It is hard to pick one word to reclaim that perfectly encapsulates what it means to me to be an artist and writer. I could go for words that I like the sound of. I recently came across the word eesome, meaning something that is pleasing to the eye. And then there are words that like me have emigrated from another country and now pass themselves off as English like blasé.
I would though like to reclaim a Greek word. It’s not onomatopoeic, but this particular word moves me to better and more thoughtful action. It’s not enough to simply talk about love, writing, books, or art. What matters are my acts, my hechos as they are called in my mother tongue.
Meraki (verb or adverb): A Modern Greek word derived from the Turkish Merak. To do something with soul, creativity, or love, leaving a piece of yourself in what you are doing.
Like most twenty-somethings in university I felt I needed to decide what my story was going to be. I was restless, but I ignored my intuition and any hazy visions of the future that whispered “Art”. I didn’t study Art.
Instead, I took Social Anthropology and Theology. As a vicar’s daughter, my first encounter with stories had come from the Bible. For me in my early years, God was someone I was overly familiar with but who remained mysterious.
Both areas of study offered stories. But I was happiest among the stories of people. It didn’t matter to me if they were football fans, Romanian travellers, or Latin American mums in Bogota. Some social anthropologists embrace the subjectivity of their viewpoint. The perspective that this gives their case studies means that their field notes read more like stories than scientific notes. This was really the writing that moved me the most. When it came to writing my Masters dissertation it read like a set of short stories. It took a lot of redrafts before the Professor was satisfied with my efforts.
On a whim, I started taking Creative Writing courses. One course led to another and then another. Before long I started working towards a diploma in the evenings. I remember one creative writing teacher at that time saying that readers didn’t want to read kitchen sink dramas. This advice struck deep. I took charge of my own life with more courage than before, almost as though someone was perpetually watching over my shoulder, like my own story was being read. The advice challenged me to leap fearlessly into action so as not to be a kitchen sink drama myself.
I enrolled on a Creative Writing Masters Course at Goldsmiths despite strong voices in my life urging me to consider my financial future. I read and re-read Virginia Woolf’s, “A room of one’s own” and this became the dream that drove me. When the Masters Degree was complete, I left a good job so that I could have a room of my own in beautiful botanical gardens in the North of Italy for three months. I gardened in the morning and wrote in the afternoons. I’ve continued to take jobs that offer interest and access to stories over jobs that might be more financially comfortable. Over time I’ve learnt to listen to that initially quiet inner voice in my head that speaks encouragement and fills me with confidence. I’ve learned to take action as a writer and artist. But something was still not quite in harmony and remained restless.
It took time but I came to realise that the advice from that teacher had sunk in a little too deep. In my writing I had turned various protagonists from female to male. Where I could hide the fact that I was a female writer I did, without much success I should add. But this subtle shift also took hold of my subconscious. I had sucked in the advice to be more masculine in my confidence to such an extent that it had become toxic to the confidence I had in my own voice as a writer. In trying to please a teacher I had inadvertently failed myself by trying to extract my true self from my writing.
It has taken time to put this right, and many things have helped. The confidence I’ve received from being a mother has helped me reclaim my femininity and emboldened me to talk up for myself. The word Meraki reminds me to apply myself wholeheartedly to what I am creating.
Andy Warhol advises, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding make more art.” I now know that I need to hold on to advice that propels me forward into action. Rather than worrying that perhaps my art or writing won’t please everybody, or letting that fear lead into inaction or complete silence I act, I give myself room to be present in what I create and I move on. As Doris Lessing said in The Roads of London, “Assert life, make life, move on.”
I write from my experience as an immigrant woman, estranged from my origins and destined to always be the other. Rather than see that as a limitation, I see it as an opportunity to open up conversation and explore new ideas. I’ve become more engaged with my environment and community. Meraki, my creative life has extended beyond my studio. I’ve been honoured to have the opportunity to mentor girls and sit on committees where I strive to help others and drive positive change. And these new experiences enrich my art and writing.
I am no longer surprised to hear that other writers and artists are moved to social action as action is at the heart of art: Anthony Gormley, who makes me reflect on the universal by looking at the figures he creates. Marina Abramovic, who I think challenges society to be present - something that is especially poignant in her work the “Artist is present”. And, of course, the artist the Ai Wei Wei, who said “Creativity is the power to reject the past, to change the status quo and to seek new potential.”
As an artist and writer I resolve to listen to that inner voice that urges constant action and to keep creating as wholeheartedly as I possibly can. Life as an artist and writer is hard, it involves inner turmoil, it’s a solitary pursuit, but it involves daily steely conviction to act truthfully in harmony with ourselves, as well as our community. When compassion is greater than ego, writers and artists commit to paper and canvas things that illuminate and bring us closer to one another. The word meraki encapsulates what I strive to achieve with the things I create; things with soul, love and truth.
Isha Harris is a writer and artist. You can see more of her work on www.blueflamingodreams.com
Isha is Peruvian but has lived in the UK most of her life. There she studied at the University of St Andrews and then Goldsmiths, University of London. Isha now lives on a beautiful island called St Helena in the South Atlantic with her husband and two sons. You can follow her on Facebook or Instagram just type Blue Flamingo Dreams.