6. Don't moan, don't blame  

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HAH! This is a hard one. I do moan, I do blame, it's true. I moan when I'm still at the computer at two in the morning because there's some snafu to sort out and it's not my fault - whine! I blame my insecurities and anxieties on being brought up in a household in which I was seen by my mother mainly as an intrusive expense. When I got pregnant while still in my teens I was kicked through the door (and off to a small, damp house with asbestos sheets lining one room, no heating and a hot water system driven by a coal fire which I had to get up and light each morning) with great glee and not even a moment's hesitation. It's hard not to look back and feel angry and full of accusations.

But - life isn't fair is it? As we all - yawn - know. Personally I've had lots of nasty, unfair things happen to me - and some very nice, generous and unexpected ones too. I've had some sheer luck - for instance I was for some years "adopted" effectively, by Jean Stockdale - an artist - when I was in my twenties. She was kind and cheerful, she'd also been through an early motherhood and had to struggle to even get to the point where she could find any time to paint. She showed me things. She encouraged me. I'm not sure if we were close exactly - but we were friends and she certainly put plasters on some of the more raw wounds I had emotionally at the time. She gave me a lasting love of Alice in Wonderland - the White Rabbit features in many of her paintings, always as a slightly fey young black man in a foppish cream suit. Which to her was the most obvious depiction. She also gave me hope.

Jean didn't actually become a full-time painter until she was forty-seven. Up to then she had done things like work on the assembly line at a button factory, in order to support her child. Having been a single mother in 1950s Southern England, she'd experienced being ostracised and ignored. But she just kept going - on and on and on in pursuit of that dream of being an artist. I have a painting of hers from one of her first exhibitions. It's painted on cheap hardboard, because that's all she could afford at the time. It's called "A Dream of the Fair".


She could be bitter on rare occasions, but mostly she wasn't. She got tremendous pleasure from things like just walking around the town in Kent where she lived, and a mischievous laugh from seeing the reaction of the neighbours to the huge hedges and sexually-explicit statues (made by Norman, the husband she eventually married) that made up the garden of her suburban bungalow. She wanted to be recognised as a serious artist - and in most ways, and God knows against all the odds - she managed it. One regret I do have is that I lost touch with her when I went to the good old Royal College of Art - of which I feel she didn't quite approve ("the establishment" and all that).

To really make something of your art - whether it's writing, design, painting, music, whatever (cooking? I forgot cooking) - you need to find some calm and optimism at the heart of things. I get terribly angry and resentful at times and it just tires me out. I get caught up in remembering the misery of my twenties, all my plans just taken away from me almost overnight. Feeling hurt and betrayed constantly - for reasons best not talked about here.

But then I remember that during that time one kind man met me in a bookshop and invited me to come to his lectures on fairytales - which I did - and eventually arranged for me to meet the admissions tutor at Kent University. I remember three years or so later another equally kind man - the careers advisor - sent me a beautiful postcard with an Erte illustration on it wishing me all luck with my post-grad application to the Royal College - an application that the day before I'd told him was useless and impossible - and which I also told him was the one thing I really wanted.

For all the blame, then, there seem to be things also to be thankful for. Sometimes even amazing things - events and people and opportunities that just appear at the right moment. I can't find an uncliched way of saying this. But I think that gratitude and pleasure and hope usually gets your art further than resentment and hurt.

I perhaps ought to insert the Obama video here again - but I have some shame.

Hints and Tips - oh look, they're back!
Don't get pulled down into thinking too much about all the reasons, and all the bad luck, maliciousness or sheer wrong decisions, that have stopped you getting where you want to be. Things aren't predictable, and maybe some of those things had to happen to get you, not where you want to be, but where you are now. Making strides forward and getting there, even if it's by a route that doesn't feel ideal.

There's a strength and energy that comes from letting go of a lot of the blame and anger.

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