Thursday, June 28, 2018

Not an Elevator Speech

The gallery was filled with people when we entered the Jewish Artists' Lab exhibition. The theme is Crossing the Threshold, a topic that resonates deeply with me. I believe much of life is about our journey across new thresholds as we explore new aspects of the world and of ourselves. As I milled around the room, I was posed a question by a fellow artist. “What do you do when you aren’t painting?” 

Most of the time painting takes up a very small segment of my overall time. Even if I count all my time at the studio, I probably spend a big chunk of that time contemplating what and how I am going to paint. Or painting over my first attempts. Often I am working on other projects. Then I paint a bit and study it from across the room as I contemplate the next step. Hmm, not much to talk about in my painting life right now so I switch directions. 

“I am presenting on my book and beginning to work on a new book,” I replied. Much of my time this year has been focused on talks on immigration that relate to my book.

“Oh, what is the new book about,” I was asked. In that moment I realized I had stepped into a quagmire. I had no elevator speech. I am still discovering what it is about. Writing, at least the kind I do, is about discovery, not too unlike painting. That’s why it is hard to talk about at this stage. I need to allow myself the room to find my way and sometimes I need to be patient with my bumbling around in the dark. I've found that is a part of the process of artwork of any form. That's why they call it creating. We start without knowing where we are going. For most of us that is a bit scary and we need to learn to trust that we'll find our way. Sometimes it is a direction we never anticipated and we need to be patient with the process. It is very much about crossing thresholds into the unknown.

The truth is I’m still weeding through my lived experience to discover if there is a book in it or a series of essays. We live, we experience, we distill and we shape it into a form to share with others. I use both artwork and writing to do that. It is a long process. Sometimes someone asks me how long a painting takes. Do I start my count with the experience that underlies it?

I continued to contemplate that original question. What is it about? Later I started to write a series of sentences beginning with what it is or is not about.  I actually found that very useful in considering my topic (s).  Some may form whole chapters while others are sub-points, but all were important parts of the experience.  Here's what I came up with:

It is about my relationship with my sister, a relationship that bloomed late in life around a shared purpose.
It is about working together with her and accommodating our different personalities and skills.
It is about how amazingly different siblings can be, even in the same family.
It is about my love for my mother in all its iterations. 
It is about how different people know different parts of the same person, each with a unique relationship.
It is about the way relationships change and adapt as circumstances change.
It is about being present in the moment.
It is about finding the meaning in an experience.
It is about finding the essence of a person despite the guise.
It is about partnering.
It is about ceding control.
It is about taking control.
It is about stepping up.
It is about living, dying, letting go and cherishing.
It is about living so we don’t have regrets.
It is about finding another person housed within us.
It is about seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
It is about loving the whole, but also the parts.
It is not about Alzheimer’s, although that is part of the lived experience, but it doesn't overshadow the person.
It may be in part about my father, but I’m not sure yet.
It is about finding and loving the person trapped in the fog.
It is about the human experience.
It is about discovering who you are as you learn about who your parents were. 
It is about understanding the world through story.
It is about a book that I would want to read.

Not exactly an elevator speech, is it? Or perhaps it requires a very long elevator ride.

And if you are in Minneapolis, stop by the Tychman-Shapiro Gallery at the Sabes JCC to see the exhibition. It is up through August 23, 2018.

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