When I was young, I often wished that I could make art erupt out of my fingers and wrap around my entire body. Only then could I feel the stress melt away, I thought. Only then could I feel alive when my anxiety froze everything inside of me.
I thought my art form was writing. In many ways it is. But with writing comes its own form of anxiety–the dread of the blank page, the pressure to keep moving on, the failure when you let go of a project. Writing demands time. It requires soaking in the right moment, bathing in emotions and memories.
And when Jaya was born, finding that time became impossible.
Correction: I think I had that time. But I had a whole lot of postpartum—anxiety? depression? …something that I was too afraid to talk about—that kept me from accessing that time. All I could do was sit and watch hours of Netflix with my baby… and get stressed out and pissed off at the world.
When I went back to work as a teacher, the only people who got my grace and patience were my students and my child. Everyone else got the worst of me. I was angry. I was depressed. I felt like I couldn’t move.
I was angry because I finally began to understand what “working mom” really meant. It meant lost sleep and shitty benefits and everyone patting your back and saying, “It’ll get better.” It meant being enraged that generations of women have had to hide to breastfeed, or give their infant to a caretaker before they were ready because maternity leave sucks, or take on all the baby tasks and the chores and work. It meant thinking that everyone was in on this secret—everyone was complicit with the fact that we have been taught unequal parenting roles, and motherhood can flat out suck.
I finally started seeing just how much my husband and I were conditioned to take on traditional parenting roles. We weren’t the happy Facebook couple that gushed about how their perfect partner was suddenly the perfect parent; we had to struggle to change our ways of thinking. And I need you to know that it wasn’t just him. I was the one who had internalized that, as the mom, I had to take on everything related to home and family. We talked through gritted teeth and tears and we are finally—after two years—finally feeling like we’re getting some kind of balance.
I was angry because I, someone prided myself on being a strong, independent woman, had to learn how to humble myself and ask for help… because child-rearing needs a support system. I was angry because I felt so, so alone in all this… because my friends nearby didn’t have children. And my inner circle became tiny as they went on with their lives and I stayed home with Jaya.
I lost myself and broke myself and had to figure out how to become whole again.
After about six months of being straight pissed at the world, Jaya’s personality began to shine. And I started having fun as a parent. And right around six months into parenting is when I found lettering.
After months of binging on Netflix while I breastfed and pumped, I started running out of shows to watch. Years ago, I had learned the basics of watercolor through YouTube videos. I went back to YouTube art tutorials to see if I could access the state of zen that I had achieved while painting. That’s when I stumbled on the Instagram art and lettering community.
Here was a field where women were thriving. Moms were lettering and running small businesses while their kids were at school or napping. They ranged from graphic designers and teachers and stay-at-home moms and people that hated their jobs. They posted gorgeous artwork and how-to videos alongside captions that shared their anxieties about working, parenting, being introverts, running side-hustles, and everything in between. Some of these artists were single moms who found ways to support their families with their art! This was a community that acknowledged their pain and their struggles, but insisted on positivity.
I found my people. I found the community I craved.
I started devouring everything I could about lettering and calligraphy. It was an art that I could practice anywhere, anytime. While my students worked on their warm-ups or wrote essays, I practiced my letters. When Jaya fell asleep, I practiced composition by drawing my favorite literary quotes. While my husband clicked through our Netflix queue for something to watch every night, I lettered.
Once I made my art account on Instagram, I was hooked. Social media is built for addiction, and I used that power to motivate myself to practice, create, and post every day. I grew as an artist and began to form and re-form friendships through my art.
Jaya started taking those glorious two hour naps in the summer. So, for two hours every day, I spent time with ink, paint, and paper. I listened to nothing but the sound of my baby sleeping and the scratch of pens and brushes on paper. It finally gave me time to think and create. And as I created art with my hands, I felt myself penciling and inking and painting away my anger.
I started creating artwork for my friends, either as commissions or as gifts. I let myself open my heart again. Slowly, though… I still haven’t told all my Facebook friends about this hobby/side-hustle of mine, and I’m nearly two years deep into it. My heart has thawed and grown the more I create. But I still have a lot of healing to do.
With visual art, I finally feel the ability to create something that bursts out of my hands and wraps me in healing powers. I letter words and quotes that inspired me. I use my captions to nerd out to my heart’s content—and sometimes to pour out my heart. And now I’ve got this blog to take care of the rest. I feel myself coming back together, piece by piece.
This is why I am so passionate about my friends finding time for the activities that will bring them joy, peace, and healing. This is why I did the Ten Minute Challenge in 2018, and why I ask my students to read something fun for ten minutes every day. Without lettering and all that goes into it, I would be an angry mess. Taking time to create lettering art has somehow—don’t ask me how because I haven’t figured it out yet—motivated me to find time to do the other things I love, like read books and pursue my writing goals. It has given me the opportunity to find myself when I had completely lost sight of who I was.
I’m still on my healing journey. Art is a part of my healing process. What do you do to heal?
5 thoughts on “How Lettering Saved Me”
Wow! That was incredibly powerful. Thank you for the openness, the vulnerability, the honesty. I wish I could “like” this more than once. You have many a gift, my friend. Thank you for sharing your passion with me, virtually, but also in reality too. What you sent me over the holidays is hanging in my cube at work. I look at it every day. Did I ever share a picture of your art on my wall? I don’t think I did. Thanks for this post.
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Thank you thank you!! I was nervous about sharing this. It means a lot that you appreciated it 😊
I am so happy that you liked the art!! I didn’t know you put it on your wall 💕 you just made my heart very glad.
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I’ll send you a pic when I get back to the office.
This is lovely – I’m so glad i took time this morning to read it!! And your work is beautiful. ❤