I'm Smart, I'm Talented and People Like Me
I painted on and off for 35 years, usually with a critical eye. I rarely shared about this passion and didn't ever seriously pursue it as a career. There were a few local exhibits in the early nineties when I was sure I was going to die very shortly so no one would dare say anything unkind, and a collective show for artists with AIDS at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, but mostly my paintings filled the walls of my house or sat in stacks in a closet.
Then came the financial crisis of the last few years. The crashing economy had colleges and corporations crossing off luxuries like motivational speakers from their budget, so I found more time on my hands than usual and painted almost nonstop.
Since there was no one there to remind me I was no Picasso, I just let my creative self thrive. Several hundred paintings later, I moved my workspace out of the living room into a studio and continued zealously to create. I never thought too much of selling until I saw an email for something called Artexpo. I opened it up and it was about a tradeshow for artists. Hundreds of artists come to Pier 94 in NYC to sell art -- and for the solo artist, such as myself, make contact with the hundreds of gallery owners, interior decorators and other art industry folk who attend on the first two days of the event. I squeezed my eyes, plunked down the fee for a booth and went from there. I tried not to think about it too much or I would certainly cancel.
The most dangerous place for me is in my own head. It's a bad neighborhood filled with all the criminal thoughts implanted by Mom and the rest of the world about how I will never succeed. To keep them at bay I picked the art to bring to the show, matted, framed and arranged it on my wall, with the dimensions of the booth in mind. I ordered postcards, business cards, wrote an artist's statement and built a website. I had about 3 months to prepare and with an extremely tight budget found all kinds of easy affordable options. Thank you vistaprint, canvasplace and iweb!
Upon arrival at Pier 94 I was stunned to see the magnitude of the place and the amazing art hanging when I unloaded the night before the opening. There were international galleries representing renowned artist from around the world, as well as established fine artists, commercial artists and even a celebrity artist (Jane Seymour). Way in the back of the exhibit hall, there was a section for the solo artists.
As I walked to my area my heart sank as I passed all this incredible work. Before I could stop myself I was behind enemy lines up in my head telling myself false tales: "What the fuck do you think you are doing?" "You suck!" This is going to be so embarrassing".
I had made the mistake of not asking anyone to come with me, so hanging 38 paintings by myself was daunting. Oh the things I forgot: hanging material, good tape measure (I had a wooden ruler!), ladder! But at least for the next 4 hours I was immersed in problem solving. I managed to get it up in some semblance of coherence and went back to my friend's apartment and tried not to think. She was not there and alone the negative thoughts circled in for the kill.
Sleep was elusive; every hour I would wake up sick that I had chosen to do this. I tried prayer, mediation. I would have called someone but didn't know anyone in a time zone that would find a 3 am call that was not a lost limb type of emergency acceptable behavior from a sober person.
With about 15 minutes of solid sleep behind me it came time to go to the venue. Fortunately I had a volunteer assistant come with and she was very supportive. I tried to keep all the insecurities compartmentalized in one place. Saying out loud you suck is such bad luck and unattractive as well, so I kept the thoughts at bay and set up business. Within two hours I sold 21 paintings. Turns out more than almost anyone else at the event. I was flustered stunned, happy, crazy.
A Change Is Going To Come
The point of this whole ramble is not to brag but to share with you the human condition of insecurity, self-doubt and believing false messages that we all have to deal with at some point; and how to find a way around it. That no matter where you are in life, if you have a dream, an idea, the only way to get there is to go. Sounds simple but just like the torrent of thoughts that stole my sleep the night before, that same thinking can steal your dreams.
So take the jump, plunge whatever, and make your life everything you want it to be; if it is moving to the place you always dreamed of, adopting a kid, writing a book, becoming a chef, whatever it is, don't wait for the time to be right.
For all of you living with HIV/AIDS who have been around forever, we survived; and all the people newly diagnosed, don't limit yourself. Don't let a disease, a mother or your own thinking stand in the way. Nothing changes if nothing changes. That is all I got.
River Huston is an award-winning poet, journalist, performer and activist. She travels through the United States speaking on issues related to sexuality, communication, overcoming challenges and change. She has been featured on Good Morning America, Showtime, Nightline, CNN and ABC Up To The Minute. River has written three books of poetry as well as The Goddess: A Guide to Feminine Wisdom and A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living With HIV. She wrote and performed a one-woman show, Sex, Cellulite and Large Farm Equipment: One Girls Guide to Living and Dying off off Broadway and is currently working on a second show, The Dominatrix Next Door. For more information about River you can go to riverhuston.com.
Subscribe to River's Blog:
Articles by River:
I Feel Good! Attaining Survival Through Illness (March/April 2008)
Goddess in a Muumuu: AIDS Changes Sexual Self-Image (December 1999)
A Positive Life: Portraits of Women Living With HIV (October 1999)
Interviews With River:
White Women and HIV (April 1999)
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