That’s a dramatic title for a blog post. I apologize….but not really. If you’ve ever felt like you lost everything you know there’s nothing dramatic about it. Drama is fabricated, loss is real. And sometimes those around you don’t see or understand your loss so you find yourself hiding your feelings or worse, justifying why it’s significant. That’s not worth the effort and it’s not going to change your sense of loss. It’s your’s to own not anyone else’s to understand.
A few months ago I went into my basement late at night looking for a box of books to decorate a shelf with (after a glass or two of Pinto Grigio, I’ve been known to redecorate) and when I opened the door it smelled how I imagine a rainforest would smell. I took several steps down the stairs into the pitch black laced with humidity, feeling for the light switch on my right. As the lights came on I became aware of the loud hissing sound and my eyes turned up to it’s source I realized a pipe in the corner of the basement had burst into two, spraying water across the entire width of basement soaking everything underneath. There was water at least 3 or 4 inches deep everywhere. I francticly ran up the 4 flights of stairs to get The Big Guy up so he could fix it, because honestly what was I going to do about it?
When the water finally stopped spraying we looked around and started to access, if I’m being honest…what the hell had happened. There was an empty plastic storage bin in the middle of the room and it was filled to the top with water….water had to be spraying for DAYS, more than a week probably. Clearly we never go in the basement. Snowboard boots were filled with water, cardboard boxes were soaked through, some things were already turning moldy…and then it happened. I had stayed calm until this point because no reaction I have to it would change anything but that went out the window when my eyes fixed on what was in the corner under the pipe, what had gotten the most water damage. And it made me so angry and sad all at the same time. It was every painting, print, photograph and collage I had created from the time I was a teenager through college and several years later. My entire early history as an artist was soaked in water, covered in mildew and paint and ink were running down them like a nightmare. EVERY PIECE OF ART. If your an artist, you can understand the magnitude of this…if you’re not but you’re a parent imagine losing every photo of your children’s childhood.
To some this may not seem like a big deal…it’s just paper, it’s just canvases and your house is still standing, your kids are ok, your husband is healthy. But to me it’s a lot more than physical object. It is or rather it was my history. Each piece was deeply treasured by me but not because they were all fabulous but because they each held a story. Some were stories of struggles with a medium or a concept. Some were memories of late nights working with my friends to get them done by class. Some were reminders of words of wisdom from professors. They are also memories of where I came from….each one marks a place in my own personal history as an artist and to lose them felt like losing my history. I will never remember each one and what it meant to me without them physically being present and that made me feel like the memories would be lost forever.
But they all were destroyed and needed to be thrown out, so while I was at work the next day my husband did it so I didn’t have to. I came home and ignored the dumpster in the driveway. Frankly I ignored the loss for a long time which is probably something most people do when facing a large loss. Recently I went down to the basement again looking for a wreath for the front door and noticed the empty corner where all of my work used to live. And I cried. A lot. And hard. I acted like I wasn’t, I cried while I looked over the wreaths deciding which one to grab but I wasn’t thinking about the stupid wreaths. I was missing something.
I felt really sad every time I thought about it that week, like there was a hole in my chest. I knew I couldn’t bring them back so I had accepted it and ignored it but it still burned whenever I thought about it.
I let myself grieve and then I let myself consider the other side of loss. And for me the other side meant I was no longer tied to those stories, I could start over. Any ideas I’ve had about who I am as an artist no longer had a piece to support that as evidence. I could be anything…I could start anywhere. I could reinvent myself and that, my friends, is where I found the power of the situation. I’ve started to really believe in the power of my own thoughts over the past few years…if you think it’s the worst thing in the world, it will be, if you think this could be a new beginning, it will be. So in this frame of mind I realized that losing everything is a gift…it’s the power to rebuild something bigger, better and more you than you have ever had before.
So I denied the loss, and when I couldn’t hid from it anymore I grieved it and then I was ready pick up the pieces and reassemble in whatever way I want. I’m reassembling myself in a way that begins with positivity, creativity and no rules. When it comes to my work, I do what I want when I want…I try new things, I try things I’ve done before that didn’t work and I abandoned, I rework things I’ve done forever. And the space to feel free in my work is a breath of fresh air and let’s me know the possibilities are endless.