The Right Time Phantom / by Vanessa Longacre-Wilcox

When I was about six weeks pregnant, I was having some pain.  The doctor said to come in and they’d have a look.  When the ultrasound started even I, armed only my WebMD MD, could tell there were twins in there.  The tech said, “I see that there are two, I’m going to go ahead and look around and see if there are any more…” 

  Figure  1 : Seems like a totally reasonable time to drive 90 minutes, get on a ferry boat for an hour and then go to an art camp for the weekend with strangers, right? P.S. This is only 7 months pregnant!

Figure 1: Seems like a totally reasonable time to drive 90 minutes, get on a ferry boat for an hour and then go to an art camp for the weekend with strangers, right? P.S. This is only 7 months pregnant!

I don’t remember anything else that happened in the appointment.  All I remember were the exclamations shouting in my head and the thought, “I have to leave the country.”  I’m not sure how I thought that would help but in the hysteria that followed finding out that I was going to have twins all rational thought was out the window. 

The fantasies of fleeing were intense.  The denial was thick.  The weeks went on.  At 13 weeks I started bleeding profusely and thought I was miscarrying.  In the very long wait in the E.R. my husband and I hugged and talked about those twins that might have been and how this was hard but we’d get through it.  I was devastated but it somehow made sense because we couldn’t actually be having twins, right?  After almost two hours we finally had an exam and the news came: I was fine, twins were fine.  Hooray! Wait, what? Twins back on?  

Let me pause and say that having three kids is the most amazing, wonderful experience, and I can’t imagine my life without them…now.  But in those early months of pregnancy with the twins I was in a bit of a panic.  As I wrote about in the post about the aquarium painting, making the transition from career to stay at home mom with my eldest was a rough one.  Now two more? A deep fear began to brew that I would be lost forever and that my life, as me, would be over. 

As my belly grew (and grew) it felt like a countdown to my own disappearance.  The larger that I became in physical size, the smaller I felt as a person. 

When I thought about losing myself, it was art that I felt the saddest about giving up.  It wasn’t even specifically about the art, it was about not ever really having enough faith in myself to give it a shot.  There was never the right time. Now here I was, about to have twins, anything I was going to make for myself or of myself seemed impossible. 

When I was 7 months pregnant with the twins, I heard about an event called Art Camp for Big Kids.  It was a three day retreat on Orcas Island.  The idea was simple: get away from it all and make art with other creative people.  It seemed perfect and I urgently wanted to go.  I floated the idea to my husband.  (Let’s just have a giggle as we remember what I looked like when I was proposing the idea. See figure 1.)   

After some research into local medical facilities in case I went into labor, I got the okay from my husband, my doctor, and most reluctantly my employer (our 2.5 year old).  As a compromise, I only went for one night and when I waddled in, there was already art in progress.  I found a spot and joined in, loosening up with a small painting of swirls. 

After lunch there was a lesson in felting.  I was game to try anything but I had no idea it was going to be hilarious fun.  Before I knew it, the silliest of ducks formed shape, almost as if he had created himself.  He (I named him Harold) had so much comic value that I couldn’t wait to share him with my son.

  Figure  2 : Harold

Figure 2: Harold

We had the option to move on to other projects but I kept on with the felt.  I needed to make Harold a friend.  On a break I went out and looked at the water and I was hit with the thought, “Even when you are away, you are not away.”  That thought didn’t bother me the way it would have even 12 hours before.

I had made a magical discovery felting that duck; being a mom didn’t make me disappear, the mom pieces and the art pieces had become intertwined.  And just like that, with that one thought, the tug, the fight, was over.  I made peace.  It was going to be okay, I was still going to be me.

Besides a healing experience, Art Camp for Big Kids planted artistic seeds.  Being ridiculously pregnant, I did not embark on any other creative endeavors besides the ones growing in my belly.  But the idea that I could create art, and that I wasn’t losing a piece of myself through parenting, stayed with me.  It took me about a year and a half after the twins were born but I started painting again.  And then came the project of this blog, which never would have happened without The Joy Guild or Art Camp for Big Kids.

I had always been looking for the “right time” to do art. But if I could find my way back to art at 7 months pregnant with twins, there really is no such thing as a "right time".  There may be a good time, a better time, even a bad time, but the idea of a "right time" is a phantom.  It doesn’t exist.  There is only now.  So what can we do with now?  We do not ignore it.

Not to go all “carpe diem” on you, but carpe fucking diem.  If you have a sentence in your mind, like I did, that starts with, "I'm too...", like “I'm too old.”, “I’m too young.”, “I'm too busy.”, or "I'm not...",  like “I'm not ready.”,  “I'm not talented enough.” Or “It’s too late.” Fuck that noise. 

Or in more practical terms, here are my tactics to fight the noise:

  Figure  3 : Art camp haul.    I made the small self-portrait to serve as a reminder to myself that I exist.

Figure 3: Art camp haul.  I made the small self-portrait to serve as a reminder to myself that I exist.

  • Simplify what it takes to get started: Since I started the blog people keep asking me, “Where do you find the time?” The answer: mostly during the kids’ nap times or after they go to bed.  I work in 10-15 minute increments whenever I can.  I leave everything set up.  If it is a blog post, I leave Word open.  If it's a painting, I leave everything set up.  I have a palette case that keeps paints wet and snaps shut and keeps the paint out of reach of the kids.  I can be painting in less than a minute, I can be cleaned up again in two minutes.

  • Start where you are:  I didn’t paint for years because I didn’t have the space for oils.  I feel a little mad at myself about that now. If I could find such happiness making a felt duck, all of that business about oils was just noise. Art Camp was a jump start for me. If you need one, find an art class, or a life drawing session at your local art store, start where you are, even if it is unexpected.  You never know where it will take you.

  • Find inspiration to keep on track: I’ve been inspired lately by local artwork on the walls of the shops and restaurants I frequent. It’s not as much about the art as about the grind.  The effort involved in creating the work and finding a way to show it.  That’s inspiring.  These people are believing in themselves and putting themselves out there.  Every time I get a coffee, I look at the art and I think, there is dedication, where is mine?

  • Make art your main part (or one of them anyway):  My son's school has this thing they say at lunch time, "Start with your main part." Basically, eat your sandwich before you eat your chips.  I am a mother of three kids under the age of 6 so my natural state is exhausted.  At the end of the day it is very tempting to throw my feet up, get a fish-bowl size glass of wine, and sink into an episode of Scandal.   But art is my main part.  If I start there, I feel more energized, better about myself, and have more to offer my kids and my spouse.

None of this is easy.  Writing this list is as much for myself as it is for anyone that might read it. It would be so much easier to coast along waiting for the right time. But I have no faith that it will come.  Life is too complicated.  There will always be competing priorities.  The whole idea of “having time” is a falsehood.  You can’t put it in your pocket and save it for later.  As soon as you debate what to do with it, it’s gone.  So pick up the pen, the brush, the clay, your voice, and seize the moments as they come.  I’ll be trying to do the same thing right along with you.