It's Not A Wall, It's A Door





2020

assemblage

75" x 35" x 9"


estimated value $10,500

 

“Cellular Biology” was tough to talk about, and it was supposed to be. Unspeakable suffering. I used a lot of other people’s words to try to bring out my own. I think in that case the image was more powerful than the words. It evokes a lot of questions and internal discomfort and dialogue, as was the intention. It was meant to be stunning, for contemplation.


“Door” is so many things. First, a door to language. It opens up the soul. It’s much easier to talk about healing and moving on and building hope than the stagnant despair of suffering. And it’s even easier to talk about the suffering, so long as the “Door” is there in my presence. I now have an escape route. If I leave the image of suffering to people’s own imaginations, as with “Cellular Biology”, I trust it will evoke enough of their own fears and personal struggles to make my point. Whether they are ill or well, they should see that this is a prison, this is overwhelmingly medicalized, this is expensive and time-consuming. It envelops the human. It’s almost too much, even for me. I myself don’t even know how to feel about it. Am I angry? Am I defeated? I think I’m all 5 stages of grief and more at once. There’s almost too many words I can put with it, so I just want to let it sit there and sink in.


But this work is mostly for victims of medical trauma. So with the “Door”, I fear if I leave the image to people’s own imaginations, it will be harder to evoke the desired response: hope. It can be buried so deep inside, or abandoned altogether that they can’t recognize that feeling. I want to leave no ambiguity with the “Door”; it’s a way out. At the very least, a window through. It’s not locked. It’s not slammed in your face. The knob is on your side.


I also want to make it clear, especially to the healthy and neuro-typical, that it’s not a generic door anyone can go buy and build their way out. This isn’t meant to say, “Well, she overcame her problems, why can’t you do the same?” This way out is literally created with the materials of my own struggle, my own prison. “Cellular Biology” was dismantled and reshaped into the “Door.” And that is biggest point I want to make here. We’re trapped because the system didn’t install an exit on our condition. Oftentimes the system was purposely created to have no exit. (That’s what seizes my gut and tongue when trying to talk about “Cellular Biology” - the injustice of it all.) We have to build our own way through and out. And all any of us has is what we’re given. Good health, especially mental health, doesn’t come in an IKEA box with instructions, but that’s usually how it’s presented, even with the best health coaches. Good food, good exercise, good supplements, these mantras, this program, put it all together and voila! Health! Much of it's good advice, but our boxes are missing half the parts. You can’t follow instructions without all the parts! We don't have the same suppliers and resources to gather those parts. And we don’t even have the same instructions! The biggest pill to swallow is that not all of us are building a door that opens, closes, and locks behind us. Some of us will only ever get a window. A mailbox. A crack in the wall on the way down. I only hope my real door opens and lets me fit all the way through it, but I don’t know. All I know is what’s possible. I did this thing. I got my arm out the window to at least say hello. I got something. All I can do is show what I’ve got, and keep trying to find more. I can’t tell a single person they must do the same thing. Only if we have similar parts. Sometimes we do, but some pieces are always different. And we need to learn to figure those out for ourselves.


It’s the hardest thing to talk about the responsibility of the person inside. I will in the same breath say you need to accept your circumstances, don't deny it, admit your limitations, there's no quick fix; then I’ll say you don’t just have to sit there and be the victim. Open your eyes, learn what the prison is made of, start building doors, help yourself. And whatever is coming out of my mouth in one moment is hypocritical and betraying my own truth of another moment. The hardest lesson we all have to learn is that things are not either/or. Our entire existence is a gray area.


I love the Chinese concept of yin and yang. Everything has both yin and yang aspects. Even the yin has a spot of yang. Yin becomes yang. And vice versa. You can’t separate them. They don’t exist without each other. The Bible’s wisest king knew this in Ecclesiastes. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to gain and a time to lose. We focus way too much on whatever time a person is NOT in. When they’re mourning, we focus on the need to cheer up. When they’re speaking we extol the virtues of silence. We beat ourselves up over this too. Actually most of this judgment is on myself. Healing is the fine art of recognizing the time you're in, and giving it its due respect in season and purpose. And living is the fine art of loving and respecting other peoples’ time.


I’ve stopped blogging for a while, partially because I realized I need to be a lot more careful in choosing my words to reflect, “This is MY time. This is MY current purpose. I'm just sharing MY journey,” instead of “This is how you need to use your time.” I admire my desire to help others, but I need to humbly lay that aside and work on my own door. I'm learning that showing your work is the best way - usually the only way - to help anyone else do the work.


