Embrace the unexpected… F*ck your plans
If you’re just joining me… Here’s my story….
First off I am a wife; mom; and professional artist. I never planned on being any of those things but my life has yet to work out according to my plans. I’ve always done something with art: building tabletop concrete water fountains (that my poor dad used to have to carry up from the basement whenever I wanted to work on them); miniature dioramas; ceramics; sculpy clay figures; oil paint; paper scrap collages; and more… but nothing ever stuck and nothing ever seemed like a viable career choice. To be honest, being a professional artist seemed completely out of reach for me: I spent a lifetime telling myself that I wasn’t good enough for that. Spoiler alert, when you believe something long enough, you will live it.
I went to college for art and halfway through decided I was making a huge mistake: the phrase “starving artist” always ringing in my ears and so I transferred schools and switched majors halfway through my degree program. I decided I would be an elementary school teacher (which if we’re being honest was the result of listening to way too many people who thought they knew what was best for me). Luckily I was talked out of teaching by my late third grade (and also favorite elementary school) teacher who I was shadowing at the time. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching, but I can assure you, that with my temperament, teaching elementary school would have been a god awful choice for me and deep down I was well aware. Fish out of water wouldn’t have even begun to describe what a bad choice this would have been… so back to art I went; it was the only thing I was even remotely good at; but unfortunately I wasn’t great… I was good at a lot of art mediums, but not exceptional and I was never going to be great because nothing sparked joy. I firmly believe that in order to achieve greatness you have to love what you’re doing because my god, you are going to get kicked in the proverbial balls over and over and over again and if you don’t love the reason for getting kicked, eventually the throbbing will get the best of you and you’ll walk away. Been there, done that. I wound up graduating with a degree in studio arts; my concentration was in graphic design (I hate being on computers all day by the way lol) and when I left that campus for the last time, I was pretty sure that there was nothing out there for me in the arts… dejected would have been putting it mildly. There was only one thing to do at this point and that involved being responsible and getting a “real” job with a steady income; health insurance; benefits… blah, blah, blah; so I did the right thing and got a job selling pipe markers, valve tags, and street signs. I lasted ten months: Loser.
Just before graduating I met my husband. I had been in a very emotionally abusive relationship; my ex actually punched the wall inches from my head because he was sick of me… good stuff. I had been single for two years and had finally pulled myself out of the depressed funk that‘s so easy to get stuck in when your ex partner spent the better part of a year telling you how your art was garbage and you shouldn’t even be in college because you sucked at everything (man he was a peach). The kicker was that HE was the one to end our relationship. I was a mess at the time…being in an abusive relationship is like tossing a frog into a pot of tepid water and slowly turning it to a boil: before you are even cognizant of how bad things are, you’re in far too deep to get out. During those two years of subsequent “singledom” though, I spent a ton of time healing and discovering my worth as well as setting my partner standards Dubai style, sky scraper high: no scrubs ever again. The second I met my husband I went from: I will never get married to “I do” and the change was instantaneous. Although we were pretty much inseparable since day one, it would be seven years before we would marry… there were plenty of reasons for the wait but the biggest was that I was adamantly against having children; my husband on the other hand, wanted a large family (we’ll get to that in a bit)
A year after we started dating and I had graduated from college we decided to move to Florida. I absolutely despised New England weather (winters are cold af) and I really loved warm weather; the sun; and the ability to swim year round (yes, please). So we left the only town I had ever known and moved to Pinellas County, FL where we settled in Clearwater. Again, determined to do the right thing and get a “real job”, I would spend the next ten plus years jumping from job to job. Nothing felt right and with each failed attempt at finding myself a career, I felt like that much more of a failure. What the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t find something that didn’t make me want to step in front of a bus?
I spent my adolescence watching my dad bust his ass at a job that sucked the life out of him. He literally had a countdown clock set to his retirement date (years in the future). Around this same time, my seventh grade teacher who had often talked about his retirement when I was in his class, was diagnosed with cancer. I was a junior in high school the year he was set to retire. Unfortunately he left the school year half way through on medical leave and died at the end of the year; irony not lost on me: the day he would have retired. During this time I lost two cousins, one 16 and one 29 to, both way before they had even had a chance to live their lives. By the time I had reached my late teens; I was very aware that one was not guaranteed a long life or a retirement.
