I had a moment a few years ago, an epiphany if you would, where I suddenly came to the realization that I didn’t want to be forgettable anymore. I mean, being forgotten is inevitable for most people in the course of history, but as we live, I imagine we strive to be remembered and not disregarded while there is still air in our lungs.
I think I’ve spent a good deal of my life trying to disappear, to avoid as much human interaction as possible and hide behind books and screens. I didn’t care if people remembered me. It wasn’t a notion that floated into the extremely narrow vision I had for my life, which was basically to hide and if someone found me I’d proceed to run far away and hide again. Obviously this tactic sounds unrealistic.
Running away is only a temporary fix, and then we see our reflection and think dang, you’re still here, you’re still this way, can’t run much further.
Hiding can only do so much until we must tighten our metaphorical belts and do something about it.
The moment came during a teaching placement. I had to go into a high school every Wednesday for a few months as part of my community service learning and unfortunately during this first placement I was bedridden for a handful of the Wednesday’s, and I questioned my desire to teach. If it felt like a chore to get there every Wednesday, how on earth would I survive two months straight? On a day that I made it into the classroom, my associate teacher was shocked to see my face in her office and said, “oh my, I’d forgotten about you! What’s your name again?”
Crushed. Absolutely devastated.
I know she was not being mean. It wasn’t her fault. She was making a remark because it had been a while since I’d seen her. But how could she forget me so soon? Did I really not leave any sort of lasting impression in our first few interactions?
What a realization.
I know this sounds trite, like it isn’t a big deal, but it was a big deal to me. I didn’t like the idea of being forgotten so quickly.
Now, even though I still might be shy or hyper-conscious of what people might be thinking or saying about me after we’ve met (so many lingering insecurities), what I’m most concerned with now is leaving a lasting mark with my paint brushes.
Each stroke is a stamp symbolizing permanence, my permanence. I want the colours to speak for me. I’m driven by this extravagant idea that people will remember my work, not what it looks like necessarily, but what it made them feel. In the end, when time goes by, we often don’t remember what it is exactly that someone said, but what they made us feel? Shame, sadness, anger (happiness, too!), those are the lasting impressions. That is permanent. I hope my paintings can someday sink in the same way words do, leaving their unforgettable mark.
My favourite thing about painting, besides painting (duh!), is that it demands me to be present. I know a lot of artists, myself included, who refer to their work as a practice. More so because of the sense of ritual it creates and less focus is placed on “if I paint today, I will improve, and if I don't then there are people getting better than me”. Perhaps after my years on the basketball court, everything I do on a daily basis is considered practice, only I’m not competing against anyone but myself now because comparing my practice to anyone else's in a pointless exercise. My beautiful ritual of creating arises from the habit of applying layers of acrylic each day and doing it everyday, whenever I can, even if I’m physically incapable. If I’m stuck in bed with an injury, then I’ll draw or colour or take some weird pictures of my surroundings or plot out my dreams, but just knowing that I can create something new each day is essential to me remaining faithful to my practice.
In the past month I've discovered the power of being injured. Injuries are a great way of forcing us to be present (and grateful for our health when we have it). I needed to spin something positive out of my herniated disc because being confined to a limited space and being so dependent on others can take a toll on your psyche. So in a way it has pushed me to be even more present, not just in painting but in my day to day life. When you’re focused on the act of healing, looking to plans that are past the span of a 24 hour period is not essential. I’m in each minute and I can feel my back slowly healing while I chip away at art projects that aren’t too physically demanding.
Being present is hard. There is no denying it. But it’s better than making yourself miserable longing for something so far away. It's a very impractical use of time, right? It’s time to be present in our journey instead of looking to the milestones. We’ll get there eventually, but let’s get through today first and enjoy every minute of it.
Whatever your rituals are, practice being present. Be in the moment 100%, soak up the glory of your journey, be grateful, and don't think ahead too much (at least this is what I like to do!). Stress levels rise the second I have to think too far ahead, so I'm just going to stand here and paint.
What are you going to do to be present today?
P.S. Take care of your backs!
I’ve had this mantra rolling around in my mind for a while now but couldn’t quite determine what it meant to me, or possibly others. Paint Positive. How can I (we) transform negative thinking into something meaningful through art?
It doesn’t mean you have to paint something beautiful or positive, but it suggests having an outlet where you work until you no longer feel all that bubbling negativity (which sometimes feels out of control). How can we maneuver the uncontrollable? Sometimes those negative feelings are hard to steer and manipulate into something productive. That being said, the simple act of dipping a brush in paint and pushing it around on a canvas or piece of paper, layering colours and textures, is so calming that it feels surreal. It transports me momentarily from a place of anxiety and grief to a euphoric destination, and I didn’t even have to leave my room (that's the best part!). I know that working out has the same effect, but sometimes we are just incapable of moving (literally or figuratively), so what then?
It sounds crazy, but then when others inform me that they’ve been inspired to take up painting and feel their own version of euphoria, then my nonsensical painting explorations are infused with more meaning and the paint positive mantra expands. And suddenly I feel less crazy for isolating myself in a room full of paint tubes.
Painting to help more than just yourself, that’s what it’s all about.