I spread out my plastic drop cloth on the floor of my apartment and grabbed my paints from the drawer. Two canvases were begging to be redone and I had the time and space to give them some attention.
That weekend had held remembrances of the past in the form of panic and anxiety and my body was exhausted from holding it all. Painting, for me, is a way of having a dialogue with those stories. Sometimes the way the work evolves is not a conscious choice. Art making can be unmasking. It can externalize the stories the body needs to tell.
A kind friend told me, "the panic is just your body remembering things." Those words held peace for me. Of course. Such a simple explanation, but instead of viewing my body as defective I began to see it as a vessel impacted by the world around it.
When I put the canvases side by side I realized that they were "talking" to each other.
The canvas on the left represents the false front I put on for the world. I tell people, "I'm fine," "I'm hanging in there," "I'm ok." For so long I believed the lie that revealing some of the raw reality that comes with living a life on this broken earth would be too much for the listener and maybe even for me. So many stories sat bottled up in a corner until two years ago when I began to tell some of them at the Lay Counseling Certificate training program run by the Allender Center in Seattle.
The canvas on the right is the internal battle. The stories that bubble up from the deep. The messy reality. The things I try to hide because they can't be neatly summed up and put into a certain box.
Telling stories to those we trust means asking them to sit in the darkness with us. To hold the beauty and sorrow. It's incredibly vulnerable and I think touches on a young place for many. It's the little girl or boy who wants to share their drawing or story with an adult, their heart crying out, "look at me, tell me this matters, sit with me."
In the sadness there is beauty. In the chaos there is hope. I see loveliness in each of the canvases. They both tell my story. It's not over and it's still being written. By standing in the ocean of memories my body is asking me to remember, I can offer more kindness to myself and to others. I'm eternally grateful for those who step into the deep waters with me, hold my hand, look into my eyes and remind me I'm not alone.
There's a saying at my grad school that we must learn to hold both things, the horrific ugly brokenness and the glorious beauty of the stories our bodies contain. Maybe someday those two canvases won't feel so far apart from each other in expression, but that's a part of the journey.