My Art Taught Me…

My Art Taught Me... Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

Right now I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop on my first solo trip out of the house since giving birth, writing my first post-baby weekly essay—or rather, I’m thinking about writing the essay.

I’ve already started and stopped and restarted this essay 3 times. I feel the anxiety rising, the need to create something “great”, the pressure of writing my first essay back from maternity leave, the worry that if I write too much about my current experience (struggling to settle into life as a new mom with a newborn baby) and don’t write enough about art and creativity that all of you will unsubscribe and I’ll be talking to an empty void.

But then I realized, these problems are exactly the same as what I typically write about—how mindset affects the creative process: our tendency towards unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, comparison, and self-judgment.

So now I’m taking a step back and pausing to try to be more aware of what mindset I’m currently in. As you know, I write these essays primarily for myself. They are a means for me to think through and process my own experiences as an artist (and a human), sharing what I learn along the way with you. And right now, my experience is being dominated by this new tiny creature who is totally dependent on me for her survival.

Perhaps you’d be interested to read an essay titled, “How This New Mom Overcame Exhaustion to Prioritize Creativity”. Or maybe, “How my Child Inspires my Art Every Day”. But that hasn’t been my experience, y’all.

Instead, this essay could be titled “How This New Mom Manages to Drag Herself Out of Bed to Eat, Nurse, and Sometimes Kind of Sleep” or “How New Mom Cries Often and Wonders What is Normal and Not Normal.”

In periods of struggle, these weekly essays become a way to tap into my self-awareness and speak directly to myself, telling myself what I need to hear, like a personal pep talk. It’s a way to organize and crystallize my thoughts and really absorb advice from others by applying it to my own experience and writing it in my own words. I tried writing an essay like that today, inspired by the Jon Kabat-Zinn quote:

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

–Jon Kabat-Zinn

But no matter how I wrote and rewrote that essay, it just felt disingenuous and insincere. Perhaps because that quote doesn’t actually resonate with me right now. I believe it intellectually, but currently, I’m just not there right now. I don’t feel like I’m learning to surf, I just feel like I’m drowning.

For quite a few reasons, I’m at high-risk for Postpartum Depression. I went into this period armed with research, books, a therapist, early doctor appointments, a network of support, and a plan. And yet, I’m still struggling.

I knew feeding and caring for a newborn baby round the clock would be difficult. I knew sleep deprivation would make everything harder. I knew it would be hard to find time to make art and that I would need a period of time off. I knew the mantra: “If the baby is fed and you are fed, you’re winning”.

And yet, I feel like nothing I’m doing is good enough. I’m not connected enough to my baby. I’m not changing enough diapers. I’m not working enough. I’m not drawing enough. I’m not doing enough. I’m not enough.

My Art Taught Me... Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios.

But I’ve felt this way before, especially with my art. And my experience with artmaking has taught me how to get through periods of struggle.

My art has taught me to accept where I am today.

My art has taught me how to draw and write about what I feel, not what I think I should feel.

My art has taught me that whatever marks I make on the page are good enough.

My art has taught me that making those authentic marks, rather than the marks I think I should be making, is how you move forward.

My art has taught me that the way through struggle is to acknowledge, accept and share my struggle.

My art has taught me that I have to see and share my vulnerabilities with others to connect, instead of hiding my weaknesses and shutting down.

My art has taught me that struggle is a normal and natural part of the creative process (and life in general).

My art has taught me that the waves will never really stop, and it’s ok if you can’t go straight from drowning to surfing.

My art has taught me that sometimes you just need to float for a while, and that’s good enough.

So here I am now, trying to take these lessons I’ve learned from my art to heart, and sharing these vulnerabilities with you. I’ve only drawn 3 times in 3 weeks, and I feel frustrated about that. I feel more like a milk-producing cow rather than a warm, nurturing mother, and I feel ashamed about that. I am often so tired and mentally drained that all I can do is lay down and read, and I feel embarrassed about that. I have a loving husband, mother, therapist, and midwife who are all amazingly supportive of me and still I struggle, and I feel guilty about that.

But today, right now, I’m trying to acknowledge and accept where I am. And I’m turning to my art to help me get there, starting with this essay, right now. This essay is not perfect. Maybe it’s not even good, I don’t know. But it is the first essay I’ve written since becoming a mother. This is my first solo outing since becoming a mother. I left the house, and I wrote an essay.

That may not be the stuff of an inspiring how-she-did-it-new-mom-essay, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. I may not be learning to surf yet, but perhaps I’m learning to float.

And for now, maybe that’s good enough.


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