I’m not much for keeping a journal. I’ve tried. If I gathered together all the journals I’ve started, it might fill a small library. There’s something about a fresh, new journal. The crisp binding, the clean page, the pristine smell. And then I write in it. Two pages is my average. By the time I hit the third page, it feels like the first scratch on a new car. I get agitated and stop writing. The worst part is that I can’t use the journal for anything else. Do I tear out those pages and start over? The ragged torn out binding bugs me. Do I just leave the pages? I could draw and collage over them but that’s not my style. What happens if someone finds my aborted journals? That’s been the most frustrating of all my attempts at journaling because it makes me wonder who am I really writing for? Me or an audience?
The fact is I’m not interested in recording my personal story in this way.
When Christine Martell asked me last year to participate in a collaborative show about personal narrative and visual memoir, I was intrigued and at the same time thought,“Good grief! I’m a total failure at recording my story. I can’t keep a written journal or a series of sketchbooks that span the years. How could I possibly tell my story? What story would I tell? A section of my life? My whole life?” It made me itchy. I already stepped out of my comfort zone last year when I gave a TEDx talk about Untangling the Stories Beliefs and Behaviors that Bind. I shared some deeply personal things that are now permanently etched on the internet. But then I recalled how that experience led me to recognize that I share my stories and my concepts best through metaphor.
Of course, I love a good challenge so I said yes to the show.
My work with untangling, spirals and scribbles as metaphor for Self continued while I considered what I would create for Beyond the Story. I knew I wouldn’t be telling a linear story about a part of my life. I knew I wanted to delve deeper into what makes us tick as humans. I knew I wasn’t done working with lines.
So, I decided to explore memory. What is memory? When can you identify that a memory has taken root? Is it a memory when you’re standing there at the moment of an event you’re experiencing? Or, is it a memory when you first recall that event? How do you know which memories to keep and which aren’t worth retaining? When is a memory triggered? How come sounds and smells powerfully spark memory?
Have you ever compared memories with a sibling or close friend? I’ve heard many stories about siblings around the same age, living in the same bedroom and telling completely different stories about their experience. You see it all the time in detective shows, two witnesses have different stories. What compels us to edit our memories and build the stories we tell? Is it a conscious decision or automatic?
Which leads me to the creation of story. When does a story begin? Is a memory the kernel for a story? Does the story you tell create new memories? When does someone else’s story influence our own? Do we purposefully change our stories so they fit our world view better? Can we change our lives by changing our stories? Does rewriting your story make life better or worse? When do you decide that the story you’re hearing or you’re telling yourself is total bullshit? Can retelling your story rewrite your memory?
The other day, I was driving past Franz Bakery. The smell of fresh baked bread filled that corner of Couch and NE 11th Ave and I was immediately taken to my favorite first grade field trip with Mrs. Wells at Ainsworth Elementary. It was visceral. It tugged at my belly and I could feel the little, hot loaf of bread in my hands and the sticky, school bus seat tugging at my upper arms. Within a millisecond, the story began. “Oh yeah, I remember that field trip. My second favorite field trip was to the crater at Mt. Tabor. I remember Mrs. Wells. I had her for first and third grade. I remember missing the lunch bell and staying out on the playground too long and being too scared to walk into class late so I hung out in the bathroom…” The words kept coming but the initial memory, that moment of memory impact had passed as the story took over.
My friend, sound artist and developer, Matt Blair, says memories are story generating engines. I’m not sure which comes first, the memory or the story. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s just the cycle of story telling. Either way, I’ve decided I can’t have a story without a memory. I can’t begin to build, refine or rewrite a story without a memory.
As a result, I’ve created a series of encaustic paintings that are metaphors for the memories that create a story. I’ve also incorporated sound into the show since they are effective catalysts for memory. I wanted to include smells but since this show will be in the Hillsboro Public Library, smells aren’t allowed. Matt will be composing the soundscape which was recorded by each of the participating artists, adding another dimension of experience to the show.
The show runs from September 5 through October 30, 2014. The public is invited to an opening celebration with the artists on September 7 from 2 – 5 PM. The artists will host a panel and discussion about the work at 3:00 PM.
Even though I don’t keep a formal journal or sketch book, I do have a visual memoir of my personal story through the art I make…and my stories are told in metaphor.