Connection is one of our most primal human needs, and so is freedom. Looking for connection is how I became a teacher. Alone in my studio, I craved connection. So I began volunteering at a community center and eventually this type of outreach through art became my life’s work. The freedom part is trickier for me, and how to make space for both of these opposing emotions is a true balancing act.
Last weekend I got together with two women from an artist’s group I am part of. We meet very irregularly but on this day three of us got together at Olivia’s house. She greeted us with tea and cookies, we visited her studio, and then gathered on her living room floor where she gifted us with a spontaneous opportunity to engage in creative play. I was overjoyed to find myself in a place of receiving instead of leading.
She dumped a bag of remnants out on the floor – bits of un-stretched canvas with paint on both sides. We each took a plain white canvas and began choosing and arranging the delicious materials. We twisted and turned the shapes, which were scraps of her previous paintings, cut intentionally and randomly – gradated colors on one side, and flat on the other.
As we sorted and composed we talked. We shared about our lives, our loves, our kids, our partners, our traumas and daily struggles. We don’t know each other super well. This group is less than a year old. But there was a deep well of trust in the room and the conversation flowed as we used our hands to move the materials intuitively.
After what could have been hours but was probably about 30 minutes we slowed down and Olivia suggested we share. We marveled at how differently each of us had used the same materials. Olivia observed that this project was a snapshot of “each of us, at this moment in time.” We glued nothing down. We had no mission, no goal, just the pleasure of each other’s company, of touching shape and color, and of thinking through materials.
I had recently listened to a webinar called “Transforming Teaching and Learning about American Indians” from the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian. I highly recommend their site Native Knowledge 360. A quote from that bubbled up: “Self expression cues belonging.” As we unpacked each of our compositions I felt seen, understood, and connected to these two women in ways that transcended verbal language. My hands had spoken through the materials and now I was just translating. And this sharing created a sense of deep belonging in the room.
My composition was all about movement: circling but not quite landing, up in the air, so light that I feel sometimes like I will just blow away. I travel all the time now and waking up in the dark not knowing where I am happens a lot. It’s not good or bad, just what is, right now. It was amazing how I had created this commentary without even trying. My creativity flowed easily because I felt safe.
About 6 months ago I started a new job and a new life. A lengthy divorce process was finally over and I felt myself shedding trauma and dysfunction from a marriage that had lasted half my life. I had the feeling of being at the top of the hill on a rollercoaster. My first reaction was: hold on for dear life. But that didn’t feel quite right. Hands in the air felt terrifying, but more true, and the only real option. So here I go. Not holding on but trusting the ride. Art is like that. Love is like that. Parenting is like that. And now I am like that.