It's almost the end of my term as the Sunrise Waikato RotaryWriter in Residence at Hamilton Girls High School, although the Principal is letting me stay in the studio through the summer holidays. When she offered I almost cried with relief as I've been increasingly concerned about how I was going to squeeze my studio back into my bedroom and somehow carry on with the large-scale works-in-progress I started, but didn't finish, during the Residency.
I choose to rent a bedroom in a shared flat rather than fulfil my dream of living in my own house for much the same reasons that I choose not to own a car. Partly I'm trying to minimise my ecological footprint, but more selfishly I'm minimising my expenses so I can devote most of my energy to my creative work rather than toiling full time in the well-paying career I drifted away from a few years ago. Sometimes my creative work is financially rewarding (for example this Residency came with a stipend) but being paid for art or writing has been the exception in my experience so far.
Because of my low-cost lifestyle I enjoy a great deal of freedom and some aspects of my life make other people envious. I am my own boss and control my own time, in which I write poetry, make art, learn new things and am free to follow my intuition. I'm aware and grateful that I am living (at least part) of a collective dream life.
One of the reasons that I can arrange my life this way in my 40s, is because when I was young I chose a path not usually associated with fulfilling one's dreams: I was a teenage single mother. That experience taught me to be frugal, to be decisive, to overcome obstacles and to accept help when I need it. Most of all, it set me free to explore in my late 30s, when many of my peers are immersed in child raising and mortgage servicing; and look back at the freedom of their childless 20s with nostalgia.
It's no coincidence that my practice and my identity as an artist emerged at exactly the same time as my daughter was launching herself into adult independence. I had spent most of her childhood pursuing my youthfully idealistic dream of saving the world through public policy. Two degrees, a couple of government departments and councils, and something like a nervous breakdown later, I was ready to be completely selfish for the first time in my adult life. So when I discovered artist's books and that I was quite good at them, I gradually extracted myself from the public service to became a full time artist.
Of course, the reality is that fledgling artists have as much chance of making a living from their art as winning the lotto. When I eventually used up the savings that could have been a house deposit in the 1970s, I figured out a frugal lifestyle of part-time paid work and full time art work. This was so successful that at the same time as preparing my first solo show I managed to save up something that could have been a house deposit in the 1960s.
But then two years ago I impulsively decided to pursue my idiosyncratic 2o year dream of living in a treehouse in the Daintree Rainforest. I'm still making sense of how important it was for me to spend 7 months at Cape Tribulation, even though at the time it seemed like I was spinning my wheels at the end of the road. When my savings ran out and the extreme and isolated environment proved inimical with the rest of my dreams I returned to Hamilton where I knew it would be easiest to get traction towards the life I want.
Fulfilling such a long held yet whimsical dream is something that most people seem to assign to their 'if I win lotto' wish list. But to do so undervalues and undermines our dreams with really bad odds instead of intention, planning, effort and sacrifice or even trust, any of which will do more to fulfil your dreams than buying lotto tickets every week. Dreams that are worth fulfilling are worth better than lottery odds.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a long distance truck driver when I grew up. Unfortunately, it turns out that I don't actually like driving and I abandoned that dream without a backward glance. Dreams change over time, but it's not the specifics of your dreams that matter, it's the essence of them.
As a child I thought that being a truck driver would allow me the same kind of headspace that I enjoyed on our family's long road trips when nothing was expected of me in the back seat except to sit still, be quiet, and not fight with my brother. I could just look out the window, let my mind wander and daydream.
I came out of the trees exactly one year ago with no idea what I wanted to do next. I didn't have a plan, I didn't even have a specific dream as remotely compelling as the one I had just fulfilled. In retrospect, what I did have was a renewed commitment to the essence of my childhood dream of maintaining the head space to observe the world, explore ideas and imagine alternate realities. As an adult I have set up my life so that this essential freedom of thought is manifest in creative expression: making books, stitching images and sculptures. My youthful idealism continues to be manifested in the critical environmental themes I research and interpret, and in my participation in a community of activist artists and crafters.
As my birthday, the end of the year and the decade all approach, it seems appropriate to review my dreams, achievements and plans. I originally wrote this piece for the School of Education's Professional Development Department. They had me present it on a moving bus as it travelled through the Waikato countryside. I broke up my personal story by getting them each to talk to their seatmates about their 'lotto wish list', their childhood dreams and how the essence of their dreams can be manifest in their lives now.
All photos taken by me on the Daintree Coast, July 2009