As human beings, we share certain experiences. If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve experienced the deep and profound heartbreak that comes with losing that life. They become part of your daily rituals, from feeding them in the morning to cuddling up at night. They rely on you to tend to their needs, and they love you unconditionally for it. No matter what you go through, who hurts you or how you self-destruct, pets are there for you. This month, I’ve lost not one, but two animal companions, including my best childhood friend, Paco. Since I was 12 years old, Paco has been with me for every trial and tribulation that comes with growing up. He was there for sleepovers with friends and giggly adolescent parties, and he was there when I cried over teenage spats and family feuds. He comforted me through intense medical treatments and saw me through countless heartaches. For 16 years, he left his mark on every article of clothing I owned and every piece of furniture in my family’s home. I can’t begin to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me Saturday morning, plucking his hair off a sweater that hadn’t seen daylight since last winter, knowing I wouldn’t be doing it again.
This January has been full of grief, from mourning a lifelong hero, navigating the illness and death of one pet, to coping with the sudden and unexpected loss of another. I’m not proud to admit that it’s effected my productivity–sleepless nights and mornings spent bargaining one’s way out of bed doesn’t lend itself well to getting things done. But that can only go on for so long. Grief needs to be experienced, but then it needs to be worked through and dispersed.
As an artist, I’ve always processed my emotions through projects–paintings, drawings, essays. John Lydon has said that anger was his primary driving source, Yayoi Kusama painted to stave off mental illness. It’s a common experience amongst artists: no matter your medium, you work through your feelings by producing work. So many amazing works of art have been made as a response to grief–Francis Bacon painted several tributes to his lover George Dyer after his 1971 suicide, and Salvador Dali and Max Ernst (among so many other artists) worked through the grief of wartime by creating truly profound pieces. Barthes wrote his classic essay, Camera Lucida, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, and it contains some mindblowing, heartwrenching thoughts on mortality and its inherent role in art. On some level, I think death is a driving motivation behind all artistic pursuits: the artist creates work to fight against his or her own mortality, unsatisfied with a life that leaves nothing living in its wake.
In the days since these personal tragedies, I’ve dived headfirst into my work. I’ve sought catharsis in ink and paper, writing new words, working in new media. For some, the imagery of my recent experiments will be perfectly obvious. They’re not a “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” but it’s the beginning of something, some way to understand the role of these lost lives through the kaleidoscopic lens of my own artistic journey. If we are the sum of our collective experience, then the individuals and ideas that impress themselves upon you are also part of that equation. And lately, my work as been entirely about exploring that link been identity and influence. Last year, that mostly meant pouring through photo albums, briefly peering into the lives of anonymous relatives, tied to me only through blood and universal experiences: labour, laughter, love…
The pain of loss never really leaves us entirely–ten, twenty, forty years from now, we’ll still feel pangs of grief recalling beloved pets, departed family, friends that left too soon. But rather than losing time, sinking in the quicksand of sorrow, use the memories as fuel for the creative fire. The death of someone close is absolute agony, but there is no greater heartbreak than a life gone unlived. Feel your sadness, grieve your losses, but process the pain into something positive. You can’t control when your time is up, but you can construct the legacy you leave. Let’s make this one count…
On any given day, I have two or three drafts written, waiting for final photos to be added and one last proof before going live. Photos take me a long time to edit and finalize, and I do try to take them all myself whenever possible. But right now, there are five–five–drafts waiting for me to finish them.
What have I been doing? Aside from the obvious (work, school, and life in general), I’ve been trying to figure out exactly which direction I want to go in. You’ve seen several sides of me now–you’ve seen the makeup addict, the makeup artist, the artist, the writer, and the witch–but sometimes I still feel like there’s something missing. At home, I often wonder where I’m headed: I work my day job as a makeup artist, I’m finishing my degree in studio arts, but how to do I reconcile my passions with my job, or make a living with my dreams?
When I envision my ideal future, what I would most like my life to be, I see a small apartment on the lower east side, and cliche as it sounds, a typewriter by a window where I can drink coffee and look down on the city I love and write. I see myself with my dog in sidewalk cafes, a blue-haired bundle of sweaters and scarves, tapping words into my iPad or sketching characters onto paper. I love makeup and the beauty culture, but I don’t see myself living in it for the rest of my life–art is my passion, in all of its forms, and I desperately want to immerse myself fully in it. Certainly, I’ve worked hard to get where I am now, and I recognize that I am where I should be at this present time. But sometimes, I get lost in the fact that I’m not yet accomplished in the areas I want to be. On the good days, being a part of people’s precious memories is enough–knowing that I’ve helped them feel beautiful on important occasions and particular moments of their lives is immensely gratifying. But on the bad days, I worry that the time I spend surrounded by powders and creams is taking up too much of my attention and that I’ll never get ahead as an artist or a writer because of it. Quitting or cutting back is not an option because that’s where the money is right now, and we all have to live.
So what am I doing with those precious spare moments to propel myself towards that ideal future? Sometimes, I’m not so sure. But I have decided that this is the year I finish the novel I’ve been working at for the past three years. I was afraid that it would sit unfinished on my hard drive for the rest of eternity, but the words have started flowing again and I know that in the next few months I can definitely squeeze out the last of them. Fiction was my first love, and I’m more than thrilled to be working with it again. And once I finish this one, two more neglected projects are nipping at my brain, begging for completion.
I’ll admit I’ve lapsed in painting again, but I’ve found a new fascination in photography. Armed with my father’s old Nikon FG, I’ve been taking a course in photography and development that’s instilled in me a true appreciation for a medium I never before considered. There’s something so zen about holding that camera, adjusting the aperture, the shutter speed, checking the light meter and focussing just so on the subject, and then just letting it go–all you can do is hit that button and wait until you get into the darkroom to see if you got the shot. When I was little, the camera was sacred: it was taken on family vacations, a fixture at all holiday gatherings, and it was to be touched only by skilled adult hands. Film was also something special–frames were precious and not to be wasted on anything you didn’t want to remember forever. Digital photography almost ruined me. When I got my first digital camera (a 3 megapixel HP point-and-shoot gifted to me by my ever-technologically-savvy grandfather), it turned photos into something disposable. Once they were uploaded, they could sit forever on my hard drive. Prints were nothing more than streaky printouts on an inkjet, and once I got a new computer most of them were deleted, un-missed. With paintings, I can put imagination into something tangible. Photography never seemed more than documentary to me. But not everyone sees the world the same way, and there’s more imagination that reality to some…
So that’s what I’ve been up to, Internet. The radio silence isn’t really silence at all. I’m simply gathering myself, collecting the bits and pieces I’d like to share. Eventually, I need to learn to stop combing through things unit they’re perfect–they never will be, and there’s a sort of charm in imperfection anyway.