But tonight, I find myself with a glass of wine and an empty house (save the husband and animals, who are all curled up on the couch in the other room) since my friends have gone home and I figure it's time to share a bit. I've been sharing my experiences with the other gals who make up the current BIG Tribe, so I'm going to share the same experiences with all of you now. This is going to be long and very emotional, fair warning. Some bits have been copied and pasted from my original postings on the BIG forums, so they may read a little oddly.
For background, the first week of BIG was spent scribbling, doodling and generally getting into the groove of letting our intuitions guide our brushes, to let go of over inflated expectations and to get comfortable with the process. We also became familiar with our fear gremlins, those little voices inside of us that tell us something is ugly, or stupid, to give up or not to share this and that - the voice that stifles as it attempts to protect us. Now, what I'm going to share is my painting and process for week 2. Connie, our fearless leader, asked that we work with Memory in our first real, honest and fearless BIG painting. To just pick a memory, the first one that comes to mind or the one that keeps reappearing and popping in to say hello!
I watched the intro and the first video, popped over to the first discussion and read through it. My paper was out and ready to go and I closde my eyes, let my mind go and waited to see what the first memory that comes across my mind is because that, THAT is the one I'm going to paint...
And my mind goes blank. There are memories there in the depths of my mind, oh are there ever. Big bright shiny ones and deep dark terrifying ones but none jump forth and say 'paint me!' So I wait some more. Then I distract myself with some music, who knows? Maybe in setting up this small ritual I've scared them off, over thought them without even realizing it. Hours go by and nothing. I wait to hear something... yet nothing comes.
There are the obvious ones I could go for, like getting married, buying a house - you know, big life things. But when I think about using them for the project I get this feeling in my gut that says, nah. Not this one. Keep waiting.
When I decided to undertake this adventure, it was partially in order to break down my difficulty in not overthinking things, to learn how to trust and to let go of total control and expectations of the finished product. While I'm not consciously aware of doing any of these things while waiting for my memory to come, I wonder if they aren't hindering me somehow just the same. I continued to wait and sat down at the desk in my studio, opened youtube and this song was in my recommended que (not sure why - I suppose the Universe needed me to hear it.)
My guts churned, I cried. I knew what I needed to paint.
I'll admit, I was (and still am) a bit scared to share my memory painting. Opening myself up wide and laying my innards bare and raw for people I've 'just met' to see isn't something I do, ever. (Hell, sharing this level of myself with people I know well is rare.) So, I'm taking a fearless leap here, one of faith and of trust and I'm going to share the process and the memory here - to let it and myself be seen.
I was caught up in choosing a memory, but it was given to be by the universe in a song and a rush of clenched guts and tears. I know that it was said that we didn't need to dive into a deep, dark, heavy memory as we get our toes wet in the water of fearless painting... but that's what my guts, my soul, the gods above brought forth from the depths for me to work with. And I did.
The memory dredged up wasn't a one time event, but rather a period in time. In my late teens, my small world shattered around me. I was in an abusive relationship, my parents were divorcing and kept putting me in the middle of their spats as referee and bargaining chip, my younger siblings clung to me for love and stability. I fell into an incredibly dark and desperate place, barely clinging to any real will to continue to exist... I began to self hurt. Or cut myself, in more blunt terms. Over the course of those few years, I covered myself with hundreds of marks, always hidden by clothing as they bled and subsequently healed. 8 years after the last time, I still have 22 very visible scars just on my forearms and wrists, which people seem to be drawn to ask about. When they do, I become uncomfortable and nervous, worried they'll judge me for something that is long past. Terrified they'll look at me as 'one of those crazy people'. I decided to follow my gut and paint this time period in order to attempt to lay to rest those feelings and make peace with my past.
I put the song back on as I chose my colors; grey, grey-blue, blue, red. I let the tears fall as I sketched the shape on the paper. Hunched, cross armed, trying to maintain a small shape in the large space.
I poured her a glass of wine and we cried together. I held her close and told her it would be OK. To trust me and our gut. She hid behind me as I began to fling blue onto the background. Grabbing red next, I slathered it over the blue. As I painted, I wanted to get physical with the process, so I tossed my brush aside and went at it with my hands and fingers - mushing red into blue, creating bruised purples. (In retrospect, I think my sub-conscious was putting the colors of my hurts onto the paper, as I was always badly bruised around the cuts afterwards.) Barely stopping, I grabbed the gray and began to fill in the body - as I covered the heart, my gremlin sighed in relief. It was safe, hidden - protected. As it should be.
