Something about change.

I write about art here, but I am going to digress a bit and write about love and grief and change. These things are of course inextricably wound around and through the process of art making, but they exist autonomously as well, and it’s best not to let one stand in for the other. Which is to say, my art is about me, where I am, what I’ve lost, who I love, what I want. It’s about other things too, about making shapes and colours do things that make something that feels real to me, more real than real, more real than a table or a baby or a house. But that’s not everything. Part of life is going to bed and waking up and walking the dog and making supper.

As I have mentioned, as everyone who knows me knows, my partner died last year. As I have mentioned, as everyone knows who knows me knows, that death has been a source of inestimable suffering for everyone who loved Tim; for me, yes, but also for his brothers and his sisters in law and his niece and nephews and his mother and his father and his many close friends and for the theatre community and for the Barkerville community and for the world, I think, insofar as it cares about beautiful fierce people and their fine minds and luminous talents. He’s gone and he’s not coming back, and I will miss him forever and so say we all.

As I have mentioned, as everyone who knows me knows, I coped with the immediate aftermath to the best of my limited ability by making paintings. There’s another post about that here, and I won’t go into it again. I cope with everything by making paintings. Every single thing. Tim wrote, I paint, fish swim, birds fly, dung beetles roll dung. Thus has it ever been, world without end, right up until it ends.

And here’s a thing about grief. You read this in inspiring articles and in Facebook posts, but it also happens to be true. You find it woven into the fabric of your body and your soul. It gets into your cells. It bloats them a bit; if you looked at them under a microscope they would be wider than the cells of a person who has not experienced loss. Not quite plantlike, but not fully animal. You would see something there that would remind you that you are made of the same stuff as other, longer lived organisms, organisms that grow out of death. You take it in, inhale it, and it makes a home with you and eventually you get to understand that it’s not a parasite, but a symbiote. You realize one day that you have a greater capacity for pain, that you can take on more, that you can love more. It just happens. I don’t know exactly how, but it does.

And here is another thing about grief: Everybody you know has a plan for you. People love you and they want you to feel better. People love you and they want you to move on. Or they want you to sink lower. Or they want you to cry more, cry less, take more time, get on with things. They want you to do what they think they would do. They want you to show them how they will be mourned in the event of their own deaths: they want you to grind to a halt, to give up, to go a little bit crazy, to waste away. They want your hair to turn white, they want to see you transformed by grief. They also want you to show them that it will be alright when it happens to them, that they too can survive unimaginable pain, that it’s not such a great leap to make, that there’s such a thing as hope, that one can move on, take charge, have control. People want these things, to greater or lesser degrees, sometimes simultaneously. And to greater or lesser degrees, sometimes simultaneously, all these things are true of grief. They just don’t look the way one might wish they would.

When time reasserts itself, when you feel like laughing, when you’re mad about something petty and unrelated to death, when you feel like fucking someone new, when you fall in love, when you look at a bird or a cloud or a tree without seeking some sign of your dead loved one, you inevitably experience a moment of guilt. How can I be happy about THIS, mad about THIS, how can I want something that isn’t produced by my dead person? Is it too soon?

And here is what I think about that. It is always going to be too soon. It is always too soon to lose the loved people. It is always too soon to face a future that does not contain them. It is always too soon to be broken and lost and without traction in the world. Life happens suddenly. It’s always too soon to stand up, it’s always too soon to fall in love, it’s always too soon to keep living. You do it though. Your cells compel you. The bacteria in your gut compel you. Your children if you have them, your job, God knows your bills compel you. And you do. You fuck somebody new, and if you’re lucky you fall in love. You look at the bird without wishing it would change form.

People who also loved your beloved dead person will feel betrayed in a way they won’t be able to name.

It doesn’t matter. Life is what it is.

If you make art, if you’ve spoken about the part of your art making that is the product of sorrow, you will surely be kept in that box. When you make joyful work, that will be backlit by the sadness.

It doesn’t really matter either. We make what we make, and beauty has all sorts of things in it, some of which are terrible and some of which are joyful.

I know a lot of people who are losing beloved people. I know one person in particular who is losing her own life. I don’t know what to do about it, except to say you won’t be one thing or the other, but you will be yourself. You’ll lose too much and it will change you. And whatever it does to change you is what the sea does to the shore, and that’s alright.

9 Responses

  1. Your words are so beautiful. I’ve always hated how people watch the spectacle of grief unfold as though it were a movie. We know why they do it – because of all the reasons you stated here. But grief is such a personal thing, it should never be up to anyone else to decide how it manifests itself. And though you may feel guilty for moving on and for getting better at putting your loved ones to the back of your mind, it never means you love them less.

    1. Thank you, Jillanne. I think we don’t know what to do with grief- we watch other people to try to get a fix on it. I have recently become aware that part of my job as a parent, a big part, is to teach my children to grieve. So much that’s angry and hurt in the world stems from it. It’s hard to be brave but it’s necessary.

  2. I missed our exchanges at Books and Company for over a year – I had no idea what had happened, I watched orders pilling in for you and yours and was dumbfounded.

    I am so sorry for your loss and so happy you are living and creating.

    Thank you for sharing – grief is so alienating, for everyone, always.

    Momentum looks different for all of us. You are missed and loved.

    1. Oh, wow, Taron. How wonderful to hear from you. I was just in PG and popped by books and co. There were no familiar faces- it felt awfully strange. Thank you so much for getting in touch with me here. I am really, really touched. Thank you.

  3. I’ve had this bookmarked for a while. Without knowing it, reading this today, gave me what I needed.

    I love Tim. Tim loves you. We love each other. It is organic. Then, your process, your eye, your heart, your grief, your painting, you, drew me in.

    Your words have kept me, ever since, ever more.

    I love you.

  4. Thank you for this. I have been dancing with grief for the last year, and now I want to carry your words with me as I unpack all the gifts I have been left with.

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