On self compassion
Must be like this
Angel-baby, honey bee, I return to thee with prideful joy in plenty: gushing, plush pink. In the here and now sits a plate of cake, sweet-saccharine-pearl, and I do indulge as a girl with glee - gluttonous and brooding. With sticky-wet sugared palms, I smudge mine strawberry pout.
Ivana Karbanová as Marie in Sedmikrásky (1966) dir. Věra Chytilová.
I paint again with soft, slow hands and feel sweet relief at the apple core, imbued by an underlying guilt. Weeping, whining these past dozen days and nights - writer’s block, reader - I crawl out of the shadows and into the sun. I attempt in earnest - beads of sweat, beads of sweat - self compassion for how far I have come.
A tension develops, for moons ago I proclaimed a brave, bold burden: a painting a month, for the next twelve months, which I must admit reluctantly that I have not yet met. These Outbursts, these here letters strewn across the dining room, began as a way for myself to remedy loss and loneliness, to live and keep living. As seasons bloom, I have begun to harness this script as a means of evidencing my artistic practice, challenging my commitment and holding myself, my work to account.
The dramatic play I now find myself in is a quest for untimely perfection, underlined by staunch self-critique. To know and do more and more, larger, louder, blood-redder! My cup runneth over! I hope and yearn to celebrate these small victories - oil-slicked suede, when I pine - and not treat forgone opportunity, unravelled ideas, and open-ended conversations as personal failure. I have set the bar far too high, and I cannot yet meet my own expectation.
That, babe, is okay.
She’s just a girl.
Within that failure, bitter black cherry regret for not doing, showing, giving more, I seek desperate leisure beneath the oak. Fallen petals beneath mine feet, speckled chestnut-violet-cream, I graze against heather and drink in the breeze. This heart here rests, recovers, rejoices.
Jaroslava Schallerov in Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) dir. Jaromil Jireš.
Leaving the studio in the late hour - that cluttered, paint-splattered place - I must confess that much of May has been occupied by burning panic. In an earlier issue I spoke of a golden heart wrapped taut around my neck - I hold her betwixt two fingers - for which I have now chosen a photograph. My birth year: Stephen, blue denim and mustard wool, holds me close, a baby-pink babe in arms. We are sat at a swing beneath a large oak tree, cotton-clean and beaming. As sunlight sets, I look up and he kisses me.
I cannot find the photograph.
Hot headed, red, hurried, I cannot find the photograph. I have spent the entire month searching for it, three times over. I cannot stop until my heart is full.
Panic-prior, I’ve began to find myself connecting more and more with others who, too, share that palpable sadness, mottled sea green. A dull, heavy ache in a sore stone belly. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate within my first poetry reading, Grief: A Love Letter, led by British-Kenyan artist Grace Ndiritu at Digbeth Arts Space. Sunlight pooled in a blushed, brite room as readers and audience together sat encircled. Amidst a crowd of blurry faces, I read aloud Offering:
I see you in magpies
I look to the Moon
and imagine you, up
Warmth of Sun, babbling of brook
You are the wind wrapped around me
flush against my cheek
The breaking bark, the falling leaf
The crow atop the fence
Through rain, through sleet and snow
Oh, how I miss you so!
Skies darken, orbs appear
How, here, I long to seer
You, and you alone
are the fire at the stove
The silence in our home
What I would give for minutes more
for you to stand here at our door
Speak of how you miss me, too
I dream of you
Please, why, can't you come back to me!
I think of you in pudding
Crumble, custard, cream
You are the silver spoon I dream
to touch, to clutch, to hold
Hand now turning cold
Perhaps cloying destiny
that I must, now, wait to see
You, and you alone, once again
in our home
Anna Karina in Vivre Sa Vie (1962) dir. Jean-Luc Godard.
Somehow, now, God, eighteen months later I find that there remains a lingering loss - bark, rope, rainwater - that underlies almost everything I do. In friends I embrace, in cities I visit, all it takes is a single chord of a song I love to trigger a steady flow of tears. I miss most, more than ever, his terms of endearment seldom said by anybody else. Darling, sugar, little one.
I will paint, in my own time.
Days ago, I felt a thud to the gut, a sting of saltwater, upon listening to American singer-songwriter YEBBA. As an artist who, too, has experienced grief in all its sick-sour bile - sharp, tart, bitter - within One More Smile, from her 2021 debut album Dawn, YEBBA articulates with heightened pain, power, feeling, the ache that I hoped to articulate within Offering, only for her Mother. I allow myself to feel, and sing until my lungs give.
Stand outside my door
Just one more smile
Stay a while
Stay a while