“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”
― William Wordsworth
For some of us, to write is to breathe. It gives us the oxygen we need in order to survive. Words take flight, and our imagination flaps its wings along with them. Words take us into the darker places, the places we may fear to tread, but they stay there with us, steadfast, a beacon of light as we make our way through the darkness. Words take us inside, into the quiet spaces, the intimate spaces where we are able to breathe a little bit more deeply. The make us slow down and savor the poignancy of the moment. Words heal.
I write. It helps me to make sense of my world. Whether it be in the journals I have kept over the years or here on this little blog, a blank page becomes a playground where those words come out to frolic, to turn kartwheels, to skip across the page. When I sit down at the computer, I am not always sure where those words will take me. The heart opens itself up and breathes itself into these lines. A blog is an interesting juxtaposition between a public space and a private one. Fortunately, all of you who take the time to peruse these pages treat them with such a tenderness, that my heart splits open. This encourages me to continue. Be careful, dear readers. You just may be creating a monster, one who is unable to stop herself from typing. :)
Last week I sat down with an article by author/artist Jerry Saltz, Thirty-three rules for being an artist. My pen was poised above the notebook that organizes all of my random thoughts about life and art. A cup of my favorite tea, aptly called ”My Zen Moment,” was at my side. In the article, there is one exercise that asks the reader to recall a time when she cried while looking at a piece of art. That was not hard for me to come up with. My mind quickly went to the times I have sobbed like a baby on seeing Lori Vrba’s photography. So, mentally immersing myself into Lori’s world, I proceeded to the next prompt from that exercise: Think of six words that describe the art and how you relate to it. Reducing a piece of art to six words is not a simple task. There is a swirl of emotions inside of us when we relate to art on a deep level. This often happens in a vacuum of wordlessness. Emotion comes first, words usually follow. And slowly, as I rested with the images at the forefront of my mind, the words started to emerge from the depths. First came Wonder and then Transcendance. These two are related , as wonder gives birth to transcendance. Then came Melancholy as it relates to the loss of something. In that space where melancholy or loss is expressed, that gives rise to hope and healing, a return to the idea of the transcendance that I feel upon seeing these images. Some images explore grief, but the leave the viewer feeling hopeless. Not Lori’s. I look for art that feels healing, that acknowledges the darkness, and yet does not let it overtake. This philosophy also guides my search for literature and my goals with my own writing. Hope is what allows us to keep going. The next word that came to me was Sensuousness. There is a tactile, textural quality to these images. I look at certain ones, and I can feel the warmth of the southern light or the wind on the coast or hear the rustle of leaves. Sensuousness means something that awakens the senses in a nonsexual way. This is something that I also seek out in writing. I want to be transported to another time and place. That’s also a form of transcendance, is it not? The next word that came to me was Eternity. This word speaks to me of something that has existed forever and will outlive me. It is a connection to something larger than and beyond myself. I liken it to the sacred. And lastly, there was Innocence. Wonder, Transcendence, Melancholy, Sensuousness, Eternity, and Innocence. These are the magic words, my magic words, the article says. They are the keys to making art that reflects who we are, art that is infused with our essence. Given the opportunity to select another word, I would add intimacy. It accurately describes Lori’s work, and is something I crave both in art and in my life. Though Lori was the first artist who came to mind as I worked through this exercise, she is not the only one whose work has the power to evoke such emotion in me. I have similar responses to the work of Tobia Makover and that of my dear friend, Dawn Surratt.
I breathe in these words, and I let them move through me. I wrap them around me like a blanket as I move through my days. The one word that came as a somewhat of a surprise, somewhat but not completely if I am honest with myself, is innocence. I think of innocence as a state of purity, something unadulterated, unpolluted, unapologetic. This is a concept I have flirted with occasionally in my work, but haven’t dug into fully. It relates to past experiences I have been revisiting since my medical procedure opened up this Pandora’s box of emotions inside of me. One thing that I have alluded to but never publicly written about is the sexual abuse I experienced during my childhood. It is something I have spent more than twenty-five years healing from. The details of that experience are unimportant. As I said, I am not one who wants to linger in despair, preferring to swim through it and emerge on the other side of that river. Too many stories of abuse focus on the trauma itself, and while it is necessary to acknowledge the damage that was done, that is not my focus here. The healing process is rich and fertile, and while it is scary and difficult, that is where the magic happens. Healing is what fascinates me, how the layers of the trauma continue to unfold and be peeled away. Stories of healing give us hope, help us to transcend. When I worked as a therapist, I used to talk with my clients about how healing from trauma was like peeling away layers of an onion. Each time we are triggered and work on a different level of healing, we peel back another layer, and it makes us cry, salty, stinging tears. And as they fall, they wash some of pain away. That onion becomes smaller over time as we continue to do the work, but it remains an onion, no matter how many times we peel away the layers. We uncover things slowly, and we can be triggered many, many years later. Each time that happens, there is something more to learn about how we carry this trauma. We go deeper. And each time it happens, there is a sort of reclamation of the Self that occurs. This is where I am, in the process of reclaiming the Self I once was. A very dear friend recently said to me, as we were talking about my surgery and the hysterectomy she had many years ago, that it’s incredible the things that come up for us when there is some sort of medical intervention done to the uterus. Incredible, yes, but also incredibly normal.
Any trauma survivor divides her life into a “before” and an “after.” The time before our life was turned upside down, the time of innocence, can be something that haunts us. People often say that they just want to go back to being who they were before it all happened. It’s impossible to go back. That would be like un-knowing what you already know. It can’t be done. Yet, we don’t have to lose ourselves in the process either. We can hold onto the things about who we were before and carry them with us into the after. When I look at Lori’s photos, I see both of these. I see images that remind me of who I was before, as well as who I was once things started to happen, things that would change me forever. I see that innocence, but I see it in the images that speak to me of both the before and the after. The reality is that I didn’t lose who I was before. I am still the same little girl, but she is wiser now to the ways of the world and in her knowledge of herself. This is something that I find to be encouraging, and I hope it brings a message of hope to all of you who read this. If we dig deeply enough, we will find those parts of ourselves that we thought we had lost. They can never be truly lost, perhaps misplaced, but never lost. They remain with us forever.
I now see that my next task as an artist is to tap into the purity that is still there within me and allow it to guide me, manifesting itself in my work. In doing so, I will be honoring that little girl I once was and all of my former selves. And in doing this, in making art that honors the entirety of my experience on this planet, I will be going back to those six words, those six sacred words…. Holding them close to my chest and breathing them in and breathing out into the world, bringing them to life. Isn’t that what transcendance is all about?
Until next time…