#2: Tell me about your artistic practice: How did it begin? Where are you headed?

I began to blossom brightly shortly after inpatient.

I've wanted to be an artist since you ask a toddler, "What do you want to be when you grow up one day?" and she tells you "an artist." Within the past eight months, I've gone from disbelieving in that possibility to absolutely certain it is my career path shift.

I've also wanted to teach, talk, model and write since aging into that more articulate toddler. And though each of these careers, artist, writer, teacher, photography model and storyteller, is its own independent, difficult endeavor, it's what I've mastered around a niche becoming more widely discussed, and very rapidly: medical and mental health experiences.

Last Spring, I stuck my toe in the water and created a calendar of local Memphis area art events, one per day, as part of an aftercare plan before leaving inpatient. I left events thinking, "Hey... I could do that... and I might could do that better." Still, I kept my ideas of artistry silent as I secretly marinated on each possibility for which I knew I was more than competent.

After Mary Jo Karimnia asked me to present at Memphis' Annual Zine Festival at the prerequisite Public Zine Workshop, I signed up to show the Altered Books I'd created both during the workshop, in my previous "gated community" or "summer camp" stays (as I began to code them) and pieces I'd made as an outpatient client.

To be honest, my Zine Festival performance was unprofessional, overwhelming and unsuccessful from a monetary perspective (since I decided not to sell any work) because I came late without investing in understanding what to expect, but the level of connection in each few minutes' audience viewing is what solidified my decision to pursue those seemingly mismatched professions.

Now, to my benefit and demise, I've always been a safe, compassion magnet, you know, one of those people you meet in an elevator, with whom you somehow end up sharing your semi-intimate elevator life pitch with before reaching the fourth floor... 

or with whom you start a "this weather is beautiful" conversation on the subway and arrive at your destination having disclosed your upbringing, education, and present family life... 

or maybe even your dental client whose mouth is open shut but ears actively listen to your grieving about the public education system, its impact on your family, community and emotional stamina and fear for cultural stirrings within our United States. Then you hug her, tell the dentist we've bonded deeper than most girlfriends on a thirty-minute coffee catch-up, and kind of cry a little before I leave. (Yes. These are real stories.)

My point is, I've always been a safe space but the level of depth with which people shared at Zine Festival, in the hour and a half I was set-up and present, was exceptionally abnormal. Since abnormal is my vibe, I thought, "Hey... I did it... and I might could do this again..."

I remember explaining the vision I had for my Zine (or Altered Books) at the prerequisite workshop because I saw astonishment, intrigue, joy, and encouragement I saw in other attendees' faces.

More, I remember the pride I still feel for publicly, succinctly and effectively communicating my mental health story, interest in art, its beginnings as a liberating communication tool and potential to connect me with others wrestling with silence.

As a socially awkward person, with no intention or hope for change in her quirky mannerisms, who speaks intelligently but with confusing metaphors, I thought, "Hey... I did it... and I might could do that again." 

Every discouraging story spinning ED's chronic, "Bitch, you ain't shit" game started to crumble because I had objective evidence that believed in my value from strangers with no obligation to fluff my ego. And recently leaving inpatient meant I was most recently connected to the genuine self I now know thrives best while also benefiting others and herself.

 

Where am I headed? A glimpse into 2018-ish goals

Now that I know people will not throw cucumbers at me and boo loudly when sharing very vulnerable, deeply disclosed pieces of my story, rather, they will receive it, reply with pieces of their own in verbal or nonverbal body language (I can read because I use(d) them myself), I am determined to do something with my talented little Self. Let's be mindful, however, that my need for a recovery-focused community and ample eating disorder recovery resources is very real, and that community and those resources are sparse, except within specific cities. All this to reveal my recent line of thinking...   

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that plans shift constantly, so don't you go begin mourning, my MidSouthern pals, and don't you begin preparatory precautions, Dallas Fort-Worth or Colorado communities. (Kidding about the preparatory precautions part.) 

 

Surprise: Denver 2018/9     (or)     Dallas 2018/9

Why Denver or Dallas? Just for today (←get it?), I give you three: Eating Recovery Center, Sunshine, and the Art Community.

1. Eating Recovery Center: Until I am consistently detached and grounded from disordered people and practices, and even after I am deeply planted, it is my prerogative to intentionally surround myself with people who can speak positively to my experience. A good parallel is to be an emmigrant back into your home country, but most your life was spend as an immigrant, and now you belong too little and do not belong too much. Fam: Am I right, or am I right?

