I never really understood art as a kid. It wasn’t really something my family was into. We didn’t go to art shows, or musical theater, or museums. Modern art was trash, proof humanity had gone awry.
Now I should give myself more credit. I experienced some art. I did listen to some music. I enjoyed very realistic art. I consumed the art that my black and white world could observe and point to and label what made it good. “Here are songs and words and themes about ‘Merica.” (= good music) “Here is a really detailed painting of a person that’s done so well it looks like a photograph.” (= good painting.)
But there was no emotion, no vulnerability, no heart, no A-R-T.
I spent my sophomore year of college in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There I had a humanities professor, Rafael Sassot, who would just ramble and ramble and ramble, on and on and on. He talked so. slowly. And he talked so. broadly. About all these human movements. About the collective “human experience.” I didn’t understand the jargon. And I didn’t care to. I was a biology major. Tell me what facts I need to pass the test, to pass the class.
The nine months I spent in Argentina were the most uncomfortable I had known. I was in a country, on a continent, in a land that spoke a language —all that I did not know. I didn’t have cell service. I didn’t have my car. I didn’t have a beach that I could pretend I found my destiny in. I had a massive city with subways and buses and skyscrapers that went block after block. I had sidewalks that were chipped and misshapen, always half in construction.
The friendships I developed during those nine months were different than all the other friendships I had known. I was there with about 60 other Americans. I didn’t get along with everyone at first. Some people really annoyed me. Some people I didn’t understand. I labeled them as “this person” or “that".” But that year, by the end, after being shoved in the same buildings and buses for nine months, I got to know them. I knew their pasts, their stories. I knew where they came from and where they wanted to go. By the end, they weren’t “this person” or “that.” They were Meghan and Bri and Sarah. They were Jacob and Cal and Zach.
When I left Argentina, A-R-T made sense. I noticed that. It moved my body. It moved my insides. It made me feel things I didn’t know could be felt. It made me feel, just in general.
Being in that place with those people, ripped me open. In what I thought I was learning about other places, other people, I was actually learning about myself.
It taught me that even I am not perfect, even if I am not identical to whatever standard of a perfect person I set myself to be, I could be loved and cared for and be worthy of being in the same space as someone else —that I could be out from behind the cinder block pole.
It taught me that maybe I could be like that sidewalk, chipped and misshapen, half in construction —but still there and still doing.
And maybe I could go into those parts of myself I don’t know. Those parts that I scare me, that include strange jargon. Those places that make me human, not robot. And that maybe my doing that weaves me into every other person who has done that as well.
I visited a college friend’s home for the first time three summers ago. Zoe grew up on New York’s Long Island, born to a family of artists, abstract impressionists to be exact. Her grandfather was friends with Jackson Pollock. They painted together.
That first summer, Zoe picked me up at JFK airport, we strolled around NYC for the day, and then drove out to the end of Long Island that night. I had no idea her family were artists. We talked about it the entire two hour drive home.
Zoe told me that a foundational change for art, particularly for painting, was the invention of the photograph. For all of human history, painting was the means to depict material reality. Now the photograph did that. And so the photograph freed painting. It allowed it to depict that beyond what was materially there. It gave it permission to absorb the full human experience: emotion, form, question, rumbling, concern, heart, movement, joy.
That week Zoe gave me a full lesson on art. I caught up on the 22 years I had missed. She took me into her father’s basement and showed me stack after stack of paintings. I began to get it.
A massive 5’ by 12’ painting hung over her dad’s kitchen table. The canvas was untouched, entirely blank, except for a few strokes of light gray concrete plaster in one of the corners. I think before I would have thought, “Oh. That’s a bunch of crap. It’s literally two smears of concrete (not even paint!!!) that a three-year old could have done.”
But what actually happened, is that I stood there, and I got it. “Oh. That’s a painting about becoming. A becoming that you can barely see (because the concrete almost disappeared on the white canvas,) but that is still there. A becoming that shows defiance to what is suppose to be (because it’s not even paint, it’s concrete,) but is still becoming whatever it is meant to be.”
In that moment, that painting was no longer wood and cloth and concrete raised on a wall. It was me. It made all the parts of me click together. It made them zap together. It made them light up and feel grounded and feel known.
I felt it in my body.
The last few years has a been story of my heart finally getting blood. It’s been me learning that we are more spirit than flesh. That in the paraphrased words of Pema Chodron, we are spiritual beings have a human experience, not the other way around.
It makes sense that as I came to know and to trust and hold the heart parts of me, that I grew in courage to live out and to share and to write about my sexuality. I learned that the spirit parts of me, the things swirling around in the air, are real. More real than the physical. That they are worth talking about. Worth putting words to.
I learned to connect to that thing in my chest, that place where I find the most me, that place the Divine resides, the place It resides inside all of us.
As I’ve opened myself up, I’ve found the world to be more alive and more on my side and more interwoven than before I was taught. I feel my place in it. And I feel everyone else’s. I see the space that exists for all of us.
The past couple years have been far from a walk in the park. This month alone has thrown me for a loop. Who knew digging up and writing about all the pained parts of my past and then sharing them on all of my social medias would make me feel raw and vulnerable, like I’m going to just poof into no existence, makes me shove myself into a ball in the corner of my room.
Now I know that.
I wanted this series to be uplifting and inspirational and something that would convince all the closeted queers that being out is fabulous and that they should do it, and convince all the non-affirming people to be affirming. But instead I wrote about my trust issues, and toilets, and how I spent most of post-pubescent life hoping I would die.
I don’t have control over the stories that well up in my chest to be told. I just tell the stories I am given, live the ones tapped on my fingertips. Anything less would be manipulation of reality. Anything less would not be A-R-T.
And I know that I would trade nothing for what I have. I may feel sad and hopeless and pained at times. Sometimes a lot of times. But because of those things I know what joy and hope and pleasure are. I know what it means to be alive, fully alive, fully open and fully receiving all this spiritual world has to provide.
Sadness, apathy, pain. Joy, hope, and pleasure — all are parts of this human experience, the movement of our cultures and ourselves through time.
And I know that vulnerability and courage are contagious. That they go out and infect everyone around. Just like they infected me.
I wrote this poem while driving the other day, while listening to one of my fav queer musicians Sam Smith, while reflecting on what I’ve given up; how I’ve changed; how wonderful, magical, amazing my life is.
What I’ve traded for it is the poem in my mind
the breathe I lose
when I see a child smile
the breathe I lose when I dream
The way a song dances in my head
twirls between my ears
is heard with a fullness
that was never know before
The way the words of friend
Light up all of my insides
sit in my chest
rest in my belly
causes dances in my toes
Those things I did not know before
Those things are why I’ve given up
why I’ve opened up
why I give away the stories I used to keep in myself
Because now I know.