I’m feeling the gestalt of this piece, which is truly life-changing for me.
This was my first attempt at drawing myself.
I have had a surprising amount of anxiety about drawing. I almost never draw anything, and it has never felt good. It never occurred to me to draw myself until a few months ago. That was the moment I knew that drawing was an enormous paper tiger.
I was reminded of the time a guy invited me to see Jerry Lee Lewis on the Riverboat President. Come to find out he didn’t have tickets. We went to the side and jumped across to the kitchen hallway. It was only maybe a 4-foot jump, with a deck rail to grab. I knew it was both easy and impossible. So I threw my purse onto the deck, knowing for sure I would go after it, and I did. Falling into the Mississippi River, under that giant boat, would not have been good. But the stakes were much lower here.
Anyway once I plunged in to drawing, it was even more thrilling. (The concert kicked ass, but I couldn’t not remember that his teenage wife mysteriously drowned in the duck pond.) I’m still not actually comfortable with drawing, but am doing it more. It was so shockingly refreshing to draw even a weird picture of myself, I flipped it over and drew another one. That second drawing became Self-Portrait with World. I immediately retreated to my comfort zone of stitching, once I had drawn a tiny bit.
This piece is a much larger thing for me. It required several bazillion stitches, many more than are evident. When I drew this, I felt like the child who had the near-death experience in 1972 was a completely different person than me. That was the most logical way to understand it, because due to the prolonged trauma, I remember watching her abuse from a floating-on-the-ceiling vantage point. I saw things happen to someone else, basically, so I thought of her as someone else. Of course in therapy I learned that it was my own body. It was an extreme dissociation. That sounds obvious when you read it, I’m sure. But trauma is very confusing while you’re in it.
So I started out having a very different feeling about this détente I had found in myself. It felt like I had taken over the baton from someone who died. I know I’m the one who made the decision not to stay dead, it was me, and I remember before the near-death experience, so I know logically that is also me. This has been a huge bit of work that has taken me decades, to get to the point of clarity where I can make a totem to resolve the matter with. And that’s what this piece is, the totem I used to pull myself together.
I made a ton of work for myself without even thinking about it, by pulling threads from the edges and then wrapping them, as you see on the outer edges.
That was sooooooo much work, God help me. For a while I was kicking myself, thinking, “Oh, too late to take it back,” just like with my decision not to stay dead in 1972. It was instantly clear to me how well the making of the piece itself tracks with the experience of surviving my childhood within the abuse and neglect of my family. And similarly, I’m glad I took the effort. I love the results.
I went through a lot of iterations. I had other words at first, because I had very different sentiments when I started out. I really felt like me and the little girl who had the near-death experience were two different people, though I knew intellectually they are not.
The first thing outside the basic roadmap of reserving all of the color for my eyes and heart, was a child shouting “The Winner!” with her hands in the air.
That was how the 7-year-old version of me felt about insisting on going back to my life: someone had tried to rob me, and I didn’t let them. I won. I am still now, this week in 2018, wrapping my head around the banal cruelty of my own family. I’m not going into it, just to say that forcing all of these internal conversations out onto linen was a glorious opportunity to mend the ravaged bits within, to embellish what I’m left with after cleaning out their bullshit to my own satisfaction.
That was a process, of course. And I sewed, and ripped, and re-did a ton of work, much more than I’ve even documented. But this can be a little morale booster for everybody out there who has had a false start or two. I’ve seen people give up altogether from false starts. Not always recommended IMHO.
There are a number of things I love about this piece. I find many reflections of the trinity, which is always perfection for me. I have my own approval, and though I didn’t intend it at the time, I ended up stitching a Claddagh ring into the margins: a crown, a hand, and a heart. I love the faceted black beads that make it sparkle. I love the blackwork, even though it’s not my best. I love the way it feels when I see it on this piece. I love that part of myself.
This brings me to a whole new place as an artist and a human being. Thanks for looking.