My latest figurative piece, They Ride Along, portrays a complex woman who is crowded by colorful, expressive faces. The faces represent parts of herself, her stories if you will. The heart of the work reflects some of my recent thoughts and emotions about life as a journey. The other day I saw a video on Facebook of Steve Harvey interviewing Bishop T. D. Jakes. In the video, Bishop Jakes talks about taking a new look at the stories we perpetually tell ourselves about our own lives.
This concept resonated with me because during the last few weeks I’ve been reading my high school journals, remembering who I was in the 1970s and 80s, and how I innately viewed the world. I realized that when I tell myself the story of my youth, it’s always sad and lonely. Over the years, I’ve looked back and focused on the negatives. Reading the hopeful words I chose to write as a teenager made me rethink all those sad memories and lonely stories.
Have you ever reconnected with someone from your past who remembers you very differently than you remember yourself? This has happened to me numerous times over the last few years. I began to realize that they perceived me differently than how I perceived my teenage self. Over the years, I became so entrenched in the negative stories I told myself that I developed a distorted image of myself as a young girl.
There’s no doubt that large chunks of truth can be found in what we remember and tell ourselves, but there may be another side to the story that we’ve thrown away.
I don’t want to bury the best parts of my story or myself anymore. Part of being a successful complex woman is embracing not only what we learn from the battles we’ve fought and the pain we’ve overcome, but also the successes we’ve enjoyed. The friends and laughter; the adventures and shining brilliant moments; and the pure love we experienced despite the crushing heartache that may have come later.
So what does this have to do with my painting? Well, this woman is fearful of the faces or stories she carries, yet she recognizes that they’re part of her. She can choose to see them as scary clownish ghouls getting in her way, or uniquely beautiful creatures that support her, that provide overwhelming proof of all the colors that make her magnificent.
Like you, I have a lot of stories. From now on, I want to remember and embrace the totality of each amazing experience I’ve had. The teenage girl who chose to take the time to fill pages of journal after journal with good intentions; positive observations about her friends and family; and wonderfully insightful comments about every boy she admired during her boy-crazy years. She wrote a lot about God and His will. She wrote about compassion and forgiveness. She wrote of hopes and dreams of creating a life of substance even when she didn’t really know how. She was smart and friendly although, like many teens, sometimes awkward and miscalculating. In the end, she was hardest on herself. She was a kind-hearted girl who became a little bit darker with each break in her young, adventurous heart.
She wrote of her mother’s advice in bold letters, “BE MORE FEMININE AND ALWAYS LET BOYS WIN,” and tried so hard to fit that cultural mold when all she could possibly do was be her best self.