The Pivotal Moment I Followed My Passion And Became An Artist

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexelsadult-alone-black-and-white-551588.jpg

That pivotal moment came – after personal tragedy

I was Twenty years old – lost, depressed, and confused after my cousin Billy committed suicide. We were close growing up as children. Billy’s suicide was the dark storm that wrecked me. As a child of the 1970’s and 80’s, drug use was commonplace with teenagers. Billy became an addict and succumbed to the effects of this lifestyle at a young age. He shot himself in the temple. A common (and preferred method) for men. Billy was twenty-one years of age. And, as I said, I was twenty. I was no angel either, however, I wasn’t an addict. Instead I was in danger of becoming an alcoholic. At the time of Billy’s suicide, I was in the process of getting my act together. Daunting at best, as I had little (to no) resources or support. I proclaimed to myself – I would avoid going down that same path ever, ever, EVER.

Kicked-outta’ the house and living on my own (after graduating high school) life was difficult for me.

Photo by Min An from Pexelsadult-alone-concrete-720362

I found a single room (in a Boarding House). The Glenside Inn, located in the town I grew up, was a restaurant and bar with single rooms upstairs and a shared bath. The Inn became my home for a bit. I found full-time work in a print shop – an old vintage print shop. The shop, in operation since the 1940’s, was still (at that time) using those old typeset letters and burning metal plates for the printers. 

Photo by Wendelin Jacober from Pexelsbusiness-close-up-equipment-1440504.jpg

Available today as collectibles on ebay https://www.ebay.com/itm/250-Vintage-Lead-Typeset-Letterpress-Block-Letters-In-Drawer-1-4-3-8-/113272846465 .

Ha! No secrets here, I’m an OLD man! Okay – I might be overdoing things a bit… however, millennials such as my son might agree with this.

But – I digress.

My job at the print shop was to shoot the mock-up’s, develop the film and burn the metal plates that attached to the large Heidelberg printing presses. Of course, back then, the graphic artist did all the mock-up’s by hand – cut and paste (pre-digital) – an acquired skill and tedious to boot.

What got me jazzed was the grit and grind of the shop

The cool-looking, large plate burners – the graphic artist, angry and stressed – cutting/pasting/smoking – the piles and piles of cut up papers and magazines, stacked messy and high on the drafting board. Yellow dingy windows – the dark and dirty factory atmosphere – the frenzied pace of deadlines – the photography – the typesetting – the wooden print shop relics – and the humongous LOUD printing machines. All this chaos, captured my fascination. I became transported back in time.

After working all day, alone and depressed in my room, I started to draw again. With weekly trips to the library I found art books to study, copying Picasso’s and Van Gogh’s – determined to learn more. I developed a love for abstract art, and began experimenting. I drew my little sister’s elementary school pictures, dogs, abstracts and strange, distorted self-portraits.

No matter what – I wanted to BECOME an artist

This was a bold awakening for somebody that had NO real direction in life. My parents education level – both of them high school dropouts – struggled to raise us kids. Unspoken yet expected – the norm had been – you would somehow GET A JOB when you graduate.

J-O-B’s – weren’t enough

So…I enrolled in night school at Penn State University’s satellite campus. I had no idea what I was doing. I muddled through the process. I spent time planning and studying financial aid (still mystified) I pressed on. Attending part-time at night, while working full-time to pay rent. Art classes during the day and Liberal Art classes at night, I succeeded in bringing my grades up. The daytime art classes were my favorite. My art teacher mentored me, showing me how to get a portfolio together. This was invaluable.

Ultimately –  I transferred full-time to an amazing art school

The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, I couldn’t believe I was there. The whole experience was super exciting and new. Considering, at first, I snubbed the idea, I wasn’t sure I wanted to earn a degree. I believed I would find an artist community and be self-taught. However, that idea folded quick. And without this experience, I might have ended up with my own personal tragedy. Following my passion saved me. Four years later, I graduated, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a certificate in Art Therapy. Eager to conquer the art world and live my ARTIST life, I succeeded.

The after artist’s life (so to speak) is a whole other story…

© [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [artistfromtheinsideout.wordpress.com], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, artwork, or photo’s without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [artistfromtheinsideout.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

AHHHHHHH — Frustration is Frustrating!

 

Frustration is an unsettling feeling, undoubtedly.

