Thursday, May 04, 2006

My Chair.


There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you. -Maya Angelou

So I am in Hank's design history class this quarter...the class where we design a chair using a personal story as well a period in design history. As I stated earlier, my period is Vorticism...and, yes, it is as exciting as it sounds. I have deliberated and deliberated over what my "story" would be...hemming and hawing, as we like to say in the South, around the different issues I could select...and, my goodness, there are plenty to choose from. I protested several times that I had NO story...that I was completely devoid of anything substantive. I'm not sure how I allowed myself to be so ignorant. Basically, I was scared to reveal any real, true, vulnerable part of me in fear that I would be judged defective, less talented, less creative, less intelligent, less (fill-in-the-blank). It is only recently that I have really come to grips with the reality that ANYONE and EVERYONE can judge you at any given time...and they do...and they will continue to do so...what counts is that you know your own TRUTH. That you know that, at your core and in your heart, you are good...that your self worth comes from within. No one can make us value ourselves. No one can love us enough so that we love ourselves. No one can or should ever be that powerful. I digress, however...

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way” -Victor Frankl

So, my story...I realized after a series of chats with Tania that I really did have a story and that my resistance to sharing was because I still held shame and judgement of myself around this event that took place 18 years ago. When I was 12, our family experienced a series of deaths (5 significant in a one year period of time). My response to these events would be, what most would consider, fairly normal...I freaked out. Already a slightly anxious child, this degree of loss and grief sent that anxiety into high gear. My family: no emotion....no expression...no nothing. Consequently, I became the chief representative for the pain, loss and grief. I absorbed every inch of not only what I was feeling, but, surely, what my parents were going through as well. I was terrified. Terrified of death, terrified of loss, terrified that I would be left alone without my parents...in a constant state of panic and fear. I weighed 70 pounds because I was too anxious to eat, I ran away from school because I wanted to be home and safe, I cried most of the summer and fall of 1988. I was inconsolable and no one knew what to do with me. The school "authorities" perceived my behavior as acting out...I was punished constantly because I would run away from school. I was humiliated in front of my classmates because certain teachers thought it was appropriate to reference my odd behavior in the middle of class. I was made fun of by fellow students because, hey, it was 7th grade and being different in 7th grade is a fate worse than death. All of this culminated into me being psychiatrically hospitalized 2 weeks after my 12th birthday.

My worst fears realized.
I was separted from my one place of comfort...my parents.
I was put into a prison with carpeted walls and a collection of really strange people.
I was alone, scared and completely removed from anything familiar.
I could not call my parents and only saw them once a week for a few hours.

I saw the writing on the walls...conform, get with the program, silence all of the fears and emotions I was experiencing and start acting "normal"....then I could get the hell out of there. So I did. I learned how to turn off my feelings. I learned how to bury my deepest feelings and fears. I learned how to deny a beautiful part of me that just didn't figure into the parameters of what was "acceptable." I decided from that moment on that I would never allow myself to be vulnerable again...that showing fear was, probably, the worst thing a person could do...that strength and resiliance were honorable and good.

And I learned that I had to look within for strength, comfort and solace. That lesson came when I went back to school. I knew what people were saying behind my back. I knew how odd I was to them. I knew I had to keep all of that pain, confusion and sadness to myself because otherwise, it was back to the hospital. I knew I had to find strength within my tiny self to be able to get through that period in my life...and I knew that life would never be simple or innocent again. During this time, I learned how to be strong, how to find my center, how to rise above the embarassment and shame to gain perspective. I learned how to be able to step outside of myself to see a situation for what it was. I learned about compassion. I learned that having a sense of humor could save my life. I learned a lot of beautiful life lessons.

I do believe that life is beautiful, even in moments of great pain, life is beautiful. What I hope to express in my chair is a combination of what I learned 18 years ago and what I know today. 18 years ago, I learned how to be strong, to take care of myself, to have a strong inner-core that I could look to for my sense of self. What I know now is that I must find that willingness to be vulnerable again. What I know now is that true strength comes from a willingness to risk pain, loss, and exposure. I believe my chair will be comfortable, strong and beautiful because that is what I strive to achieve in my life. A sense of comfort, even when vulnerable, inner-strength and beauty of character.

What I love about this project is that it is an opportunity to really let go of the pain and shame that I have held about this experience...and create something beautiful and meaningful...something tangible...from it. I think that is when art is its most powerful, when it comes from a deep, meaningful, concentrated place.

6 comments:

Jason said...

So what's the concept? Tell me about your chair in 3 words. I cannot wait to this, Mary. Dive in.

MCALDWELLC said...

Comfort. Strength. Beauty. The chair is going to represent the balance of these things.
That strength comes from having a sense of comfort with all parts of myself...even the vulnerable, emotional parts...and that is where the essence of beauty lies. In being both strong and vulnerable.

Jason said...

Knock 'em dead.

minus five said...

i read this posting shortly after it went up on wednesday. and i wanted to think about it before i commented. and then i got distracted. my apologies. because this is an important post. and for whatever reason, people tend to not post comments on blog entries that are serious.

you said:

"What I know now is that I must find that willingness to be vulnerable again. What I know now is that true strength comes from a willingness to risk pain, loss, and exposure. I believe my chair will be comfortable, strong and beautiful because that is what I strive to achieve in my life."

i don't know what your chair is going to look like, but the challenge here seems to be combining vulnerability with strength. two things that are opposite, but very much the same. you have a good story to work with and i'm glad you were honest with yourself about that. push it as far as you can. until it makes you sick to think about it. the things you don't want to put on paper, put them down anyway.

keep updating on the chair progression and i'll try not to get distracted for several days before commenting.

if you get stuck, there is nothing i love more than discussing things like this, so feel free to hit me up.

MCALDWELLC said...

Thanks Sarah.
I am excited about the project...even though it is really tough material to dig through. I had to present my "story" on Friday...that sucked, but, hey, I am still alive and breathing and it is one less thing to have to tackle.

I will definately keep my loyal blogging compadres updated as to the progress...and the idea of combining strength and vulnerability is the direction I am moving toward...these two things, seemingly opposite in nature are very much related to one another.

Bjorn said...

Hey mary,

Anne told a similar story where she laid it out on the table the first day of class - all to motivate the group into doing the same thing. It worked. These kinds of epiphanies are addictive to those watching and generate a chain reaction in everyone. Art and design certainly are not boring and all of it that's worth a crap comes from within. Deep, deep within.