Dipping my fingers in red, I cut at the wrist and the chest, swooped outlines around the figure in vibrant blood tones. Looking at the wrist I felt revulsion and tried to cover it back up with gray, resulting in a pink mess. My gremlin was upset but my gut said to put the red back and taking a deep breath, I listened.
And now, my guts tell me to get up and paint. I've got a lot of work to do. I grab a dark brown and add in hair, straight and stringy, falling forward to obscure some of the face; yet another safety mechanism that I only recognize in retrospect. Taking out the black, I give her big, bold outlines. My gremlin pops up again - 'That's not your style!! That's not how you paint!! She's cartoony, ugly!' I shush her again, after all, this isn't my typical subject matter nor is it a particularly pretty memory. I keep on, this part of me, this woman on the paper - she wants to be seen. She NEEDS to be seen. And big bold lines catapult her into view, where she cannot be ignored or pushed aside.
Stepping back a moment, I don't want to cry - for the first time since starting this. I don't feel lost, miserable, ashamed when I look at her though there is still some melancholy there. A sort of heavy eerie feeling down in my bowels. My gut chimes in, since my goblin has washed her hands of this - I'm not listening to her anyway - informing me to paint white circles in the background. I get to work, filling half the background with them before my gut says 'stop!' Step away and stop. And I do. I clean up my brushes and leave her, knowing somehow that she's not quite done with me yet.
I let her sit on the easel in the studio for a day and a half. Friday, when I was on my lunch break journaling about this painting (she's taken up 10 pages in my composition book so far) I realized I was excited to see her. To get home and ask her what she needed, to work with her. The 4 hours of work were the slowest I can recall in recent history, not work volume wise, but to my rapidly spinning mind and needy heart.
When I bounded into the studio and grabbed my palette, my heart shouted 'Grab the red and the the yellow! And your favorite color blue! Oh, and white too!' And I did. Adding deeper hues of shadow to her, giving her more definition and somehow, despite blue being very melancholy - brightening her up a bit. I scribbled yellows and whites around her side, a sort of aura of hopeful energy - a sign that there was still so much life in her. A will to continue, to live. And then, my gut and heart whispered the most important part conspiratorially to me, quietly, so as not to wake and anger the sleeping gremlin. The finishing touch, the final lesson that she has to hand me:
To live, to let my heart beat fierce and free. That time is over with and not only did I live, I thrived despite all the anguish and pain. I pulled myself out of that darkness and rose like a phoenix into a new life, in which I wanted to let love back in to my heart. And how can you do that, if you lock it away?
This process, this painting, helped me in ways I can't even quite express right now because I am still absorbing it all. I plan to pin her to my wall for a while, to let her lessons sink in further, to have her help in overcoming the last remnants of shame I feel over my past like a great guardian angel birthed from a black seed in myself. My gremlin is pursing her lips at me for sharing all of this, worrying how this will be judged and for right now, I'm ignoring her and feeling so very, very free.
This journey, this adventure, has been bigger for me than I ever expected. I'm not learning new techniques, not fussing over the outcomes. Just letting the the process take me where it will... and it is an exhausting, magical, spiritual, beautiful process.
Comments from my fellow fearless painters, whose support and love I will cherish always.
Comment by Connie Hozvicka on July 16, 2012 at 3:04pm
First, I have to whole heartedly--with every drip of my Soul--acknowledge the incredible courage and bravery and pure genuine FEARLESSness it took to share so openly from your heart. I feel so honored and humbled to experience your process aside you. Thank you for letting me in--letting us all in. I feel healed on some level of my own life as well by traveling through this with you.
She is beautiful. You are beautiful. Your story of rising above so much darkness in your life is beautiful.
Wonder how much a ticket to South Carolina would run me?! I'd love to wrap my arms around ya in a BIG hug!
Sending you so much LOVE!
Comment by Michelle Turbide on July 13, 2012 at 5:53pm
I can't even speak I am so blown away by your courage not only to explore this memory for yourself but to be so open and honest in sharing it with all of us. Thank you so much for letting us know you in this way. I feel blessed to be a part of your process.
Comment by Colleen McCarthy on July 13, 2012 at 3:53pm
Thank you for being so courageous and sharing your story. And especially for ignoring that gremlin - Lovelovelove you!
Comment by Sharon Bode on July 13, 2012 at 1:02pm
...right now, you are very much loved. Thank you...for sharing your pain, your tears and...your heart.