Monday, June 11, 2018

I Am a Heart Warrior: I Have Survived... Twice.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

"I wish you did know me, before the accident. For with that grand collision, came a grave consequence.  The receptors overloaded, they burst and disconnect, till there is little feeling. 
Please work with what is left."
-Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie)

Below is a Post that was originally published in July of 2015.
     I had taken it down due to the nature of how many people, locally here that know both B and I, reacted to this post. They saw it as rather ungenerous and mean spirited. However, I would disagree. It is an honest expression from my experience of how all of that year went down. It was not a very good year and I would say to those people now that B as a friend to you is a far different treatment and set of behaviors from B the boyfriend or partner. The two difference are so stark in contrast, that I would say they are like Jekyll and Hyde. As unsavory as the thought may be, B treated his friends better than he treated his partners. I, personally feel it shouldn't be that way, but I can't control how another person chooses to behave and chooses to treat others. I can hear Hoggle (from the Labyrinth) saying,"It's Not Fair!!!" And Sarah would just simply reply to him,"No. No it isn't... but that's the way it is."

     I have included the original text that was published in 2015 and have also included interjections/updates (in RED) since I have learned the answers to some of the questions ("Questions... Questions that need answers."-Gandalf) I had back then, and, now, that there is more of the story to tell of it.  So, I'm telling it as objectively as I can for being emotionally involved in it.  It's somewhat of a reclaiming exercise.

     The above are excellent quotes. However, I don't think I have looked fear in the face, but I have lived through this horror and I have created a Heart Warrior.

     I had been working on some Art like this piece to help me through the rough time.  To express how I feel in a constructive way, instead of just burning their house down, which would be bad, but equally satisfying.  However, I feel very conflicted this past week in light of Historic events. Ill get into that in a bit. the context is important (I promise.)

     Like the above statement indicates, in 2015 (the first and worst time we broke up) I did work on Art that was intended as therapy for myself, to help focus on my feelings and taking all that negative/destructive energy and transmuting it into a space for creativity, self-reflection, self-love and personal progress.  It appears a coincidence that I reference the arson of my Ex's home.

     One of the therapy pieces I am working on this year (I don't work on them often; only when I need to) is a piece where my Ex's house is engulfed in flames and I am walking away from it. I had posted a photo of this piece in progress and it caused quite a commotion locally with some of his peoples. However, the funny (but not really funny) thing is, not a single one of those peoples actually asked me what it was about, save one. They just assumed I was making some arsonist threat or that I was unhinged or that I was just some bitter angry man. NONE of which are accurate. There was only one person who actually asked me what was the drawing about and I appreciated that. No one else involved actually condescended to be so reasonable, not even my Ex.

     The image is a symbol of my old life (Duh!) and I am making my way away from that life toward a new one, purifying it's loss and the pain that it has caused me through fire and the burning down of it (a symbol of purification and rebirth.) Anyone who studies symbolism in art could have come to that very obvious conclusion, but folks in this town would much rather jump to conclusions, crucify me, and write me off as some monstrous crazy man rather than to simply and reasonably ask me what it means. So... #Whatever (my eyes roll out of my head and onto the floor.) I'll elaborate more on that work when I complete it and write a post about it. In the meantime, back to the Heart Warrior...

     I had thought I was doing quite well recovering from the emotional manipulated Destruction of Pompeii my Ex put me through this past 6 months:  Constantly sucking me back in with kindness and promises of "we'll work it all out" only to break up with me all over again so I could not fully recover from the blow as he kept knocking me down by emotionally manipulating me, the situation and the ways in which we communicated with each other.  It was a trick, a cruel one that he used to punish me.  It's really made me think of how much of a Monster that makes him.  It also makes me question what kind of person does that, really.  It's a pretty cruel thing to do, especially when all I wanted was to actually work things out, to find a solution and work through the problems. But he blocked any sort of progress or possibility for that. There are really only two kinds of people in this world: Problem Identifiers and Problem Solvers.  B certainly is not the sort that likes to Solve Problems, only make them worse or make more problems.

     B has set up the same parameters to limit communication and manipulate our situation to suit his personal agenda and purposes. I'm less inclined these days to be as affected by this strategy as we spent 2 years in couples therapy trying to work it out after getting back together at the end of 2015.  The sad realization after all that therapy was that B is just this kind of person. He is not necessarily a Monster as I previously stated, but he certainly is petty, selfish, cruel and manipulative.  He definitely would be more interested in exacerbating a situation rather than exert any effort to improve it... Unless there was something "in it for him." This time around, I have no interest in working things out as I did in 2015.  I only have an interest in moving forward.

     In any case, Heart Warrior, was a piece that I began well over a year ago.  As you all know I participate in the Illustration Friday weekly inspiration illustrations form time to time.  Well around the end of April (2014) they posted a topic "Survivor."  B and I had just started fighting more than we have ever fought at the beginning of that month. I moved out of our bedroom and into the upstairs (my studio at that time) and he did not speak to me for about a month.  It was a very rough time, obviously, and affected my ability to work on art or to really do anything.  Until finally I forced myself to do something and a week before IF Friday posted Survivor they posted Natural.
 I had created an illustration of a Green Tea Leaf meditating. It was a projection of the state I wanted to be in. I wanted to be calm, and alright where I was at, which was certainly not the case. I wanted to be anywhere except where I was at.  I can definitely say: no one knows how to throw a cold shoulder like my Ex, B.  He's a frigid and distant man and I honestly don't know how I or anyone ever falls for him. The man is heartless through and through and does not care for anyone except himself.  It makes me feel like a fool not to have seen it sooner.  We were together 6 years, and he was able to discard me as a person with no effort at all. It's a little embarrassing to admit being treated in such a way, but that is how I was treated.  I was made to feel insignificant, small, meaningless and worthless.

