Prologue: I began this post three months ago. A desire to see my work online wanes easily, but the production of paintings and writing continues. I enjoy reading about artists’ intentions, their practices, their tales of everyday life. Collecting stories and observations from other voices widens the lens on which I view my own life, yet it also settles a central focus on where I stand in myself. I’m always hoping my art and words will likewise open light-filled headspace in others.
My forgotten blog suddenly seems like a refuge, and as I pick through the property I left here, I realize how comforting words can be. The building blocks of words, the sentences that shore up a thought, the roomy paragraphs, the stories – they reopen in my mind like doors to previous homes.
A few years ago I thought I’d piece together a story from the stash of writing I had built up during young adulthood as I tried to process the disconnect between my failing actual life and a compounding interior life. In the middle of this time was a chapter in a psychiatric ward. Is this where a story begins? The leading up to and the stacking back up after took a long time. There are notes about books, science, math, music, lists of medications, doctors, diagnoses, places, and pages of dreams. Little of my writing is diary-like, and the voice is detached. As I read, my memory rushes in with the decor of faces, sounds, voices, moods.
Stored memories are interesting creatures – they shimmer in different lights. Being a solitary young person meant a lot of things I experienced were never known to anyone else, until I began meeting with psychiatrists. The person I am today feels like a split volume; part one and part two. Part One informs all the ways that I am now……a silent off-stage character that I constantly look towards with seeking eyes.
Writing is the place I know myself fully, hear myself complete a thought, a story, an expression of self. Within that space is the desire to also create paintings that visualize my thinking. The two have existed as parallel pursuits, often with an obscure cast to both. I would try to remove myself from the final product so as to be more appealing, more relatable. I’ve finally given up the goal of producing art that’s not peculiar to myself – is there such a thing?
My working title for this ‘writing stash’ project has been Toward the Ward, And After, and the opening piece was titled Summer Science. I entered it in a nonfiction writing contest a few summers ago, and it won an award. I heard it read aloud (beautifully) by writer Liz Walker, and that was an interesting experience – I sat listening to the voice that had written those words, in a room full of other people listening. I decided then that as an artist I can take my pre-existing elements – faces, emotions, stories, paints, paper, etc. – and reform them in a way that elaborates my own experience, yet articulates for others their own mysteries. And it’s okay to keep myself in the mix.
Epilogue: While meandering a favourite used book store this summer (Sorensen Books), my eye went to a slim spine with the name Katherine Mansfield on it – she is an old favourite of mine. This plain-seeming volume in grey linen is an essay by Kirsty Gunn about the winter she returned to Wellington, New Zealand to explore “the ideas of home and belonging”. It is called My Katherine Mansfield Project, and it is wonderful. “It amalgamates memory and fiction and research and journal”, and holds all the words I need to explain “making a home in words”, and how memory can play with time and place.
“One has left a version of oneself at the place of departure and it waits for us at the point of return – but she is not me when I get there” ~ Kirsty Gunn