All I Have To Tell (Part 3: Looking Back Before Looking Ahead)

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, until I’d cleaned, cried, and decompressed. This was my 12-week, post-biennial process of grief. 

I surrendered the best I can. 

As you know, there can be 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I might have denied (as I cleaned); got angry (because my project was done);

bargained (“as I strategized about what I might do next, I kept reminding myself to stop strategizing about what I might do next; it was time for rest, time to be sad, time to process what I’d done; I’d know what’s next when it’s time);

hit a low (as I realized why I was sad—before I started scream-crying; or maybe the crying itself was the depression, a complete surrender, letting myself fall and fall without a parachute or a net); 

and then I entered a state of acceptance (I mean, I think I did; I might be in the midst of an understanding, of being ok with the completion of my 18-year opus; of being proud of what I did; and of being ok with my having made this 18-year art, in-large-part, to survive my 18-year past); 

I also accepted that my grief will come when it comes; that this is ok too;

and, I accepted that I could be completely wrong; that I could still be in denial.

I surrendered the best I can.

After my first, last-biennial scream-cry, during my 7-week decompression, I started reading Patricia Reis’s gorgeous new memoir Motherlines: Love, Longing, and Liberation

I met Patricia in 1997 (a year before my opus would begin), when I’d asked her if she’d be my advisor while I worked on my graduate degree. I wanted to explore how and why women artists who’d experienced trauma communicated trauma through their work and process. 

(I’d wanted to explore the work process of men and women creatives who’d experienced trauma, all kinds of creatives, not just visual artists—but my committee rightly conveyed this would be too big, maybe later…maybe later). 

And, here was a woman, an author, an artist, a psychotherapist working primarily with female artists and writers. 

She agreed, and I would soon learn she was also kind, open, generous, and awesome (ever since, she’s been not only a mentor but also a good friend).

Just after writing out some of my own traumatic experiences for the purpose of my thesis (this was the first time I’d written them down; looking back at these words now, they read like telephone-book entries, literally devoid of emotions)—I remember saying to Patricia, “I needed to get these words out before I could really focus on making my art.” 

Scribing this basic information (much of the what of what happened) had made my experiences real in a way merely knowing this information in my body had not. Somehow, writing the words had made some space.

But these were just the experiences, not what I felt as they occurred.

However she arrives, a woman stands at the threshold of midlife carrying a purse full of triumphs and failures, only to find she cannot leap effortlessly into her future without looking back.

Reading these words within Patricia’s memoir 20 years later, I’m transported back to her office. She’s my mentor again, and she’s smiling and nodding from her plush chair. I understand, in this moment, my hesitation to begin again, this pause before I step into my studio.

“I need to get more words out before I can really focus on making new art. I need to look back before I can immerse myself in whatever work might be next for me.” 

And, I can’t hold back. 

I’m not saying I have to finish my memoir, finish conveying these past-stemming emotions I’ve just started to feel (and the emotions I feel now), before I can make anything new in my studio.

I’m saying that until I write them down, these words might be taking up space I could use.

Or. Maybe these words will be the fuel, even the basis, for the work I come to make.

I have a lot more to tell, but have to stop for now. I think I can tell the rest of this long story with what might be the 4th and final part of this series. I hope you’ll return next week. As Bill always says, “Everything will be alright.”

silver steel ball
This is 1 of 9 solid-steel balls carried by participants at MEMORY (my 9th and final solo biennial), meant to represent the weight memory can have. Photo by Luc Demers.

3 Comments

  1. My most powerful recognition in your 9th (last) solo biennial came with those steel balls. I had no understanding that memory literally has weight. I’ll never forget that walk down the mill.

    Love, Bethe

    1. It meant a lot to me, and I think a lot of people–over the course of the exhibit–to have an opportunity to be present with memory in that moment of walking and holding; I will never forget my walk either. Thank you so much for participating and for all your help. xoxo

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