     None of this assessment has changed much in the past 3 years. B still throws a mean cold shoulder, he is still frigid and distant, and he would still prefer I feel small, insignificant and meaningless.  I would amend my previous statement in that I don't find him heartless. He is just merely selfish, petty and vindictive.  He is more of a "out of sight and out of mind" type in that if you aren't right in front of him physically, his affection and feelings are only proportionate to your distance to him physically. So if you are far away, he doesn't have the time of day for you.  So, for him, it is quite easy for him to discard others, regardless of history, investment or nature of attachment.  So not heartless but just equipped with a very small heart, perhaps.  My Cancerean nature can't quite wrap my mind around how anyone could be "for real" like that; so compartmentalized and detached. However, I'm learning to accept that that is who he is and I can't change it.  I try not to take that treatment so deeply personal (as if I'm being singled out by him, even though it does feel that way) and it is a challenge not to take it so personally.  I don't always succeed with that. After those 2 years in couples therapy, I try to remind myself that he would treat anyone this exact same way, not just me. It doesn't really make me feel any better about it, but it does help me to accept it more now. especially since history has, more or less, repeated itself. I don't feel as foolish now, after everything that has transpired, because I see the pattern now for what it is.  

     So a week later, IF Friday posts Survivor and I have the idea for the piece I completed today.  I just was not strong enough emotionally at the time to complete it.  I sketched it out kinda-sorta.  I had a vision of a Heart (the muscle not the icon)  walking strongly down a road in the middle of a desert. He'd be covered in stitches and scars, implying he had been torn and ripped to shreds but slowly pieced and stitched and pulled back together again.
He's on the road, a Survivor of cataclysmic or apocalyptic events.  I wanted it to feel like a Mad Max or a Resident Evil (3) sort of Universe, where the land is barren and devoid of green or nourishment of any kind. I based his clothes and weapons off concept art for both of those films.  He looks very worn and torn which is how I have felt.

     There is a beautiful Japanese philosophy called Kintsugi.  When things break into pieces, they are mended back with gold. They believe that you should honor the history of the object. That all it's experiences are important and should not be hidden or forgotten.  It is what makes the object beautiful.  I love the sentiment and have thought about it a lot recently.  It's the reason I pulled this idea back out of the morgue and began working on it again.  I knew that I could finish the piece now and really needed to, for myself.  So I drew this little Heart Man and showed all of the scars and places where he had to be pieced back together.  It's important to show fragility and weakness sometimes otherwise the display of strength that comes afterward doesn't have the same impact or importance.  I have planned a few pieces that relate to this philosophy in the context of my recent breakup as a therapy for myself.  I am channeling strength from the creative ether from this practice, I believe.

     I never did complete the other works that I referenced above. I think at this point, I don't really need to.  When B and I got back together at the end of that awful year, I got many of the answers that I was desperately in need of when I originally wrote this post.  And therapy gave me the rest of what I needed to, in reality, piece myself back together in a way that I never would have been able to do back then.  Although, the end result between B and I turned out to be exactly the same (toxic and incompatible), I think that I am more OK this time around and this breakup... After all, it was my choice that ended it, but only because I knew B is not the type of person to look at things that way and see them for what they are and for how we both were an for what we both need that we aren't providing to one another. It wasn't always this way, but it became this way. It's sad, but it is what it is.  

     That is how I felt then and certainly how I am feeling about it now after being dragged through possibly the worst 6 months I have ever experienced at one person's hand.  I made a decision around that time that I shouldn't sacrifice what I wanted to do with my life for someone who could treat me as if I meant nothing to them and that could make me believe that they didn't.  What purpose does it serve to make someone you care about feel that way, anyway?  It was then that I decided that I would move to NYC and continue to pursue a career in Illustration. Which I am working on doing this year (making it happen).

     I still sometimes am angry about this point. He really did put me through a lot, unnecessarily, and if you truly love someone else, this is not how you would treat them, angry or not angry at them. To the latter point above, I have returned to my goal of leaving Georgia and moving to NYC to pursue what I actually went to college to learn how to do. Don't get me wrong. Graphic Design has been good to me and I will more than likely continue to do it to some capacity. However, the real goal is to eventually illustrate full time and let GD be my previously life. I really need a change and look forward to this move this next Winter.

     Thus far things are falling into place and I feel, now, far enough removed from this messy and nasty breakup that he put us through to move forward with my plans unencumbered by an emotional tie to him. (This was so not true. I still feel at times that I'm not "over it" per say and at that time I was very encumbered and emotionally still tied to him. I guess I was just trying to wish it so by speaking/typing it into existence as if it were incantation.)   This sentiment has been driving the car, so to speak, ever since and I have been creating art that would allow me to vent out my frustration and anger about these past 6 months.  Until... Marriage Equality is made legal last Friday with the ruling of the Supreme Court.  Then all I can think about are all the plans that we had to marry each other and for our future life together, etc.  They were like shelves of empty photo albums full of memories that will never happen. Not for us anyway.  Every Facebook photo of a smiling same-sex couple, one right after the other, happy that they can FINALLY be married, like bombs dropping or punches in my stomach. I guess the timing couldn't have been better. We break up and then we are finally able to legally marry. Bitter irony and it has made me feel conflicted for several days about him and about what we were to each other.  Things are not amicable between us, mostly his choosing. We don't speak to each other or have a way to, again his choices. He seems to have the inability to forgive others and move on. Among his uncanny ability to manipulate and freeze out others, he also can hold a grudge like no one else I've ever met. It's unfortunate that our biggest obstacle in working things out or even being friends has been him.

     Marriage... Funny thing is that we got back together, went to couples therapy and still fell apart again in the very same way. This transforms bitter irony into textbook definition for insanity. I'm not exactly certain why we both felt that the outcome would turn out any different than it had previously.  We went to therapy with the idea that it would help fix our problems in the relationship. On the contrary, at least for me, it just helped me see very clearly how the two of us really weren't good for each other, regardless of how we felt. We just didn't work at the core of things. To be very honest, personally, it boiled down to trust. I never quite trusted him again after 2015.  That year and the way we treated each other just changed me, permanently. There was just no going back or unseeing what you saw beyond the veil. He did insist/imply several times that we should get married. The thought, after all that therapy, quite honestly terrified me.  I knew then that I just didn't trust him nor probably would I ever be able to again. If he had actually proposed to me (which he never did. He always implied that was apparently my responsibility to propose should that ever happen) I would have said no. I don't think forcing us into a legal marriage would have saved us anymore than when heterosexual couples have children to "save their marriage." That logic is ludicrous and has never worked in history. So, even though it was legal for us to get married, we still didn't. That should tell you something right there.

