by Natalie Christensen
I am a maker.
I don’t even know what the other possible categories of being are—even so, I know this is who I am.
Sometimes I pretend I don’t know this, this truth about myself. Like in college when I studied veterinary science for two years, absolutely ignoring that my favorite part of lecture class was color-coding notes with my favorite pens and crowding the written information with portraits of every person in the lecture hall.
Other times I whine to myself in an internal fight about “what I do” or “who I am.” I ask, despairingly, like I haven’t been myself all along, like I haven’t been making art with my words and hands and heart every day of my entire life. Heck, I started a whole business, all because a friend asked me to “make illustrations of kids having feelings.” I didn’t know where it was heading, or what heights it would reach, I just wanted to draw. Someone was asking me to make something and my answer will always be YES to that question. My heart leaps at that question.
When I work with clients, talking over the phone, I make illustrations of their lives, their children, their strengths, and their fears. I jot notes and symbols and outline important bits. As we talk an entire picture takes form and I can see them. Because of this I can help them. This is not something I could ever put in a portfolio, but it counts as making, it certainly counts as art.
I also make this:
I spend hours, my entire body focused on an area the size of a quarter, building pastries and meats, dinners and lunches, vegetables and fruits—all small, all utterly identical to real food. I tell myself I make little food because my girls ask me to, or because it makes money for the family, or because it’s something I can do late at night during downtime. But I am full of it. I make it because I am a maker. My girls absentmindedly asked for little food for their figurines one day eight years ago—they didn’t ask me to make an entire marketplace of hundreds of teeny food products—from glazed donuts to ham-hocks.
I asked for that. I am that.
Even when I don’t hide behind my children, I pretend that I just stumbled into making art like this, that it’s a perfectly random thing to do.
In college I made ceramic stacks, lushly colored chunky things, totally abstract yet simultaneously something you might want to eat. When I quit grad school I worked in a bakery making real stacks of lushly colored chunks—towering wedding cakes and scones and cookies and other beautiful desserts. Sure you could eat them, but that certainly wasn’t my main interest in making them. Later when I illustrated my first children’s book I drew food that I would make in miniature form years later.
Single college student? Make big abstract art. Working person? Make towering cakes. Mother? Make little things late at night when children sleep.
This is my heartsong. This is what is in me. And it feels scary and vulnerable to say so, which is probably why I distract myself by asking “Who am I? What do I do?” It’s why I blush and say, “Oh I just make these for the kids.”
I’m not the only one with a song. The concept applies to all types; “people people,” organizers, analyzers, digesters, performers, you name it. To sing your heartsong means to be what’s true to you, to be your fullest realest self, and anyone, any type can do this.
To sing your song, loud and clear, without excuses, is terrifying. To reveal your inner passions, your odd aesthetic, your creative compulsion is like standing naked, under a bare light bulb.
It is also worth it. It is, perhaps, the only worthwhile version of being.
I am never happier, never more buzzingly content than when I am being true, than when I am sharing my song. Sometimes it’s off-key. Sometimes it’s just a partial lyric. And sometimes it’s so true I become buttery inside. Out it goes, as letters on a page, as phrases in a call, as color in a painting, and it’s awful and thrilling and raw and scary and heavenly. I send it out there and I can feel it being felt. I can feel it sifting down. I sing, and strive to find my perfect pitch, and even getting close feels like flying.
“Parenting with Empathy.”
Natalie Christensen is a writer, illustrator, and mother living in Missoula, Montana. She is co-creator of Feeleez, a line of tools that support the emotional development of children. She offers life + parenting coaching and on most days can be found on the banks of the Clark Fork river with her family and her yellow dog.