Paint Saves (me)


I haven’t always painted. When I was a kid, I was just happy to have crayons or markers. I’d make signs, cards and weird odds and ends. I don’t remember coloring a ton in my teenage years - unless you count the colorful eye shadow experimentations of the 1980’s. It wasn’t until my fourth (out of five) year of college that I remember picking up a paint brush.  I don’t even really remember what prompted me to do it, but I cut three pieces of cardboard and I painted two suns and one moon. Until moving to this house, these three friends have always hung in my house. I’m not sure why I haven’t hung them here yet (I’m have too much art and not enough walls), but I digress. 


I remember, so vividly, sitting in my tiny dorm room on that thread bare, dirty brown carpeted floor and what it felt like to paint for the first time. I felt free. I loved trying to figure things out but I also loved just letting go and making stars that were red and bright backgrounds that offered nothing other than joy to me. I didn’t care what was right or wrong, I didn’t care how wobbly my lines were.  I just had fun and when I was finished, I couldn’t stop looking at these three images — they simply brought me joy. It also felt like part of me had been found. As if I had been hiding under a pile of stuff in some basement corner and a whisper of “oh, there you are” fluttered across the room.

Since moving out of the dorm rooms of my beloved college years, I’ve always tried to maintain a dedicated space for my artistic pursuits. I didn’t always use the space. I could write three blog posts filled with all of the reasons and excuses why, but I always had a room. There was so much comfort in just knowing that the room existed. It sounds silly now, but I would often daydream or mentally escape to that room, especially when working or dealing with stressful situations. It was a symbol of who I was at my core — and having a physical space, whether I used it or not, meant that piece of me was not totally forgotten. 

It was after one of those long, aforementioned, absent spells that I went down to my basement paint room one day and painted this:


I remember listening to Ani DiFranco over and over again. I felt so victorious after finishing. It was as if I had just written a new proclamation for the world to see and for me to live by. I felt baptized In familiar waters and it was if I had come out, once again, clean and renewed. The familiar whisper agreed with a quiet but resolute, “yes.” This was the first piece I hung in my new studio, and I look at it every time I walk through the door.

Last night, I was finally able to watch Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. It was as brilliant as everyone had said. She touched on so many topics, but the one she closed on is one that I’ve been mulling about over the past 9 months - connection. Oh, if you could see the notes and sketches I have around this topic. The right brained part of me has even organized these ideas into four different opportunities of connection - self, family, friends and community (and I have a 4-sectioned notebook to prove it! Ha!). It’s ultimately what my work centers around, even if it’s only obvious to me at the moment.

Hannah also touched on the power of sharing your story and how it promotes real connection. Her comments are not new - so many wise women before her have talked about this. One of my recent favorites is Nadia Bolz-Weber’s take on it.  She talks about how our jagged edges are what allows us to grab on to each other and embrace our humanity. These references to connection feel like a slap in the forehead to me.  With each mention, I can feel the agitation of the little whispering voice as it says, “see, this is what I’ve been trying to tell you...” As I watched Hannah last night, the voice said, “there it is... again, keep going.”

This past week has been a rough one on me. My introverted self has been in beyond desperate need of quiet time which is hard to come by in a house occupied by four people and six animals. The process of learning to navigate this new norm is not always a graceful one. Quiet/alone time is essential to my self-care. It's taken me a long time to really understand and respect this about myself. I simply get wiped out if I don’t have it. When you add  the disgraceful and inhumane way our president is governing and the dizzying and disturbing list of things he says and does on a weekly basis to the mix, it becomes too much. I lose all connection to myself, my family, my friends and the things that I enjoy. My head gets dark. I feel alone and I question the meaning of everything. Including myself. Projects that I am usually excited about lose all of their shine and everything seems pointless. And worthless.

It’s like I’m in a deep, deep hole and I know the sun is above me and I can see it but it’s so far away that I can't feel it’s warmth. It sucks.

As humans, we are all wired so differently - the energy and noise that depletes me is what fills other people up. In those moments where I feel myself slipping, it is so hard articulate what I'm feeling. To form a sentence that says, “I don’t feel anything today and I question why I am here” is way too much, especially when everyone around me seems so happy. It makes me feel crazy and question why I can't be like them. This little train of thought does NOT help the situation. It just adds to the confusion and sadness. If someone asks if I am ok, I've gotten to the point where I can say, “I’m not having a good day” or "I'm overwhelmed" but I usually can't go further. If I try to explain, the words sometimes just fall out in a jumble or I wind up in an argument because I just can’t express myself clearly, even though internally I know what's up. It's like the words are trapped in a bottle. I can see them, but can't open it up.

I had a couple of those days this week. I hate them. Like I said, I’m getting better and better at identifying the markers of these occurrences. Last week, I knew I needed quiet. I took refuge in my car and took two extended drives on Thursday night and Friday in order to get the space I needed, which helped. By Friday afternoon, I felt the heat of the sun again. I rediscovered interest in the projects that are sitting on my art table and I feel like I am worthy of taking up space in the world again. I was also able to get the words out.

I know I am not the only one who loses myself from time to time. I’m thankful that I have an arsenal of tools that help me find my way back and allow me to reconnect with myself. I’m also thankful that there are people like Hannah Gadsby who own their truth, who are no longer afraid to tell their stories or take up space in this world. I’m thankful for Nadia Bolz-Weber and how bravely and beautifully she maneuvers through the world and allows the light to shine through all of the brokenness. Their words and experiences are guideposts for my own journey. Our stories are not the same, but in witnessing their story — I can more bravely own and share mine, which is terrifying but so much less so than the feeling of being in that hole.

Like quiet time, art is something I can’t live without. I have to make art. For me, it's the calm. It is the place where my head gets quiet, where I can hear those strange whispers more clearly, and where I can recognize, accept and appreciate that I am not meant to be a perfect person.  No one is. It saves me again and again. And again.