     You can't keep from getting your heart shredded and stomped on but you can choose what you'll do next.  I chose to stitch this little heart back together, nurse it back to health with alot of liquor among other vices and get him back on his feet, armed to the teeth, on the road and ready for whatever is coming next in life.  It's a great unfortunate truth that my Ex will not allow us to be amicable and that he chooses to behave in very immature and nasty ways that hurt us both instead of trying to be part of the solution. (He still acts this way: childish and petty. We've known each other for 10 years.  This could have been quite amicable.)  I ran across something Deborah Reber had said about breakups, “Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”
I can't control how B has chosen to act, but I can choose how I live my life and what I am going to do with it.  I hate that he made me choose between him and advancing my career as opposed to trying to find a way to stay together and accomplish my goals as well. But, it has made me realize that the "team" he always talked about just meant "Team B" and not "Team B&L."  It's obvious my needs and what is important to my life are not important to him unless it's convenient for him and he doesn't have to sacrifice anything or be challenged in anyway.  It's sad because that's how relationships grow and become stronger. So for better or for worse and because he chose to set up the parameters of the situation this way, his string gets cut and he gets let go.  Ultimatums instead of Solutions is such a terrible way to be.  But, I guess that's just my opinion.

     I still feel very strongly about the above paragraph.  B is still very "Team B" and not "Team Couple" or "Team Compromise" or "Team Teamwork." He is still very much a one way street and that was really my breaking point in deciding to end this almost 10 year relationship. This was, of course, following an argument we had had via text 500 miles from each other which was then succeeded by him "breaking up" with me via text. The man couldn't even give me the courtesy of a phone call, much less wait until we were face to face (after 9 years.) Then pretends that it never even happened days later. I knew right then, that this relationship was never going to work. If we were just friends, then we should be just friends. However, B is the kind of guy that refuses to be friends. Like Ms. Reder states, the only person I have control over is myself. When I look back and reflect on this relationship, I am saddened by a terrible realization. When I look at B, now, I can't see the man that I fell head over heels in love with 9 years ago.  I see a stranger; someone that I can't even recognize any longer. I see someone that, given any other circumstance, if I met them today and hadn't known them previously, I really don't like. It's sad, but it is true. I don't even know who that person is when I come into contact with them these days. That truth is just crazy to me when I think about it from time to time now. :0/

     So all stitched up with scars and all, I track my way through the rest of this year until I will move to NYC at the end of this year.  I will miss all my friends here but am VERY READY to Start my new life in NY. A fresh start and a new sunrise to shine on my face, scars and all.  For those of you out there going through a breakup this year, keep your chins up.

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation

This post was originally published June 19, 2015.
I should have never removed it.

"Sure I may be tuckered, and I may give out, but I won't give IN!"
-Molly Brown (The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 1964)

     At 11:40pm on April 14th, 1912 An Unsinkable ship hit an Iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and began to sink.  1,317 people stepped on the bow of that ship expecting to make it to land again. Only 710 survived.  Molly Brown was one of those 710 that were lucky to survive.  But do you ever really survive an event that cataclysmic?  I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there stranded in the water on the life boats, half glad you were safe for the moment, half crushed by all the death surrounding you and the endless pleas for help from 1500 others that drowned and froze to death that horrible night.  Freezing to death yourself out in the cold air wondering if you were going to die out on that icy ocean waiting to be rescued, terrified you may never be before its too late.  Four hours on that ocean waiting before aid did finally come. However, just because you were pulled aboard safety and brought once again to dry land,  I'm certain the haunting visions and screams followed those 710 the rest of their days on this planet.

     I hit an Iceberg this year. I feel as if I have been scrambling to get to the life boats and escape the inevitable sinking of this Titanic.  After 6 years (9 years as of 2017) you get attached and bonded to a person.  To listen to them tell you they are much happier in your absence...

     Well it feels like hitting the iceberg and feeling it shred your hull as it scrapes and tears down your side.  Then you begin to be submerged in the icy cold waters.  And this breakup has been like that icy cold water.  It chills you to the bone before it freezes you to death if you don't get yourself in that life boat and start rowing...

...and rowing and rowing and rowing....

     This piece has kept popping up in my mind with that one single message I placed at the bottom of it 3 years ago:  "Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation." 

     I felt so compelled by that message, such an evocative message when paired with that image. It resonated something to me then as it certainly has now, just these recent past months.  It is a call to muster your courage, to brace yourself when the unexpected happens, to HOPE.   You will survive, you can survive that Cold Freezing Dark Night and Menacing Deathly Waters. You will come out of it all Stronger Braver and Wiser and then finally get to place your foot on dry land once more, grounded in yourself.

     Molly Brown became an American Legend, not only because of her survival of the Sinking of the Titanic, which is what made her famous, but the story of her life reads like something right out of a collection of All American Fairy Tales.  Born Margaret Tobin in a three-bedroom cottage, near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, on what is now known as Denkler's alley. Her parents were Irish Catholic immigrants. She had six siblings (two of which were half from both parents previous widowed marriages.)

     At age 18, Margaret Tobin relocated to Leadville, Colorado. She found a job in a department store were she met James Joseph Brown, nicknamed "J.J.", an enterprising, self-educated man. His parents, too, had emigrated from Ireland.  Brown had always planned to marry a rich man but she married J.J. for love. She said, 'I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented himself who could give to the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I'd be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me. So I married Jim Brown.'

