All I Have To Tell (Part 1: Empty Room)

I have a lot to tell now that I’m back from my 9th post-biennial rest, my break after mounting my 9th and final solo-biennial exhibit of interactive installation.

If you’re back here too, you know my words are typically “cumulative” like how we learn math: First I want you to know this. Then I want you to know that. Then that. Then that. Then that…even though it’d be perfectly perfect to tell you these things in a whole different order, even last thing first, and first thing last.

So, rather than tell you everything now—which is too much to read and write for 1 post—I’ll tell all I have to tell, a little each week, each post telling more about what I’ve felt and figured out since returning home from Lewiston, Maine’s Bates Mill. 

When I say I’m “back” from my rest, I don’t mean I went somewhere aside from my home (at least no far somewheres other than a few visits with Maine and New England friends and family). 

I mean I’m back in my full-on artist hat and writer hat, one a’top the other on my head. I’ll be wearing both hats for a long while (along with my pink hat with ears). 

Imagery and words seem to be one right now, one always needing the other.

I’m also “back” in my studio, a place I didn’t seem to be able to enter the first 2 months I was home from my exhibit. Once I’d bucket-brigaded upstairs my “needs-to-go-in-my-studio” boxes from the Uhaul, I could only peer inside. 

And then, I couldn’t even do that.

My studio seemed so empty, yet full of “what will I do next?” “will there be a next?” and “who am I if I’m not cleaning mills, and thinking and making and building for years to briefly put things in these mills for people to ‘make go’?”

So, I would start to clean my house. 

Even before I picked up the soap, sponge, and bucket in our little cape, a gushing fount was trying to rise from my chest to my mouth.

It caught in my neck, snapped in place there like it slammed against some invisible membrane stretched across my throat. 

The wave hit my throat and stayed there. Pain. Hard to breath. Here it comes. The sadness of that empty room, and the inevitable release of emotions set aside a long time, 18 years long. 

But, the wave wasn’t ready to burst through. It traveled back down to my chest, where it’d traveled and collected from other parts of my body, old grief meeting new grief in a holding room. 

All this grief had stayed in this room while I took down and packed up my exhibit. Then it worked its way to the door, inches behind my mouth—all because I stopped moving for a moment, the brief moment after the Uhaul had been unpacked and returned. 

I was vicing our countertop with my hands, trying to hold myself up, fully intending to get right to the resting. But I couldn’t. The fount, my throat, the door would open as soon as I laid upon our bed. And I wasn’t ready.

The wave receded, just as I kneeled to scrub the first stain on our bedroom rug.

I wrote in my previous post about how cleaning my house just after each solo biennial, was much like scrubbing the mill floor, preparing the canvas for my installations. I was readying my environment and my self for whatever work was to come, whatever it was.

I scrubbed the floors, rugs, baseboards, heaters, sills, cabinets, windows, doors, refrigerator (the walls just needed dusting), reorganized cabinets, closets, and pantry, brought bags of clothes and things we never use to Goodwill…

This was much more cleaning than I usually do after taking down a solo biennial.

As I cleaned and purged, I kept busy with other things which needed to get done: immediate, required, post-biennial aftermath tasks like writing grant reports, organizing/backing-up my documentation, putting the materials away where they’d live for a while at our house. But, I couldn’t unpack nor do any of the administration in my studio. I just couldn’t go in.

I set up a temporary office on our kitchen counter. 

I worked as much as I could each day, until I was too tired to do anything but sleep—the same thing I’d done to install my work at the mill. Working as hard as I could; sleeping as much as I could.

I was just doing what needed to be done so the doors could finally open.

When all was cleaned, and most of what remained of my final solo biennial was tucked in where it was safe, I went up to Bill’s office across the hall from my studio, knocked on his door, and said, “I think I’m ready to cry tonight.”

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.”

Empty Room

11 Comments

  1. Amy, I can’t imagine what it’s like to have spent eighteen years working on shows of such a huge magnitude as yours were and then suddenly… stop. Your determination and perseverance are astonishing. Give it time…recharge, refuel, and when you are ready you will know. I have no doubt that what you have done so far, and learned about yourself during this time, is preparation for your next endeavor.

  2. Just realized your 18 year commitment is the same duration as raising a child. As a parent I did my best to give my son the skills and confidence to go out into the world and be the best person he could be. It was difficult watching him pull out of the driveway for college but I knew he was right where he was suppose to be.

    I expect you are right where you are suppose to be and transitioning to the ’empty nest’ so to speak. Good things will come and I look forward to following your transition and future endeavors. Best to you dear Amy.

    1. Hi Kelly! Yes! I’m looking forward to telling more (it’ll take a few more posts I think). My post was going to be too long to try to get to where I get. It does get better (after it gets worse). I hope folks will hang in with me through this telling. Also, hoping to get it together eventually so people will have the option of listening too. xoxo

  3. I am recalling a scene in “Pollock.” He’s set a huge canvas to lean against the wall in an otherwise empty room. He sits upon a stool and stares at the canvas. All day he looks at the canvas. We all know this time. We spent countless hours on that last piece and it is a limbo we are now living in.. until…
    Anxiously waiting for your next work.
    Best,
    Lin White

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *