Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Reinvent yourself...the culling of a life leads to more

Jeanne's 97 year old hands hold Opie
There are so many reciprocal generosities going on in my work with the animals and elders. Just as much as the animal visits to them brings them happiness and comfort, a break in what might be a routine day, their presence also is helping me to evolve into this next reinvention of myself. Just as I am getting to know them, they are learning about me, and since I'm in a new land it is like they are bringing out a clean slate of me. My work with them is grounding me to this place called Maine. Yesterday Opie and I went to see our friends at Wiscasset. I found out Jeanne is 97, and Evelyn just turned 93, Joe is 87 and Sara is 85...We talked about me turning sixty this coming week, and it seemed like a lifetime away for them. We all agreed their is no standard image for 97, or 60. It truly is a number.

We all have 'stages' in our lives. I have had three major reinventions of myself in the times since I became an adult, and am entering my fourth. These reinventions are not eradicating everything from the past, but they are a culling, and an expansion on the things left behind after the culling.

This current reinvention is sort of a surprise for me and as I sat paining the other day, I had this clear sentence pop into my head,

You are reinventing yourself again.

When we got to Maine, I thought, Okay, I am me, painting, living and working with animals and now I'll be adding elder people into the mix. It still felt like I was doing basically the same thing as when I was out West.

But it did feel different. And for awhile now I think I wasn't completely letting myself go with the flow. I guess it looks like I'm moving fast and free here, and in many ways I am. But I think I was still hanging onto the Western Katherine. I think that is one reason I stood up from a chair last summer, walked calmly into the bathroom, and chopped about 5 inches off my hair clumps. It just felt like something I had to free myself of-those hair clumps that were prominent in so many paintings of the last ten years, hair clumps I started wearing at the old farm. I always wore my hair down before moving to the farm.

When I started working on my first illustrated memoir, which would actually become the second, not first book I'd publish [Misfits of Love was the first], I worked with a respected editor that used to work for Chronicle. He was excellent and really helped me with my craft, and helped me shape the book. He also pitched it to about 10 publishing houses; it got good feedback, but nobody felt it was going to be a 'big' book, and passed on it [a 'big' book is one that will become a huge seller]. One even said it was too inspirational. Gee, thanks. I then went on to try to find an agent, which was more painful than finding a publisher. One agent was interested, and she started throwing out ways to appeal to publishers and within six months she had still not taken me on. I began to feel like she was shaping me, or trying to, to fit her client list and her needs to sell to a certain base she knew she had, not an audience that might respond to me-as-me.

As much as I always wanted a book deal, and wider audience, I don't feel that way anymore. It would be constricting to me. I'm a free bird, I don't do well over time being caged.I am proud of my books, and I am also proud of my art, and the way I've shaped a life of the past twenty-six years merging them altogether with my other love-animals.

I don't want to be a persona, and there were years at the old farm where my blog began to feel like one-because I was playing the game of seeking an agent or publisher. Martyn was referred to as The Dirt Farmer in Oregon. It made sense. We labored in the dusty fields of lavender, and arrived at the house covered in dust. We loved a song by Levon Helm that had come out some time around then, called, "The Dirt Farmer" so I started calling him that. At the time, it was genuine, but as we were entering our final years there, it all began to feel...not us but like a tactic to tell someone else's story. In Oregon, Pino had began wearing aprons in my illustrated stories because in real life, in my then-reinvention of myself, I had begun wearing aprons when we moved to the farm–and Pino in effect, was my voice, we were the same creature.

When we moved to Maine, I remember saying to someone, something like, "Pino just wants to be a little donkey again, and Martyn wants to be Martyn."

So when I heard my inner voice say, You are reinventing yourself again I was pleased. it was as if I finally was accepting that I am me, and not a persona. I still have things to do, and share, and write about, but I don't always have to hide behind a girl flying with braid clumps. That girl was and is wonderful, and she is part of me.

But in this reinvention, I am me, Martyn is Martyn, and Pino is his own donkey.