Fadwa Al Qasem
I Am what i art
Confessions. Art Journaling. Art. Writing. Poetry. Play. And everything life in between.
Currently reading Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. Always loved her approach.
If you're like me and you live to do a gazillion things, this is for you and also look for What Do I Do When I Want To Do Everything (also published as Refuse To Choose).
Nuggets of advice on how you don't need to change yourself or have more will power or less interests.
You need a plan.
You need an ecosystem of support.
You need to finally accept yourself without judgement.
Strange to find that I have been doing much of what she says instinctively since I was 16. Which does not mean I am amazing, it is a testament to our instincts. Listening to ourselves. I did conform, and I did hear what others were telling me about Jack of all trades and all that, but I also continued to do what I felt was good for me to do .. make marks. Words.
Stop often - not to smell the roses- but to listen to the little you that lives like a shiny coin under piles of the dirty laundry that is self-criticism and self-doubt.
This is also what I Am What I Art is about - have a read here.
How many jars does she have in that house of hers? My father once asked out loud. I had no idea what he was talking about, of course, until I actually entered that house, and I stood dwarfed before their imposing presence. They stood on the shelves covering the walls, touching shoulders, looking down at me. Somewhere lost in their midst stood an old clock. Silenced. Uncomfortable. Awkward. All the jars contained what looked like scrolls of paper. White. Yellow, legal pad paper or yellowed by age. All except one, which had teeth. Hers? Behind me her bracelets clanged. I felt embarrassed to be caught so mesmerized. Her smile, although she tried hard to hide it, made me feel better and worse at the same time. I think it was because her lips smiled, a little, but in her eyes I swore (many times to my dad) that I saw tiny grains of salt shimmering under the moon that night.
Excerpt from a novel in progress.
You're up late.
Silence all around.
You think; this is a good time to write in my journal.
An advert on TV. Some cleaning material.
It starts with a small tear running down your cheek to your chin, and settling wetfully in that groove in your neck.
You feel silly because you know it's a trick, the stupid-clever-cheesy advert tugging at your maternal instincts, making you all mushy and emotional.
You think you're crying because the advert reminds you how fast time flies, how far your kids are now or will be very soon.
But you're really crying for kids in general. All kids. Kids without parents, mothers, homes, clothes, food, shelter. love, caught in wars, dying, killed.
Then you're crying because you feel shame and guilt for being part of this world. For doing nothing big enough to change anything big enough.
For having a normal, comfortable life.
You can't sleep. You're bawling, nose running, the collar of your top soaking wet. It's hard to breathe.
You no longer question god, why, his existence, compassion or unknown reasons.
And you can't stop crying; you have an even more naive, illogical feeling that crying so much will absolve you, cleanse you, cleanse the world, change the course of things, make things right. That crying sends out so much soothing healing energy. That the tears of all mothers are God, and when the clock strikes midnight, wars will end, refugees will go home, and no one will ever kill again.
You fall asleep.
You wake up.
Something even worse has happened somewhere while your eyes were closed.
You get up and you move because things need doing. Or so you convince yourself.
You donate. You support. You sign petitions. You share. You talk. You give time and love to those you can give to. You think of the starfish story where the man saves one starfish at a time. You force yourself to believe. You dread another night. Up late and silly cheesy adverts.
And, worst of all, you dreadfully realize, upon reading what you just wrote, that it's all about you.
I bought it at a sale. I fell in love with its daintiness, the fine china, the delicate handle. I would only drink my tea from this mug. Usually Twinings Earl Grey tea. And never any sugar - a habit I picked-up from my dad since I was a little girl.
How beautiful it seemed to me, this mug. Deep blue around the rim, a delicate gold line curving from one side of the handle to the other. And flowers, rather blossoms, like the ones you always see in Japanese paintings - some big, some small, all pink, surrounded by lots of golden leaves tinged with pink, too.
I can still smell the tea, feel the heat of the mug in my hand, the liquid moving inside, steam curling my bangs.
How many times have you made me a mug of tea? I tried multiplying the numbers in my head; forty years, three cups a day and 365 days a year. My mind goes numb. Hundreds upon hundreds of lazy mornings, evenings filled with slow melodies, Arabic, French and Italian, dancing on tip-toe, leaves and hands trembling.
I see you carrying my mug and coming toward me. Your hand always, always touching mine when you gave me my mug. You always thought, perhaps, that I was lazy, not wanting to move from my couch to make my own tea. But it was your touch that I craved. Especially later on when it became the only touch I received from you. I knew then that I could put up with anything, as long as you took the time to make me tea and touch me even accidentally.
Then one morning I woke up and you were gone. I woke up to an eerily silent house - the word house came to mind, not home. Radio off. Television off. No smoke snaking its way around to me bedroom, my pillows, my hair. I knew this day would come. We inhaled and exhaled our goodbyes so many times, so long ago, I had almost forgotten.
I got out of bed and walked around the house barefoot. You always hated that. You always loved that when we first met. I was thinking I'd have one last look at this space when the air was light and I could see rainbows between our toes. Then I found you. On the floor, in the living room. My mug still on the table, the once bright, white china so full of tea stains.