     But not only did Molly find true love and happiness at such a young age, incidentally she found wealth as well.  The Brown family acquired great wealth when, in 1893, J.J.'s mining engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial ore seam at the Little Jonny Mine of his employers.  They bought a $30,000 Victorian mansion in Denver, Colorado, U.S., and in 1897 they built a summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creak, which gave the family more social opportunities. Margaret became a charter member of the Denver Woman's Club, whose mission was the improvement of women's lives by continuing education and philanthropy. Adjusting to the trappings of a society lady, Brown became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German, Italian, and Russian. Brown co-founded a branch in Denver of the Alliance Fran├žaise to promote her love of French culture.

     Molly and J.J.'s truly was the All-American rags to riches story, a fairy tale where Cinderella and Prince Charming might live happily ever after in their Colorado Castle. However, life is never really like a fairy tale most times and things fell apart romantically for Molly and J.J.  After 23 years of marriage, Margaret and J.J. privately signed a separation agreement in 1909. Although they never reconciled, they continued to communicate and cared for each other throughout their lives. The agreement gave Margaret a cash settlement and she maintained possession of the house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver, and the summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creak. She also received a $700 monthly allowance (equivalent to $18,374 today) to continue her travels and social work. 

Kathy Bates as Molly Brown in Titanic (1997)

     So when Molly boarded the S.S. Titanic that fateful day in April in 1912, she boarded it alone. It truly was her own Strength, Courage and Tenacity that saw her through that tragedy.  She often said that the love for her children and the hope of seeing them again was also what got her through that night.  She was, after all, boarding the ship home to see them after her visit abroad to France.  Even after her separation from her one true love, the devastation of the Titanic and the nasty family brawl with her children over finances once J.J. died, Molly still continued her charity and educational work for women and underprivileged.  It was this very Spirit that Earned her the nickname "Unsinkable."  Through all the tragedy, heartache and adversity she had to overcome in her lifetime, she still kept on with a vigilance that many of us in this world can only admire.

      Strength and Courage through Devastation.  I have thought about these words so many times these past 6 months and I have actually tried to write this Blog Post SEVERAL TIMES previous since My Titanic struck the Ice last January, but for some reason, I would just delete 98.5 percent of what I had written and start all over again.  Just reading this post right now, you probably wouldn't think to yourself that I had spent 6 months off and on writing and re-writing it (mostly re-writing it), but I have. Though I normally loathe reading/writing overly personal things on public online forums as I usually feel it's borderline "whiney" if not overly so, I knew deep down I needed to write about this piece and how I felt about it when I illustrated it and how I feel about it now and what it means to me in the current context of where I am right now in my life.  I also wanted to say it in a way that might connect to others going through the same experience or a similar one. I wanted this piece to not only express my love and admiration for such a brave woman in American History but I wanted my expression of her to inspire others and help them get through their Icy Cold Nights.

     This piece was originally made as a reaction to the Capsizing of the Concordia back in 2010.  It made me think so strongly of the Titanic and how similar the incidents were, but also how thankful I was to how dissimilar they were and the death toll for the incident on the Concordia was much much lower.  I was in the mood to create a new FatMan illustration and I felt that I had found my inspiration in the terrible accident.  I would use the legendary visage of the Unsinkable Molly Brown to inspire hope in others during times of hardship, wether it be the Concordia or just really anything.  How ironic or fortuitous that I would create something that would eventually help me cope through a tough situation in my own life years later.

      I started with just sketching a hybrid of Molly's countenance and blending it with the typical "FatMan" Characteristics I have come to include in that series of illustrations.  As you can see from the sketch I had to work it a bit before I was finally satisfied of a good Molly-FatMan hybrid.  As per usual the FatMan is always show in profile.  I know I have mentioned it in previous posts, but being shown in profile is a visual evocation and symbol of power.  Since the FatMan character has kinda become my artistic muse, the profile is perfect.  More specifically in this illustration, I wanted to evoke the power of strength and courage that Molly had displayed in the tragic sinking of the Titanic.

      I began researching photographs of the real molly brown and based the dress she is wearing on an actual dress that Molly wore when she gave captain Arthur Rostron an award for his heroic rescue of the Titanic survivors.  I had a lot of fun recreating the pattern from her blouse in the photograph.  As you can see the photograph is in black and white and like many of the photographs from that time, there is no reference for color.  So the color of Molly's Hair and of her dress are based on the hair and wardrobe of Kathy Bates, who plays Molly in the American film, Titanic.
Also I wanted to use a lot of purple in her dress.  Not only because the purple would harmonize quite well with all the Blues I was using in the Nighttime icy ocean surrounding her in the illustration, but also because Purple is a traditionally regal color and has been used in portraits of majestic European families for centuries. It is said to evoke the power and majestic nature of person who wears such a color and radiate it from them.  I liked the idea of infusing a bit of that into this illustration; radiating hope, strength and power to all who see her.  She is holding her oar upright, again evoking that Egyptian iconography of power and strength.

      On a quick side note: if you don't believe the evocation of power from simply being in a particular pose or posture, read about the Wonder Woman Pose. Just google it, if you dare...
or you just click on the handy dandy link I have provided above.

     The rest of the illustration work, after figuring out the color composite sketch, really goes like clockwork. That is the REAL FUN of Illustration: getting to play and experiment to create textures and balance lights and darks with color, etc. At least, that is the fun part of the work for me.  I do enjoy the challenge of all the creative preliminary work that comes before it, all the drawing challenges and such. However in the middle part of the illustration process, you get to put a movie or record or audio book on in the back ground and just enjoy the simple pleasure of making art.  More specifically, in this case, digitally painting.  Anyone who enjoys the pastime or profession of painting understands the absolute zen nature that the activity brings.  I very much enjoyed painting her.  I did capture some screen shots of the work in progress as you will see below to see some of the process of this illustration.

