What is it that you see?


I am dazed, confused, head sore, cold sore, tired, run down.

I can hear a can rolling around outside in the street, every other Friday is bin day and their is always something that is left astray. The empty can makes a pleasant clunking sound rolling around outside on the stone slabs.

I haven’t got to the studio as planned. I helped my friend move his stuff out and into his home and checked that all would be well tonight. I jotted down some time to help my friend out more again next week. There is responsibility. There is kindness. Of cause I would rather be making art, trying to help me find work, make my situation better. Maybe this duty will help.Maybe this is bettering. Life is all about experiences right? About learning ? Somehow by doing more stuff you get more done, or at least you understand what your priorities are.

I do need to move me higher up the priority list, but maybe that time is now, it has arrived.

Mum is coming. P is out tonight. I am glad mum is coming. I need some help, some care, some tender, loving care.

I stare into space. I stare at the light of the screen and it stings my eyes.

I boiled over with frustration this morning. Arguing never helps anyone, least myself. I am fed up of spending weekends on my own looking after children, there is no let up, its all work, work, work. Unpaid work. Work done for love not money.

I am struggling with the love. I am struggling just to be motivated by a force that is close to religious. What is this love? What is this all giving mother. I am not her. I don’t like religion, I am an atheist. I am fed up with being blamed. I am not a vessel. I will not be a victim. I will not except the arrows. I will not be seen as a madonna figure. I am me. I will feel no shame. I will wait to feel different. I will wait to find my feet. I will speak out.

I try, I do try. I don’t have limitless time. My days are short and filled full of roles, jobs, expectations, things that I have to do that I don’t want to do. I am not perfect. I am not ideal. I get angry. I get frustrated. Who wouldn’t. Who wouldn’t find this life frustrating. I am not a saint. I cannot keep up with the saintliness. I cry. I cried. Syd put his arm around me.

I couldn’t stop myself from shouting. I shouted. I made myself heard. Yes its counter productive I know, I know, I know. Inside I am often shouting, I try to surpress the anger, keep it in, but that isn’t always possible. Do you feel angry? How do you stop boiling over? Have you any advice for me? For others? Why do mothers feel any? Am I the only angry mother? Why is anger not allowed? How do we deal with anger?

I have my limitations. Not everyone listens or wants to. I want to talk but there is often no time and ears are shut. Boxes. I cannot always speak about specifics. This is public. I am aware that this is OUT LOUD even though its quietly written.

I am sad that I cannot attend an opening. I don’t have the money. I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the childcare. It is the lack of finances that mainly curtail my freedom to decide. Not to have choice. To be dependent. It isn’t easy. It restricts choices. I don’t choose this.

A friend talks about how privileged and lucky we are. I know. I know, but I struggle to find the positive and I have to describe where I am at right now.

Do I really need to dumb down to get work ? I sat in the Sure Start course and wondered how I had got to this point. How I had got to being sat here in a dark basement asking the question in my head how will this help ? How will this help? This is so basic, how will this help? I know this. I know this. What is there to learn.

Of cause there are always things to learn. Mainly to learn from other people. Knowledge of others lives. How other people live. Who I am. Who am I ? I am lost. I am lost. Like these other women how did we land here. Grasping, holding, sharing. I am grasping, slipping, trying not to slip. I don’t want to google my name and its meaning. I find this all cringingly hard. We are all sat around this cold table. We are all distant. I am not light. I am dark. So my mood does not reflect the meaning of my name.

I struggle to be the student and not the teacher. I struggle to sit and not stand. Can I stand up? I can stand up. Its not all about me. The teacher talks a lot about her. I learn a lot about her. How can this help me? Respect, humility, compassion, difference. Always good to appreciate difference. Difference of opinion. I need to learn to keep quiet, to try not to think. I need to listen. Just sit and listen and keep my mouth shut, but I am opinionated. I interject about my struggle with school and rules and tests and really is phonics the only way to teach my child? I struggle with authority. I struggle. I am struggling with her authority, her teaching strategies. I want to run away. I feel frustrated.

