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Day Three: Portrait of the Artist with a Carton of Raspberries
I wanted to write something today, maybe even a short essay, about how it’s so common for creative people to deprive themselves of basic necessities, even when they can afford it. I thought I might write about the fact that I finally bought myself new jeans the other day, for the first time in years. For years I’ve been wearing cheap things from fast fashion stores that cost less than $20 or $30 apiece, that are not so much jeans but “jeans,” forever ripping or tearing at the least opportune moment, the zippers breaking or opening unexpectedly. They were always sagging and slipping down, not all the way, but just enough so as to be unflattering and/or uncomfortable. I found myself forever performing an odd little kick dance as I hitched them up, in elevators, as I walked down the street, when I got off of buses or the Metro or out of cars and chairs. This small kicking dance—right foot, left foot, hitch, hitch, done, like something a leprechaun might do before setting off to start some trouble—was not the sort of thing I normally associated with the elegant adult woman I am forever pretending it is still possible for me to become.
Anyway. For years I needed new jeans and didn’t buy them. Jeans are almost all I wear and yet I didn’t own any good ones. There were a number of reasons for this. I was always poor and other purchases seemed more important. I had gained weight, and for a while was reluctant to accept the new size as normal. Why buy quality Levi’s when surely I was about to return to my previous weight any day now? And then of course I was trying to get pregnant, and then I did get pregnant, but I don’t want to talk about that right now.
Whatever. Those days of the embarrassing leprechaun dance are over now, because I made the effort to go and try on a variety of jeans. Then I bought two pairs. Now my life is a virtual bed of roses. I walk down the street, I sit down, I get up, and my jeans stay where they are supposed to. They were not on sale. A less perfect pair were on sale, but I didn’t buy those. No. I got the jeans that fit and looked the best and now everything is better. I look and feel better. My stable of sweaters looks better with them. I feel capable and put together and less embarrassed to be a person bumbling through my day. This is both ridiculous and also totally, absolutely understandable. I should have done this years ago.
This reminded me a little of two pieces of writing I haven’t read in a while, so I will probably not remember them too accurately, but hopefully you will get the gist. Sometime in my teen years someone gave me the Julia Cameron book The Artist’s Way. I’ve never gotten all the way through it, and don’t know what I’d think were I to re-read it now, but one image from it has stuck with me over the decades: raspberries.
At one point, I am fairly certain, Cameron talks about the importance for artists of creating a sense of abundance in their lives. Of finding ways to not deprive themselves, even with small gestures. I believe she said that every week, she decided to treat herself to a carton of raspberries at the supermarket. Sure, some weeks they were out of season and more expensive, but still never more than $5 or so.
It also made me think of another half remembered passage, this time from Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions. She’s talking about how, in her own childhood, there were never enough band aides, and so when her son Sam was born, she made sure to get the big ultra-multipack of band aides so that he wouldn’t have to go without. Of course when he did finally need a band aide, she found that she didn’t have the right size of band aide (or something like that), but still.
Abundance. Security. I don’t know. As an artist, it’s important to feel that you have your own back. That you’re worthy of raspberries and band aides and good jeans that fit you. Sometimes we can’t afford any of those things. Sometimes we can’t afford dinner. I remember in my early twenties, living in outer Brooklyn and being so broke that I couldn’t afford food, but scrounging together enough change to take the Subway into Soho where I did Tarot readings on the street for $5 a reading. I made $20, enough to eat that week, though not enough for raspberries.
I don’t think it has to be about money. What else can we do for ourselves to take care? When there isn’t any money, can we give ourselves time? An hour to go to a park, to smell the roses, to draw something or read something, to take a moment to breathe? And if we don’t have even time, what can we give then? Maybe compassion. Maybe forgiveness. Maybe just a hand on our own chest and the permission to be cheesy, to be embarrassing, to be brave and say: I’ve got you. I believe in you. It is going to be okay.
This post is part of a 30-day writing challenge.