There are three kinds of people on tube at 6am: holiday makers, people coming from low paid night shifts and people going to high paid day jobs. All of them are missing out on good sleep time, only one of them for something enjoyable – thankfully I am in that category.
This first woman, whose age remains mysterious, is casually dressed in a fleece with flat comfortable shoes and looks like she is on her way back from a cleaning job. I imagine her arriving home, where home is a room which she shares with her husband and two children, because with her wages, even working every hour God sends won’t allow them to live any better. She gets home and out of her work clothes, and lays her head on the mattress for a short moment lying toe to toe with her oldest daughter, awaiting the alarm for school, and for the next shift to begin.
Next to her on the tube, another woman has bags under her eyes to match the dark grey of her designer handbag, and is living I am sure, in quite different conditions. Maybe she has left her partner asleep again in their swanky apartment so she can get an early start. Is he is annoyed that she is not present, is he proud of her focus and ambition, or he has resigned himself to a relationship of passing ships in the night? I imagine she is on the way to a corporate job maybe in finance or the legal sector. She walks with a sense of pride into her office, knowing she has earned her right to have her name on her office door, and maybe to have her coffee just the way she likes it.
And then there is me – I wonder what they see? She looks quite basic at 6am on the tube. She has had some sleep so she doesn’t look too tired, but has a slightly serious look, resting-what-face do they call it? She looks distracted like maybe she is mentally unpacking her suitcase to check she has everything. Where is she going alone looking so young. Maybe to see family in her homeland or to use her student loan for a girls trip to Europe? Has she just ended a relationship or maybe she has just been dumped and that is why she is travelling alone, maybe to look for a holiday romance? She just looked up and smiled at me, how lovely.
I used to think creativity was only for the artists, like my dad who sketched pictures of us when we were little or who painted incredible images at home. My mom used to try to encourage us to follow in my dad’s footsteps, asking ‘which one of you is going to follow your dad??’ This became a burden on my little sister who was their last hope once we as the oldest three had proven to be no use beyond a misshapen stick man. I started to repeat what I had heard ‘I am not artsy or creative’ as if it was a skill you either have or do not have.
In reality I think we are all artists – that whether or not we are particularly skilful with a paint brush, art is part of our expression as human beings. The saddest thing is that as children it is expected that we will draw, paint, and use our hands to do crafts – and yet for some reason we think we should or will grow out of something so fundamental to us as children. As if we could ever grow out of the need to feel, to express or be heard.
At 30 I developed a sudden urge to do creative arts with paper and pastels and pencils. My instincts were telling me I needed to express myself in a way that wasn’t to do with words and academic work. My soul was calling me to know and express myself in a forgotten way. I get a lot of joy from intellectual wrestling, and my mind is very creative – but art connects with the side of me that pushes the boundaries of imagination even more. I can express in shapes and pictures what I cannot always say in words and this gives me even greater freedom.
The best thing I learn when I do art is that mess is good – it is the only path to truth, to genuine expression and beauty. As someone who likes neatness on paper and in life – this lesson has been the greatest gift. It may take 100 lines before I get the outline I want. I may end up with something I didn’t plan – and yet the end result can still be as beautiful if not more than the thing I had imagined. Even the ‘mistakes’ become useful, and in the end I end up with no regrets, just unexpected moments and experiences that added more colours to the canvas of my life. So I intend to continue to paint boldly and sketch wildly. I trust that I know what to do – and I will keep on expressing what is in my soul. I will be open to inspiration, but closed to comparison. For I am an artist.