Monday, June 11, 2012
One Day at Rest, Untitled 5 (12:37 pm) 2012
8 X 5.5" acrylic on board
Montreal has finally slipped the shackles of winter. Only the scars on boulevard trees and the bent iron railings of gates too near the sidewalk to avoid the reckless destruction of countless, clattering mini plows remind us of what has passed.
Winter lingers in my mind until the long days of daylight savings time drive out the darkness. I very easily slide into a dark place in those winter months. The space I reserve in my mind for negative thoughts becomes so easily accessed.
We often carry the effects of negative comments and actions that have been directed at us through our lives. Like a favoured collection I revisit them, as though opening a jewel case, sorting through the scars, running a finger along the edges of damaged tissue.
Of all the myriad unpleasant experiences I could mull over, one seemingly insignificant episode inexplicably rises to my consciousness with some frequency: the nine year old me, making my way home from school, uses a penetrating, newly learned whistle to call to friends a block ahead of me. A class mate, a girl whom I don’t know well, scolds me from across the street: ‘You think you’re so cool!’
The sense of deflation I felt from this remark was probably more extreme than warranted but it must have pierced a particularly sensitive part of my psyche. Was it wrong to stand out? Will people hate me if I do?
I was a precocious, confident child. In the sixties, precocious, confident children were placed in accelerated programs and completed three years of schooling in two years. I was one of six kids in my grade two class who were placed in this program.
By grade five, at age nine, I was already struggling to cope with the social displacement that comes from being younger than one’s group of peers. A late summer birthday meant that some of my classmates, with later birthdays, were almost two years older.
It didn’t take long to fall out of touch with my former classmates in the lower grade. A year with the older students in grade five made them seem impossibly young.
Anxieties always find a way out. The subconscious, internal battles we wage often manifest in debilitating thoughts or actions. The feeling of displacement I had at school, combined with the stress of familial complications made manifest in me mild versions of agoraphobia and body dysmorphia.
The agoraphobia, from which I occasionally still suffer, is classic ‘fear of the marketplace’, a kind of discomfort or even panic when faced with the chaotic crowds one finds at malls or markets or simply the chaos of the urban environment. Body dysmorphia, simply put, is a condition wherein a person has a preoccupation with perceived shortcomings in their physical being. It’s one in an arsenal of psychological maladies brought about, in part, by depression, anxiety and social withdrawal.
The anxiety of these things can be so strong that I have sometimes developed a limp while walking alone in public. In my mind there are vestigial, critical voices commenting on how I stand, how I walk. My debilitating, self critical analysis interfering with the simplest mechanical systems of my body.
As an offshoot of this, I now have what I jokingly refer to as body-of-work dysmorphia. This is an inability to see one’s work objectively. I constantly struggle to understand where I fit in the art world, to see my work as having value. A finished painting is a new opportunity to question one’s career decisions, one’s worth to society. A chance to revisit the old wounds of rejection.
One Day at Rest, Untitled 6 (7:18 am) 2012
3 X 3" coloured pencil on board
Society reveres iconoclasts, putting their faces on T-shirts and mugs, quoting them endlessly in print or on the web while simultaneously deriding unusual behaviour in individuals, discouraging any deviation from the norm with the kind of Victorian moralising that ensures we all just become cogs in society’s machine.
I’ve always had a conflicting desire to stand out from the crowd while being wholly fearful of drawing attention to myself. The precocious, confident child still exists in my psyche in remnant form. I’m trying to let it out a little more often now while knowing that anything I do that is unusual or challenging is an invitation to the world to pick it apart.
In that place which is more than just ‘the blues’ but also just shy of despair, I compulsively turn over the accumulation of rejection in my mind. In a strange way, the delicate box that contains my collection of negative thoughts acts as a way of grounding me. Prodding the source of pain is a way of remembering who I am.