This lesson would stick with me (indefinitely) and while it was a great way to live one’s life: finding something you loved doing; the finding part would cause a whole lot of heartache; self doubt; embarrassment; and even, if we’re being honest, because I am being real af right now, a ton of self loathing. Loser. Loser. Loser. Several family members even joked about me being a “job jumper” which isn’t a flattering term coming from people that have held down the same job for a lifetime. From where I was standing, I had nothing to offer. I bounced from job to job; never fitting in; and depressed as hell… each new job would start with the tiniest bit of hope, that I had somehow found the fit for me and when it would inevitably end with me quitting, anxiety pulsing through my veins, the loss of that hope was just that much more profound than the loss of the one before.
It’s strange to me how sometimes something so bad can turn out to be one of the best things to happen to you. On Labor Day weekend, 2012, just months after getting married (yeah!), I was involved in a bad car accident. We were headed northbound when a car headed east barreled through six lanes of traffic at over 40 miles an hour before t-boning our car. I suffered from sever whiplash (the curvature in my neck was actually reversed by the impact); several herniated discs; and some crap nerve issues to the left side of my body that would cause me to randomly drop things or lose all feeling in my left arm. For months I was in physical therapy daily and as a result was no longer able to do my office job. I resigned… something I was really good at. I was 29 at the time. I went from being pain free and very active to experiencing chronic pain. To top it off, I was unemployed and even more nervous about being able to find something. If I couldn’t find something before my accident, and now my options were even smaller, how was I ever going to find that elusive job that I loved? I had no idea.
Here I was: no job, no direction, a shit ton of physical therapy and not much of anything else. Fantastic. Six months later I was healed enough to return to work, “as good as I was ever going to get” were the words my doctor used (he wasn’t wrong either lol) and so the search continued. A good friend of mine, a very talented ceramic artist, had recently taken a job at one of those new paint and sip shops that were just starting to pop up. “I can’t paint, though,” I laughed. It would be a few more chats with her before she convinced me that she was not a painter and able to do the job fine, “you’re an artist, you can totally do this.” I applied… heard nothing for a few weeks, was resigned to the fact they weren’t going to hire me and continued looking for work when I got an email asking me to come in for an interview. They asked me to bring some of my art, which was nerve wracking to say the least, and by golly, I was hired. I felt like I had snuck in a back door… that they were going to figure it out, that I couldn’t paint worth a lick and I’d have to leave but that never happened. What did happen was that I made a lot of friends, the majority of whom I am still in contact with, that just happened to be INCREDIBLE painters. I would feel out of place for a long time, but as I painted for work, I improved. Now I still didn’t care for painting, I wasn’t doing it in my spare time at this point, I actually hated acrylic paint lol, but I was painting weekly and I was getting better. Not great… but definitely better.
Canvas never made my soul sing. I’m a weirdo with texture and the feeling of the textured cloth did not spark joy. That all changed though when I found a painted rock, “that’s fun!” I had thought; and then when a friend and coworker invited us to her studio to paint rocks, I was down. Something about the smoothness of the stones and the way the paint felt like butter on the surface appealed to me and that was it… I was hooked. I started painting rocks regularly. I loved the challenge of getting a ton of detail onto a tiny little stone. With all the practice I started to make some big improvements. Had I found what I loved? I thought I had… but there was another ”problem”. I was now a mom.