     I worked on this piece over the course of 2 weeks off and on. From the work in progress shots you can kinda see where I focused and when. Since it's been some years since I created this work, it's a bit fuzzy as far as my time line.  Essentially I sketched out the illustration, inked it and then scanned that in the computer. I then made a rough color composite sketch of what I wanted the color to kinda sorta be.  I then began painting (digitally).  I work in many painted layers of varied opacity, so the process is slow but yields some nice results when I take my time to do it the way I want it to be done. I started with her head, hair and hat. I then went onto her dress and blouse. I then did her oar, boat and all the other boats in one stint. then the Titanic Iceberg and Ocean detail.  Lastly I created a luminescent effect from the moon onto the illustration.  That pretty much sums up the process of the illustration.  I only spent 2 weeks on the piece itself but it reaches out far beyond that frame of time with it's content and message.

     So my Titanic did strike an Iceberg last January, yes.  And the captain of my ship no longer wanted to cruise along side me, yes. Did I have to jump ship for my own survival from drowning in a relationship where I was not loved back? Yes, I did, but in all fairness I was ordered to jump and pretty much forced overboard (very similarly to how Molly was forced into a life boat that night.)  Am I resentful of the outcome, yes, slightly so, though I'm not certain if the damn ship wouldn't have sank itself anyways. If a captain wants a ship to sink, then the ship eventually will, if anything out of self-fulfilled prophecy/projection.  In other words, if you continually say things are going to happen a certain way, then, subconsciously, you are working on making that come to fruition.

     I have learned this about my experience:  You have two choices when the boat is sinking. You can either drown on the sinking ship or you jump in that Life Boat, grab an oar and start rowing for shore or rescue or whatever else life may be bringing you. Either way, the boat is going down. You can't save it no more than you can make someone love you, that doesn't.  So choose: Life or Not Life.  I choose Life.  The good thing is that sometimes when your rowing along, people can pop in and out of your life boat with you. People that are going through something similar, that get it, that get you and it's nice to have someone pick up an oar and row some of that way with you as I'm certain they are also glad for the company as well: Your Row Buddies (as I like to call them.)  They may stay for a short time or they might stay for a little while and then hop boats, but in either case, enjoy the time you have and be grateful for it.

     Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation.  It's not so bad when you realize your not bearing the tragedy of it all on your own.  So take hope in that, Titanic Survivors, whomever you may be out there.  You are not alone.  Look to Molly for the inspiration to find the Strength to get through it and you'll be right as rain once again, stepping on that shore wiser and closer to yourself than you were before.

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Fractured Chalice Ascending

"The opportunity to rebuild your inner life is a great gift. Regardless of how the glass was broken, to be able to fix it is a great gift, because you can melt it down and reform it however you like."
-Amber Khan (Cancer May 2018)

     A great gift... I think about those words a lot these days.  It reminds me of when you were young and you were given a gift, either for a birthday or for Christmas or whatever holiday that you might receive a gift from a friend or loved one, really. And when you first look at it, your mind pauses in a way; a small shock if you will. This is not because the gift itself is something grotesquely shocking, but it's appearance to you at that time certainly is.  Or it may seem confusing. It was a gift of something you didn't expect. And at the time, you would just think that it is a weird thing to be given to you (like this person has no idea who you are) Otherwise, why would they give you something like this, right?!..  However, over the course of time, this gift, this object (whatever it may have been) begins to become more important in your life, it's purpose begins to reveal itself and manifest a practicality into your life that you would have never expected it to or imagined that it would.   I remember receiving a few gifts like this in my past.

     The past couple of months, personally, have seemed this way. On the surface: like something truly awful, but apparently a gift from the universe. A gift disguised as something else, something that doesn't seem like a gift; a surprise gift.

     Up until now, I haven't really discussed, too much, about my feelings about the ending of my nearly 10 year romantic relationship or how, in the aftermath, that it has affected me. I've kept quiet, mostly out of fear, I guess.  Fear of being persecuted for expressing/sharing those feelings.  Also, as a Cancer, I sometimes find it embarrassing to share something so deep and personal.  I feel it may  become a burden for others. This is rather ironic, because I tend to allow others to burden me with their thoughts and troubles. Cancers are the natural healers of the universe. So, I usually want to help others but feel, in some strange way, that I, myself, am not worthy of that kind of help in return. 

     This is the second time that my Ex and I have broken apart.  I remember what it was like that first time, in regards to how I was treated by others that surround him. To be perfectly honest, it was awful and it really sucked to be so disliked and to not know exactly why I was being so disliked by these people. Later, when my Ex and I had gotten back together (with the help of couples therapy, mind you,) he told me that he would tell people about my reactions to things that he did or things that he said to me.  However, he would then omit what it was that provoked my reaction to those things. This would explain it, Everyone has been told about the fallout, but not the cause. These people would see me only as someone being antagonistic and not reactionary or antagonized myself.  In any case, it was awful to live through and I did not want to live through that again.  This time around, this breakup, my Ex is setting up the parameters to do this very same thing again almost like a replay in a sporting event.)  It's the way he did it 2 years previous.  I think he is just waiting for me to do or say something that he could use as fuel to that fire.  I have yet to understand if it's because he doesn't want to be seen in that light (not that anyone wants to be perceived as a villain, but you do need to own up to your part in all of it [which was something that they were never really willing to do]) OR if they are just that type of person that enjoys playing "the Victim."  Even after almost 10 years, I feel like I should know the answer, but (sadly) I don't feel like I do know which person they are (the fruit or the gun; the pearl or the poison.)  

     I'm not going to concentrate too much about that in this post.  I will be updating an old post about an old illustration that I had taken down (in regards to the above mentioned scenario.)   I'll be updating the story behind it as there is now more to the story and there were answers to questions I had back then. That piece, The Heart Warrior, and this illustration that I am writing about today, are akin in that they are pieces I did for therapeutic reasons; my own personal art therapy.  They have both helped me focus and work through my thoughts and feelings about that relationship and how it and it's aftermath have affected me. They both illustrate a similar philosophy: rebuilding yourself in the aftermath of destruction and the destructive forces that work against you. The Fractured Chalice Ascending, in difference to The Heart Warrior, is more about taking this destructive energy and transforming it into something positive and then using that positive energy to move forward. The Heart Warrior was, in a way, more about carrying on and picking up the pieces of what's left. However, there was always an unknown as to what you were in that aftermath of the cataclysm, and unknown as to where you were going next. The Heart Warrior, though strong and resilient, was still very lost and wandering.  That is exactly how I felt when I created that piece, and even though I was chastised by many for what I had written about it, I still stand by that piece.  It was a very honest reflection of me; a self portrait in so many ways.  I am not ashamed of it.  Art is an artists expression of inner feeling and that illustration was truly a vulnerable and irrevocably honest portrait of who I was then. 