So many stains, so many shapes.
Children, kittens, puppies ..
You didn't leave me after all.
A swing, a tree..
Better you had left. Or I had.
Petunias and daisies..
Or the mug had broke.
Or the tea hadn't stained my mug.
Or the stains hadn't looked so much like our photo albums.
Who Do I Think I Am?
I like to introduce myself as an author and an artist, but that's only because these are words I think other people understand and can directly associate with images I like for myself. This does not mean I don't believe in myself as an author or artist, I just believe more that these are the vehicles I use to be fully aware and fully present in my life. They are the tools that allow me to taste beauty, enjoy beauty, perhaps even become beauty. They allow me to see more, to love more, to forgive more. But I wonder if, in introducing myself this way, I am not limiting and confining myself to these two words and whatever images they conjure up?
Who Do I Think I Am?
A huge rainbow with a larger than life spectrum of colors? Maybe. I just like the romantic sound of that. I am a woman, and just being woman comes with so many meanings of being. I am a mother, a daughter, a wife. Still, these are simply word expressions of me in relation to others. I am Fadwa. I could have easily been Salwa or John. I am Palestinian, white? Didn't choose either. Muslim? Not really.
Who Do I Think I Am?
I am nothing alone and part of everything together. I am a small grain of sand that gathers close to other grains of sand to become this earth. I am a contradiction; I make a difference and I don't. I bring joy, but I may have also brought tears. I spend too much time trying to know myself when the self is the hardest thing to know. I will become a part of this earth, but the earth will be here whether or not I am part of it.
Who Do I Think I Am?
I don't know. Beyond the adjectives, beyond the references, the labels, the titles, the names; I don't know. Do I need to know? To think I am? Something? Anything? It occurs to me that maybe this is what true freedom is; the not knowing, the being nothing. In this freedom, we no longer need to prove anything, defend anything, claim anything. And we are free from suffering and totally incapable of causing the suffering of others.
What do you think?
I'm too afraid to talk about my kids too much. Mostly because it's just so unbearable to have so much of your emotions, your thoughts, your soul roaming around the earth so far away from you. It's like having your heart wrenched out, like being that huffing, puffing oxygen challenged smoker every morning and every night. Especially every night. It's like a huge chuck of your life got amputated when your kids moved out.
The echo in the house is so much louder now. The fridge is always full. In the heavy silence I still hear their footsteps and their endless questions.
The sane and logical mum in me wants her children to be strong, independent, happy, able to cope with whatever life throws at them. The little, emotional mummy in me want to kiss and heal, hug away sorrows, tell ridiculous stories made up on the spur of the moment about how I knew Genghis Khan and tried to dissuade him from pillaging as we rode on big horses with long flowing manes. To be able to make my babies laugh and feel good about themselves and their lives. Faults and all.
The emotional mummy finds it so hard to let go. And so you will find her at night, late at night, crying at some stupid advert because it reminded her of one of her children. Or crying because one of them is feeling bad or is sick and she can do nothing at all to make it all go away.
I thought that being a working woman would save me some pain. I thought my hobbies would keep me distracted. Help me focus on the bigger picture. In the end, as it turns out, these things help only temporarily.
Despite the books, the exhibitions, the career, the truth is that I am a fully fledged, soft-hearted, air-headed mummy. My boys are what matter most to me. What I am denying is that being a mummy is sometimes so overwhelmingly painful.
Because writing is like dancing and I really love dancing. And because pages from my art journal sing when I fill them with words, marks and color.
I tried to keep things separate.
The contradiction that is life.
I am happy, so happy on a personal, very micro-level. I am so sad and angry on the macro-level. Walking this precarious tightrope between suicidal anger and euphorical, delerious happiness.
This is the world I live in. Fully aware how lucky I am that the latter always wins.
لماذا أكتب؟ لأن الكتابة كالرقص وأنا أعشق الرقص. ولأن الورق يغني حين يعج بالحروف والألوان..أمشي السراط غير المستقيم الذي يربط فيما بين السعادة التي هي حياتي الشخصية والتعاسة والبؤوس التي هي هذه الحياة.. وأعرف جيداً كم أنا محظوظة أن السعادة، في نهاية كل مطاف، هي التي تستقبلني
The hardest part is realizing that no matter how optimistic you are, pessimists are also "right". And then coming to terms that there are no absolutes. Right. Wrong. Good. Bad. Even with the toughest issues, some people will still feel justified for their actions or beliefs. Words often lose their meaning in the face of actions.
Light shining through anything is an instant mood changer with a fast spreading ripple effect. Dent in the world? Start with your smaller world; many small dents, one next to the other, small enough so you can be persistent. So you can continue being persistent.
Sometimes you can even love the dark (for a while) because you know it's the biggest reason why light is so powerful.
Fadwa Al Qasem
Email me if you are interested in purchasing my art.
(c) Copyright Fadwa Al Qasem 2015