I have just tidied my studio, and I am still standing. It’s strange the way creative blocks sneak up on us—and the way they manifest. My chaotic studio was likely at least part of the reason why my work had been becoming more and more aggressive. And no doubt the chaos of my studio and work was part of why, in the end, I simply stopped painting.
But why the block in making it right? Fear, I suppose.
Fundamentally, I’m afraid I am breakable. I think that’s why so many of my perceptual abnormalities were frightening for so long—not because of the content of the hallucinations and delusions, but because I was afraid I would break. Paradoxically, I am still afraid of that—that I haven’t yet seen the worst my mind can produce—though I now see my perceptual abnormalities as messages from a usually quiet part of my mind, in a similar way that dreams can be.
But why should cleaning my studio break me? Because in my studio I have collected mementos and treasures and artifacts that remind me of who I am and what I have been. They remind me also of broken dreams and thwarted aspirations, big failures and little triumphs. In short, my studio is a mausoleum of my past. I cannot let these things go, though. There’s that thing in all of us that makes us keep pressing the wound even though we know it will hurt. But also, there’s some deep understanding that if I can be strong enough to hold it all in my mind all at once, all these facets of who I was and of what I’ve become, that I will somehow find a deeper and more lasting release from suffering.
So, I tidied my studio, and I am still standing.
I feel subtly different now from how I felt before, but in general it is a more positive feeling. My worst fear has not come to pass. I have seen my father’s boots in the corner and I did not break. I have found the handprint in plaster of my second child from when she was five months old, and I did not fall apart. I have managed to organize my paintings, chronicling my progress before and since my breakdown, and I did not feel sick. I even set out my collections of stone and shell, sea glass and driftwood, mineral deposits and pine resin drips, as well as my oldest collection of all, decorated eggs of wood, shell, and glass. Each of those artifacts represents a moment of understanding my connection to all other things in the universe. They are spiritual objects in that sense, objects with incredible power, though, in fact, they are the humblest of things.
My collection is beautiful. It reminds me that I have always been drawn to forgotten things, to strong things worn down by time, to delicate things requiring attentive care. It alights the wise part of my heart that understands that everything is impermanent, that peace is in simplicity. And somehow it is an affirmation that I am more and less than I think I am. That what I fear is merely an illusion. That I am not so different from a river rock.