All I Have To Tell (Part 4: Retracing My Steps)

I’ve been 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

Once I get through my story, which is also about how I was able to enter my studio again, I’ll talk about what I’ve been doing in my studio now that I’m back.

It’s been a long story I’m hoping you’ll read in order (this is the final part). So, please if you can, start with Part 1 of this series “All I Have To Tell” or go back to Part 2 or Part 3 if you missed one or some.

After taking down my final solo biennial, I couldn’t step into my studio for 3 months. I had to clean, scream-cry, then shut down for a while. 

I knew this bed-bound grief could be bigger than the others I’d felt. It wouldn’t be about finishing a single-but-huge solo biennial. It would be about finishing all 9. 

And this grief was bigger; in my lowest moments I thought I’d never make again.

Fortunately, because I’d completed EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) during my 8th postpartum depression, my bigger grief about finishing wasn’t compounded with all the weight from my past. 

Just some of it.

I wrote in my previous post about reading Patricia Reis’s wonderful new memoir Motherlines: Love, Longing, and Liberation, how it made me realize I might need to look back again before I can look forward, how this was likewise necessary before I could start my 18-year opus. Patricia had written: 

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.

When I read these words, as if Patricia were speaking only to me, I thought about the longing I’d had last Mother’s Day—upon completing my EMDR—to find my mother. From my Mother’s Day post:

I haven’t seen her face nor heard her voice in 23 years, half my life…A big part of me wants—when my 18 years are done—to [tell] her these things in person: “I hope you’re happy. I hope you’ve found peace. I love you. And, there’s nothing to forgive.”

As I read Patricia’s words about looking back, I thought about how this longing to find my mother continued as I mounted my exhibit.

I had an intense wanting—as I built, painted, assembled, and scrubbedthat perhaps she would find me.

Perhaps my mother knew about my last solo biennial; perhaps she’d known about my exhibits all along; perhaps she’d decided to travel to Maine from wherever she was to see me. And, perhaps I’d have my moment to tell her. 

Then, Patricia wrote: 

Only in midlife did I retrace my steps, leading me back to an early snapshot of my mother and me, which set me on a desperate search to find my place in a female lineage that was my birthright as a woman.

And, in this moment, I knew I would find her. Whatever it took. That this was one of the things I would make.

And, in this moment, I knew I could make anything, that I would make again, and that I would do this from the space I’d been making for so many years.

And, in this moment, I put down Patricia’s book, I got out of bed, I wound my arms around my husband, and I said, “Everything is going to be alright.”

And up the stairs to my studio I went.

Retracing My Steps

8 Comments

    1. Exactly. Thank you so much Susan. I think healing is just an ongoing thing, even though we live in a culture that prefers the “quick fix.” It takes as long as it takes…xoxoxoxo

    1. Dear Patricia, Thank you so much for being who you are–I feel so blessed that our paths are merged in this way like two streams coming together because they must. xoxoxo

  1. Amy, no longer do I live in Maine but when I did I’d go alone to see your work in several mills and one was in a small gallery in Portland. I always felt I had seen something profound, deep and very intelligent. The experiences of seeing your work were different than anything I’ve experienced before or since. Sometimes one of the memories will float back such as being in a narrow hallway and seeing a particular scene of weather changing over time. Another I sometimes recall is the large circle of cans with color shifting as I walked around it. Your writing, your ability to build words in a similar way is refreshing, your directness, your openness, your style. Thank you for allowing me now to share in your
    writings.

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