“Being a mom was problematic to you,” you may be asking… and my most honest to god answer was yes. For a long time, it was literally THE WORST thing that could have happened to me. Remember… I was the person that had spent my life with the “no kids ever” plan. I was the person that almost didn’t marry the love of my life because of my no kids stance; and so when that ‘just the two of us’ dream didn’t work out; I had a lot of soul searching to do. I’m not going to say that I was selfish for not wanting children, because I don’t agree with the notion that one has to have kids to be selfless; but I was very accustomed to being cared for in my marriage. My husband and I never had traditional gender roles, then or now, and so in our relationship, he was the one doing most of the caring for me… through all the job jumping hooplah and the tumble weed in the breeze crap, he was the rock and he took care of me. On top of that I had struggled all of my teen and early adult life with depression. I was convinced I was unfit to care for a child. Besides the constant underlying depression, I’m also type A to the 100th percent… I don’t like anything out of place; I despise disorder; loud noises cripple me and I was certain, I didn’t have a maternal bone in my body. Throughout my pregnancy though I convinced myself that once our son was born, the heavens would open, a blinding white light would shine down on me and I’d feel like a mom. I’d be fine. The reality though was that once my son was born I didn’t feel that overwhelming love or happiness: there was a pit in my stomach; my nether regions burned something fierce and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had made the biggest mistake of my life… a feeling I would carry with me for years. Again… I was a failure… I couldn’t even be maternal… and now, I was caring for someone else. Was there postpartum depression? Yes. So much, yes. But admitting that would be admitting that I felt nothing for my own child (this is so fucking painful to admit) and what kind of monster feels that way? I went through all the motions; hating myself more and more, especially when I watched friends struggle to get pregnant… and here I was, pregnant because of failed contraceptives, a cruel irony, and I was resentful af.
To make matters worse I had just discovered what I loved doing… painting rocks. And now I couldn’t do the thing I loved because I had a son… and then another son… and finally a daughter. I had to quit my paint and sip job… I wasn’t getting out of the house anymore and I spent a lot of my time as a new mom feeling resentful; isolated; lonely; depressed; angry… you name it, I probably felt it. On top of that, we were now living on one income with three additional mouths to feed, stay at home mom here, and the bills began stacking up. The added financial stress was rough to say the least. During my final pregnancy I was lucky to meet one of my very dear friends and she was an absolute godsend. I was in such a dark place after my daughter was born and she was like this angel that just came into my life and gave so much of herself to me. She was there all the time and so helpful. When I’d be anxious af because the baby was crying and someone had crapped their pants and someone needed a pb&j, without me ever even asking, she would be in the kitchen making my kids lunch, a smile on her face. I have learned and continue to learn so much from her; she had a rough life and yet she continues to better herself and those around her. The world would be a better, much kinder, place with more people like her.
Maybe I could figure this all out after all? And then the pandemic hit. The pandemic hit and looking back I had no clue how long it would drag on. No worries… I got this. But then my friend hit me upside the head; her wife got an amazing promotion and she was moving to Miami. I went from having this friend of mine, that had a key to my house and was often sitting in my kitchen drawing when I got home from my morning walk - we were (and still are) just that close; so when she left, I was left with another pit in my stomach. I was utterly alone. No biggie I had tried not to panic… this whole covid thing would blow over and I could get back out and be social and make more friends but that didn’t happen. At first I got by, I enjoyed not having to get up at a certain time; I ditched my alarm clock (silver lining) and living in pajamas with no place to go was novel for a spell… but the loneliness just crept in, bit by bit. And not only was there the loneliness, but I still had three young kids, that very much needed me, and I just was not feeling cut out for the job… I wanted to paint… I didn’t want the responsibility of kids and I felt like a trapped animal. I was literally home 24/7 with no breaks; in three months I left the house once. My only connection to the outside world and other adults was social media (which is toxic af if you’re depressed already - true story) and my husband was never home because he was working singlehandedly to support a family of five. At this point I didn’t know how to make the non-stop screaming in my head stop… “you fucked up!!!!!!! You fucked up!!!!! So bad!!!!! Mistake!!!!! What did you do? What did you do?“ I felt so alone and so resentful and then so angry at myself for feeling resentful about something that I should feel grateful for: motherhood. The mind fuckery was top notch at this point.
