Awaken — You Are Amazing
By Michaela Carmen
My art has mostly been inspired by the course of my personal journey through healing, influenced by deeply trying emotional experiences — constantly digging deeper to investigate and expose the root of the emotion, working with reoccurring themes of home and loss.
Loss played the role as the biggest defining moments in my life. Early on as a child, I learned to adapt to the feeling of loss. (I lived without my biological father or knowing my paternal family.) Perhaps living with that sense built me in a way to endure all that came later.
Born in Ashland, Oregon, I moved to Kansas City when I was very young and was raised solely by my mother until I was 6. My mother remarried then, and her husband adopted me. I was excited to have a Dad. At that time, I had no contact with my biological father and later learned he spent many years in prison. My mother never spoke of him. I grew up in a regular Midwestern way, going to baseball games, slumber parties, Girl Scouts, dance, and mandatory church every Sunday. No one in my immediate family was artistic, so being a creative gave me a sense of displacement, often loneliness. Expression was allowed as long as it was kept on the paper. Speaking my mind was considered "disrespectful," and showing expression through action made me "dramatic." My mother grew up in a very controlling home with an alcoholic father. She was raised in an environment where "children are to be seen and not heard." I came to understand my mother by her fears of what she did not know. I realized early on that my mother's need for control was based on her own fear of failure. However, I was a good kid. I excelled at sports, and became quite a tomboy to my mother's dissatisfaction; I wasn't always the perfect little girl she desired. I loved working with my hands and being outdoors, communing with nature. Sneaking away to nearby streams and hidden woods by my home to draw in solitude, I would often befriend animals and watch the clouds. There I felt my intuitive self could be at peace and I could thrive creatively.
My childhood was happy, but my teenage years would yield a stark contrast. My home turned into what felt like a war zone as my parents fought almost every day of my high school years. Feeling invisible as my parents self-absorbed into their marital issues, I became isolated and experienced deep depression.
After 13 years of marriage, my parents finally divorced during my junior year of high school. I was extremely angry and became rebellious. I attempted suicide, lost my virginity, and started experimenting with drugs. My "sight" became dark.
Completely disinterested in school life, I got my GED and fled the house. I lived on the streets and bounced around friends' houses — anything to keep me from living under the suffocating religious rule of my mother's home.
At 19 I found myself in an abusive relationship, became pregnant, and had a beautiful son. I tried to escape the relationship many times, but I lost my self-worth as the cycle of abuse wore me down. After becoming pregnant with my second child, my husband's alcoholism reached its peak and I finally awoke. I did not want my daughter to learn to be treated the way I had allowed myself to be and decided to divorce and finally leave the relationship permanently. I wanted to model something positive beyond the cycle that had been created.
So today, I make art to heal, allowing the deep feels and tough memories to guide the process for a resolution for greater understanding. I am empowered by exposing my darkness as I work to heal and hope by doing so, others may also find healing.
Being a single mother while my children's father battled with alcoholism, I struggled in all ways. Once he became sober and came back into their lives, I was encouraged to better myself and follow my dream of going to the Art Institute of Chicago. Being offered a scholarship, I spent a year figuring out how to make the logistics work of children sharing time with both parents. The week before my departure, I was faced with a giant blow. My ex-husband silently and illegally acquired full custody of both children by manipulation of the court, irrationally fearful I would take the children from him. My world blew apart. And having put all available resources into moving to go to school in Chicago, I had nothing to fight with; I was devastated and in shock. To add injury to insult, it was my mother (who worked for the state at the time) who delivered the news. Why did she know the information and not tell me? My own mother was not my ally. In complete disbelief I cut her off from my life at that very moment. Why had such an injustice happened to me? I was loving and kind. I wasn't an alcoholic or drug addict. I had only put my children first up to this point. Feeling I had lost all support and understanding of family, I armored myself like a warrior for battle. I chose at that moment to fight, rather than give in to all dark thoughts. I wanted to become something better than a victim, to show my children through action that fighting for dreams is important. Later that week I boarded a bus with only a backpack and less than $50 and headed for Chicago.
