I’m far too in love with how it feels to be swept up this way.
My fingers fly across the keys. My mind works too quickly for them, dropping words and skipping over them. I cannot go back and find them yet. Not until I calm down. I cannot take my eyes off the page, I cannot leave it until it lets me go. Exhaustion pulls me down into sleep, and I claw my way back to the words as soon as I gain parole. Everything else is a fog. The structures I have laid down with care. The skeleton is there. Now I race over this skeleton like a frantic spider, weaving fast enough to capture light sparkling in its hollowed eyes.
My Valentine pulls me from this fog in brilliant bursts, and makes sure I still exist beneath the crazed tangle of reddish brown and white I call hair. If not for that, I’m not sure I would know I exist at all. That is the only reason there is still something there to find. If I were not fed, if I were not cared for, I would disappear beneath this drive and rot down to my shaking bones. So little matters, when there is something in my head and it actually wants out. I have been found slumped at my easel, stained with paint and tears. I have collapsed getting up from the computer, because I have been stock-still at my digital pen so long my legs have lost their feeling. I have borne the shallow, never-healing cuts and pinches the Hermes dealt me when I rushed it and trapped my fingers between its keys. I have worn a coat of glue and acrylics, beaming at some little fashioned scrap of nothing that weeps back at me.
Is it any wonder that I burn and slash these things when they disappoint me? This has never been a healthy relationship. I don’t think I could handle it being a healthy relationship. Lacking talent, I have only the obsession. I have only the romance. It is not a romance with anything I might attain. I know I will attain nothing. I know I will never be acclaimed, never be loved for what I do. Though I cry about this from time to time, it is a petty conceit. Expression itself is what I long for. I die by degrees when it deserts me.
This is not my creative approach. This is not my process. This is a twisted addiction that wells up now and then. This is a selfish lover that clutches me until it makes bright bruises, then smiles cruelly down at the marks it leaves. This is the high that destroys me. One that abandons me if I chase it, then descends upon me when I let it go. The harder I try to find it, the harder it becomes to find. The more helpless I am to it, the more avidly it drives me on.
When I was a flighty teenaged girl, I doted on this relationship. I delighted in its fever, and did my best to live in its shadow. In college I skipped meals to buy music, skimped on my books to add that perfect color to my acrylics. I couldn’t buy canvas. I curled on the floor and stroked the color with pizza boxes, with watercolor paper, with my own skin and that of eager encounters looking to be swept up in the madness along with me. How I loved drawing swirls on a quaking back, flowers on a hand that gripped my knee. I’ve never been good at drawing any canvas so taut as that.
It didn’t make for great grades. It didn’t help me keep my engagement either. I tried to put my childhood love behind, and no, I don’t mean the pretty man who put a koa wood ring on my finger and whisked me away. I mean the bristol colors, the patter of words on a page between them. I mean the egg temperas, and the little bits of plastic in emulsion. The cadmium reds, the deep azure, the canary yellow, the lamp black. I fell into those worlds, and I couldn’t afford to do that and live a life at the same time. It was I who first became unfaithful, I know that. I tried to put expression behind.
A windshield claimed my words, and much of my memory. I had only the colors and shapes left to cling to. I barely remember those years in Florida, and I don’t care to. I did my best to be a girlfriend, a fiancee, a wife, a hardworking member of society. I didn’t realize at first that I was seriously ill. I felt as though I were simply dying of the emptiness it left to put those obsessions behind. I began to bleed terribly, inside and out. I would stand hunched over the sink, sometimes for nearly an hour, bleeding from nose and mouth into the running water because it was easier than trying to catch it all and clean it up. No one could tell me why, at the time. It has a simple scientific answer, but no one had it for me.
Eventually I became too weak to do anything but stay home and bleed once in a while. I cared for my husband, as well as I could, and tried to shut out how my true obsession sang to me beneath the rush of blood. One day I couldn’t get to the sink. I lay on the linoleum, and my fingers traced through a puddle of slowly separating colors. Red, orange, a little bit of yellow. As the reds thickened and gelled, the other colors emerged at their edges. There was some other fluid mixed into the blood, likely from the pressures in my skull. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. All I knew was that it was such a relief, pushing these colors around.
My husband was not amused when he came home to what I’d drawn across the floor. When I was strong enough, I cleaned it up. I tidied up my disordered mind as well as I could, and carried on, but there was no way to leave it behind. I picked up drawing again. My husband decided perhaps there was some money to be made out of it. I was desperate to do something, and I couldn’t seem to do anything else. I vaguely remember meeting with someone, and going over the portfolio he assembled. I was accepted to someone’s school, I know that much. There was one instructor who I connected with, him I remember. I clung to every bit of feedback he gave me, because he was the one who actually saw what I was trying to do beneath the simple execution of the assignments. The others gave me As. He gave me blistering corrections, but they were meaningful ones. They were insightful. It made the praise he gave me matter more than anyone’s.
Eventually even that was too much for me. The school gave me deferrals, but it became clear they weren’t going to be enough. I dropped out when my husband complained about money. I had no faith I would ever be able to make any, but I still tried. From time to time, I tried.
How empty, how bleak that time was. How dull and lifeless the paint, how limp the brushes. How gray the words. Even when desperation hit me, and drove me to chase down expression, it fled me. It remained just outside my grasping fingers, because it will always remain outside those. I woke up one morning in a desperate panic. The colors, the shapes, they were all gone.
It was not my marriage that chained me. It was not divorce that freed me. I am not free. I will never be free. It was the broken heart that found its way back to what it loved. It was the abandonment of all the reasons I gave myself for why it fled away. The excuses, like weakness and a busy life. The fairy tales that told me if I were good enough, if I were loved enough, the inspiration would find me. That is a fantasy of control, that we can earn our way to what we love. I wasn’t good when I found my obsession. I’ve never been good. I wasn’t loved when the expression loved me back. I had never been loved, when that madness whispered in my ear. I had been wanted, sought after, but never loved. Now I am loved, and have room in my heart to love what I do.
I did the only thing I could. I put my head down and worked. I found peace in whatever craft I could manage, in the careful structure I learned to lay. We all need that. Without that, my early efforts were the wild ravings of a disordered mind. As I put myself together, my two best visual expressions– quite probably amongst my last– came together as compositions that still reach people today. I found a simple, meditative existence in the hard work, and gave up on the obsession completely.
Of course that’s when my wayward obsession showed up and dragged me drunkenly out the door.
I’m far too in love with this madness. I can only thank the stars, thank Father, that my Valentine is too. That we share the fascination with this drive, and the way it seizes me from time to time. That we share the romantic filter that lets us see this as something beautiful, rather than a dire problem eating my mind alive.
That mind was dwindling anyway. It might as well be tasty for a little while.
How I missed this. How grateful I am for the companions who keep me from falling off the earth when I indulge it. I should be embarrassed at the adolescent way I worship these creative impulses. I just forget to be embarrassed, and that’s when it strikes. I forget to long for it, I forget to mourn its absence, I forget to evaluate myself for whether or not I deserve it, I forget to believe it is beyond me, and there it is. It has hold of me, it always has, and it will never let me go.