I’m more than halfway through my third year of a daily art project and I’ve always posted this work on my Instagram account. But this project has evolved from simply a way to build a creative habit and do something creative everyday into a consistent writing practice and a way to share the stories behind the work – or more accurately, a way to illustrate simple stories from my everyday life. I never expected anyone to read these long diatribes on a platform like Instagram, which is typically known as a place where people aimlessly scroll through perfect images and randomly assign hearts to pictures that speak to them in one way or another. But, they did. And I began making amazing connections through those stories. Perhaps the most surprising part of all of this wasn’t that they were adding hearts to my images, but that they were commenting about the stories, which were not in any way, shape or form “perfect.” I used them to share heartache and hope, pain and rebuilding. I shared vulnerable details from my imperfect life, which was a terrifying risk, but through it, I have built amazing friendships with people all over the world.
I have always worked hard to edit my stories down to fit within the 2200 character count limit of Instagram, but have often considered moving my stories here to my website instead so that I can write without immediately applying a filter to my stories. I wasn’t planning to start doing that yet, especially not today, but as I sat down to write today’s post, I knew it would never be able to be edited enough to convey my message and also fit within the constraints of Instagram’s character limit. I had planned on writing a post to speak more about my project, explain what I’ve been working on, reintroduce myself and my work since it’s been so long since I’ve posted consistently to the blog, but my gut told me to ignore those anxieties and just write. And, as you’ll see from the story below, I’m working hard to trust my gut.
So here is post 224/365 from the third year of my daily art project; Trust Your Gut:
Something in my gut has been telling me to use masking tape in my work. I don’t know why, but the voice has been strong and persistent. When I was at Target getting birthday party supplies for Becca, I stopped by the hardware aisle to pick up a roll. It sat on my desk for a few days, fresh and clean and untouched. The voice was happy it was there, but my mind wasn’t sure what to do with it. Then yesterday, we were sitting in our living room talking with friends, one of which was our friend who just completed her first triathlon. We spoke of dreams, goals, hard work, persistence, who we used to be, who we want to be, who we still are, who we can still become. I felt a pit in my stomach as I pondered the topics because they have been percolating in my mind for quite some time. Then my husband noticed a piece of masking tape Lucy had stuck to the hardwood floor quite a while ago. When he pulled it up, part of the floor came with it. I was horrified. The pit in my stomach expanded. I was swallowed by shame and anxiety. Pain flooded my heart as I thought of all around me that seemed to be falling apart and as hard as I try, I can’t seem to fix it. I can’t make it better. I can’t put the pieces back together.
Then my husband held it up and exclaimed, “It looks like birch bark!” I looked again. It did. The splinters of wood and sealant gave the appearance of the beautiful bands of birch bark. My gut spoke to me. “Use masking tape in your work.” I grabbed it from him and took it to my desk. As I sat with the tape, I thought of those questions again, but applied them to the tape: what it used to be, what it wants to be, what it still is, what it can still become. It was tape, it still is tape. It was on the floor as a starting line for Lucy’s running races. But when we pulled it up, when it left where it was, it took a piece of the floor with it. It used those pieces to become something new, to serve a different purpose, to help make something broken, something that is falling apart, beautiful again and give it a new life.
I thought of the dreams I had as a kid, who I worked hard to become in college, who I dreamed of becoming in my 20s and who I am today. Since moving to Minnesota 15 years ago, I have struggled with the decision. Some days I regret leaving home, others I know it’s what I needed to do. I loved where I lived, but I hated it too. I love Minnesota and have so many more opportunities here to do what I want to do than I ever would have had where I was. But I left my family and great friends and sometimes feel forgotten and left behind, even though I’m the one who left. I’ve struggled to find my place here in Minnesota. I feel alone, make friends, they leave, I’m alone again. Then the cycle repeats. Life has been hard, especially recently, and there are days I wonder what it would have been like if I had never left home. But then I think of who I am because of what I’ve gone through and realize how much I’ve learned because of it (although they weren’t always lessons I cared to learn). I’ve discovered a lot about being alone. I’ve learned I can be by myself and feel completely comfortable. I’ve also learned that I can be completely surrounded by people and feel totally alone. I’ve learned to follow my gut, even though I don’t always trust where it’s leading me. But most importantly, I’ve learned to listen to the voices and the little things I find along the way. My dog Murphy taught me that lesson. Without him, I never would have learned the importance of slowing down, picking up the broken pieces others left behind and helping those fragments find a new life, serve a new purpose, find a new way to become whole. Murphy’s death taught me a new level of loneliness and pain, but also took me to a whole new depth in learning the importance of finding meaning and purpose in broken things.
As I stared at the birch bark masking tape on my desk, I realized there was probably a piece of Murphy on that tape. Perhaps a remnant of his hair or dirt from his feet trapped in the crevasses of the worn floor – a piece of true love and joy stuck inside the cracks of my breaking and broken house, the light seeping in through the darkness. I held the tape and felt the tiny splinters, looked closely at the dirty specks resembling knots in wood and studied the bold color of the worn and dirty tape. “Use masking tape in your work,” I heard my gut say. I glued it to the page. I made a small collage from scraps of fabric leftover from a previous project – remnants from another time. I stitched them together with vintage brown thread that matched the color of the floor splinters on the tape to add a hint of birch bark to the collage. As I worked, I thought of all the pieces, I thought of what they used to be, what they want to be, what they still are, and what can still become. I thought of myself, of my own pieces, and as I stitched and glued, I imagined putting my own pieces back together. I felt the splinters on the tape again with my fingers and thought of home. Whether we want to leave the past behind or not, a piece of it always comes with us. And that’s O.K. It’s good. We need those reminders. We need those pieces. Sometimes they hurt, like splinters buried deep beneath our skin, but if we’re able to pull them out and see them in a different light, we might learn something from them. Something beautiful, something surprising, something that awakens our soul. As I finished the page and sat back to look at it, I took a deep breath. I’m trying to trust my gut. I’m trying to push through the pain, push through the darkness to find the light. I’m trying to remember all the lessons I’ve learned from the broken things I’ve found along the way, from my own brokenness, and hold onto their newfound beauty, seek inspiration from their new lives, their new purpose. I’m trying to listen to that strong and persistent voice and remember to use masking tape in my work…wherever I find it.