     The Fractured Chalice Ascending is more about rebuilding with that energy into a far greater self purpose and self love after the cataclysm. And Amber Khan is right. The opportunity to do that is, truly, a great gift. Another thing she mentions is this phrase "Wandering Psychic." I love that phrase. That in some way Cancers are premonitory about what is about to happen in their lives.  I plan to use that hashtag this year. lol. #WanderingPsychic

     ...But lets go back a bit. 

     I want to discuss where the true nature of the inspiration of this piece comes from. There are 3 factors, really: 1.) A series of dreams I was having in reaction to how my ex has treated me since we broke up and his influence on some other people with how they interact with me now or how they don't interact with me due to my Ex's influence (obviously that bothers me,)  2.) A very wonderful conversation I had with a friend of mine (We will call him AE) about what those dreams meant and what my subconscious is trying to communicate to me, and  3.) A video tarot reading by Amber Khan (The Quietest Revolution) for Cancer May 2018.  

     2 weeks ago, I had this series of two dreams. I'm certain there were more, but these are the only two that I can remember after waking up.  In the first dream, I was in this place, a clustered and congested labyrinth of twisted and connected highways.  This is very akin to "Spaghetti Junction" in Atlanta, Georgia (for those of you who know, you know it.)  However, it was not Atlanta.  It didn't seem to be a city at all unless it was just a city made up of nothing but these highways that were all pretzel-twisted about each other.  I was not in a car.  I was on foot, and I was with a group of other people who were also on foot.  The dream begins in the midst of running on foot from highway to highway because some of them begin to collapse.  Every time the group thinks that we have reached safety we begin to feel the ground beneath us literally quake.  We must run again as the road beneath us begins to collapse and disintegrate into a void of nothingness.  It is sunset, but the sky is venomously purple and red.  The worst part was the horror of watching others fall into the abyss as the roads crumble away and not being able to do anything about it. 

     I was discussing with my friend, AE, about these dreams and what they mean.  He is very good at dream interpretation, and helped me to clarify what my subconscious was trying to tell me.  Roads often represent life choices or our paths in life. The fact that there were many intersecting and tangled highways means that this was a crossroads.  In my own life, it meant the time I am living through right now; this interim that I have here before moving across country and starting a new life.  Cars often represent our movement down our life path.  Since I was not in a car (I was on foot,) I'm guessing it means about the same thing but perhaps a more dexterous way of "moving" down my life path. The crumbling and disintegration of these roads represent my fear of being trapped here, and not being able to move on. I do have a deep seeded fear of being trapped, not in a claustrophobic sort of way, but trapped somewhere you don't want to be and can't get out of or away from.  I'm not going to go into how Freudian that fear is for me, but, suffice to say, it has very deep roots.  I think I am afraid of getting stuck where I am now since there is so much time between now and when I have planned to go. I'm afraid things may go wrong or something might happen within that span of time that will prevent me from leaving.  To be honest, that terrifies me to the core.  The group of people that were on foot with me represent my very Cancerian need to protect those that I love and care about.  In the very extreme scenario of my dream, I am not able to protect them from the ground that is literally falling out from beneath of them.  My friend says that this is more than likely a visual manifestation of my not being able to protect myself within my broken relationship.  I wasn't able to protect myself or keep that relationship from falling apart.  To be quite honest, I was never able to defend myself without this overbearing and constant threat of it "being over." It was always so irritating to me how he would be so willing to give up so easily over literally "anything."  This was one way I was manipulated in that relationship. 

     The second dream that I had took place in My mother's house. It was her house, in the dream, but my mother doesn't have her own home, in real life.  The house I dreamt of is one that I have never seen before nor have I ever lived in. There was a group of people that were gathered there that I neither knew nor could remember.  They had no connection to my mother nor I.  Also, why were they even at my mother's house to begin with?!  Loafing Bitches! lol.  What I do remember was that I had just gotten back from working a wedding as a wedding photographer.  It was my Ex's wedding to some person that he dated after he and I had broken up.  I remember being irritated that the only reason that I was invited to the wedding at all was to work the wedding.  I wasn't invited as a guest.  Also, I remember my mother chiding me about it. As if to say, for some reason that I deserved to be treated that way.  Also, the group of people there were also chiding me... Very very irritating and antagonizing.  So I couldn't remember anything that happened at the wedding and I recall telling my mother that I would have to look at the photos I took in order to tell her what happened, because I couldn't remember.  But I think that was the point.  It wasn't important who he married or what happened at the wedding.  The point was that I was a servant and not a person to him.  Also, in real life, he is the photographer (professionally) not I.  He's not a wedding photographer, but I don't think that really matters (tomato, toemahtoe).  It was just anther way for my subconscious to communicate the links between the two wounds.

