For an explanation of my 2021 daily project, click here.
Week Two: cards 11-19
I have now completed the first 19 cards of the month/year and a new revelation has come to light: my feelings are very hard to sit with on a daily basis. Let me explain.
I have always been very aware of my emotions and I wear them on my sleeve. I’ve tried to hide them from the world, but it’s hard. I feel deeply and that’s difficult to cover up. I find it’s easier just to completely hide my whole self and, when things become too much to bear, that’s just what I do. Case in point: the past year when I disappeared not just from my website and social media, but many other places in my life as well. Part of that was due to trauma and for quite some time, I felt nothing at all because I was in survival mode and focused only on the tasks that would get me through the day. But that doesn’t last forever and as soon as there was a subtle lull, the full swell of emotions from the previous events hit me like a tsunami. In 2020, however, the lulls were temporary and short-lived so it wasn’t long before I was riding the wave back out to sea grabbing at whatever I could to keep myself afloat.
Art has been very therapeutic for me throughout my life and has been one of my strongest life rafts over the past year. My work has always been expressive, but I’ve usually relied on my writing to tell the deeper story while my intent for the artwork has been for it to be the colorful ray of hope shining behind the words. With this project, however, I wanted to explore what my emotions really look like, what expression truly feels like on the page. And in 19 days, I’ve realized it’s much easier and more comfortable for me to tell a story with words than it is to carve it out of colors on paper.
On a good day, the world is a complicated place. Today, it’s a convoluted, muddied, contentious mess. And as our brains try to wrap logic and comprehension around each topic to decipher the truth, our emotions get dragged through the mud coming out an unrecognizable sludge-covered glob on the other side. It seems like the worst possible time to start a project like this. Why in the world would I ever want to spend time with that grimy jumble of stench every day and try to untangle its essence? Because it is my essence and after trudging through the mud of last year, I learned how important that essence really is, how much it needs to be valued and appreciated. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Or comfortable. Or even enjoyable – on some days.
For a very long time, I’ve believed my feelings are “wrong.” That seems silly when I say it out loud (or write it down), yet, it’s how I feel and I haven’t allowed myself to feel any other way for most of my life. When I was in college, I was walking across campus between classes and was approached by a girl holding a book. “Do you have a second?” she asked. “Sure,” I replied, thinking she had a question about directions to a building. She pointed to the book. “Read this,” she prompted. So, I did. “What does it mean to you?” she asked. I thought for a moment, then gave her my honest reply. “NO!” she yelled in my face. “Wrong!” I was shocked and jumped back from her, unsure of how to respond. But before I could compose a retort, she continued her impassioned lecture on how her interpretation of the text was correct and I was unequivocally wrong. “But you asked what it meant to me,” I stammered, confused and upset. Undeterred, she continued her tirade. I turned and walked away, her stern speech echoing in my mind. I tried to excuse her demeanor by considering that it was an assignment for a psychology class or something. I didn’t realize it at the time, but her spirit followed me back to my dorm. She followed me as I walked across the stage to accept my diploma at graduation. She was with me when I started my first job, as I submitted stories for publication, when I contributed poems to my weekly poetry group and every time I sat down to paint or draw. She burrowed deep in the menagerie of my mind and melded with every other memory of feeling inferior, of feeling stupid, of feeling wrong and then she echoed her vicious siren song throughout the hollows of my head. She resurfaced with a vengeance this year as the world crumbled around me and I questioned everything I had ever believed in. She resurfaced at a time I felt particularly raw and completely unprepared to face her. So, I hid. I did what I needed to do to survive and I hid. But as the year came to a close and thoughts of resolutions and hopes for a fresh start were being circulated, I knew the only way I could start the new year was to come out of hiding and face the ghost that had haunted me for so many years. And I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I knew I needed art by my side.
As I recalled the story of that bizarre encounter with a stranger, I realized, the whole exchange lasted only about 5-10 minutes. That’s it. Yet, it has stayed with me for over 20 years. It’s amazing to think that in a mere 5-10 minutes, she was able to create an experience that would last a lifetime. And I don’t even know her name. It made me sad to consider the negative impact I allowed this nameless woman to have on my life for so long, but as I thought of her, she also gave a new purpose to this project: to reclaim ownership of my emotions 5-10 minutes at a time per day.
So now, as I sit down to my art desk to create a card each day, I don’t simply smear the tsunami of emotions in a wave of paint onto the paper, I also avoid the seductive siren call and accept those emotions for what they are: mine. I don’t always like them, I don’t always want to be in their presence, sometimes they are ugly but hiding from them only causes the waves in the storm to grow higher and more turbulent. They remind me of a mole I have in the center of my chest. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. I hate it. I always have. It’s ugly. This summer I was at the dermatologist and she offered to remove it. “There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a healthy mole” she said, “it would simply be cosmetic. I can take it off, but it will leave a scar.” I thought for a moment. Here was an opportunity to get rid of this little thing that I’ve thought was ugly my entire life. Yet it had been with me my entire life. I thought of looking down at my chest and seeing a scar where the mole used to be. “No,” I said. “I’ll keep it. It’s part of me.” She smiled and I had a feeling she agreed with my decision. Now when I look at it, I remember what she said. “There’s nothing wrong with it.” As I sit with my feelings while I make my cards now, I remember that doctor’s face. And her name. I let her words echo in my mind and meld them with my own when I consider my feelings:
There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re a part of me.