I have not opened any of my art journals for a while so I thought I would crack one open and have a dabble. I decided to draw one of my favourite figures from sideshow history, the Pig Faced Lady of Manchester Square (spoiler alert: actually a shaved bear). I have drawn her before, including in an art journal page from back in 2015, but I decided to go a bit more cute and whimsical for this version. I regret that decision now and actually wish I had gone darker and more grotesque with it. I feel very meh about this illustration but it’s on a random (and crinkly) page in my art journal so that doesn’t matter. Next Pig Faced Lady will be creepier though.
The Documented Life Project prompt this week was to construct a character and the quotation was “If you’re going to be weird, be confident about it!” Perfect! I instantly had an idea for my art journal page.
One of my geeky interests is in the history of “freaks” and sideshows. I find the social history of how people were treated through time to be fascinating. I probably saw the Tod Browning film ‘Freaks’ at too impressionable an age. One of the historic freaks who first captured my imagination was the Pig-Faced Lady of Manchester Square. She was one of many pig-faced women who gained fame but was possibly the most celebrated – or at least she is the one who has found a place in my memory. Of course, the whole thing was a hoax. A bear was drugged and shaved and made to walk upright while wearing a costume. Completely random and astonishingly awful. However, as weird characters go the Pig-Faced Lady was my inspiration, my bizarre muse.
I did not have much free time this week so I kept my page simple. This is simply a watercolour sketch with the words stamped in archival ink. My kids are hugely amused by it and I am pretty pleased with how it turned out.
Being an immigrant is challenging psychologically as well as practically, logistically, legally and in all those everyday ways. It is especially challenging for someone like me: a complete control freak who craves stability and security.
The decision to move here was a leap of faith and – as an atheist – I mean a leap of faith in ourselves to have arrived at the right decision, to have conducted adequate research, to have the capabilities and strengths to seize and make the most of the new opportunities we were creating for ourselves. I don’t like unknowns, however, so this leap of faith was also a leap in the dark. My husband is ceaselessly chipper and bouyant and glass-half-full so largely my leap of faith involved just trusting in his judgement and allowing myself to be carried along by his positivity. I, of course, did all the control freak stuff: endless hours spent on the internet researching things to the nth degree. And I do mean the nth degree: I even researched whether Americans use rotary clothes lines because the ability to line dry clothes would help our electricity consumption. Seriously. I am a planner and Mr Pict is a doer. That’s what makes us a successful couple: we are compatible where it matters and contrast and complement each other where it matters too.
I live my life in lists. I generate dozens of them each week. Shopping lists organised according to different sections of the supermarket, To Do lists, wish lists of books, lists of movies I want to see, even lists written on my hand in case I forget the most urgent items from all my other lists. I am a planner. I need to have a plan. I need to know what I am doing, where I am going, how things are going to work. Voyages into the unknown are inherently not my thing. For every vacation we take, I create a spreadsheet of all the things we might possibly do in that area with columns for opening times and prices and directions. For a vacation in Rome, I even created a colour-coded map that linked to a colour-coded and indexed spreadsheet. That is me accepting different possibilities and not being too controlled because I accept it is not an itinerary but a list of options. That’s as into the unknown as I usually voyage.
Yet here I am in a country I have never lived in before, operating in systems I have no experience of, driving on the other side of the road, having to translate myself into different vocabulary, navigating a different education system with my kids …. Every day is about an encounter with the unfamiliar and the unknown. For a control freak, that is an assault on the psyche.
Furthermore, a lot of our immediate future is not clearly mapped out and that makes me hyperventilate if I dwell on it to much. We cannot buy a house here until our house in Scotland sells and releases our equity so we don’t even know where we will be living a year hence. We have a house here but it is not our home. That then leads us to scour our budget to determine the impact of paying rent and mortgage for longer than anticipated. And what if we cannot find a house within the catchment area of the boys’ school? Or even an affordable house that can accommodate us all within the school district? That degree of uncertainty transforms a control freak into a wing-nut with ease, especially a glass-half-empty control freak like me.
I recognise that for the sake of my sanity I have to relinquish control. I have to accept that we did all of that research and all of that debating and weighing up the pros and cons and arrived at the decision to emigrate with good reason and that those reasons are still good. All of the things on the pros list still hold true. I have to, therefore, learn to just go with the flow during this turbulent transitional period and trust that all the hurdles will be overcome, all the niggles smoothed over and our leap of faith will be justified and vindicated. Going with the flow. That’s pretty much an alien concept to me. I have to stop trying to impose control on things I have little or not control over. I have to stop trying to structure things that are too undetermined to be lassoed into any sort of organisation. I need to learn to relax into life and let it happen to me.
So while I’ve been pondering this aspect of my psyche, I have also been trying to have another crack at art journaling. The art I normally produce expresses me in so far as it is about the things I enjoy, the things that interest me but it is not candid or revealing and is not “about me” so that element of art journaling is something I am having to come to terms with. However, my style of art is also very graphic and controlled. I work up sketches and then go on to produce a completed work with intention as to what the outcome will be. Yes, in my art work I am also a complete and utter control freak. I do not go with the flow in my art work either. Trying a bit of this and a bit of that and seeing where it takes me is not how I work. Because my style is graphic and cartoonish, even at the sketching stage I am quite rigid. The loosest I ever get is with very short life drawings. But art journaling is about not having an intention or having a vision of the completed page before you commence working on it. It’s about just letting the art work flow from you as you produce it. That presents a major challenge to a control freak like me and, as such, I am finding it to be a struggle.
So earlier today I looked at a blank page in my art journal with all of these thoughts in mind and this is what I created:
It’s something to aim for, a reminder to try and just go with the flow a bit more, rely on my instincts in life and in my creativity rather than relying on my intellect and knowledge. I think it is a good “note to self”. But what does the control freak in me do? Well if you look closely you will see that I erased not once but twice my initial scribble patterns because I did not like the shapes they created on the page. So much for going with the flow, eh? And in a moment of distraction I inserted a comma where there should not be one. As someone as anal retentive about punctuation as I am, that almost had me tearing out the page and shoving it in the recycling bin. The only thing that stopped me was that the reverse of the page has a collage of New York city on it. But that comma scoffs at me for my moment of distraction, for my loss of control, and goodness it annoys me. But I need to go with the flow in that regard too: I need to accept that along the way in experiencing anything new there will be mistakes. Yes, even I will make mistakes. I cannot control everything.
I need to be less of a control freak. Let’s see how that goes, shall we?