A place for grief

This is a self-portrait of sorts. 

In the second week of December 2017, I took part in a selfie challenge in a Facebook group I'm a member of (Amy Walsh's Tactical Imagination Club). One of the challenges was to share parts of ourselves that don't normally get expressed, to blur the lines between fact and fiction, actuality and archetype, past, present and future. 

This isn't a picture of who I am, but of who I could have been. 

These pointe shoes are 30 years old, and have survived countless moves, as well as a house fire. I keep them because they remind me of my first ballet teacher. That ballet teacher was called Mandy. 

Her story is not a happy one. I created a telling of her life a couple of years ago, and told it to a small group. One of them could barely keep himself from laughing.

I haven't told it again.

She had been dead for 8 years by the time I bought these shoes, and her death effectively ended my path to becoming a professional dancer. I have so much grief and anger wrapped up in these shoes, so much loss and longing. But, like the shoes, that grief and anger, that loss and longing, is somewhat musty and dusty and faded. 

I know the place of all that worn, old feeling, I tell myself: on an altar to the dead. And that is where it stays. 

The thing is, though, that feelings are only ever in the present. If I grieve, I grieve now; if I rage, I rage now; if I long, I long now. And that grief, that rage, that longing make their way into my work -- my stories, my art, my yarncrafts, my teaching -- because they are what I have to work with. 

Many people believe that suffering is a necessary prerequisite for art. I disagree. Choosing to be with and to engage deeply with one's suffering creates the potential for art; lead does not turn to gold all by itself. 

But by the same token, choosing to be with and engage deeply with any experience -- 'positive' as well as 'negative' creates the potential for art. It's just that there is usually more motivation to engage with 'negative' experiences, because they don't feel good, and we want them to change, stop or go away.

It is not the basic material that creates art but the way the artist works with that basic material. The same is true of life and living.


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