letter from the bitter side (with an invitation for ,a bowl of soup)
I am starting to write fragments of this letter at the bridge of the 5th to 6th week of a stay-at-home pandemic rollercoaster. By the time I hope to write it without being interrupted by having to play an imaginary shop with my three-year-old wearing a lion costume which needs to be taken off and put back on before or after each pee – pee break, I would have enacted this imaginary grocery shop for 39 days straight. Today, knowing that there still are 7 days ahead of us, I am hoping to have exhausted all the possible constellations or reasons for not being able to return to our usual school-work schedule but, given that this rollercoaster only keeps on gaining its speed, I am realising I should better stop counting. For the clarity of this text, I should probably explain few of these grounding constellations but the one, a bitter one, which I wish to share is that I am an art worker. The sweet and bitter do work in pairs, I know, but in the given situation and in its winter hours it has been the bitter side of being an artist that I have been forced to chew on.
While the weeks continue slipping through the fingers, I keep on chewing, noticing and formulating questions which I crave to know the answers for. Why, once again, is it the ‘office-less’ work, the fluid one which escapes the set time frames that, logically speaking, can so easily cancel itself in service for the last-minute (child) care changes? Why is it so obvious for the not task oriented, written, read or creative work to be seen as a leisure to be given up the moment education or care institutions close their doors? Why, when it comes to valuing and estimating the worth of one’s work it is the more visible and stronger in its earnings that tends to gain more importance and respect? And why ‘that which is not illuminated, is not visible, is not valid’ logic which, even though brought to visibility through multiple discussions not so long ago, today, in this never-ending story of the pandemic, seems to once again reproduce itself? And is it only me who, surrounded by a total radio silence around these questions, has such a hard time with this reality?
What I am realising while writing is that maybe it actually is me, who was programmed to judge the work based on its completed tasks, usefulness and steady working hours. Me, who now struggles when seeing how little visibility and respect does care actually receive in the eyes of our over productive and growth-oriented society. Will the value system in which we navigate be ever really questioned? Or, similarly to all the change promising ideas, that we were so eager to come up with and make happen at the very start of this pandemic but which dissolved the moment first borders, bars and theatres had opened, will we forget about the cracks the moment sun is shining again? And, in this stream of questions which I crave to ask out loud and to someone other than a three-year-old boy, I will ask myself one more. Why, even though I have rehearsed the answer so many times before, do I still react with shock and in silence when someone asks if I am really working now?
To be really honest, I still don’t know how not to let my artistic work be crushed in the comparison based on the productivity and the questionable importance of our works. Since a year now, I crumble like a crumble each time I have to stand up and defend the value of our continuously cancelled work. Is it because the temporary unemployment attests, which you should show to your employer in case the school closes, do not apply to me because I just don’t have an employer? Or is it because it is easier for me to puzzle all the replacement shifts with my colleagues simply because I don’t actually have any? Or, because in a moment of weakness and prolonged isolation, I have allowed my heart to absorb the very painful message which, hidden behind the repetitive ignorance of the cultural sector and carried out by politicians questions significance, value and importance of art?
One of the side effects of this pandemic is the questioned sense of purpose that, I believe, had happened to many of us. Questions of what does one bring to a society or what can one mean or share with it, came up to the surface. But then again, things opened, people saw each other and saw performances, smiled, laughed, got annoyed at times but at least it got them talking with each other and next to each other. This sinusoidal of things opening or closing had somehow an OK sense of timing and a bearable rhythm of change I thought. And then the fourth wave came. With new restrictions and with new agenda shifts and, for me at least, with things getting out of balance.
Aside of couple of new cancellations – nothing seems to have happened over the last couple of months. Aside of the disappearing rescue drops from the most recently bought glass bottle, so little seems to be moving.
Already couple of months ago I started to question the order of things, the point and intention of them. Now, I am desperately trying to convince myself of the usefulness and meaning behind what, invisibly and in my living room for now, I do as a profession. When looking at, what in the non-pandemic days would be my working desk, I see a white surface over flooded with Duplo blocks, five different scissors of five different cutting patterns, cut papers and leftovers of banana skins, I so hard wish to be able to see through this micro and macro chaos and to, once again, feel the strong sense of purpose which, as a performer, I could always hold on to. A reason, value and meaning which (some time ago I would still write it with a shy feeling of shame but today I have no filter) I do not find enough of when my being is continuously reduced to a stay-at-home mum each time school schedule gets altered or called off or quarantine needs to take place. These are results of very obvious and needed decisions yet, with their frequency and unquestioned habits which follow, they lead so many of us to frustration, isolation and feeling of guilt - for not being able to work at all or work enough or for not being present enough - for the small ones.
And maybe a partner saying that in the capitalistic system the artistic work was probably meant to function more as a hobby, aside of stubbing my heart in two, carries a seed of truth to it?
I wish to have answers for all the above deeply programmed in me as not to find myself in this situation again. And even if I will, I wish for it to be my choice and not the default one. I wish not to feel the need to defend and explain what work does my work actually require and that it happens even if I am not in a studio. I wish for the feeling of support and community which could cover my back when needed to be something ordinary and basic and not an event that I have to prove being worth of.
And to my mother who, in slightly annoyed way reacted to my moments of parental/professional/artistic weakness asked me ‘but what did you imagine being a parent is?’ - I didn’t imagine that in times of prolonged crisis it could bring such an expansive volume of loneliness and invisibility.
And to a friend, who didn’t call to ask whether he was in risk after seeing me but who called to simply check on me with his warm words of support and with no hidden reason behind it – you have really, really made my day a better one!
And to yet another friend, who didn’t shy away from asking for help, from asking to be listened to and to whom I was able to offer a bowl of a freshly made soup what, even if only for this soup’s time being, made me feel the of joy of sharing again - thank you for knocking at the door, you have helped me too!
And to all my other parents, non- parents, art and not art workers friends whose stories of struggling with anxiety and of feeling groundless and empty keep on flowing in like an avalanche, I want to hug you all, tightly, and say that at home I pretty much always have a bowl of soup waiting.