Clearance to Create


I visited Charleston this summer for two reasons: to see the south with adult eyes and to spend time with my beloved aunt and uncle. Aunt Lynn and Uncle Mark were primary shapers in my life growing up and if I’m secure to any degree it’s because of them and travel soccer. My conversations with my uncle are infrequent but deep; what lacks in frequency is made up for in conversations till 3 a.m. about life, change and frankly — myself. My dad is a wonderful provider. He loves me deeply (proof here). But he would never state an insight about me or my life, sentences that might start with, “I know you, and…” or “given your history.” If you have someone in your life who can speak to your frame in this way, cherish that person. My Uncle Mark likes to tell the story about how he was the first person to see my baby butt enter this world (my dad was at work, pre-cellphones) and has felt a kinship with me ever since. So it is.

Over lunch at Magnolia we began talking about my creative journey. My hard-left into Christianity at 20 years old from a life of atheism, art, drugs, men, self-abuse, live music, boredom, anger and far too much myopic journaling. He saw that change happen. He saw me cover my back in garish tattoos at 15, then saw me get married at 21 in my proverbial bonnet and jean skirt and change my identity (and e-mail) to Mrs. Matthew Campos. Apparently he observed all of this with serene clarity, giving me the space to overcorrect. He shared how his son (my cousin) called him with concern about my art. That I would be giving up my life as an artist upon entry into this new world, which, from across the country could not be discerned between church and “new religious movement” (the secular word for cult).

We talked. I cried. And I let those god damn tears fall right in the middle of my shrimp and grits. It’s a difficult thing to face: that I gave up creating seriously for ten whole years. I was mad at myself for surrendering what had always been my sole confidant: art. Thinking that I could be functional and well without it, never mind happy. And then a diffuse anger that the gods allowed me to make such lasting personal decisions at 20 years old. And finally sad for the body of work that sits dusty in my mind. But wait! I was making a change. Here I sat. I travelled. Without my family. TO TAKE PICTURES. Progress. And Uncle Mark said something that blew me away.

“You needed that.”

Wut? He told some stories; and I remember just how deeply I lived out of the destructive, unstable inner world of the creative empath. How I had built a thicket of literature and music around me, a worldview of irreverence and self-destruction-as-rebellion. And the answer to healing was a machete. Intense people can require intense intervention. Or maybe that’s all of us. But to think those years were not wasted for my work, but needed. To prepare. To cleanse. To learn how to eat more than coffee and energy bars. To navigate the world sober for the first time. To read corny but practical Christian living books all with the title of “_____ Matters” (Holiness, Culture, Gender, take your pick). To make friends with virginal, unworldly young women and give them a chance. To conform for a while. To take a break from emotional turbulence. To attend 500 baby showers. To make some sort of peace with the brutal and bloody and incomprehensible cross — something I had alternately ignored or laughed at but which is big enough to require a ten year reckoning.

I sighed. I grieved. I explained how I had always planned to return to my art — at 50. After my babies were raised, as generally recommended by my church and peers. Telling this story to a person who has watched me develop from the beginning was a unique catharsis. Therapy 2.0. I have always said my art is like my neglected third child. The guilt toward not caring for it is searing and disorienting. I’m entering a space now of deep approval of this baby. Without reference to the thoughts found in any other human mind. Living out my need to create and what’s more: calling it good. Being able to see these past ten years as less of a detour and more of a natural, necessary unfolding has lifted a final barrier for me. To give myself clearance to create on the strongest possible basis: as an image-bearer. Now all that’s left is the open vista of what the work could be.


Uncle Mark holds my bag as we walk to lunch. Charleston, 2018.

Uncle Mark holds my bag as we walk to lunch. Charleston, 2018.

Film: Ilford HP5
Cameras: Canon Sure Shot, Canon AE-1