A Year At Home
I’ll be honest; I wasn’t thrilled about moving back home just over a year ago. I really loved my life in Norfolk. I had a great flat in the city centre in what I euphemistically call the eccentric part of Norwich; I had my family close by and crucially, I lived in the sunniest corner of the British isles where a couple of leaves on the railway line get classed as a yellow weather warning.
I’d been away for almost ten years! A whole decade of my life seems to have flashed by in a hazy montage of vague decisions. I’m sure I must have decided to go to art school and then consciously made the decision to become a teacher after that but it seems very unlikely given that on a daily basis I struggle to make even the most mundane of choices. I recently spent a good three months in utter turmoil over which bread bin to buy so I’m not sure how I ended up in a ‘career’.
I went into teaching with a head full of worthy notions and enthusiasm and emerged, a few years later, into the data-driven chaos of academies, new curriculums and Ofsted inspections. Teaching is for the optimists and hats off to them. Teachers are really tired. Even when they sleep they play out the forthcoming day’s timetable in their dreams. Sometimes they wake up feeling cheated that the marking they dreamt they did is still waiting, untouched, on their desk at work. So if you encounter a teacher on a weekday evening – perhaps looking lost in the frozen food section of the supermarket – don’t bother talking to them. They wont be listening to you if you do. They’ll either be mentally planning tomorrow’s lessons or wishing they’d paid more attention in the staff meeting instead of marking books under the table.
Every evening I’d come home and slump on the sofa like an irritable cabbage and mentally tell myself off for being lazy because I wasn’t being productive with my evenings. Although I’ve painted a gloriously pessimistic picture of the world of education, I actually really loved my job. I had amazing colleagues and worked with inspiring children. Sadly, I realised that I was pouring so much energy and any spare time into trying to ensure that the 30 children in my class met all their individual targets (and enjoyed doing so whether they liked it or not), that I ended up completely blinkered and couldn’t focus on anything else.
I made the momentous decision to give up teaching and to dedicate time to being creative and unemployed. After that hurdle the decisions seemed to make themselves and everything began to fall into place. My parents were selling the house I grew up in back in Lewis – my other half and I decided to buy it. We also got engaged and bought a car…like proper grown-ups! In the meantime I moved back in with Mum and Dad (it’s what they’d always dreamed of) while wrapping up odds and ends and I began to build up my confidence in printmaking again.
When the day came to actually say goodbye to my favourite people and my favourite place, it felt so surreal. I had never really wanted to come back to Lewis. In my mind, it was still frozen in time in 2008 and I was in some weird, sadistic time warp dragging me back to the land of frozen milk and drunken renditions of Wagon Wheel. The homecoming didn’t get off to the best start when the Beast from the East froze our water pipes and the past year has not been without its ups and downs. However I have never felt more certain of what it is I want to be doing and this is definitely the place to be doing it.
As soon as word spread that I was a printmaker the artistic community of the Western Isles welcomed me right in, in a traditionally hospitable manner. They’re a very friendly bunch from all walks of life and so many seem to have the same or similar stories of how they came to be artists. I think everyone has a creative streak but it takes real tenacity to pursue it. Looking back, I realise that the main reason I went into a ‘normal’ job instead of continuing with art after university was because I had somehow convinced myself that I had to have a ‘calling’ where I would be changing lives for the better one day at a time and making pictures didn’t tick the boxes. I also had a notion that it probably wouldn’t pay the bills either because so many voices from the past had instilled that belief in me.
You don’t have to dig too far below the surface however to discover that there’s a strong ‘maker movement’ evolving throughout the country and it’s extremely concentrated in the Outer Hebrides. For a small, scattered community there truly is a wealth and diversity of skill in these islands that we should all be celebrating whether you’re a fiddle player or a fisherman, born and raised islander or newcomer. If you have an inkling that you’d make a great weaver, or wood turner or would like to have a crack at learning to make those model ships that magically grow inside bottles you can guarantee there will be someone in these parts who will be more than happy to share their expertise.
It’s the supportive nature of the artistic community on the island that made me find value in my work. The entrepreneurial support networks here helped me immeasurably in turning what I termed as unemployment into self-employment. I have had so much help from so many different people and now I do all the things I love on a daily basis. I am an artist, an art educator and a primary school tutor and I honestly don’t think I could have the freedom to be doing any of these things anywhere else.
This article was written for An Lanntair Art Centre in Stornoway.