Sunday, November 22, 2015

While in the company of writers, the stars aligned and shed light on my self

Once in a great while-- a very great while, I'll experience a life-transforming event. Back in the '80s Codependent No More fell off the shelf in Barnes and Noble, I picked it up and had to take two days off from work to read and process it. When I encountered Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, I stayed in pajamas until I'd read it all the way through and taken notes.

Well this weekend, some creaky old door within my psyche flew wide open. It started when I was featured as visiting author at Alice Osborn's Wonderland Book Club to discuss Salt in the Sugar Bowl. Participants opened up about their own understanding of and experiences with issues of abandonment, the vulnerability associated with being authentic, tendencies to hide, self-protect and project.

Right after that session of honest reflection and sharing, I drove westward to Asheville to attend the North Carolina Writers Conference. Things got deeper when author Lee Smith stepped onto the podium as the keynote speaker. As far as I can tell, Lee Smith is about as authentic as they come. Her words, her accent, the rich and random stories that seem to percolate from her very being reveal, to me, a life fully lived and processed-- which she generously shares in almosraison d'ĂȘtre fashion. That was Friday night.

On Saturday, an itch--an irritation like an emotional pimple erupted. I had vague conversations about  "being an artist" with writers Danny Johnson, Crystal Simone Smith, Grace O'Casio, Rowena Mason, Alice Osborn, Maureen Sherbondy and Robin Muira, respectively. It was vague because I was unearthing and coming to grips with a self-defeating tendency I'd unknowingly cultivated-- that of public self-protection. I thank them all for their (unknowing) parts in clarifying something for me: Art cannot and should not occupy the same space as avoidance, pretense and toxic shame. 

I believe I have spent decades creating and presenting a self-protected aspect of myself. Parts of my story, my history, are dark and shadowy. These parts have made me gritty (and sometimes coarse). There are other aspects that are tender, optimistic and resilient. But all parts crave expression and acceptance. However, issues of trust, abandonment, fear of rejection and judgment have caused a general apprehension about the safety of being authentically who I am in light of all the places I have been.

I needed the company of artists at this point in my journey to reveal to me that artists can't hide. The general population may have the luxury of digesting societal norms and existing safely within their margins. But retreating to the safety zones might just do the artist in. In the end, our work, or at least my part of this work, is to have the courage to look under rocks and venture into the shadowy corners. Artists share and push themselves toward greater levels of honesty. We wrestle with and reveal aspects of experiences because they need to come out-- no matter how light or frivolous or dark. I don't believe the artist can concern herself with the perceptions of others, or burden herself with keeping up a persona. Such a tendency, I've learned, will consume the energy needed to turn over the boulders and hold them up long enough to capture what we've seen.