     My friend and I discussed about how both of these dreams were telling me that I needed to come to terms with things that I previously was not wanting to accept or acknowledge about this relationship.  Ultimately, I may have been nothing more than just a "role" or a "position" to be filled in their life.  It's like a job that you would apply for or hold for a certain amount of time. The role has a list of duties and requirements and you either fulfill them or you're fired and replaced. It's a horrible thought/theory that I have not wanted to accept, but the more I talk to him after this second break up (which isn't much at all, really), the more I realize that after 10 years, he doesn't really know who I am. The things he is afraid that I would do, or that he accuses me of doing. or the things that he implies that he believes me capable of, just make me realize that he doesn't know what kind of person I am, either. Is it even remotely possible to know someone for 10 years and not know them? It would seem that he didn't bother to get to know me.  Maybe he doesn't care to know who I am. I was just some person that cooked and cleaned and took care of  him with nothing reciprocated.  I hate to admit that to myself because that means that I did this to myself.  I chose to put myself through it not only once but twice. Who chooses to be treated that way?  Someone who was treated that way before. That's who chooses such a thing.  This dream took place at my mother's home because of the deep wound inflicted by both of my parents in the way that they treated me growing up.  Unfortunately, people who were abused have a tendency to choose other's who will abuse them in the same way. This also terrifies me, that I might continue to choose someone that is just like my parents.  I've spent a long time running from them and from that life only to fall, in some ways, back into it.  Again the dreams are showing me my deepest fears manifested.  I don't like to discuss my parents much nor the ways that they hurt me. However, my Ex did know all of that and chose to use it as a way to hurt or "get back" at me for breaking up with him. Yeah, it's petty, and it's so not cool, but it's what he did. I have to accept/acknowledge that I can't change him or what has transpired and move on. This dream connects those wounds and brings to light aspects of my relationship that I was wanting to ignore. Because ignoring them meant they weren't true. Ignoring them meant I didn't have to accept responsibility for choosing that again and again.

     So there is all this anger and resentment boiling deep down that I haven't expressed or allowed myself to process; again, for the fear of being persecuted for doing so.  Anger at him, anger at m,e anger at the situation, and the fear of being stuck in it.  I'm constantly cycling the fear, the pain, the anger, and the anxiety over and over and over again. It's created a very brooding, and a very negative environment. It's left me drained and exhausted in a lot of ways; exhausted in a time that I really need to be focusing on getting things together and being more "together," for that matter. 

     So over the course of this conversation about these dreams, AE sends me this video and says that I really need to watch it.  Everything we discussed made him think about the video reading he had just recently watched by Amber Khan.  Ms. Khan is a gifted and intuitive astrologer who leads "The Quietest Revolution;" A revolution, in her words, "about clearing yourself of emotional blocks, releasing old patterns and rewiring the brain through introspection and self-love." She is amazing, and if you are not already following her on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook, you should rectify that egregious oversight in your life STAT. If you click on her photo above, it will link you to her website. I urge you all to check her out. 

     So AE urges me to watch that video (above) and I do. It was like being God-Smacked by the universe. The reading resonated so heavily to what was going on with me with the exception that the situation revolved around my relationship with B than something that happened at work (which was very busy at the time but was going very good) So no problems with work but problems in my personal life outside of work.  I was definitely feeling that things were "devastatingly" against me,  that they were connected to B (who I felt was lying about me to other people,) and just resentment toward him for the way he was handling everything.  I was having my "ass handed to me" by the universe, it felt like.  This was giving me doubts as to whether I had made the right choice.  My mind and heart both say "yes you made the right decision to break it off," but I admit that I was having some retroactive fear that I might have been wrong. Sending out that fear, obviously, was cycling itself back into a greater and even more menacing monster with each revolution that I sent that fear back out... Like a big snowball in a cartoon that eventually runs you over. I felt this way,regardless of how sure and certain I was that breaking-off was definitely the right thing to do at the time... Living in this strange brooding space in the aftermath makes me constantly reflect on it.  It is constantly, more or less, being placed, again and again, in front of me; either with direct contact from B (that results in a negative exchange or feeling afterward,) or an interaction with someone else that was influenced by something he did or said to them about me. 

     One example: two particular people that were pretending to be my friends. However, their intentions were anything but being friendly with me. They were more his friends (which is cool) but they shouldn't have been two faced. They should have just been honest if they felt the need to "pick a side," as it were.  Which "picking a side" is definitely NOT what I wanted or expected anyone to do.  I had mentioned, previously, in my post about the FatMan Sun Bather, that living here in the aftermath of the end of this relationship is like living in a haunted house.  Running into situations like this one, randomly and without warning, are contributing factors to that perception of being haunted that I have of living here.  This town really does feel too small for the both of us sometimes.  I'll be glad to move on to living in a large city.  I'm certain they will feel relieved as well.

     ...SO Lets discuss the art shall we? I apologize for all this conjecture, but I assure you, it does bear relevance in the "Whys" and "Whats" behind this illustration.

     The illustration Friday topic that same week that I had the dreams was TRANSFORMATION.  Before I had the dream interpretation discussion with AE, I was mulling over and debating possible ideas for that illustration topic.  I hadn't been participating in Illustration Friday recently, and (in a lot of ways) I wasn't participating in a lot of things (for obvious reasons that I mentioned above.)  I felt my emotional state of mind was blocking my ability to create.  I knew that I didn't want to just draw the usual visual cliches with transformation: i.e. butterflies, cocoons, a phoenix. Well...  Let me back that statement up some: I did want to draw those things but in a way that meant something more personal, something that I could use to work out what I was feeling at the time. 

     I had my moment of inspiration watching Amber Khan's reading for Cancer. She tends to put cards up to the camera as she discusses them, or as they are pulled, or (at times) they just jump right out of her deck as she shuffles them. I have always loved the illustrations used on tarot decks of all kinds. Also, there was a lot of imagery that Amber was using in her description/explanation of certain things during the reading.  This imagery began to echo in my mind.  It came to me then that what I needed to do was to illustrate a tarot card; a personal one of my very own creation, and that is infused with personal symbolism. 

     This brings us to the quote that I began the post with...  Amber says that it doesn't matter how the glass got broken or who is to blame for it breaking. The point is what do you intend to do with it now?  It boils down to a simple decision:  Either continue to wallow in this cycle of fear, anger, hurt and misery OR use that energy to transform; turn it into something positive. Let it be your fuel to move forward or perish within the fire. 

     "The problem with imprinting and being able to imprint so well on the Collective, is that if you imprint the destructive repetitive pattern, it can destroy it's maker."

