From Under the Covers
by Rythea Lee
I’ve always been a prolific artist. I starvingly devoured any mediums I could find- acrylics, collage, musical instruments, spoken words, clay, photography, drawing, and always, always the dance. Then I gave birth to a baby girl and things…changed. Sort of. During her second and third years, I performed my one-woman show called “Don’t Be A Dick” fourteen times. I taught classes on transformation, started a blog, wrote children’s songs, and attended my weekly improvisational dance meetings. Before being a Mother, art had consistently saved me from going crazy. After being a Mother, it served to preserve a sense of aliveness, a reassurance that I still “had it,” I hadn’t succumbed to an ordinary life of diaper changing, grocery buying, vacuum cleaning, bill paying, and cooking.
I can see now I’d determined to stay just as productively edgy as I’d been before, while keeping this new, bizarrely helpless human from killing herself (rolling off the bed, choking on a marble, electrocuting herself with the wall sockets). It hadn’t occurred to me in a realistic way that something had to give and it probably was going to involve no exercise, no time alone, and a classic identity crisis. Keep in mind – I went at parenting the same way I went at creativity, throwing my heart and mind into absolute abandoned engulfment and love. I didn’t sacrifice our bond to be a voice for change. I did both. Or shall we say, I did it all.
Let’s fast forward, can you guess where I am right now? I’m in bed with a flu that has kicked my ass for eight straight days. I’m writing, which indicates that all is not lost. The scraps of a creative life are being salvaged as we speak. But something has got to give, my friends, and it seems to involve no exercise, no time alone, and a classic identity crisis. “I am an artist, I am,” she yells from her barely audible (while coughing) voice from underneath the comforter. “I am a voice for change,” she whispers before allowing her painfully exhausted eyelids to close at last.
Someone is with my kid and if I don’t sleep a lot right now, I won’t be much of a Mother tonight when she’s dropped at home for 6,726 hours of parenting. During that time, we’ll do watercolors, play-dough, and play-acting but what about my new book? My new play? My new line of trauma-healing teas that double as perfume-scented, poetry magnets before they hit the water? I’ve got screenplays to write and a new album to record! I’m yelling this from under the covers.
This is what I’m learning from the flu: I can’t keep manifesting at this level (and I haven’t even mentioned my private practice or laundry) if I want to love myself. Pure and simple. I don’t regret my drive, my need to express and make a difference. I adore this aspect of myself. But I’m only human and the well must be filled. “All that is given needs time to be received.” I just made that up. I wanted to quote someone but couldn’t get out of bed to the computer so I quoted myself. “All that is given needs time to be received.” Pretty cool. So, if I don’t enjoy, allow, witness, and experience all that comes through me into the world, then I’m just trying too hard and hurting myself. It’s like being the waves in the ocean that go out and not allowing the waves to come back in.
I need to receive what I’ve done. Receive what is coming back to me, to give back TO me. There is ebb and there is flow. I need to ebb!!! Here I am in bed, ebbing, and it’s important. I love to ebb. That’s my new mantra.
Here’s the thing. Life is hard or at least I think so. Life is also peppered with love bombs; attacks of care, sweetness, and connection that come from unexpected places and moments we can’t control. Life is not a race or a contest because we are all going to die and we are not going to get it all done before then. I’m speaking to myself here. You can try but if you try too hard, you’ll miss enjoying the fruits of your labor. The reward at the end is the same for everyone, death. So why push so hard and so fast, why not let life live through you a bit Sister? Where are you going so fast? Where you hoping to make a name for yourself before you leave Earth? “Yes,” I say to this weird voice that has entered the page, “why yes I was.”
“Well, give it up because on your deathbed, if you even get a deathbed, you’ll wish you’d just enjoyed who you were and not some idea of yourself you’ve been perfecting” the voice says (now we’re officially dialoguing).
“But I’m an artist, that’s what I do” I argue with the voice.
“Being an artist just means staying awake,” it responds, “and being awake means opening to the pain, opening to the pleasure, opening to all of it. Sometimes your life will make something for others to see and share and sometimes it will just be life, Rythea, and that’s enough. Just living it.”
“Are you sure?” I ask earnestly, “Could that possibly be enough?”
“You are enough, Rythea. You don’t have to make things or be brilliant or distinguish yourself in any way. You could be pooping and reading a magazine and you’d still be enough. You could be binging on sweet potato fries. You could be smelling your armpits after dancing to see if they’re smelly. You could be old and wrinkled and mute and diseased and scarred and full of doubt and you’d still be enough my friend. You are. And that’s enough. You just got to trust me on this.”
I wondered for a moment if I was talking to Santa Claus, or the Buddha, or the late Joan Rivers but it didn’t matter. The answer was clear. I had to put the pen down and go back to sleep. No art would be made today (ok, ignore this article) and life would go on. I may be an unshowered, flem-filled, aching-from-head-to toe Mother on the verge of obscurity but I could safely pull the flannel sheet over my head. And ebb.