Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Canvas

"Painting is just another way of keeping a diary."
--Pablo Picasso 

In the midst of moving over the summer, there was something I knew I had to do.

Several years ago, when I was in the throes of Project Redecorate My House, I purchased a large square canvas and painted it with a saying I had coined during that season, a mantra that kept me grounded in the midst of change. The letters were white and the background a soft sky blue.

I loved that canvas. It reminded me of the sense of strength and inspiration I experienced daily during a time of shifting.

But when it was time to direct my energy toward a new home, a new space, I knew I couldn't take it with me. Not in that form. As much as I savored the truth it contained, I needed to stay close to the new truths that were unfolding. Because I hadn't decided which one I wanted to capture on it (nor did I have the time to do so), I knew it needed to come into my new life blank.

I set the canvas on my kitchen counter and passed over it with several coats of glossy white paint. I spilled the paint directly onto the canvas so it formed little puddles and then took my roller and smoothed it around. I went back and forth and back and forth until all of the blue was covered with a bright white finish.

This process was therapeutic. I have often wanted to discard relics of the past in the hopes that the pain associated with them would be simultaneously washed away. Though I loved the truth it contained, that canvas also reminded me of circumstances that pierced me not long after I painted it.

As I rolled each fresh layer of paint over it, it was healing to acknowledge the kernel of hope the canvas still embodied. Letting it come with me into the next season of life felt right, like an act of acceptance of all that had happened and of what was ahead.

After several coats and lots of dry time, faint reminders of my mantra remained. The outline of the letters was still slightly visible, as if they had been engraved. There was no way to cover over this, it was simply a result of how it had been painted the first time.

I found this trace of what was there before comforting, further evidence that my goal was not to erase the past, but to carry it with me in a way that strengthened and inspired me.

The blank canvas made the trek with me into my new space. Then it sat, perched on my dresser and leaning against the wall, for almost three months. I knew I wanted to fill it with something, but I wasn't sure what that was.

One day I knew it was time, and I also knew that painting it--filling it with something new--was as much an act of faith and acceptance as covering it over had been.

I gathered my materials and--with no real plan except a vague picture in my head--I went to work. I tried a new technique, using several layers of different colors of paint in soft, broad strokes.

As I added each coat of blue, gold and brown, I thought about the sea, the sun and the sand and the emotions these things evoked in me.

I questioned myself through the process, feeling the pressure of "doing it right," but I kept at it. Deep down, underneath all my fear, I knew that it would all work out. 

When the background was done (and I had to admit that I loved how I felt when I looked at it), I added another layer to it: the words of one my favorite poem by Rilke--broken into bite-sized pieces--appropriately titled "Moving Forward."

The canvas now lives in my new space. It hangs there as a tangible reminder that though my future is still blank, in due time I will fill it with colors and words that inspire me. I may feel insecure, I may feel confident or I may feel a little bit of both as I do this. But I will know when it's time to pick up the paintbrush and what unfolds will be just what I need.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Yesterday it was cold and cloudy, damp and dark outside. That’s exactly how I felt inside.

On rainy days, I want to be very still. I want to put on my coziest clothes—my short furry robe, my fuzzy socks, my super soft yoga pants—and I want to crawl under the covers and do nothing but read or nap or watch delicious movies.

So that’s what I did yesterday. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my heart needed something more than sweats and sappy movies. It needed space to breathe. It needed air.

I knew I needed to get outside and I was hopeful that a warm shower would refresh me enough to shift my mood to get me there. But when I got in the shower, I just wanted to sit in the tub and let the hot water run all over me.

I plugged the drain, laid flat on my back, and with the back of my head touching the tub basin I let the water fill up around me until it was just touching—but not covering—my earlobes.   

That was then the tears came. They didn’t come easily. They were pooling on my bottom lids, hovering and willing themselves not to come out on their own. I had to press them out. I had to say, “You can come out now. I won’t hold you back.” And I had to give them a little push and shove.

I didn’t make myself cry, I let myself cry. I needed to.

Every time I pushed out a tear, I felt like I was pushing out some pain that had been encapsulated and lodged in it. I was conscious of this as each drop rolled down the side of my face and landed in the water I was soaking in.

When there were more no more tears to press out, I lingered in that water for a long time.  I put my hand on my abdomen and felt it rise and fall with each deep inhale and exhale. In through my nose, out through my mouth. Rise and fall. Inhale, exhale.

All I could think about as I laid there was tears. Tears, tears, tears.

How I needed tears. How I resisted tears. How I stifled tears. How good it felt to release tears. Tears. Tears. Tears. Long-awaited tears.

I exited the tub more refreshed than when I climbed in, but I didn’t leave the house as I had planned. Instead, I crawled back into bed and opened my favorite book and began a new chapter, a chapter I had bookmarked a few days ago even though I didn’t know what it was about. In stunned silence I read the first three sentences:

“Tears are a river that take you somewhere. Weeping creates a river around the boat that carries your soul-life. Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver someplace new, someplace better.”

--Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

Tears. Creating a river, a current, a channel for me to get from where I am to where I need to go. Tears. Oh, why do I resist the tears?