When the course is over I cannot wait to get outside. It has been a long time since I have sat through a morning without caffeine. I am not sure I will return. Do I want to come back? How can I get out of coming back to the course? How can I escape. I am advised to go back and try it again, to go a second time. If I don’t go a second time and stick with it, what will be lost? Lost that I cannot stick to something, that I cannot see what I might gain? I am not convinced. What I can give, what can I get. Really what is it I can get from this situation. My time is so precious and short and I want to be making art not feeling small.


It was like being in a Mike Leigh film, right in the centre of it. It was depressing. I left thinking about how much my children teach me, and how much that there is to learn. Humility. My brain won’t stop. Have I wasted one and a half hours of my time, why am I here. To learn that children can learn anywhere, everywhere. I knew that. Did I know that? I think I did know that.

What have we learnt. We have learnt about each other. Desperate. Seemingly desperate, tired women with children trying to move towards working. The work place. The place of work. Outside the home. This shift and this transition back to work.

A birthing.

A taking away of what I hold precious. To walk my child to school. To collect my child from school. To try to smile and be patient and not be rushed. To not be paid. To not be paid for my time. To cope without. To see how far living on love not a wage can stretch. How it has challenged me. How I feel like jumping in a pram and being pushed. Push me, rock me, hold me, stoke my hair, fetch me warm milk, dress me. Can I be the baby once in a while. Can I be naughty and reckless and flood the bathroom ? Can I be cared for rather than being the one that has to care for others?

Love. Care. Maintenance. Compassion. Connection. Understanding. Work. Diligence. Resilience. Reliability.

Cry, clean, cook, don’t dust. Piles of washing up. A cold sore. Make art. Don’t care. Let the mess build up and create.


In the studio I make a map, a plan. A drawing. I write lists and lists of to do. To do. I think how to edit this project, by season? By section of the most pertinent subjects? I imagine it as a series of books, beautiful books, objects not pixels. Perhaps it cannot be edited, it is what it is. A messy lot of ideas, emotions, struggles, observations of my family and where I am, my point of view. Who is this mother and what does she do?

I am here. I am here in this space, and this space listens. It orders my muddle of thoughts.

Last night N flooded the bathroom. I was in the kitchen and I thought the rain outside was in. It was raining inside. N  was pretending to be a baby andhad tried to flush a nappy that he had put on   down the loo and then the loo had overflowed and the door was locked and I bashed on the locked door and cried to be let in. I was calm. I am calm in a crisis. I did not shout at him, I was very cross but I was calm. I got on and cleared up all the water from the floor with more and more clean towels from the airing cupboard.  I tried not to panic as I called for help from Syd. We both rushed about soaking up the water with the towels and creating a completely filled laundry basket with sodden.

The flooding happened after two rounds of chocolate milk shake. Giddiness and silliness and misbehaving.

The floor was ok, it survived but I was not ok. I was fed up.

There is a flood inside me. Art makes me sad. Motherhood makes me sad.  Art makes me sad as it does not always make life easier. Motherhood makes me sad because what ever I do it is never enough. It is never enough just to be.

It asks so much of me.

Art is not as demanding as my children but it does demand feeding and as with motherhood it is a monster of expectation.

Can life, motherhood, work in the home, outside the home, can it all be done? This is my art. These words and notes. This is what I have made. It is here. I cannot always see it, but these words and images are an attempt to make a mark. To learn. Appreciate. Understand. To feel no shame in what I think, what I see, what I want to share.

To say positively THIS IS ART.

Change. Change sometimes happens so slowly that it is hard to see.

What is it that you see?


1 comment

  • Lucy Wilson

    I hear you Helen…I hear you sister. Thinking of you and sending love. You given me such inspiration every time I see you…I’m always happy to hear you out as I totally relate to your reality…believe me x

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