For years I’ve dappled in poetry and blogging. I’ve been skirting the edges of this craft (this art form) since my early days in Art School. Today I feel a calling, a force within, a palpable frustration in my need to write. Why?

Perhaps it is the voice in my head shouting at me to speak! Periodically afraid to voice my opinion in written format has been directly linked to my fear of commitment. AHA!

I literally was just informed of this by that voice in my head again. LOL! I perplex myself at the same time as finding myself quite brilliant. Seriously, I fear committing to an opinion or “story” as I might have to act on something. Well, at least that is the silliness I tell myself. I want to remain open I think, as an artist I should be open. This is the battle, the battle for clarity and fair-mindedness that stalks my psyche. Strange? I know. Stranger things there are though, ’cause people are their own worst critics.

And storytelling (by the way) is an ancient art form that has been handed down through our bloodlines, our bones. It’s a natural human condition (in my belief) that relay’s messages from within. To seek and tell one’s story, or to be sought out by our inner voice to tell one’s story. Poetry grabbed a hold of me the same way. I heard voices in my head (over and over) that wouldn’t shut up. I felt compelled to grab a notebook and pencil. Lo’ and behold —  poetry spilled out. I felt possessed. Mesmerized, I didn’t stop for several years. Same as my urge to pick up a brush and paint suddenly — telling a story visually, expressing an emotion, depicting a scene. No different.

adult-athlete-concert-763219
Photo by Genaro Servín from Pexels

Back to Frustration. Frustration about pivoting my art form. Where do I start? I know other artist’s and writer’s have the same problem. Painter’s stare at blank canvasses, as writer’s stare at blank pages. So it goes. To pivot or not to pivot? That is my question.

I want to master my pivoting. If I can master the pivot, I can effortlessly succeed. Right?

Frustration will cease to exist if I just pivot from it — Ha! (In fantasy world) Frustration is key to understanding my story — understanding the road to take, the story to tell. Pivoting is part of creating. Sometimes tackling the beast of frustration to the ground, is how I proceed with creation. Frustration/Creation. Sounds good to me. I’ve learned to listen to the voices in my head. So, I forge forward. I write. I paint. I pontificate. And I frustrate. But I create, and that is what I live for. Now…what should I write?

©Jay Mora-Shihadeh

I Cracked the Outer Shell and Touched the Inside of my Soul

selfieA vision struck me one day, that little bubble that appears in newspaper comics popped inside my head: “The Artist From The Inside Out”. In that moment, clarity washed over me. I said – “What a great premise for my blog”. Lay everything out, bare naked and in the open. Being an artist who is going through transition is simultaneously exciting and exposing; sometimes leaving me in a raw emotional state. After all, I didn’t plan on being transgender, nevertheless this is who I am. I spent my life hiding inside a shell. In mere seconds, I cracked that outer shell and touched the inside of my soul for the first time. A shell created to protect me from our society’s hate, ignorance and judgement. This coping mechanism – I honed –  from the outside in.

Realizing that I had defaulted to my shortcomings and created a suitable safe existence, became shocking to me. This idea of “The Artist From The Inside Out” reversed that dialogue with myself. Critical that I live unrestricted, free from hate and judgement, my quest is to get re-acquainted with the boy I abandoned years ago. Reclaiming ones’ self-identity is vital to transition. Being transgender, and an artist, means visiting the places I forgot, the uncharted experiences of my life that I desperately desired.

When I was a child, I assumed I was a boy, however, society rejected this and rendered me female – that was devastating. Life became hard when that reality sank in. As people challenged my identity, seething anger replaced innocence. The outer shell of self-protection began to form, but with consequences. My life became sad, depressing and scary. Confusion twisted my little soul in two, and I split my world to somehow fit this “new reality”. To become whole as a man, and as an artist, is my end goal. That’s happening with ease now, but with moments of grief. Normal human behavior is to look back and mourn the years we lost. However, grief purges the soul and opens your heart.

“The Artist From The Inside Out” was the light switch moment; the flipping of my life story. As an artist, authenticity is my mantra – what I strive to live by. Living by this code is what I need to feel connected. That authenticity is unraveling for me everyday as I learn something profound (or not) in becoming connected again to my true self. Funny, but the experiences I find profound are the simple memories of a carefree boyhood and joys of unfettered play. The simple love of my Matchbox and Hot Wheels , my purple Nerf football and my reckless tree climbing were true bliss.

