Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's All About Me: Lessons In Letting Go

Here's a picture:

Want to know what that is? That is two years' studio rent, about 30 yards of canvas and maybe a grand or two in paint. And this:

That is a couple hundos worth of scraps (ill-fitting Target shoes included for reference) that never made it onto those things, up there. My paintings. Those are a stack of paintings, in varying lengths and widths between 6 and 10 feet. Those are hundreds of hours, countless car miles (sorry, environment). Those are love with a dash of hate, or vice versa depending on the day (my mood). Those are what I only admitted in my fumigated brain I had been vaguely referring to as "my life's work" (seriously? Get a grip). <== And that's my inner voice/critic/Jim Gaffigan, by the way. Get used to her.

And this is my parents' basement. That's a crock pot.

I'm sharing this because the transition from where these used to hang to where they are now was one of the most difficult in recent memory. From taking these behemoth scraps of cloth out of their place of honor when I moved out of my studio to their resting grounds here. One of the most humbling moments as an artist is to see what you've given your life (literally -- that's life hours right there) to sitting in a pile on a couple folding tables. What once took up hundreds of square feet of wall space reduced to a corner. We dream these big dreams and inject them into our work, like one of those moms on Toddlers and Tiaras. We look past what they are at any given moment to what we want them to be if somehow we can ever finish them, only to see them reduced to what they actually are; just bits of paint on scraps of cloth.

I bring up this story for two reasons:

1) It took me until forced to realize how obligated I had come to feel towards The Vision; how detached I had become from the actual physical work of painting, how unsatisfied I actually felt with the day-to-day of it and;

2) I then had to face this and come to the realization that, whatever we did the day before does nothing but bring us to today. To hold onto it is pointless. To grow from it is the objective.

But of course, at the time I didn't want to admit either of these facts. Only when Buddy Holly (that is my manfriend's name, and the moniker under which he will henceforth be referred) reminded me that I was behaving in a completely contradictory manor to my belief system did I stop whining and pay attention. It went like this:

ME: "Yeah, well, they're sitting in my parents' basement now so what good are they going to do?"

BH: "Why are you saying that? Why are they so important to you now, that they're done? Isn't the point to learn from them and then move on? Don't you paint because you love to, not because you have to?"

ME: ...(frustrated silence)... Shut up.

But he was right. I had long ago stopped finding enjoyment in working on those pieces, and yet I still clung to their current importance. I thought I was supposed to. I mean, this is my life's work, right? Artists are supposed to be suffering, aren't they?

As soon as I let go of the compulsive need to keep doing something I didn't even like doing anymore (seriously, they were a pain in the ass. Takes 20 minutes to mix a palette that gets used in 5, and the ladder acrobatics were getting old) I could start seeing them for what they had been in the past and would bring to the future. To the now. To the only moment we could ever possibly hope to live in.

So to those old pieces I bid adieu. You've served me well, wherever you end up. And to the new, I say, let's dance.

Crossing Bridges or; "I Just Have A Lot Of Feelings"

Look, here's the thing:

Remember that chick from Mean Girls – you know the one – who speaks at the girls’ workshop of sunshine and rainbows, and when Damien yells “she doesn’t even go here!” tearily responds, “I just have a lot of feelings”? That one who seemed so endearingly pathetic, who we all laughed at because she was just kind of awkwardly sad? The one that my friends and I have been mocking for years, because HELLO THAT LINE IS PURE GOLD?

Well, here’s a “sad” truth: we are all that girl.

Or boy, depending on your chromosomal disposition. But the difference between us and that freak is that we’ve gotten really good at hiding it -- and not least of all from ourselves. We spend so much time fixating on the problems of others -- the friends', the boyfriends', the tv's -- that it becomes quite easy to miss what is going on at a much closer distance; within our own selves.

So what happens when we stop fixating outward and listen to what our feelings are trying to say? What happens when we slow down, ignore the phone, turn off the tv, just sit?

It hurts like a bitch, that's what.

It hurts so bad it feels like you'll give yourself a hernia crying it all out or worse; all that chipotle you had for lunch will be staring at you from the inside of a toilet before it's over. Maybe the anger is so big you're afraid those around you will literally notice the hulk-like pallor to your skin and henceforth stop returning your calls. Or the loneliness might actually swallow you up -- you surely won't be missed! But most of all, the fear of those tiny maggots of truth wriggling to the surface is more that once they get there, they'll never go away.

But, here's a happier truth: feelings are bridges.

Just like you need to take the first step to get to the other side, feelings need to be felt to reach their end. And when you get to the end? You move on to the next thing. It's done, it's over, OH THANK GOD. Until you feel it again. But look, the good news is that the more you start allowing yourself to Get To The End of your feelings, the more you'll begin to understand What They're Really About. Go get some more tacos, since you flushed those hours ago. Tell yourself "I love you, self. Even if you have way too many feelings."

And then just keep swimming.