Barbara's blog: The Line Around Your Thoughts 

clock Released On 22 August 2023

Barbara's blog: The Line Around Your Thoughts 

Daughter has lost her mojo. This time last year she was looking forward to starting college and immersing herself into her subjects of choice: art, graphic design and photography. Fast-forward to today and she rarely picks up a pencil. I am happy she has found a part-time job and has an active social life, but I have started to notice a change in the narrative that accompanies the lack of art-related activity. Whilst she used to say that art was the only thing she wanted to do, her passion, her way of making the world beautiful, it has now switched to the less hopeful ‘art is the only thing I can do’, betraying a more anxious, almost desperate undertone.

I decided to gently probe. 

Me, trying to act casual: “Have you thought anymore about whether you would prefer to enrol on a photography foundation or a generic art one?”.

Daughter, inching towards DefCon 4 (as in ‘DEFinitely not having this CONversation): “I will probably do the art one, then try for uni… just to stall having to decide what I want to do with my life”.

Me, grinning like a Cheshire cat while dying inside: “Ha ha everybody does that, maybe targeting your studies towards working for Disney might help you tailor your course selection more accurately…”.

Daughter, now on DefCon 1: “Mmmmmmmm….”, while walking away nonchalantly, in an expertly engineered teenage deep-conversation-avoidance tactic.

Me: … That went well. 

I tried to imagine having the same exchange with my mother all those years ago and quickly realised that would not have happened, as mum and I never discussed options. She pretty much manipulated me into choosing what she thought was a respectable education path, which in her opinion would have given me status and a suitable husband. Mr and Mrs Engineer/Doctor/Lawyer (delete as applicable).

I feel empathy with Daughter. I eventually left home to attend art college in the UK and I know first hand making art is difficult for myriads of reasons. You need to be in the zone and you can’t force it. There is no planning to work x amount of hours focusing on y and z topics, like you would in other jobs. Getting in the zone is such a subtle, delicate transition that you almost don’t realise it has happened, until you find yourself with a brush in your hand, having started to paint. And when you are in the zone, it can be a powerfully meditative state that effortlessly guides your actions, your focus so razor-sharp it bypasses rational thinking, flirting instead into sensory, emotional perception. But just because you are now in the zone, it doesn’t mean to say you are going to stay there long enough to finish what you started. Sometimes the feeling ebbs away as silently as it came and you run out of steam, coasting until you stop. Or it’s 2am and you are told to go to bed. As I said. It’s difficult.

As well as the mechanics above, you also have to contend with the internal conflict that arises from devoting your energy to an introspective pursuit. Art relies entirely on you being able to internalise the external world and project it out again, rather than contribute to more socially orientated matters that benefit the public good. When I worked in the arts industry, I felt this push and pull strongly and could never resolve it. I don’t think Daughter is at this point: her struggles are more material, a subconscious response to the social prejudice that considers the arts less worthy than other subject matter, now made worse by how machine learning is increasingly digitalising creativity. She feels helpless that future prospects for artists look poor, and frustrated by her internal monologue which coerces her into thinking she hasn’t got any other options because art is the only activity she is good at.

I do my best to support Daughter. She is a talented painter and excels at design and photography so being her biggest fan is an easy gig. I try hard to starve the negative narrative that feeds her state of mind, I encourage her to make plans, create direction, goals, a sense of purpose. And whilst some of these efforts are driven by a desire for Daughter not to have to go through what I did to pursue her dreams – I was barely older than she is when I left home, everything I owned in a suitcase! – I also want her to understand that any job requires a certain amount of hard graft and that she should feel privileged to be able to access education in her chosen field and have strong family support.

Ultimately, I didn’t find purpose until much later in life, and I also stalled having to make life decisions by studying for a degree and a Master, followed by a ten-year stint in the arts industry, and eventually becoming the accidental regulator I am now. Making life choices requires a certain amount of maturity and experience which we can’t ask of the young, particularly those living in our precarious world and feeling the angst of an uncertain future.

I choose to be gentle with Daughter, while she draws lines around her thoughts.

Barbara works for the aviation regulator and lives a stone’s throw from the South Downs with her 17 year old creative daughter, 15 year old ingenious son and supportive husband.


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