     Another way that this illustration is like The Heart Warrior is its reference to the Japanese philosophy of Kintsuji. When things break into pieces, they are mended back with gold. They believe that you should honor the history of the object. That all it's experiences are important and should not be hidden or forgotten.  It is what makes the object beautiful. It's a beautiful and powerful sentiment: I break. I shatter. I put myself back together. I am whole. I am changed. I am stronger than I was before I broke. When Amber talked about the broken glass, cup, chalice. This is what I thought of. You must decide to stay broken or to mend yourself. There is a chip missing from the Chalice. This is meant to represent that you are never the same as you were once before. You never are the same again, really. 

     A quick aside: I did say something recently to someone else that was hurting and in need of kind words. I'm uncertain where the words came from, but I really like them. Not only because they seemed to console this other person but I found myself comforted and enlightened by them. I told them that sometimes we have to be our own light houses, our own beacons of light. Sometimes the only safe harbor from the storms around us are ourselves. I find this to be true most of the time. I also like advice that is explained with a nautical theme; messages in a bottle.

     I began to make a series of notes about what this tarot card would be. I already knew what I wanted the title to be: The Fractured Chalice Ascending.  It is ascending because it is in the upright position. If it were in the reverse position all of it's normal meaning would be the opposite. Those who study tarot are familiar with the meanings of all the cards in both their upright and reverse positions. I thought it important to add this to the title not only to indicate that it's meaning is meant to be its normal meaning, but also to reference, once more, the origin of its inspiration. 

     Lets start at the bottom and work our way up:
     The bottom of the illustration shows the broken and crumbling highways, obviously taken from the dream that I had about them. These represent the paths in your life that you may have seen for yourself that are now closed or no longer available to you. From the crumbling and decayed highway rises a shattered chalice that has been fused back together with gold (Kintsuji.) This is you pulling yourself out of that bad situation that you were in and beginning to move forward toward a new path. A path of new love, new prosperity and happiness. 

     I have felt this way this time that I have now.  It's the time I'm using to prepare to move across country (financially, physically, mentally.) I'm also working on all new work for a new portfolio. It's a lot to do in such a brief time and all this other interference with that (due to my environment and the wake of the end of that 10 year relationship,) and it feels like a test; a trial by fire.  Amber even mentions this in the reading. "The road to a new way of being and a new way of loving and being loved is available, but it will test the most delicate parts of your nature. It will not let you be stubborn.

     Amber also talks about how this situation is being held like "a pain."  You can either use that energy, bring it into yourself, andslowly kill yourself with the poison of the destructive cycle of hurt and pain OR you can use that energy, take it into yourself, work with it and mold it and transmute/transform it into the pearl. This makes me think back, again, to Stephen King's Duma Key. There is a part of the book where the main character is describing this sound he is hearing underneath the house that he has rented on Duma Key. Its the sound of thousands of seashells rubbing against each other as the tide flows in and out. He refers to this sound as a conversation that the shells are having and in many places in the novel the seashells begin to chant mantras, "The Fruit. The Gun. The Fruit. The Gun."  If you haven't read the novel yet (which you should,) then this sounds like gibberish.  It is unless you know the context.  It refers to a decision another character in the novel must make. I'ts a decision of life and death. So when Amber talked about this choice that Cancer's need to make this month, in my mind, all I could hear were the voices of those seashells chanting "The Poison. The Pearl. The Poison. The Pearl."  And that is precisely the choice that I illustrate in the card. You either choose the Poison, and continue down the road of repetitive fear OR you can choose the Pearl, and use that energy to focus it into a more positive path and direction. If you notice, in the card, the wrapped figure has her head turned toward the pearl signifying that your choices will lead to this new rebirth, new love, new prosperity and happiness. 

     The figure has many arms that represent the zodiac sign Cancer. I have arranged the arms in such away as to echo most visual depictions of the Cancerean Crab. She is wrapped/mummified in bands. This, again, represents the current bondage that I have found myself in currently. The bands descend down into her "hips" but they also resemble a cocoon. She is engulfed in fire to represent not only the tests/trails that the figure must endure in order to transform. It is also the source that you will pull that energy from in order to transform inside that cocoon. 
The symbol on the back of her "robe" also indicates this. The scorpion (Scorpio energy) below transforming into the mythical Phoenix; rising from the ashes of tragedy and despair with strength and prosperity.  The "energy" that is radiating out of the figure/fire is in a pattern based on the markings of the Monarch Butterfly. This obviously symbolizes the transformation after the trail/cocoon.  It is the new path that is chosen.  The number is, of course, the Roman Numeral for 2018.  Many tarot cards bear a roman numeral at the top of them so I decided to have one on mine.  

     Lastly I want to discuss my decision of aesthetics.  I was really intrigued by the illustration on the specific deck that Amber uses. It is the Rider Waite tarot deck.  I wanted my card to feel as if it came for that same deck. The Rider Waite deck was originally published 1910 and is one of the most popular tarot decks in use today in the English-speaking world.  The cards were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite. The deck has a fascinating history and you can read more about it by clicking on the The Magician above.  

     Overall, this project came together very quickly. The morning after I made my list of notes for the illustration, I had drawn a thumbnail of the basic composition. I drew the sketch and inked it within 6 hours that same day.  The next couple of days were spent making a color guide (color comp).  I debated over the color of many of the elements within the illustration quite a bit.  I don't think the color comp took more than 2 days.  I did the final illustration in the 2 days following the color comp completion.  I employed my digital collage technique but only used a certain set of scanned in colored paper.  I really wanted the illustration to feel very tactile, like the tarot cards themselves.  I wanted the viewer to feel like they could actually touch it if they tried to.

     This project has been a rather quick yet enlightening journey.  Introspection and self reflection always is; enlightening I mean. It isn't necessarily fast and I'd venture to say that it never is fast at all, but anything worth anything is worth effort and time. So this is where I leave you, friends. I hope I was able to shed some light on what this illustration is about and what it means to me, personally.  I also encourage you all to spend some time this next week to self-reflect. It's healthy and helpful. 

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.