As a work of art, “Door” is a mess. I wanted something stately, free-standing, stable and interactive. I wanted a displayable, or even sellable, masterpiece. Thankfully, it’s so fitting that it's uneven, unsightly, and requires support; the perfectionist in me gives way to accept the physical limitations for the value of the deeper meaning.

It’s a bunch of junk from my life, glued together. That’s all any of us has.


I hate epic battles in movies where the warriors come out without a scratch, perfect movie star hair, making it look swift and easy. I rather admire the guy with one leg, covered in dirt and scars, who crawled on his belly for 3 weeks to survive. Which one are you going to take life lessons from, knowing it’s a battlefield out there? We all want to be beautiful and unscarred. We expect victory to look clean and strong. But once you’re in a war zone getting your body parts blown off, that’s when the real character is built. What if our military training consisted of the mantra, “Just don’t get shot”? I feel like that's the spiritual upbringing most of us got in the Evangelical church... "just don't get yourself into those situations." There's little safe space to talk about the ugly places life chases us into, whether we "sinned" or not, and how ugly it is watching those places be redeemed. One of my favorite quotes, from "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck, is, "We are accustomed to imagining the experience of conversion or sudden call to grace as an "Oh, joy!" phenomenon. In my experience, more often than not it is, at least partially, an "Oh, shit" phenomenon."


I often wish I had the resources for a museum-friendly image and a polished dealer-worthy portfolio of masterly paintings, but what would I paint? Pretty illusions? My life is the ultimate masterpiece, and it’s ugly and unrefined and downright des refusés. So is my art. There’s so much random junk and cheap hardware holding the “Door” together and it’s currently standing only because I tied it to a cabinet with extension cords. I did what I had to do to get it together. So is my healing. You can throw all the new treatments and cutting-edge technology at illness, but I’m more impressed with the people who persevere through exhaustion to do the work day in and day out for years to heal themselves with almost nothing, while everyone else turns their nose at them. Getting help is admirable. Being your own only help and hope when the world abandons you is heroic. We may have a cure for Lyme in the future. But no one can hold a candle to the warriors of the last 50 years who suffered unspeakable hell and are still here. I’m not even calling myself one of them. I've had it easy, in many ways. Still, I am my own biggest hero. I've been through some shit. And I still did the thing.


The art of the “Door” is in the process. That drove me more than having a voice or creating a piece. I’ve been reading about trauma therapy and the importance of embodiment and somatic experience. My biggest hurdle right now is dissociation. I’m trying to be in my own mind and body. I had ideas for an art project years ago when I started saving the bottles, but the right time was now, to focus on trauma and mental health, that I was finally driven to do something. To start creating. And I believe that the very real, literal, physical act of taking my medical burdens and creating something with it, bigger than myself, has been extremely important. It didn’t cure me. I’m exhausted and still dissociated. But my sense of accomplishment, completion, and the tidal wave of words coming out of it, I have no doubt, is contributing to the healing I believe is coming.


It took on a mind of its own. I got half way through building it, over a week of work, and the whole thing fell over and broke apart. I had to start over. So I made it stronger. I went through the usual list of reasons why I should just give up: this is stupid, this isn’t worth wasting my time on, my energy is better spent on healing, it’s only going to collapse again, don’t waste money, just throw it all away and be free of the burden of junk. But the whole time I already knew I had the resolve to keep going. There was a lot of ego and inner child work going on with this. I was tired of never finishing what I started, tired of being a perfectionist, tired of my ego deciding what is and isn’t worth my time and attention. I want a new life where I do what I need to do, say what I want to say, and value my own experience and perspective. So damn it all, that starts now. I immediately appreciated the illustration that when life falls apart and everything you worked for crashes to the floor, you just give it a stronger foundation and support system and start over. I did a thing. I overcame a challenge and finished what I started. It’s just a stupid art project. But I honestly think it’s one of the most important things I’ve done in the last 5 years.


 

The price of the "Door" is part of the art; it reflects the cost of the actual medication that was in those bottles. It’s only half of “Cellular Biology”, which didn’t even start accruing for almost two years into treatment. If I included the price of the doctor’s appointments it took to get those supplements and recommendations, testing, 5 years of unemployment, or even go back 15 years and talk about affording prescriptions without insurance, choosing between paying for medication and paying for the car that drove me to work to supposedly pay for medication - undoing all that damage is in the “Door”, as well as chronic Lyme - this thing is worth over $100K, all things considered. It’s a real bargain.


 

"It's Not a Wall, It's a Door" was destroyed in early 2021 upon eviction from my home.