The kind of bravery I've been thinking about isn't that kind. It's the kind where you feel compelled to do something that maybe isn't the most logical thing you've ever done, but no matter how you try to get around it, it keeps nagging at you. If you asked for others' opinions, they'd suggest some degree of caution.
I've always been cautious. At least, I think I have: as far back as I can remember (admittedly not that far), I haven't been the most adventurous of spirits. Yes, I just snorted right there. I would easily fall onto the "timid" side of the line. No bungee jumping or airplane leaping-out-of or climbing of scarily-high mountains or sticking my head inside the mouths of giant angry reptiles. Maybe not so much timid as just not needing that endorphin rush. For me, the bravery stuff is more internal: knowing what I need to do and doing it. Marrying the love of my life when everyone was adamantly opposed. Quitting my job and going back to school. And then, later, quitting another job to stay home and write. Then smaller-on-the-outiside-but-big-on-the-inside stuff: the tattoos, the hair, giving up make-up and styling products and nail polish and all the things women of my age are supposed to use to hold onto a semblance of attractiveness (while living in the house with a man whom women of all ages still find outrageously attractive).
And the weeding out and purging, the giving away and donating stuff that could have been sold for quite a bit of money, all together. It was easy at first, giving away truckloads of art supplies and tons of clothes I never wore and didn't much like. Then it got harder: thousands of rubber stamps, sets of pens, leather bags, shoes I might someday wear. This last bit has been the hardest by far, and I've realized why this week when thoughts of my mother keep popping into my head, and not in a good way. I realized that in getting rid of letters and photos and jewelry and "keepsakes," I have violated a kind of trust, implicit but no less intimidating: this was stuff my mother saved, some of it all her life. She assumed that someday it would mean as much to me as it had to her and that I would save it all my life, too, and somehow pass it on. Not that it was valuable monetarily, no. But to her, it was important enough to save carefully for decades.
Now, the logical part of my mind knows that this was just stuff and that it meant nothing to me and that it was just taking up space and being a burden in my head: what would happen to it when I was dead? My mother was a very private person, and the idea of letters being Out There would have filled her with disgust. Horror, maybe. Irritation, surely. But my tearing them up and tossing them into recycling? Equally as bad, surely.
So there was this cloud in my head that I hadn't really identified until this week, this cloud of Parental Disapproval. Their real life disapproval—of my hair, my tattoos, my marriage, my lack of financial success—those were easy to deal with because I didn't care. But this imagined disapproval of what I was doing with Their Stuff, never mind that they're both dead? Well, it turned out that it was kind of big, as well as surprising. A part of me seemed to care that I hadn't fulfilled this unspoken pact. I don't like to think of myself as someone who would violate someone's trust in me, omigod.
Well, yikes. Once I realized what was going on in my lizard brain, it got better. It always does, you know? Once you identify what's in there nagging at you from the inside, it's way easier to deal with with the logical part of your brain. At least for me.
One thing I hoped would come from all this adventure, this weeding out and getting rid of, is to make things lighter and freer and more spacious so there would be room for other kinds of things to come in. More ideas, more experiments, more studio adventures, more projects. More who-knows-what.
Here's what I'm thinking: I'm thinking stuff never exists by itself. It always has notions tied to it, or packed away with it in its neat little bins and boxes. Keepsakes carry the memories and old dreams and hopes and sadness of their time. Old clothes carry the flakes of skin and cells from the body that used to wear them, however long ago. Journals hold thoughts and whining, losses and loves. Everything has something attached to it, even if it's only a sense of usefulness, like a cheap ballpoint pen. The more stuff you have surrounding you, the more invisible attachments are propping you up and weighing you down. In getting rid of stuff, I wanted to get rid of all that. That baggage, which is an apt term. I've been wondering what it would be like eventually: would I feel freer, as I hoped? Or would I feel lost, set adrift without anchor? Or would it not even make a difference? I'd be free of the stuff that weighed me down, but I'd also be free of the stuff that propped me up. No tangible history, no familial attachments, no responsibility to Stuff. Whoa.
It's still too soon to know what will happen in the long run, but I'm excited this week by what's happening so far. There's an energy zinging around, and there's the sense that anything is possible. There are things I've wanted to try for a long time—sewing projects that seemed really cool but were daunting in the I-have-now-made-this-completely-unsalvageable sense. When I think of these now, there's less "Omigod, what if I can't make it work?" and more "Who cares? Let's see what happens."
Here's an example, and yes, I know this is all very minor in the larger scheme of things: this is one person playing around with her clothes, and who cares? But it's tied to larger things, I think. So my example. I showed you this:
I love the new color, though:
My brain has been saying that a lot lately: who cares? Who cares about old stuff? Who cares about experiments? Who cares about any of this stuff? Nobody cares, nobody's attached to any possible outcome, nobody cares about any of it. Nobody will be hurt or upset or deprived or disappointed. Nobody cares. So why not? Why not just do it?
It feels weird even writing about this because in a world full of tragedy and huge adventure and exploration and discovery, my own experiments with clothes seem really pedestrian and even, to others, silly and wasteful. But to me, it's a big deal on several levels, one that I hope lasts and grows. Part of it, I'm sure, is the drugs that have dealt with the constant worry about stuff. Part is the purging and getting rid of stuff. Part is an attitude I'm working on, one of willingness to take risks (well, certain kinds of risks; you're not going to find me jumping off of or out of anything in this particular lifetime).
When I talk about freeing up space, there's another aspect: when I'm starting a project (and this can apply to any kind of project), I have to find the stuff I need. In the past, I'd have to dig through bins of stuff or shelves of fabric or drawers of fasteners and weed through stuff that was a horrible color or a cheap fabric or too-old-to-use thread. I'd have stuffed bits of other projects into drawers where they didn't belong and where they made it impossible to find what I was looking for. I could walk to the cabinet where something was supposed to be, but finding it in there took time, and I'd get sidetracked—Oh, look: sequins! Shiny!—and I'd forget what I came there to find and find myself staring into space thinking about how cool sequins would look sewn onto _________ (fill in the blank). This sounds like it might be conducive to creativity, but it wasn't. Because I work at home and have deadlines and do most of my daytime sewing stuff in between sessions of work, moving back and forth, if I'm distracted by Ooooh, shiny!, I'm just distracted, and soon it's time to get back to work.
Anyway, I think I'm done musing about this for today. I know it's completely inconsequential in the larger scheme of the world, but it fascinates me, and I'm hoping it's interesting to some of y'all who might be kind of meandering along the same path. Thanks for reading this far! XO