Reality and New Realities
Attending an artist residency is probably the dreamiest thing an artist-who-has-a-day job can do. You escape your day to day life, explore your practice and new surroundings, and your job is to create new discoveries within your work. Iceland is truly one of my most favorite places I've been to and when I am there, I feel as though I am just surrounded with like-minded folks who embrace the magic of life. It is in the landscape, music, architecture, folklore, neighborhoods, people, and needless to say, art. The events of the past few days here at home are nothing but dumbfounding. I fail to understand the leadership in this country or the people who put him there.
While I attended my residency, I was able to let go of the surreal reality about the incoming transition in our country. I also was able to set aside some anxieties of my own. However when returning to the states, the sobering news emerged that I have cancer. Now, I have a cancer that is very treatable and I am in good shape to have it removed. None the less, I have entered into this phase of my life where my mortality is staring me back in my face.
The past month I have been all business. See the doctors, do the tests, get the plan together, get my job in order, arrange who will take care of the cat while I'm in the hospital, who will take out my trash, who will help me get dressed when I am unable to pull a shirt over my head. It's pretty much all set and now I wait.
This allows for much time to be alone with my vulnerability.
I have spent so much of my artistic career finding strength in being able to recognize my vulnerability. I mean, there are those who never address this part of them and it eats them alive. I can tamp down my issues with the best of them but this weekend, I feel the anxiety of it all starting to slowly unthread the seams from my perfectly composed plan. I begin to wonder, have I really ever known vulnerability before? I mean I thought I knew but maybe I didn't.
I cried through the biopsy I had in December, not because it hurt but because it was too close. When the doctor goes to check my throat, it's hard to for me to handle. Now that I am aware of why it feels that way, I can feel the infected area every single day. I say I am ready for surgery, mostly because I feel my mind is running away with my fears.
But I am terrified. Mostly because I feel helpless. I can't wish, diet, pill pop or exercise this out of me. I'd like to put my head in the sand and ignore so it will go away but I know that only makes matters worse. It's staring me in the face- my body will be open at the hands of another and my survival is completely dependent on him. I sometimes feel silly and melodramatic to think that- I mean, I have a completely curable kind of cancer but there will be a day where I will face down my eventual death and that is my biggest fear.
In my current work, I have been attempting to measure so much of my humanity through body portioned performances and objects. I come to find that none of these pieces have taken on fear-perhaps because I do not want to face real, true fear or maybe I just have not known fear like this before. How do you make work about fear when you are fearful? How has that been measured and processed through my body? Is it the cancer itself? If you really think about it, the idea that it surrounds my throat symbolically reinforces how inarticulate I am about what i really think. I am scared to speak at times. I am scared to say something I will regret. Or embarrass myself. Or sound stupid. I hold a lot in.
But really, if I can make work about my sadness, my contemplative nature, my isolation, my longing, what does work about my fear look like? How does fear manifest itself in me? I have spontaneously cried this weekend- hell, I spontaneously cry at work sometimes too. My breath is shallow, my chest is tight. I know this is in response to my fear. People tell me I have nothing to worry about- at times, I believe that and in my heart of hearts, I KNOW that- but I accept knowing that i don't have anything to worry about and feeling uncomfortable with my physical vulnerability are two different things. I know I will be ok but I can also be scared. As it will emerge in my work, we have yet to see.
I guess for now, I should consider this research- the tight chest, the short breath, the full, red eyes, the mind that runs away with my thoughts, the pendulum that swings from having it all together to feeling helpless that there is absolutely nothing I can do. I say that my residency allowed me a break from my day job, was a place to explore my practice and make new discoveries in my work. I'm somewhat thinking I'm coming up on a similar experience. Cancer, a new kind of residency.