There's a lot of frustration in my house of late. We've all been going through a lot, and it's been tough to keep positive. I didn't expect to be in Florida this long, unemployed, and struggling to find motivation to make art again. My uncle didn't expect his recovery from knee surgery to take so many unusual detours. My aunt didn't expect her role as a nurse would be extended while she balances her work responsibilities. My cousin didn't expect that her working from home would include being a part-time physical therapist. None of us expected the COVID numbers in Florida to spike so much that we'd become the hotspot of the world. We've been sheltering in place as much as we can since March. We wear our masks when we leave to get food or go to the store, we've seen few family members, my aunt and cousin have to visit their offices occasonally, and they've both taken turns taking my uncle to his doctor visits. For the most part, however, we stay in the house and try not to get on each other's nerves. Everyone is tired. Everyone is doing their best. It's just hard to stay positive sometimes. It's been kind of crazy, and to top it off, Hurricane Season is upon us once more. The four cases of bottled water stacked in the laundry room are proof of our preparation.
It's hard to believe it's been nearly a year since I arrived in Florida for a nine-month residency at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach. I remember how it felt filling out my application. I was nervous and excited, but I also tried to keep my expectations low. I wasn't in the best place a year ago. I was living in New York, working a job that barely covered my expenses. The job was about to end so I needed to find new employment. I sent out application after application and wrote and rewrote my cover letter only to be met with rejection or worse, silence. Rejection really stings when you're financially unstable.
If there's one thing I don't want to do it's spend my life working a job to make money in order to simply survive. It was this sentiment that made me slow down on the job applications and focus my attention on artist residencies. I had applied for a couple in the past that I didn't get, but this one felt different. First off, it was in West Palm Beach, my home and native land. My mom met my dad in West Palm, they married and had me. So I'm a Floridian. I saw this residency as an opportunity to connect with family that I rarely get to see anymore. My dad passed away two years ago, so I also knew that I would take time to confront and sit with my grief. My parents were divorced, and my relationship with my dad was mainly long-distance. Coming back to his home/my home for nine months, the longest I’d stay in FL since I was in the second grade, would surely flood me with memories and emotions that I anticipated would allow me to mourn and heal. Second, I'd never really experienced the art world in Florida, and I was anxious to dive in. I was especially excited about the possibility of attending Art Basel in Miami. I'd always wanted to go. Third, the residency offered unique opportunities for me to teach what I knew, learn new skills, and possibly collaborate with other artists. It was everything I wanted, and exactly what I needed. It would also keep me financially stable for nine months at least. While I tried to keep my expectations low in an attempt to protect myself from more rejection, I couldn't help but hold on to the belief that this residency was meant for me.
I mentioned before that I wasn't in the best place a year ago, but it wasn't just a financial slump. Mentally and emotionally, I was all over the place. I was mourning, dealing with large levels of anxiety, bouts of depression, and I honestly wanted to give up. I wasn't happy at my job, but I must admit, having a work routine kept me going. I rarely went to my studio because I was too frustrated and insecure. The few times I did scrape together some motivation to get there, I got very little accomplished. I was so hard on myself, and it was very hard for me to think positive. It was like all I could see was darkness. Then one day, I opened my email, and was met with a glimmer of hope. It was from the Armory Art Center, and they wanted to set up an interview. I was almost in disbelief, but thrilled. The day of the interview something came up, so it had to be pushed back. I waited for the email to reschedule, but I didn't hear anything for about a week. During that week I just knew they changed their minds. Every negative thought that could cross my mind, did cross my mind, and I allowed myself to hang on to most of them. By the next week when I received the message to reschedule, I was less enthusiastic because of all that negativity I had let set in. When I finally had my interview, I was a wreck. I was sitting in my bed, still in my PJs, while I answered questions during this phone conference. I was sweating like crazy, I stumbled over my words, and I tried to keep it together. When it was over I finally allowed myself to breathe normally. I was not confident about that interview. So when I got the call offering me the residency, I didn't know what to do with myself. I was delighted yet apprehensive, I was happy, and I also allowed myself to hope.
That all took place last August/September. My time at the Armory had its fair share of ups and downs, but I got to do all of the things that made me believe that the residency was just for me. Then things took a turn as COVID brought the pandemic, and the Amory had to close. My residency was ending, and I didn't know what to do. I still had work that needed to be glazed and vessels that needed to be fired. I had a day to clear out my studio and turn in my key. The early and abrupt ending to my first artist residency made me feel as though I had been sucker-punched. The rug was pulled out from under me, and I suddenly had no plan. I was almost back in that pit I'd escaped from last year. During the first few months of the pandemic, I found ways to be productive. I filled out more residency applications, I created my website, I started this blog, I wrote some poems, I made miniature play-doh food, I stayed pretty busy. Then the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked a revolution, and I was knocked off course. I kind of went into a tailspin. My uncle's surgery, and his unexpected road to recovery began around the same time, and with that came new obstacles.
Life ebbs and flows, and sometimes it's hard to stay positive. It took me a long time to start making work again because I'd somehow ended up back in that dark place. With so much going on around me, it was hard to see what was going right. Again I'd lost my motivation, and with it my confidence. I didn't think I could create without a studio, and for weeks I didn't want to get out of bed to even try. But something inside me created a spark, and I made a thing. I didn't love it, but I made it, and that made me want to make more.
I'm not sure what that something inside of me is, but it won't let me give up. It's the same something that created the spark that made me want to fill out the Armory AIR Application. Even now, I'm unemployed, financially unstable, frustrated, stressed out, anxious, ready to get back to NYC, and unsure about my future. But I still have that something deep down, that ignites that spark, that makes me want to move and keep going. The thing about Hurricane Season is, it's tumultuous, but it passes. It can be devastating and dark, but the winds calm and the sun shines again (as corny as that may sound). I might be down, but I'm not out. This too shall pass. I just need to follow the advice my cousin gives my uncle as he gets back on his feet and learns to walk again. Keep my head up, stand tall, take one small step at a time, and be confident that progress is taking place even when I don't see it.