A significant and very senior public servant recently asked me, brows knitted, coffee froth over lipstick what I considered to be me - how in fact do I describe myself to others.
How do I live with myself. Cutting.
Given it wasn't a job interview, that I was not dating that person, that they are a long time friend and colleague, I answered simply and with what I thought was as honest and cuttingly blunt retort.
No cunning stunts. No embellishments or sugar sweet.
A frank reply. I remember the wording because looking at it now I wouldn't change it again. It fits and it is accurate.
" ...I am a construction yard, a building yet to be complete, soaring skywards, with multiple floors that are sometimes filled with people and parties, with a solid foundation, with cranes sometimes dropping shite when they shouldn't, delivery trucks at the wrong address, baggage delivered to the right address at the wrong time. I am a story, complete with faults, bog-holes, flat tyres at times. Weeds growing amongst beautiful flowers. Brilliant views over oceans and far flung lands. I am me."
In 1995 I was a mere fragment of that me.
Separated, licking my wounds of which I thought there were many..... I made friends with witches - powerful senior women who showed a great deal of interest in this seemingly creative yet damaged creature amidst them. Bless them, they taught me more than I thought possible. Perhaps thats why I still love red hair. Green eyes.
Fair headed faeries too. Black ravens.
I connected with a few young ones too during that time but the consensual admiration and physical loving was skin deep. The talk of kids, cohabitation and collaboration giving way to dinner, dates and hangovers.
At the grand old age of 26 I was dating a 42 year woman with three children. I was their step-father and to this day I hold that role and time dear to my heart. I moved in. Along with that came the timetable I'd be craving for that put things in order. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.
My family were suitably horrified. I had not engineered it. That's what happened and thats what I chose to live. Later in life I heard the devastating news that my step-daughter, that child, that gorgeous and recalcitrant child of which I shared but a few years of connection had been killed in a car accident.
That fact has never left me. It fills me still with a gentle sob.
I held my first solo show at Bunbury Regional Art Gallery, Western Australia. Then a sell out at Jalindia Gallery, Bunbury, Western Australia. Then another sell out at Gralyn Cellars Winery Gallery, Western Australia. Then.....well the list goes on and my Artist Vitae shows the numerous things I got myself known by.
Public commissions. Installations. The repetoire of works grew and so did my ego. Badly. I tried my best to live down my roots to lineage of artists in the family including my Uncle Richard.
The whole time through this I was working and studying in the Associate Degree of Fine Arts at Edith Cowan University, Bunbury. We bought a block of land in Esperance, Western Australia. Building, architects etc.
So 1996 started with a bang. I was accepted as the inaugural preschool teacher at Bunbury Community School. That I had helped setup with prior Lecturers at University. 45 parent groups. All faiths. No uniform. No pack drill.
I also worked concurrently as my CV will show with the Department of Family & Children Services, Bunbury. The Welfare. As Academic Tutor with many broken families. Devastating really. I had no real way of coping with what I experienced and just sucked it all in. Wards of the State. Lifeskills Team. ADHD branding. Signing off on child after child's apprehension orders based on truancy records, observances...my notes were gold for social workers whose grip was tighter than a Rottweiler with a bone between it's teeth.
I snuck in amongst families and played detective. I was assigned on "silent cases" where we sat watching things at night. By day wearing jeans and a t-shirt, as teacher I also had kids pass through my school under an alias.
Mid that year I decided to extend my arts career by opening an art gallery close to the school I worked at. Silly idea. being a commercial space it required every last ounce of my time and strength. Alexander Hayes Gallery of Fine Arts.
One crazy solo show with an Artist from Perth and it was over. 1996 ended with a bang. Literally.
Hospitalised with a broken sternum, broken left foot from dropping a press roller on it and up to my eyeballs in alcohol and gods know what else I was interned. Locked up.
Voluntarily or so I thought.
For a long time.