New challenge: to be open, vulnerable, and expressed.
I have been painting or creating just about all my life...
Even the 15 years or so, from about 20 to 35 years old, when I put the paintbrushes, charcoal and canvas down and stopped creating through visual art, I was creating programs, curriculum, and events at work. There was this incessant need to create, to make something new that I hadn't seen before... to see what could be made from the components given to me that invigorated me.
It was kind of like the "When life gives you lemons" saying... I would, throughout the years, take what life threw my way and do all I could to stay afloat and make SOMETHING, anything, out of it that resembled a palatable creation. Sometimes the creation was too bitter and others it was just right but, all in all, my creative drive was always there. That is not to say that it was always easy to create, to get in the zone.
I remember dark times, very dark times, when the most I could create was a dark room with me on the couch and tears, lots of tears. There is a strange thing that happens when you are depressed (and I was- very much so), the music you select (let me correct that) the music I (underlined "I") selected was somber, sad, dark, melancholy... I couldn't talk about what was going on with me. Hell, I didn't really understand what was going on with me and it was like the songs helped express it for me. The songs helped me cry more which seems like a bad thing but, I have learned in the almost 20 years since that time, it is good for the soul; the actual expression of trauma, pain and grief. Of course, I had no idea that is what was going on or that trauma, and grief were the culprits but the songs helped none the less.
It wasn't until recently, June of this year to be exact, at the age of 38, that I realized how important creative expression is for my spirit, my soul. I am almost in tears just sitting here thinking about it. This surprises and startles me simultaneously. It wasn't until my entire system fell apart, the edges-no longer able to hold me all in- frayed and my emotional, mental and spiritual health was a wreck. I had been the "strong black woman" too long. I had just pushed through one too many upsets, traumas and losses. I had walked over one too many crisis in what looked like victory but, unbeknownst to me, the victory sucked the last bit of life out of me. One too many arguments, one too many times sucking down of frustration. Too little creating; too little writing; too little me.
Then he asks me to write my story. I sit on his couch in shambles. He shares months later that he was contemplating committing me to a hospital due to my trauma-ridden presentation. He asks me to write my life down, the things that have occurred to shape me. And I write. And write. And cry. And crack. And break. At our next appointment, I read my therapist the 15 pages or so that I wrote over a few days, red wine in hand, soft music and candles supporting me. I look up through tear clogged eyes, cracked open in front of this stranger who knows more than most now and there is a quiet stillness in the air.
He says that I am gifted. I blow him off but try to pretend that I agree and accept his praise. In the 20 years he has given that assignment he has never received a work so poetic, expressive and just plain good. He wasn't expecting chapters and, yet, he encourages me to continue. Continue to write and create, he says. There is "something" there, a catharsis, a breaking, a healing there... for me. Week by week I come closer to myself, learn more about the traumas I have skipped over like a wayward can on the sidewalk... all of the aches, hurts and pains, the bullet holes, stab wounds, death that have mangled me over the years- inward and out. I begin to feel alive just a little bit. There is some hope; some life to look forward to.
Fast forward a week or so and my father takes his own life. WALL. Two days later I dream that I exit a building to a parking lot headed to my car and, upon finding it, realize that all of the wheels have been stolen. The car, my Blue Devil as I call her, is sitting on the ground with no wheels. How fitting: I was just starting to get moving; my internal engine was just revving and it felt GOOD! Then BAM! Halt. Stop. Wall.
Time stood still. I was pissed. I was sad. I was confused. I was paralyzed. Frozen. Life became especially hard. Self-care was non-existent. I stole away to my Uncle's home in Delaware to retreat. Literally, I ran away to retreat from life- to wave the white flag, to surrender. I had three painting commissions that were on a strict deadline. I really didn't have time for this but as my sister shared so aptly, "Death is never convenient." I was haunted by his death, his manner of dying, the violence, and I still had work to do. While in Delaware I didn't shower or change clothes the entire time. I never left the house for the 4 or 5 days I was there. The first few painting sessions were grueling; I hated the work produced. The painting was contrived, not inspired, bad. I started to write before I painted as a way to clear my mind in order to have "space" to create and it helped. Things started coming together. The more I wrote, the better the work became. One night I wrote exclusively all night long. I transcribed my journal writing that will be included in my book, "Falling Apart Into Place." Painting hasn't been the same since. I made an agreement with myself that I would, from that day on, write before I paint. Even when things are great, I will write to rid my subconscious of any hinderances, any blockages. So today, as I prepare to finish these 3 of 6 paintings in this commission, this is my entry, my writing to purge my mind of anything in the way. Random Thoughts. Thanks for reading. Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Much love and light,
Keisha I Make Everything Beautiful Whatley
BEHIND THE BRUSH