Two weeks ago I boarded a ferry and drifted away from a little haven off the coast of Vancouver. I was more rested than I have felt in weeks, despite a 12 hour drive, a 3 hour boat ride, a whirlwind opening, and all the island exploring that I could fit into 36 hours. Now I sit on my living room floor, basking in the fall glow that comes from changing leaves and filtered sunlight, ruminating on how to transplant this magic into a landlocked and exceptionally colder city.
I had gone to Salt Spring Island to attend the opening of a group show I am participating in. The Salt Spring National Art Prize had just been created in the last year and I found myself lucky enough to be a finalist. I arrived to the exceptional hospitality of Melissa, whose perceptive and kind demeanour was easy to instantly meld with. Staying in the eclectic 100-year old oyster packing factory she rents, with the ocean at her doorstep, was an experience I hadn't prepared for. Nestled back under tall maples, slowly changing colour, with the salt-smell infiltrating everything, I felt a quiet not heard since my years of city occupancy began. There was more light somehow, more simplicity-- the kind that comes from exposed wood beams, the sound of leaves and nothing else; the kind of charm that no new home can ever hold a candle to. While on the island, I drank tea, visited the most talent-filled farmer's market I have ever experienced, attended an opening, and was hosted and cared for in many exceptional ways. Yet, as busy as I was, time drifted slowly and I quickly lost all desire to rush, to checklist, to purchase, to facebook, to fill my time for the sake of filling it. I lost the desire to try and be and do everything that living in a city daily convinces me is necessary for success. Instead, I found the beginnings of beautiful new relationships. I showed a piece I care about deeply and got to meet the beautiful soul who purchased it. In the end, it was an very favourable trade-in and quiet came with rewards I had not expected.
I'm sure the amount of quiet I enjoy isn't for everyone. I grew up in the country and that stillness is a forgotten necessity in my life; however, I do think a dose of this stillness could do us all (especially as artists) some good. Once the hum of busyness is quieted, priorities and needs seem simple. Most importantly, creativity is no longer in competition with the expectations of what a successful person/artist looks like. The city tells you to show your face at each event, to make the right connections, to be social, to be present, to not let anyone forget that you exist because you must be the whole package to survive. On some level, I see underlying truth here: networking and connections are important. Yet, when I look at artists I love, they don't all appear as these intensely productive extroverts. More often I find that these people convey an out-of-stepness that comes with seeing the world in a different way. That kind of true observation takes time and, if not the quiet of surroundings, at least some kind of focus or quieting of the mind.
Moving forward, I know that I will be entrenched in citylife for a while still. As an emerging artist, this environment is necessary in so many ways. Melissa put this best by pointing out to me that when you are finding your voice as an artist "you need to be near the pulse"... how true! I make my best work when I feel so saturated with experiences (good or bad) that they simply must find their way out of me. Physically, I will be a city-dweller but I am choosing to cultivate the quiet that I need to fuel my creative living.
Practically, what does this look like? I get the mail now, shocking I know, but seriously... every morning I walk down to the mailbox and get my mail. I have always loved getting mail. I smell the air, I look at the trees, I feel the rain, and maybe smile about it. I read for pleasure and on purpose and I take baths. Finding myself in a season where I am a little worn out, I say no to things and don't feel guilty. I also learned that the people who will make you feel guilty about caring for yourself, never really had your best interests in mind. I have had people play me philosophies of "serve till it kills you" only to have life and observation make it clear that serving from an empty place has a high cost: it's hard to love others (or do anything) well in this mentality. I have been loved poorly by this philosophy as surely as I have loved others poorly while trying to live it. I have also watched people go down with their ship of self-neglect, chastising others for not following them. Recently, I have said no to a whole year of holiday dinners because, 4 years into my marriage, juggling obligations around the holidays has become nothing but a stressful and joyless act of pleasing others. I have made a trade-in for date nights with my husband and intentional relationship building with friends and family. The best part is that I'm not sorry or ashamed for knowing my limits or admitting I have them. I'm also not sorry for not knowing everything. This is a learning process and figuring out what works in my life is the patient part.
The quiet is beautiful, the quiet is both generative and regenerative, the quiet is a studio space of creativity, the quiet opens doorways to wonder and helps me love those around me (myself included) more truly.