So much has happened in my life since this moment. I didn’t know then that there is more than one life in a Life.
A university friend recently found this photo of me modelling for a student fashion show in the 80s, sponsored by Benetton, many moons ago. It was both my first and last foray into the fashion world.
The young woman in this photograph didn’t know that she was going to live the rest of her life in France; she didn’t know that she was going to have a handicapped child that she would spend twenty years caring for; she didn’t know that she was going to battle with depression and PTSD; and she didn’t know that, at last, later in life she would be happy.
Way Back When – 1985.
At that time in my life, I had few worries about my future. Employment opportunities were numerous for graduates, especially as I spoke three languages fluently. I was going to move to Paris to live with my future husband. Environmental problems were barely on anyone’s radar. It was a very different world from today.
The young woman in this photograph also didn’t know that she would live the next thirty five years with the love of her life; she didn’t know that being a mother would be both the most wonderful and the most terrible experience; she didn’t know that she would be capable of facing and getting through very tough times; she didn’t know that those tough times would teach her so much.
As the French painter Sonia Delaunay, who was married to painter Robert Delaunay is quoted as saying:
“I have had three lives: one for Robert, one for my son and grandsons, and a shorter one for myself.”
Act I & II – English By Birth, French For Love.
I was born and grew up in Kent, a county know as the Garden of England, in the south east corner of the country. That was my first life.
My second life started when I left country and family on the very day of my graduation, to live with my future husband in Paris. This life was that of a mother first and foremost, although I worked a little part time, teaching English and translation skills, as well as writing freelance.
Our eldest polyhandicapped daughter left home at the age of twenty to live in sheltered care nearby. I was exhausted, burnt out as a carer and a mother, depressed, a zombie. We find it acceptable these days to say that you have had a burn out because of work, as that implies that you have worked too hard, or that you are too much of a perfectionist. But parental burn out or carer burn out, just as real but even more shameful, is not talked about. By the time our daughter turned twenty, I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her, I wanted to die just to escape and I had a large stock of sleeping pills.
Nobody Is Perfect.
Fortunately, my husband took over all our daughters care, and sped up the process of her moving into adult care. I did the best I could, I did my duty, a duty that I had never expected or asked for and which forced me to abandon all my personal dreams and ambitions. Despite having the support of special needs day care during the school term, the years of running my daughter’s life, akin to running a small business because there is so much to do, organise and supervise every day, had taken a terrible toll. After she moved out, it took a year for me to be able to read to the end of a sentence without forgetting the beginning, a year to do more than just survive, a year of complete rest to start wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I have never written about this major part of my life before and I am only doing it here, in the hope that my honesty might help someone else.
Act III – A Creative and Quiet Life In The French Countryside.
I had abandoned my childhood dream of being a painter like my mother and of going to art school like her and my big sister, when I spectacularly failed the entrance exam. But that secret desire to paint never went away. So, once I got some energy back and not having to work to pay the bills, thanks to my husband, I started going to drawing, painting and photography classes. Photography was a good fit, easier than painting, and once I felt competent, I started a photography business in 2017 and by 2019 I had a few clients, I had won a few prizes (Versailles prints and others) and I had two exhibitions programmed, one in Paris and the other in Barcelona in 2020.
Lockdowns – Hitting Pause.
Of course, all of this was interrupted rather suddenly by the Covid pandemic. Like many people during the subsequent lockdowns, with nowhere to go, no one to see, a lot of thinking happened. I’m an introvert and creativity is essential for me. Even when I had little time or energy, I would still be gardening, flower arranging, decorating, writing in snatched moments, stollen from the daily routines. I’m not good at selling myself and I do not enjoy it. I soon discovered that in order to promote and market a creative business, you spend at least 70% of your time doing that and very little time creating. It was frustrating, costly and unsuccessful.
During the lockdowns I painted two small goddesses and Venus In The Jungle II, my first large painting at 1mx80cm, inspired by the two smaller ones that I had painted as preparation. I varnished her yesterday in the garage, as the smell of the varnish hangs around for ages.
And so, for this the third act of my life I have decided to follow a life long dream, which is to paint as my main occupation. I will still be photographing and although I’m not intending to push any of this as a business, my work will be available for sale. Venus II (above), however is not for sale, my husband refuses to part with her and she has been a revelation to me, so I am currently painting a second version.
I am delighted to share these new adventures with you and I encourage you to continue to believe in your dreams, however hard life is or has treated you. Do share this article if you have friends who may be interested.
Here’s a toast to new adventures and having more than one life in a Life.
Cheers, Santé, ¡Salud!, Skål!, Kanpai!