ERC's programs, which offer up to inpatient care in both the Denver and Dallas areas, support the treatment modalities, philosophies and standards to which I subscribe, offer that support in excellence, and equipped enough to admit relatively quickly because of their larger staff sizes. The presence of other prorecovery organizations, centers, groups and networks is also a solid indication I can form meaningful relationships with Denver or Dallas locals.

As far as the greater community culture at large, I want to be able to find a roommate or neighbors with emotional intelligence and mental health backgrounds who are cognizant of diet talk, fat shaming and disrespectful body talk, and will not engage.

I need to be able to go to different support groups offered multiple times a week for sexual trauma survivors, us who tend toward platonic and romantic codependent relationships, us people sick and tired of racially charged legislation targeting diet and body image related industries, or artistically expressive speakers.

I need grocery stores with wider food selections, access to newspapers in multiple of my local stores, hospitals that can better treat me in instances of malnourished again, nutrition, psychiatry and counseling practices not busting at the seams and nearly burnt out with client numbers, and a neuropsychological group with a little quicker appointment scheduling. 

Let me be very clear: It is a privilege to enjoy the current community I have here in Memphis, I am honored to be part of the changes at work, and by no means do I intend to convey of an absence of hardworking individuals who prioritize the dignity and respect of all people - body image related or not. What I express is a need to put in more of my own work before pouring out to invest in our Memphis city in the capacity both it and I deserve.

For so long, I have either been starved or adopted the practice of starving myself of what valid needs I must receive to live my very best life. If I mean what I say, and I say what I mean, when uttering "No more ReignDear Games," then I must do whatever it takes to take care of myself, and a physical move, at a sensible enough time where I have enough financial means to positively shift. I really, really pray that the times for that shift is soon.

2. Sunshine: I need it.

Harsh weather without sun alters my core and character. It is not an exaggeration. Some of us were not meant for clouds, fog, incessant rain puddles, multiple days indoors or extreme temperatures without citywide coping systems and alternative play and productivity methods. It has nothing to do with preference or priorities and everything to do with a severe blow in a threatening altercation to our holistic wellness. I am one of those.

3. The Art Community: I can contribute to it.

This is where leaving Memphis feels very hard. I recently described my interactions with Memphis culture in a Regional Review post for Number magazine. Without spoiling my work in the upcoming edition, I will paraphrase with these words:

Memphis identifies art as a powerful component in its strategy to improve holistic wellness citywide, powerful because art now takes on a more egalitarian nature in our twenty-first century than any century prior. Think about it: Our expanded definition of art no longer precludes "ordinary" people from creating what is equally valuable to what someone else may consider as valuable as a piece in the French Louvre museum.

So, that egalitarian nature in art, when applied to a citywide strategy for increased wellness and a continued current of unification and equality, allows the emerging, critically acclaimed, shut out and not yet creators, thinkers and investors to gather together. More, they may have never once otherwise directly partnered in programming for community advancement.

It's why early cities considered "advanced" and "civilized" were determined distinct and different: the thriving art culture symbolized collaboration, an openness to knowledge as a construction rather than learnt practice for the elect, unity over bigotry and willingness to be wrong in hope of a great, abstract but very tangible accomplishment for their common people.

I fell in love, currently stay and believe in my Memphis city because we have a native born and maintained morale that is interactive, catchy and taking on a spirit of itself. It is very intentional, and it is very effective: Grit and grind.

We are also quick, as a city, to acknowledge that collaborative change making is not a new practice; we are building upon the abundant culture our common ancestors endowed to us with their lives when our city almost died after an enemy shot but did not kill our dream. There is wisdom in that, because it does not deny we reap the fruit of labor we inherited, and it changes inheritance from a word linked to elitism, privilege, hatred and subjugation to a spirit that is loving and universal in nature. 

As Memphians, we pride ourselves in each success that exists congruent to Dr. Martin Luther King's dream. Some focus on his passing, but we acknowledge the dignity in our 1968 Sanitation Strike, and we bring life to art as a way to celebrate our city's accomplishments and authentic healing.

And, as a city, if for no other reason, we trust in our progress because it is enough a reason to hold onto our humanity in a world where what we've overcome seems to be coming over us as a nation again. We are Memphians because we were made to be, and we will continue making ourselves Memphians, regardless of whatever other identities systems seek to strip from us. We refuse to let "I am a Man" fade as some sort of overstated, underestimated, back alley song.

 

Yep. That is far more than just enough for today.

 

Photography © natalie rose eddings