I spent two years in Chicago that came to be the beginning of the era of the most trying time in my life. I was redefining the status quo of motherhood through radical acceptance of role reversals, yet depression was setting in from being so far from my children. At that time I could barely paint anything but sad self-portraits and ghostly images of my children, and I made sculptures of homes built of fabric blowing in the wind. My partner at this time was about to face his own loss. In a routine surgery, he lost his father suddenly. He seemed to become reckless and angry. About six months later, on our five-year anniversary, I learned that my partner was having an affair with a coworker.
I left Chicago that night and drove back to Kansas, heart bleeding, no home, no family. All my dreams were broken. I stayed with friends as I began to process the wreck my life had become. Oftentimes, I went to a place of deep self-pity, not understanding why I deserved such heartbreak. I became fragile, and my heart broken wide open. I again had to decide to hate or love. My own survival depended on it. My self-love at that time was so beyond judgment that forgiveness seemed like the way to love.
I began to make skyscapes in my art, probably reflecting my inner need to escape my reality, perhaps looking to the weightless sky for relief of my heavily burdened heart. Maybe it was a part of faking the role to my community that I was OK and wanted to reflect calm and togetherness. But it was exhausting; I couldn't tell anyone about what really happened in Chicago. My interior landscape was anything but tranquil. I spent much of that time in a fog. It wasn't until I moved to New Mexico for an art residency that I became clear. The first two weeks of being in the desert I realized how unhealthy I had become living with so many lies.
Coming to truth was not easy. I spent half my time digging deeper to connect with my dormant spirituality and half the time running from myself. The high mountain sage brought wisdom, and the light gave me endless inspiration I could not yet express. Finally coming into focus, I realized the man I had for so long been in love and broken over was not real. Years of his compulsive lying left me in shame. I awoke to the truth that our entire relationship was built on lies. I took up writing music as an outlet for all the pain I was processing and sang with tears in my eyes. I had been in love with a sociopath. Embarrassment and despair gripped me tightly as deep regret strangled my every waking thought. I wanted to die. I prepared for that option and filled a trunk of keepsakes for my children. I felt I had completely failed at everything I was intended for in the world. I felt I had lost my purpose.
But then, spirit spoke with the wisest of voices; I had a dream of my grandchild. And when I awoke, I knew I must go on.
I gathered what belongings would fit into my vehicle and drove to Kansas City. Albeit heartbroken, a giant weight felt lifted from me. For the first time in over a decade, I felt free.
I would begin again ... like many times before, but this time with clarity and intention.
I began to paint again.
Learning manifestation in a place like Taos, magic follows. I soon found myself smack dab in the most important art scene in K.C., meeting influential people and securing a space for a continued dream of owning a gallery and artists' work space. Within a year everything changed.
I awoke and decided that I deserved my best life.
I began Cumulus Project Space in Kansas City, Missouri. I saw an opportunity to create a platform that could encompass collaborative work for local, national, and international artists. My vision was to bring the world closer to my immediate community and create a space that connected people on a soul level.
I envisioned worldly accessibility for all despite diverse social or economic backgrounds, a collaboration of humans connecting through art.
If there is any advice to women out there who are struggling due to being in unhealthy relationships, from low self-worth, or depressed because of loss ... I'd like to say, "Awaken — you are amazing. It is only you that is keeping you from greatness and manifesting everything you want. Stop telling yourself you don't deserve and put all that makes you feel negative away. Let it all go and give more to yourself. Your greatness and willingness to create that reality is what women were made to do.
"Find your sisters; build your own family. Forgive those who hurt you by not knowing a better way. Forgive yourself. Choose the energy you wish to have near you and protect it."
Through art, I continually get to know my true self and allow that being to exist. Through expression I can be free and powerful. Making art gives my inner voice action and a place in the world to be heard. By observing other female artists be commended for their expression, I realized that freedom too could be mine and I had every right to create in this world.
Michaela is an artist, curator, singer, and musician and is the owner and curator of the Cumulus Project Space — a collaborative gallery that shows work by top emerging local, national, and international artists. She is currently working on a multidisciplinary body of work that encompasses her experience in loss and learning from the past decade, looking to debut in Lawrence, Kansas, in August 2018. She also continues to sing and make noise with a folk band, The Big Sky. Follow @cumulusprojectspace.
Words: Michaela Carmen