3 min

Turning pain to art

I’ve been listening to a great show on Jazz FM about the legendary Peggy Lee in which the hosts talk about “artistic escapism.” Like so many artists Lee was abused as a child, surrounded by alcoholism and cyclically mistreated yet she managed to create years and years of beautiful art and carve out a space for herself that was safe, productive and a source of joy for both herself and other people.

I’ve also been reading a book about building the trait of resilience in children and, while not an amazing read, it’s making me think about how some people manage to turn situations that would destroy others into manageable, meaningful and even profitable opportunities.

I have also recently, finally, put my art up for display in a Toronto café, had an inspiring opening night surrounded by people I love and respect, and enjoyed the chance to talk with other people about how significant my art has been to my growth as a queer woman of mixed race who struggles almost daily to like what she looks like. I’ve said often in reference to my artwork, “I have never felt pretty but I have felt capable of creating a pretty thing which is, sometimes, just as good.”

All of this is particularly relevant right now because my partner and I are expecting our first baby in March and I have been imagining almost nonstop who this next member of our family will be, the nature and nurture of her or his growth from baby to adult as an extension of our queer lives.

There has already been discussion of how our child will potentially be teased for having two moms. It comes up when we talk about names, especially because I tend toward ones that are not typical or even androgynous but gender-opposite. It comes up when we talk about clothes for the same reason. I was so damaged by the expectations of gender growing up and they still feature strongly in my adult “issues.” I want to spare our child at least some of that shit.

Some friends and family say we are asking for trouble, adding to an already existing disadvantage for selfish reasons. I do not think the breaking down of gender lines is selfish at all, although I do admit it will be challenging — for our child, for our family, for the world our child comes in contact with. I think our child will be at a remarkable advantage growing up in the peaceful, loving, dedicated environment Andrea and I are creating.

But Peggy Lee and others like her are starting to solidify my belief that we may be able to offer our child an even greater advantage than just peace and harmony — we can offer her or him the opportunity of art.

Scientists agree childhood exposure to singing, playing instruments, interactive reading, creative writing, dance, drama and visual arts actually increases their IQ (“exposure” meaning you play around with it at home, not that you send your child to Julliard). I am thinking there must also be evidence that presenting art as a tool for expressing emotions, dealing with anger, building self-awareness and connecting with others (possibly physically but more importantly intellectually) may be the wisest route to equipping our child with the means to deal with teasing about her or his two moms, speech impediment, lack of video game savvy, third eye, whatever. It may also be the most enjoyable route to exploring all the good stuff those two moms and this queer life have to give.

We all need a way to process who we are, what happens to us and how we fit or don’t fit into the environment in which we live. Obviously none of those things can be controlled by a parent. Art and writing were and are my saving grace, my therapy, that one consistent companion, my way to connect to other people and feel a part of something bigger than myself. When I meet queer youth I am always relieved for the ones who write, make art, sing. It is definitely artistic escapism and queer children/youth/adults definitely need an escape, for minutes or for years at a time.

But, some people argue, “What if your child just isn’t artistic?” I am of the camp that believes everyone has artistic capacity both to create and to appreciate, that it has to be nurtured to be realized in some more than others and that the nurturing of artistic growth is eternally valuable for all of us.

Anything goes in the art world, more so than in sports, social work, business, science, most social scenes. I want to show our child that there is a massive community of people for whom you can’t be too weird or too wandering. It’s like the queer community, only with more meaning.

Or I should say it is the best part of our queer community and the best “queer” community anywhere you go.