Purple Rain, Katrina and Hot Fudge – the Woman in the Mirror
So after I lost my job, a few of those angels from the ER (aka: nurses) took me out for a drink and a pep talk.
Pretend you’re on vacation, give yourself a good week, maybe two, one of them said.
Look, I’ve been through this, you need to decompress a little. Then, on the first Monday after the two weeks is up, get yourself up and dressed and start looking for work.
Things always happen for a reason, said another.
You’ll be fine, they chorused. It’ll all be alright.
I clinked my glass to theirs with a weak smile. Cheers.
After a couple of day trips to my favorite museums, I had a plan. I did the only logical thing. I went down into my husband’s basement studio and announced that I would be doing a self portrait. Ever attentive, he set me up with a palette, gave me one of his large primed canvases and most importantly, left me alone.
I sat in a rocking chair in front of a mirror for a while, I had this feeling that the answer would only come from me, myself and I. The initial question was, what do I do now? Immediate answer : put on Prince’s Purple Rain track and start painting. I am not a sitting meditation kind of woman, and this standing, moving, musical painting experience became a daily meditation, a spiritual practice of sorts. I had read in Natalie Goldberg’s excellent Writing down the Bones, freeing the writer within about how, after whining to her spiritual teacher about how difficult meditation was for her, the teacher suggested why not use your daily writing as your spiritual practice? Ah ha! she thought.
Good enough for Natalie, good enough for me.
This weekend I was at the Art Beyond Sight Conference on Multimodal Approaches to Learning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. The keynote speaker, brilliant Peter Sellars gave what was for me a deeply spiritual talk about the necessity of experiencing art and being human. He described each work of art as being a portal, or doorway to infinity. When you stand in front of a piece of art and give it loving attention, it opens to you, it lets you in as you let it in. And it deepens you in a multitude of ways.
I suppose that was what I experienced in my basement as I worked on my homage to well, myself, shamelessly a la Frida Kahlo. (note: animal and Day of the Dead elements) Every detail and color has a meaning to me, every stroke soothed my worry and reinforced my place in the world. It gave me time to think, to be, to move. Painting is such an embodied experience. It’s physical. You have to be in it. All the way. It’s spiritual too. You have to be in it. All the way. Like giving a massage, or making love, or praying.
Standing stripped, jobless, displaced in my society, I thought, gah! if even the squirrels in my yard have a way to live, there’s got to be a way for me to be in this world, as misfit as I may feel at times. A way that I can give my gift, be myself, and put bread on the table for myself and my children. One thing I knew: I did not want to live as a consumer but rather as a generator. One day I hit a patch of despair, and, on that very day, I had a message from Maria Taveras, a Jungian therapist and sculptor who somehow found me on linked in, (perhaps she dreamt of me?) whose art spoke to me and whose very existence heartened me – oh, kindred spirit! Thank you again for your not so random email.
After that moment of encounter, I deeply settled into my painting. I touched earth and stopped worrying. I knew that everything would be fine. Maybe that is why artists need artists, creative souls need one another. Do corporate lawyers for example need corporate lawyers in the same way? I think not, but who am I to say?
As I painted I meditated on my place in life, imagining invisible threads of meaning, reaching out, making connections. In my self portrait,the bookcase is in red, the color of blood, for the life source that feeds me through studies, stories, and all things written. The Katrina doll sits atop it, looking over my shoulder, representing the unspoken dance with death that we engage in with or without awareness. My work in the hospital kept me so close to that edge it was a grace. After all, the awareness of death makes life all the more precious. The tiny spider represents Anansi, the origin of the alphabet, and my wish to write and to write and to keep on writing. And the rabbit on my lap – well, that’s my pet rabbit, Hot Fudge.
Good enough for Frida, good enough for me.
The painting was meant to be the first in a series, but after three months, as I was finishing it, as if on cue, the phone rang. One thing led to another, and the other was an invitation for new, meaningful work.
Image: Self portrait with Fudge and Katrina, Renee Folzenlogen, oil on panel