The thing I struggle most with painting is not technical ability, though that is a trigger, but the uninvited guests who pull their chairs right up to me the moment I sit down with a blank piece of paper and brushes at my desk. The perfectionist hovering above and under my brush, the art school graduate who’s scared I’m going to ruin her reputation any further, the art gallery staff who will decide that nothing I make is interesting enough, and the inner critic who identifies each mistake in the painting as the reason I’m failing in life.
“I’m not blind!” I shouted back in my mind. “I can see how this looks like a child’s drawing compared to what I had in mind! Just go away and let me be.” But don’t turn around. You just can’t engage them like that.
Despite the gnarled fingers on my shoulders, hot angry breath, sighs of disappointment, I labored at the painting until I couldn’t fix it any more. When I gave up, my inner Monet came out and took over the should-have-been-OCD-precise mandala painting. In my resting state (as Monet was doing the work) I asked, apart from ignoring those “guests” as best I could, what am I supposed to learn from them?
It said: The opposite of their assaults. Self-compassion.
The other day I watched some live baseball in person and live World Cup on TV at the same time. I’ll be the world’s last person to become a sports fan, and my introverted nature lamented the fact that I had to attend the game. But I found myself captivated by penalty kicks on one side, and baseball on the other.
When fans talk about a game like they would have done better than the athletes on the field, I cannot relate. But as the player draws a deep breath, step in front of the ball, that I can relate. As the player draws a deep breath, step in front of the ball, I feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Not just the failure and success of their country or the pride and dignity of their fellow countrymen, but the world. Because soccer/football IS the world they’ve built with their sweat and blood and life.
The chaos of nerves and fear, the no-turning-back. Having to find their way to the eye of the storm, to focus like they’re running on the blade of a sword, and giving it their all as if it’s a matter of life and death: that I admire. Whether or not it gets in the net, they’re a hero to have stepped up, showed up, and just kicked the damn ball.
As my heart tightened and released with every kick, regardless of the team, it felt like I was training my courage muscles just by watching the players.
I am a tower on which my child stands. I am her favorite mattress. I have a pair of bio-cranes that lift and lower the world’s most precious cargo. I’m an elevator with up buttons on my feet, apparently, for my child to step on. My legs make a slide and I’m one of those swing rides from the carnivals.
The reins of my body used to hang as I wait to see what people would like or expect me to do.
Now the reins rest in my hands. (No, not my toddler’s hands, though it might look that way!)
The idea that I might eat certain things, go certain places, not go certain places, do things, not do things, or have sex to keep someone else happy hits me now as betrayal to my body.
Sometimes I stand back and let the animal roam, in order to watch and learn its language.
I used to zip my lips to pretend I agree with the surprise. I don’t suffer from anxiety or depression, but I know what it’s like to appear to “have it all” and still rot on the inside, feeling completely lost and meaningless. In the past when I read about those who took their life, I’d wonder how far, or close, I am from their footsteps.
Whether the issue is mental illness or not, the expectation that the smart, capable, wealthy or privileged among us can figure their life out on their own is a blindfold and a no-entry sign we put up to our suffering loved ones. Over time that expectation can seem to say “Stop whining. You don’t even have a reason to be miserable”.
“You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,” she says now. “You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.” – Tara Westover
This statement by Tara Westover got me diving straight into her memoir, Educated.
First I learned of a world, a Mormon family in the mountains of Idaho, that paralleled in time to mine but sounded to my foreign ears like a tale from a distant past.
Then when Westover shows that love trickles even through the abusive and controlling family relationships from which she painfully left, it confronts me with two of life’s paradoxes that feel impossible to hold.
First, people can love us deeply and hurt us with their best intentions.
Second, we may remove ourselves from those relationships in spite of love, as Westover shows by example, though initially not without guilt towards the people we cut off.
And she also shares how she found her ground:
“I shed my guilt when I accepted my decision on its own terms, without endlessly prosecuting old grievances, without weighing his sins against mine. Without thinking of my father at all. I learned to accept my decision for my own sake, because of me, not because of him. Because I needed it, not because he deserved it.”
– Educated: a memoir, Tara Westover
The Starbucks barista called my name, produced my drink, while not missing a beat swaying to the music they’re playing. I thanked her and walked away as usual, but perhaps it was how she was still dancing to herself that I felt something more. I warmed with the knowledge that while the drink was nothing to her, just one in a thousand and counting, but to me, she just made the only thing I know that will help me through this dreary afternoon. I’m suddenly so grateful for her. Not only am I lucky enough to be able to pay for what I want, but someone is there to make it when I needed it.
OK, I hear someone say I’m being overly sentimental. But, more so than the hot chocolate, this surge of gratitude was the best thing I’ve experienced all day.
No more believe in your light than your darkness.
You are both.
You cannot be the flower that’s turned towards the sun
without being the roots that fumble underground.
In the lonely bed or on the bathroom floor,
watch out for a calm that comes naturally
as day follows night.