! I’m back!” I had relied heavily on my rage for energy. Despite my lack of drive, I found these yellow leaves on the back patio one day, and created the 4 of Wands from them and a photograph of the biggest Ginko I’ve ever seen, which grows in the Courtland Garden in the South Bronx. I think this is the only new piece from this time period.
Because of the severe financial stress I endured in NYC, I decided that the solution to my woes was Nursing School. I applied to a local community college, took the pre-requisites, aced the test, and was accepted into the RN Nursing program. I found that I loved medicine. I could dig into the research on the human body, its systems, the interconnectedness of a disease in one part of the body to another, and write about it well. The department head told me I asked the most insightful questions she had ever heard from a senior student. But when it came to getting up into a stranger’s personal space to care for them I got the hibee-gibees! I learned a valuable lesson, which is that I am not a nurse.
Moreover, I found myself sneaking time away from my studies in nursing to do art.
My art became a guilty pleasure. Which just seemed all wrong to me. When I withdrew from the RN program a full time position came open at the Wal-Mart photo lab where I worked, and I jumped on it. Work full time and spend my extra hours doing my art? I was all about that. Never had my job seemed so attractive to me. When I made my move, recommitting to myself as an artist, I realized something. I was finally back on the Path of Peace that my friend the labyrintista always talked about.
I met with my mother’s financial advisor, Todd Emily, who gave me this advice: When there is someone who makes good art and who also has a head for business, they usually make money. I took that as direction to learn about business. Much of which came down to marketing, at least at first.
Two years later I had a thriving art business and a full-time job. In other words, I was working 80 hours a week, every week. Once again I had created a situation that I couldn’t sustain. Close friends were telling me repeatedly that I didn’t know how to relax, to nurture myself.
And they were right.
Computer geek that I am, one day I came home and googled self-nurture. And thus discovered the Comfort Café online, run by the Comfort Queen, Jennifer Louden. I joined and added the audio recordings, journal questions, and discussion boards to my 80-hour weeks. This put me over the top, and next thing I knew I was on leave of absence from work. What a blessing in disguise!
During this time I managed my health with meditation each morning. One morning I while I was sitting I thought about how I had marched for peace in NYC, and failed to bring peace to my country or the world. And I thought about how I had sought inner peace by learning self-nurturing and yet failed to find it. And I realized that my job is simply to seek peace, to do the work for peace. But actual peace, be it inner peace or outer peace, was up to a power greater than myself, and not my problem.
Uncertain how my money was going to sustain me after my sick pay was done, I applied for and received an emergency grant for artists from Change, Inc. One day I went to the mailbox to drop the checks for bills into the mail, representing the last of my money, and when I checked my mail, there was a check. I got the grant.
When I returned to work at the photo lab, I reduced my hours. In the following few years I have continued to learn about self-care and self-nurturing. I have learned to pace myself. I have learned that just because I have good self-care I don’t necessarily stay stress-free, but when I do get stressed out I know how to care for myself better. I know how to make myself stop, smell the roses, and relax. And it’s ok that, even though I know how to do all that, I don’t do it all the time. I have learned to listen to my body and respond to its needs before I get seriously run down.
While I am still in Athens, I am strengthening my connection to Atlanta. (Read about my adventures at the Atlanta Celebrates Photography Portfolio Review here.) There are more opportunities in Atlanta for artists, and I love the energy of the city. I have had to learn to pace myself on my trips to Atlanta, so that I don’t get over-stimulated and need a day of rest following a trip. I am especially delighted that it’s been several years since I got completely lost in Atlanta, which used to be part of every trip.
In Athens, I own a town home, conveniently located across from Bishop Park, which is a public arboretum, with a lovely collection of unusual trees.
My home is also centrally located; so much of Athens is highly accessible to me, a perfect mix between city and nature. My home is my workspace and my retreat from the world. While other places still call to me geographically, at this time I plan to keep my town home as a home base, to return to over and over.