I was trapped in a house with three kids I had never wanted to have, who took up every second of my day. The house was constantly loud; I was constantly cleaning; toys always strewn about; I was lonely af and worse yet I had finally found what I wanted to do: paint professionally; but was unable to do so because I had three kids that took up every minute of my day. When you’re in the thick of your misery it’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. I hit the lowest point of my life during the summer of 2020… it was during this time that I planned on taking my own life. I had the whole thing planned down to the t; but something happened… me, the person who always has something to say, the person who’s never at a loss for words, couldn’t get past the “Dear David,” part of my apology letter to my husband. What could I say to him that would make what I was about to do, justified? Forgivable? I never figured out what to write. And then there was the random act of kindness from a complete stranger, something profound… I had left the house and went to a pond to sit, I just needed to clear my head. It was dusk and as I sat there, staring at the pond, tears streaming down my face the strangest thing happened: there were turtles. At first it was one, and then two and before I knew it, there were over 100 turtles. They began to surface and make their way to the shore, right by where I was sitting. It didn’t take me long to figure out why, I soon saw an elderly man, slight in stature, with several loaves of bread under his arm, walk down from his house, just across the street and towards the pond. He made his way to the shore and without saying a word, walked over to me, handed me a loaf of bread and smiled. That loaf of bread and my inability to put into words what I was planning on doing saved my life. That was the first time, in a very long time, that I felt anything… and what I felt at that moment was the resolve I needed to continue my journey.
The next day I spilled my guts to my husband. My pain came out like water out of a burst dam and I felt this overwhelming feeling of peace, as if by admitting where I was at, I felt as if I could finally feel better. And I did. My husband, always my rock, changed his schedule to be home more and help me by taking the kids out regularly. His schedule was already packed but he shouldered more of the load without even being asked and I was finally able to exhale… my world no longer felt like a cage closing in. In 2019 I had participated in an online art show and loved it. Being part of the show (25daysofminis.com) was so much work but so rewarding… and inspiring. I decided not to apply in 2020 because of the pandemic and homeschooling my kids; but figured I would apply in 2021. I wound up applying and was accepted but the ante’ had been upped. Participation in the online show now required that I join an artist training program. No biggie, I could use the help. Little did I know how much help I would be receiving. The program involves weekly coaching and while the coaching is most definitely based on working as a full time artist, most of the advice can be applied to every other aspect of one’s life. Some things I have learned and now believe: Your thoughts always dictate your results / I AM an artist / I am worthy / and most importantly, every single circumstance in my life is neutral: my thoughts are what decide if the situation is positive or negative. Mind blown.
Through this program I learned how to better schedule and manage my time… I’m often asked now how I, a stay at home mom with three young kids has time to crank out 2-5 paintings; social media posts; and a newsletter each week… and I’ll tell them, it’s because of this program. I’m happier now with a purpose and more importantly BALANCE. I’m now way more cognizant of my thoughts (especially the negative ones) and empowered knowing that this control freak can control her own brain. I’m also learning to rephrase my thoughts from, “I have to…” to “I get to…” and it’s amazing how that shift in perspective has had a profound effect on my mindset. Being able to manage my time effectively and actually make time for myself to pursue a career that I love has been a game changer. I’m no longer resentful; I no longer feel trapped and I have to say, because I never in a million years thought I’d feel this way, but if I had to do it all again… if I had the chance to go back in time, something I used to fantasize about regularly, I’d still choose to be a mom. I’m not going to say I’m Mrs Maternal, and not even close to being the best mom out there, but I’m still pretty damn good at what I’m doing when I’m not trying to pour from a bone dry glass.
I used to think that my life not going according to plan was some big, ol’ monumental failure. I used to think that I was unworthy of being an artist. I used to think there was no way that someone like me could be a good parent. I used to believe that I was a serial job jumper with zero prospect of finding anything close to happiness (outside of my marriage of course). Now? Now I know that life is what happens when you’re busy making plans… enjoy the ride. Now I know that not only am I a good artist, but that I will be a GREAT artist one day. Now I know that being a parent doesn’t make you perfect but that working on yourself (constantly) makes you a better one. Now I know that the job jumps weren’t failures but merely stepping stones to something much bigger; something better than I ever could have imagined for myself. My circumstances haven’t changed drastically but my thoughts have. I’m learning to embrace the unexpected because that’s my life and it’s the only one I’ve got… and you better believe I’m going to enjoy the new lease I feel I’ve been given. I’m Vanessa LeVesque: I’m a wife. I’m a mom. I’m a professional artist. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.