Falling off beams
I thought I’d write about balance today. It’s supposed to be my ‘word of the year’ but I don’t feel I’ve been very focused on it or that my life has been very balanced in these last 8 months.
I remember walking along the beam in gymnastics when I was in primary school. It was simply an overturned wooden bench with a thick, solid cross-beam and it was probably only about 30cms from the floor but it might as well have been a rickety log above a raging torrent as far as I was concerned! I never felt safe on that beam and I often fell and had to go back to the start and try again. I was not an athletic child and my balance was never great. Of course, I might have done better if my imagination hadn’t been soaring above me, so that I was secretly half convinced that I was a spangly circus star on a terrifyingly thin wire suspended above a gasping crowd.
Last Monday my son returned from his summer in Scotland and the rest of the week was spent getting ready for his return to school on the Thursday. It’s always a bit of last minute scrum of haircuts, laundry and new school shoes and I’m sure that I’m not the only artist mother who has found her art falling by the wayside on the week that term starts. Some weeks, life simply takes precedence and art has to be shoved aside.
This week we should settle back into a normal term-time routine and at last I’ll have more studio time but even though it’s positive, these transitions still hit me hard. This year was even more stressed than usual because due to illness, my son hadn’t been in school since Christmas. Fortunately he made it back without incident and although I have a lot of residual anxiety, things seem (fingers crossed!) to be OK now.
It recently occurred to me that I secretly believe there’s a perfect life/work balance that can be miraculously attained and then indefinitely and effortlessly maintained. Whereas in reality, I’m still this distracted kid who constantly falls off the beam and has to go back to the beginning. When I’m parenting, I feel slightly irked that I’m not making my art but when I’m making art, I feel slightly guilty that I might be neglecting my parenting. It’s never a perfect balance: I am always on the wrong end of a see-saw or spinning frantically on a roundabout feeling sick and wishing I could jump off.
And in truth, that’s how it is for all of us because balance isn’t balance if you can’t fall. To be mutable, unstable and ever-changing is simply the nature of balance – if a thing is steady, immovable and fixed then there’s no need for balance at all. And whose life is steady, immovable and fixed? Certainly not mine!
In my more enlightened moments, I understand this but enlightenment – like balance – constantly slips from our grasp. So here we all are, balancing on our thin little lives and constantly shifting our weight from one side to the other. Maybe we’re smoothly adjusting to the airflow around us or maybe we’re juggling plates on the high wire, frantically wobbling and worrying that we are about to fall off!
I once saw a short film that involved a man standing in front of a sign. One arrow of the sign was labelled ART while the other, which pointed in the opposite direction, was labelled LIFE. The man hovered indecisively and anxiously between them, running off first in one direction and then a moment later running back the other way. Back and forth he went at varying speeds and for varying lengths of time, occasionally slumping against the sign in utter exhaustion. Art/life, life/art: a constant struggle, a constant search for balance. The audience, largely made up of artists, was in fits of laughter, all of us clearly experiencing comedy of recognition.
As I grow older, I realise that, as John Lennon said, “life is what happens while you are making other plans”. This is my life: this muddle of half tended garden plants; a child who needs new school trousers (even though he said he didn’t!); a messy, neglected studio; a house in a state of flux from bouts of decluttering; emails left unanswered; blog posts unwritten; a head full of half-baked art ideas and always more things on my to-do list than my health can truly handle.
Yet I still walk across that beam every day; some days feeling the cavernous drop beneath my feet, some days seeing that I am really only 30cms from the ground and perfectly safe. And I think perhaps you do too…