I’m telling all I have to tell, a little each week, about what I’ve felt and figured out since mounting my 9th and final solo-biennial exhibit of interactive installation in Maine’s mills—the end of an 18-year project.
It’s a long story I’m hoping you’ll read in order. So, please if you can, start with Part 1 of this series “All I Have To Tell.”
I couldn’t step into my studio, so empty yet full of “what will I do next?” “will there be a next?” and “who am I if I’m not working toward my 18-year work?”
Grief was building in my throat, grief I wasn’t ready for.
I didn’t know if this grief was “i-can’t-believe-my-eighteen-year-project-is-done-and-i’m-so-sad” grief or “I’ve-finally-stopped-moving-and-now-I’m-starting-to-feel-all-the-emotions-I-set-aside-by-keeping-myself-busy-for-eighteen-years” grief. Or was it both?
It was impossible to tell which, because whichever the grief, it felt huge, pressing up there on my throat, like lava trying to punch through the top of the largest mountain. And either grief could be as large as the largest lava.
So, to push it back down, I cleaned. And, I purged. And, I organized. I cleaned and purged and organized more than I’d ever cleaned and purged and organized after a 22-month solo biennial process.
This cleaning and purging and organizing would continue for ~5 weeks, keeping myself busy just a little bit more. What was another 5 weeks after 18 years?
And, when all was spotless, and everything where it would be, I went up to Bill’s office across from my studio, and said, “I think I’m ready to cry tonight.”
I was ready to let it come.
I hadn’t even begun to feel it building again, pushing against my throat. My grief, whichever it was, was still below in my chest, contained.
But, everything now clean, everything now in place, I happened to look at the date. I had been so focused on what I was doing, working as hard as possible, then sleeping, working as hard as possible, then sleeping…that time hadn’t mattered.
It was December 7th, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the anniversary of the day my father died in 1977, the day I was 7 years old, the day I always associated with the start of my trauma, trauma which would continue until I was 25.
And, just as I don’t think it was a coincidence my father chose the anniversary of Pearl Harbor as his day to die, I don’t think it was a coincidence, that I worked non-stop for 18-years and 5 months, up until this very day (even though this was not something I planned).
And, I don’t think it was a coincidence, that my all-consuming art-making opus—working as hard as possible, then sleeping, working as hard as possible, then sleeping…—required 18 of my 46 years (from 28 years old to 46), the same number of years my trauma would proceed (from 7 years old to 25; by the way, I didn’t make this connection until last year while starting to write my memoir).
I swear that in 1998 I didn’t think: I experienced 18 years of trauma so now I’m going to make 18 years of art.
Bill had come to anticipate my scream-cry release, occurring after each of my solo biennials since SOUND in 2006—probably another non-coincidence. Before this 4th biennial, I hadn’t cried in a real audible way, nothing more than tears and brief higher-pitched sentences, not since I was 7, not since my father died. And these quiet cries since were rare.
Bill knew—when I said “I’m ready”—where I’d be when I erupted. He knew I’d be on my side with my knees pulled to my chest, in the middle of our bed so he could lay down behind me and hold me as long as this cry took. And, we knew the dogs would be with us on the bed, no matter how far and loud my screams reached.
When I’d scream-cried after my previous biennials, my body had finally been able to release some of my old grief after being too tired to hold on. But I know now these scream-cries were just practice for what was to come.
When I’d scream-cried after my previous biennials, I didn’t know why I was crying. A kind of general grief was rushing out of my body from stuck places now dislodged.
Upon taking down my 9th solo biennial, 18 years now complete, as well as 10 months of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), for the first time, I knew what I was crying about.
The thoughts played themselves in my head before I started to scream.
I thought about my father; I thought about my mother; I thought about missing them; I thought about what I would have been like to have a father and mother who made me feel safe, encouraged, and loved, all those 18 years I didn’t feel safe, encouraged, and loved, and then it began.
These screams went longer and louder than those of my previous releases, each cry occurring some time after finishing its respective biennial. These screams kept coming, more like that molten lava, more like a tsunami.
And when I stopped, only from exhaustion and pain in my throat, I knew more would come. We would be on the bed again soon, and we were, and we might be again.
I stayed in bed for ~7 weeks, from December 7, 2016, through the last week in January (except: to quickly dip cookies in chocolate for Christmas; to drop off some of these cookies; to participate Christmas Eve and Christmas; to have a few people over New Year’s Eve; to start teaching again at the University of Maine).
This wasn’t like my 16-month depression, not at all, although I did often feel sad—the emotions still coming, trickling like the thread of a stream which has found a teeny space between rocks.
This felt more like a decompression, wanting to give myself a chance to do nothing but rest and process.
And, once I got out of bed—even if still a little sad—I could re-enter my studio. I could start to think about what I had to do next, and what I might do next, now that my 18-year project was complete.
I have a lot more to tell, but have to stop for now. I hope you’ll return next week. I promise things will get better. As Bill always says, “Everything will be alright.”