I just finished reading the Viv Albertine autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. For those of you, who like me before I read the book, don’t know who Viv Albertine is, she’s a musician, former guitarist for the Punk Rock Band The Slits. I grew up in the late 70’s and early 80’s with this music, with bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash, contemporaries of the Slits, but never heard of this all woman band. The book is tells the story of Punk Rock, but even more it’s a story about creativity. What I’m beginning to see is a classic story, even an archetypal story about living a creative life in a society that generally doesn’t value creativity. (Unless, that is, it makes you rich and famous).
I’m telling the story from a woman’s and visual artist’s, point of view, because I am a woman and a visual artist. But it can apply to men and any creative discipline. Actually as I was telling Jon the story he said it was also his, which I could easily see. The story goes like this:
Girl grows up wanting to be an artist. She is discouraged, usually by her father and/or mother. She eventually does it anyway, goes to art school or doesn’t go to school and finds a group of like minded creative people and they make their art encouraging each other. Then things get difficult. She finds it hard to make a living doing her art, tired of living below the poverty level she gets a “real” job or biology kicks in and she wants a baby more than she’s ever wanted anything.
She wants a husband and family, a “normal” life. Along the way, she does less and less of her own work. She starts to lose herself in being a mother and wife or in the “real” job that consumes her. Then, one day she realizes that as much as she loves her children and husband she’s not fulfilled, not by being a full time mother, and wife or with the job that pays so well. So she starts looking for something else and the old creativity that was once the passion of her life comes back to her.
She takes a painting or weaving class. She starts to meet people who are creatives like herself. She realizes she needs a space away from her family, away from her house to do her work. She needs a room of her own. Her husband isn’t supportive, doesn’t encourage her. So she finds someone who does. A man who believes in her and nurtures her creativity. She falls in love with him. He’s not prince charming and he doesn’t save her, but he helps her see who she really is.
Then the work begins of shedding the old, the part of her life that doesn’t work any more and opening herself up to who she really is. And actually living that life. She’s scared and lost her confidence, but she does it anyway. She now knows that being an artist and doing her work is as important as eating. She knows that she would rather live in a tent and be able to do her work and be who she truly is than live in the big house with all the seeming security in the world and let the artist inside of her die again. But eventually, she finds she doesn’t have to live in a tent or suffer to be an artist. She just has to be authentic and honest in her work and with herself. She either marries the man who encouraged and believed in her or doesn’t. She doesn’t live happily ever after but does live a creative life surrounded by other creative people. They encourage each other and they believe in her and love her for who she really is.
When I read Viv Albertines story, I saw my live reflected in it.
And it made me realize that it’s not just my story, but many people’s. I know, because I’ve met many of them. Sometimes they try to make the break and can’t. But others blossom into their full selves, embracing their creativity and living it. I remember when I was getting divorced and daring to think I might actually be able to live a creative life, I kept saying to myself, Run, Maria, run for your life.
Now I understand how important a creative life is to me. That it is me and my life isn’t worth much without it. And I see that I’m not alone in this. Seeing this story as an archetype helps me understand where I fit into the universe. That I do fit in. That I’m not alone and actually in very good company.
Viv Albertine’s book is honest and inspiring. Her voice is real, tough, confident, vulnerable and insecure. It’s filled with her mistakes and victories and everything inbetween. Even if you’re not drawn to the creative part of it, Viv Albertine’s story is a great one.