However, as a small child I had awareness that I was different. My mother shared the other day a memory of me, at five years old, punching the little boy next door for calling me a girl! I consider myself a Robin Hood type, but a bully – no! My nature is to come to the rescue of the victim, the underdog. I suppose I was the victim of that little boy – and the five-year old me – didn’t accept this! Mom verified to myself (and to herself) that even at five years old, I understood I was a boy.

I strive to express love, passion and the human spirit as an artist. I want to express this crazy need I have to say something in my life. Art is a reminder of the inner light us humans hold. The brighter the light the bigger the impact. Self-expression is one of the biggest needs humans have, but at times forgotten. What higher form of democratic-expression is there but the human right to self-expression, self-determination. Therefore, my self-discovery of being transgender and going through this transition has been the ultimate in self-expression.

A critical and larger part of a healthy democracy is all equal parts are thriving. Artists are here to remind us of the commonality we all experience, because art by nature allows for human connection. As an introvert – as an artist – albeit late in life; my shell cracked open and the man within – exposed from the inside out.

© [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [artistfromtheinsideout.wordpress.com], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, artwork, or photo’s without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [artistfromtheinsideout.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gender Identity and the Dreaded Self Portait; At Least I Didn’t Cut My Ear Off

 

vincent_van_gogh_-_self-portrait_with_bandaged_ear_2818892c_courtauld_institute29
Vincent Van Gogh “Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear” (Photo Credit: Public Domain)

Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear off. They claim he had mental Illness. Maybe he did – maybe he didn’t, I don’t know. Artists have demons. His demons caused him such distress that he physically harmed himself. He was emotional, passionate and intense; yet out of his element in that century. Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters. I related to him as an artist. Perhaps he struggled with his identity? He may have even hated his self-portraits. I dreaded mine. Self-portraits exposed me. I didn’t like being exposed. Deep down I knew something wasn’t right inside me. I never felt comfortable with my image. But at least I didn’t cut my ear off.

This past July I was recruited to do an “Ask Me Anything!” (AMA) event after being “found” on an illustrators group. I’d never heard of it before but after researching it, I was intrigued. I immediately signed up and soon after was hosting my first event.  The experience really touched me personally. It was this event that spawned the idea of  revamping my old blog. If you haven’t heard of AMA events, I urge you to check them out amafeed.com . I want to expound a bit on my answers to some very insightful questions I got from people during my event. One of the questions I was asked was, did I think hating my self-portraits had anything to do with my gender identity crises? To that I said, “I absolutely do!”  In fact as good as others thought my art was, I often felt it was not good enough or worse yet, they are lying (just to make me feel better) weird right? The imposter syndrome was always with me. Sure I liked my art. Sometimes I even loved my art. BUT it definitely brought out my self-hatred too, especially when I had to look in the mirror and do a self-portrait. I guess it was not the usual self-loathing that most people experience. It was a fear to portray myself as female. I thought to myself, is it okay that I looked and felt kinda like a guy anyhow? Gender identity was my Achilles heel . I was always trying to walk an imaginary line of androgyny. After all, androgyny was cool I thought, I’m an artist right? Also, I was struggling with never feeling quite right with being a “lesbian”. In fact, I never really self-identified that way, preferring instead to say that I was gay. This way I could avoid the female connotation, it was an easy and more accepted identity for me. I am very comfortable and relieved now that I’m not a lesbian. I never was. I am a male who is binary and straight. I was born transgender not cis-gender. This has been a huge relief because I harbored feelings that I might be homophobic or hated lesbians and felt extremely guilty about that. I haven’t picked up and explored self-portraits since transitioning. I suspect when I do it will be a better experience. I like how I look and feel now. I am not saying I won’t struggle at all, that would be absurd. However, I don’t have to agonize over my female features anymore. I can look in the mirror with confidence and ease. I finally like they way I look. Self-portaits aside, having transitioned to male and feeling my gender dysphoria slowly dissolve has been a sheer joy. This artistic journey, this human journey leaves me to wonder, what if Van Gogh lived today? Would it be different for him. Maybe he wouldn’t have cut off his ear?

© [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [artistfromtheinsideout.wordpress.com], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, artwork, or photo’s without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Jay Mora-Shihadeh] and [artistfromtheinsideout.wordpress.com] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: