Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Time For Baring One's Soul . . .

and Other Body Parts.

I wrote this days ago and have been pondering ever since if this is the sort of thing I should post. It made me question what the purpose is of my blog. Originally, I thought it would be my answer to having a static artist's website. It seemed a perfect way to combine my artwork, and my creative process with my love of writing.

But now I wonder if this isn’t just another way for me to journal about life’s experiences and how they affect me as an artist. Should I hold back when something seems too personal? As a good friend of mine recently told me when I posed the question to her, “what is art if not the baring of one's soul? In my opinion, nothing is too personal when it comes to our art.”

So it comes to this then: Am I truly ready to shed my clothes and go running naked into cyberspace – scars, warts and all?

I guess I am.

February 21, 2010 -

Is there something about birthdays, which, as we get older, opens our eyes to seeing ourselves if not anew then at least in a different light? I’m not necessarily talking about taking a good look in the mirror although, that can also be a rude awakening. But every year, it seems to be a time to look inward, to have a little peek at who we think we are, to ourselves, to those around us. Have we lived up to our own expectations? Have we buried feelings, which are now so deeply covered we can hardly remember what we felt and why? Often, this looking comes not from some internal need to know, but from outside happenstances.

Which is what just happened to me.

I believe in signs. There have been many in my life - some, which I recognized at the time and some which, only after time, were obvious to me. This past week has been fraught with so many signs – some subtle, some hit-me-over-the-head obvious – that I had to stop and really take a moment to reflect.

The first appeared at Harbin Hot Springs, a clothing-optional retreat we visited this past week. It was the first time in eight years we were at Harbin, a place we often frequented before my body was changed so radically by scars and a new breast with its reconstructed but colorless nipple. It was eight years ago this week when I underwent that body/life changing mastectomy/reconstruction. Our last visit to Harbin eight years ago was a time of saying goodbye to the body I had grown up with and grown into – of reveling in it, still visually whole with merely a couple of almost invisible scars from biopsies and a laparoscopic gall bladder surgery.

At that time, I wasn’t sure I would ever feel comfortable baring my body so openly again. We took pictures. I have no idea where they are.

But there I was last Tuesday afternoon, unwrapping the towel, which kept me covered from the communal dressing room to the warm pool, and slipping into the exquisitely soothing waters, looking around, hoping to find at least a woman my age, if not someone with a scar or two. But no, mostly there were only older men, younger men and the beautiful bodies of younger women.

I was the only crone present. But a bit more embarrassing to me was the fact that no one, not one person had a scar anywhere on his or her body. There were lots of tattoos in interesting places, but no scars.

It wasn’t a big deal, really. OK, so maybe I felt a little uncomfortable, but I was there, wasn’t I? I didn’t hesitate to go into the water. I dressed and undressed in the communal dressing room. I had taken that leap of baring my body to strangers after all these years and so I gave myself big pats on the back for even showing up.

That evening in the Harbin dining room (where clothing is required – the old ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ signs clearly posted) I noticed a few older women, none of whom I had seen in the waters. My hope was that the next day I would.

And I did. As before, I slipped into the warm pool, after depositing my towel and my flip-flops at the top of the stairs. I perched myself just to the right of the stairs where I could actually sit on a ledge and out of the corner of my eye, watch the folks coming and going. Even in clothed situations, I’m an inveterate people watcher.

There were several grey haired women in the pool that morning. We gave each other the knowing nod and smile – this being a ‘quiet meditation pool’ – no conversations allowed. And I wasn’t surprised at all when a tall, lovely looking young woman eased her beautiful body with her perfectly perky boobies down the stairs into the water followed by an even taller broad shouldered young man, her obvious companion. They made their way to the far wall of the pool and like many other couples, noodled a little (overt sexual intimacies are strictly verboten in the pools) whispering and cooing quietly. There were others who joined us over the next while and soon with the sun warming the air and the temperate water relaxing me into a less anxious state of mind than the day before, I started to feel much more at ease.

It wasn’t until I glanced casually to the top of the stairs that I saw the sign.  There, with toes facing my black flip-flops, (which I was sure I took off toe end pointing the opposite way) was a prosthetic leg standing alone, without a body attached. I couldn’t believe it. Someone, like me, was in the water missing a body part. Who could it be? Of course I couldn’t tell since all I could see were people’s heads and sometimes shoulders and occasionally, frontal parts if they decided to float face up. But even before I saw who it was, (it was, in fact, that young Adonis with his beautiful woman) it hit me that each of us in the pool at that moment was missing a part, had a loss, if not physical, then certainly psychological, emotional. I was sure there wasn’t one person soaking in those waters who was completely whole.

When this finally sank in, I couldn’t contain myself and began to cry softly for my own loss. The grief I had never allowed myself to feel for eight years came gurgling out of me as I sat in the warm waters of Harbin, under a clear blue February sky.

We left the next day after enjoying another long soak. The young man with the prosthetic leg wasn’t there. I had only seen him that one time and then he was gone. But someone somewhere wanted me to know this fundamental truth, which was presented so literally for me to see – every one of us, one way or another, is missing a part. No one is truly whole.

I left Harbin feeling lighter than when I arrived, as if this had been a healing – a psychic laying on of hands or of the waters, if you will. I think we’ll be going back again, before another eight years go by.

Of course, there were more signs to come.  As I'll be writing in the next post.

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