Fadwa Al Qasem
I Am what i art
Confessions. Art Journaling. Art. Writing. Poetry. Play. And everything life in between.
Things are not all positive or all negative. Take the word expectation, for example.
ˌekspekˈtāSH(ə)n/ (the artist in me just loves the phonetic spelling of words!)
Popular dictionaries define expectation as “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future” or “a belief that someone will or should achieve something.”
Some might argue that unless you expect the best, you’ll never get it. If you don’t set the bar high enough, you’ll never achieve your goals. Or you must rise to your expectations, a personal favorite of mine and one with which I struggle in my quest to bridge the gap between who I am right now and who I expect myself to be in the future.
But expectation can be negative, too. How often do we burden those we love with our own expectations of how they should behave?
How they should love us? How they should react in certain situations? How often are we so enveloped in our own expectations that we get angry, bitter, and resentful and we fail to see how much they do love us? And how often we fail to see new opportunities, new possibilities, because we are so blinded by the too bright light of our own expectations?
My question is how do we balance our expectations of ourselves, of our loved ones and of life, with compassion and a real understanding of who we are? Who they are? And of life itself?
It’s not any easy question. My own solution to this dilemma is to slow down a little. To check the motivation or driver behind my feelings or thoughts right now before I react – if possible - but even after I react. To filter things through a more compassionate eye, a more trusting eye, and a less judgmental eye. I realize that, in many ways, we are always walking this tight rope of our truths and our aspirations and what actually happens when the truths and aspirations of others collide with ours.
Right now I am right here. On this very spot. I like to think that it's not all about how my past got me here, rather about how I've tried to reach within and pull out a new me as I walked along the days of my five decades.
Right now, I am right here, and where I want to be is still way over there. Days I feel like I am walking slowly, backwards, on a forward moving treadmill. I know I am not moving but I keep walking anyway.
I walk this tight rope, looking straight over there, because the flames singeing my toes from below are the stumbling stones of my making. Crying. Feeling overwhelmed. Feeling self-centered in my worries. Feeling helpless. Feeling like everything terrible in the world is somehow my fault because I am unable to fix it
Right there is where I am courageous. Fearless. No regard for time just as it, if it exists, has no regard for me. The thought of wasting time does not occur to me. Whatever I do, I do because I could not but do.
Right there is where I will finally learn unconditional love not only for my kids, but for everyone else in my life whom I claim to love, including myself. I will learn not to overwhelm them with my own expectations of they should be.
Right there is where I will finally learn that all I really need to do is to live my life with integrity, my own interpretation of integrity, because once I do I know that I will be contributing the most and maybe that is what it means to change the world.
It's a sad waltz. And I have two left feet.
I'm trying to be the woman. Trying to surrender. Let go. Release. But finding myself caught in the desire to control. To lead. Wanting to live life as a hedonist, truly believing that I am and that I can. Guilt tip-toeing around my ball-gown.
Born privileged, but born Palestinian. A gypsy's spirit belonging everywhere and nowhere, but always carrying the pain of a people mistreated, decades of injustices, decades of suffering. Wanting to laugh, sing and dance, but not wanting to do so alone. And not wanting to do so while others suffered. Believing in dreams and hopes, then seeing dreams crushed but my own. Wanting to feel joy but unable to. Wanting to change, not the world, but the world for those who live on this tiny spot on earth called the Holy Land.
How do I reconcile my love for life and my passion for beauty?
The fact that I know there will always be suffering and the fact that I am glad not to be suffering myself? The agony of the question: is my agony rooted in the agony of others? Or the sense of guilt? Do I contribute to free my own spirit or to give wings to theirs? Are these the arrogant questions of a self-centered individual who has the luxury to ponder and philosophize?
I have no answers. I'm not sure I ever will.
I was born with this well of sadness residing in me despite my cheerful and optimistic exterior.
My well overflows and everything inside get muddied and soiled. I clean up the mess knowing it will all happen again. I do what little I can. I convince myself that it makes a difference. I continue to dance, to paint, to write.
Because if I don't, it's like stealing slivers of hope others may have that a better life is possible somewhere.
How about you? Have you found answers to some of your queations?
I picked up any tool and I played.
Every mark-able surface was my best friend. If I was not writing, I would be drawing, doodling, scribbling, listing. Anything to create a vibrant, fertile forest where my mind could run and my hands could explore their own distinct memory.
When I was ten, labels and expectations and benchmarks did not exist in my world. No inner critics suffocating me. External critics were easy to brush off. I could convince myself of realities that made sense to me and brought me joy.
But between 10 and 50, many things changed.
Thing like diaries, journals, to-do-list pads, notepads, ruled notebooks, unlined notebooks, scrapbooks, flooded my sacred space. And each had its own specific purpose.
I felt pushed into the need to separate all my marks from each other.
Some belonged here, others belonged there. I ended up carrying three or four notebooks in my bag. Forgetting them at places. Or deciding that some should stay home, some should travel with me, some should sit on my desk.
I would reach into my bag and pull out the “wrong” notebook, and I would be paralyzed.
My journals became my playground again.
My Wonderful for Today
It took me close to 40 years to be able to say I Am What I Art, although that was always what I thought I was!
Ever since I was a girl, all I wanted to do was draw and write; to make marks with pen, pencil, colour, crayon, chalk, stick on sand, wave finger in the air, or even imagine these marks in my mind.
When I was a little girl, I never thought "I want to be an artist" or "I want to be an author". I just enjoyed the rippling pleasure of making marks. I also didn't think about what others might consider to be good art, bad writing. I didn't ponder if I should write in English or in Arabic. And I didn't carry the stigma of being labeled as an intruder to Arab literature because most of my education was in English. All that came a while later.
When I was that little girl, the true pleasure was to let the marks be whatever they decided to be once they hit the surface.
Going to school, and in particular, doing O'levels in the UK (GCSEs they're called now - I think), spoiled that feeling for me. I was now told by teachers, art teachers who were teachers not artists, that my art was wrong. Not good enough. That I was not supposed to draw that way. They pushed and squeezed and shoved me into their own tiny perception of an art student and what art looked like.
I kicked and screamed all the way. But they kept on squeezing. Apparently, teachers believed you were supposed to kick and scream as they broke you into conformity. You were a rebellious child. You wanted to do things your way. Well, that's no good! They have to 'fix' you, and you have to go through that same process of being melted down and reformed the way they were. They went through it; why shouldn't you? They turned our alright, didn't they? To me this process was like being put through a meat grinder. Bits of me were being minced into oblivion. How could they not see the blood?
I failed art O'levels. I was not surprised, although it still makes me sad. I didn't stop making art. But more in private. Shyly.
Somewhere around my late 30s, I started to get comfortable again with my own creations of art. As well as my own faults, shortcoming, but also my strength, my creative spirit, my gypsy woman. I discovered that all long I have been what I art. Doing life as art. Growing back the art limbs that were minced in the creativity crushing machine. I learned to have the 'audacity' to call myself an artist, an author, a creative person. And best of all, I started to teach art journaling to others who, like me, thought they were not creative.
And that's my Wonderful for today!
"It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child." Pablo Picasso.
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Fadwa Al Qasem
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(c) Copyright Fadwa Al Qasem 2015