Solitude is my natural state as writer and artist; I’m in this 3-year residency to do my work, so I’ve had plenty of it. Monday’s call from Trudeau made complete sense to me: Stay home. We can do this together by staying apart. Let’s help one another with the practicalities of our self isolation, and send love and gratitude to those of us on the front lines.
I’d just spent rich time with good friends and family and felt confident in my ability to function well without regular direct contact with other humans. Take a deep breath, get supplies, and then close the door.
It’s now five days since Trudeau’s initial call out to us, and my news informed gut tells me we’re not even close to the peak of this pandemic. Increasingly now, I feel a deep ache for people who feel solitude as nightmare, for whom alone-ness feels like punishment.
There are some whose life and survival revolves around contact, kindness and direct interaction with others – the elderly, the sick, the differently-abled, the stranded. My heart goes out – were I homeless, where would I find safety and nourishment? Were I struggling with my mental health, where would I find help? How could I stay safe as a prison inmate in Barton Jail, which is currently at three times its capacity?
It’s important that this is empathy, not anxiety. I feel a real sense of wonder that my heart opens more, as our isolation continues. I can see this in other people too – some I know, some I don’t.
I have great solitude muscles, yes, but my gut tells this is a new thing we are dealing with. I can’t get REM out of my head. It is certainly changing me in ways I could not have imagined. As I let go of things I can’t control feel my work harness relax I can feel spaces open up for other things I’d never had the time to consider, or do. Or feel. What if has become What is.
I live here in this lovely apartment with Mia the foster cat who loves that I’m always home. I draw, play cello, I write, read, cook, eat, sleep. Such a great longing in me, for human touch and warmth! I’m surprised by this, which also is surprising. Glad to feel human – ache and curiosity, confusion and shockingly deep love that is capable of flooring me completely. There’s nothing at all I can do about any of this but surrender to it.
Every once in a while I read too much news on the internet, and a little overwhelm creeps in. I’ve learned in this short time to close my laptop and turn off my phone. Draw something, play cello, read a book. Go outside, find an old tree to lean on, listen for the hum. Breathe, notice, expand and love what is. Cry, laugh, allow whatever it is to move on through.
Please reach out if you need someone to talk to. Even if it feels a little uncomfortable at times, keep your heart open. Know that you are loved.
This wire is familiar – the one I’m down to. Six paintings, eleven days – I’m now working on two at the same time.
(also workshop and rehearse the Performance Piece for Opening night, compile the Book for #Selfie and make at least two. Then my breaks: three rehearsals, two concerts, teaching cello lessons and art class, sleep, exercise, eat….)
This past weekend the most difficult task was to hold my own in recurring conversations with self doubt. I managed it, I think, by utilizing every trick in the book – bull-headedness, steel-jawed determination, nonchalance, distraction, humour, tears, goading….
This morning and late yesterday as I worked on the content of the next two I began to think differently. It’s as though each piece is a school. When I graduate, I get a few hours off (though this will undoubtedly change as the days pass), and then I start a new series of courses in the examination of #Selfie and … me.
As I wrote to Kristan this morning (he and I are in workshop mode with tandem and solo spoken word for the opening performance), School Rules are:
1. go consciously and directly at whatever chafes and disturbs you, or makes you squirm in discomfort.
2. find imagery that resonates with that.
3. draw, paint, sing, write – quickly, to manifest it as clearly as possible.
4. Do NOT succumb to melodrama, self-pity, cynicism, terror or denial.
5. Remain open to shock.
6. Don’t forget to breathe, sleep and eat.
I want to say something about the myth of Narcissus, which has come up in conversation as a way to describe #Selfie behavior. Ovid’s telling of the story has been most resonant in western culture (book III of Metamorphoses.) though it’s interesting to see what Encyclopedia Britannica has to say:
Narcissus, in Greek mythology, the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. He was distinguished for his beauty. According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book III, Narcissus’s mother was told by the blind seer Tiresias that he would have a long life, provided he never recognized himself. His rejection, however, of the love of the nymph Echo or (in an earlier version) of the young man Ameinias drew upon him the vengeance of the gods. He fell in love with his own reflection in the waters of a spring and pined away (or killed himself); the flower that bears his name sprang up where he died. The Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias, in Description of Greece, Book IX, said it was more likely that Narcissus, to console himself for the death of his beloved twin sister, his exact counterpart, sat gazing into the spring to recall her features.
The story may have derived from the ancient Greek superstition that it was unlucky or even fatal to see one’s own reflection. Narcissus was a very popular subject in Roman art.
Narcissism has long since become a psychiatric term used to describe extreme self-centredness – often so pathological that it prevents any meaningful engagement with anything not self-referenced. A Narcissist will project himself and his needs onto anyone and everyone he/she meets, and then become confused when that ‘other’ has needs of their own. We all do that, to some extent, myself definitely included. It’s conditioned into us.
I actually do believe that our outer selves belong more to those people we relate to than to us, and that we need to recognize this. What if our fascination with our own face is more about a longing for relationship? I would propose that taking a #Selfie and posting it online is the action that follows that longing.
Do we do this because we believe that someone out there will actually be able to ‘see’ what’s inside us (as in Avatar’s “I see you”)? It’s interesting then that instead of this ‘recognition’ what often happens is that the anonymous viewer projects his or her self-image onto your Selfie, and then writes hateful, destructive messages in response. Artist Lindsay Bottos has published a compelling piece that illustrates this perfectly, called Anonymous. It’s worth taking a look at.
I need to get back to painting very soon, and I’m struggling to articulate the crux of this idea. Here goes:
If we all search for meaning through relationships, but find that meaning only when we stop projecting our internal needs onto ‘the other’, then really what we long for is a good, honest, trusting relationship with our own Self. My needs are my own; I am responsible to and for them, and I respect that you are different from me.
Certainly Narcissus’ beauty was legendary in the myth – so many pursued him, gazed at him, idolized him for it. What if he died because he got caught in the idea that his outer beauty was so great that it completely overshadowed who he actually was? What if he died out of starvation for himself?
That’s happened to a few people in this culture that makes gods out of movie and pop stars. How terrible.
So, back to it.
Wish me luck and speed and clarity, if you would. It’s all corners on two wheels time…
Here’s the actual invitation, no longer a work-in progress. Please come if you can.