Making Light

The spaces in between two minds, and all the places they have been. I try to put my finger on it; I think I might have inhaled you...

Trauma has two definitions - the psychological and the medical. I find it interesting to note that "a deeply distressing or disturbing experience" is listed before "physical injury." Damage of the mind trumps bodily harm here.

I have not really been creating things for the last year. I've largely been thinking - pondering - stewing - witnessing. Residing in my mind, learning the nooks and crannies of it. In the last week, I've had a startling number of random thoughts suddenly stitch themselves together, and it's given me juicier things to sink my mind-teeth into... and coherent things to say.

I'm taking an art history class this term. Considering how much I absolutely detested the first art history class I ever took, I'm shocked at how much I've loved taking it now. But I do love it; I like the way I am challenged to think about art as much as I enjoy the ability to see art that is new to me. I find pieces of myself in pieces of art others before me have created, and in movements that others have built. I find myself continually inspired, even when discussing art that I don't particularly care for. So I keep coming back for more. In this term, we are specifically studying examples of non-Western art through film. This was the first week; we have been mostly discussing how to discuss things. As Western thinkers, we have to recognize that we approach all non-Western art with a decidedly Western framework for reference. In recognizing this, how do we work to see and understand what another culture has created?

HG Blocker states that "Art is an English word which we are trying to impose on an alien culture." My professor added that because we are who we are - because we have been conditioned by our own frame of reference - we cannot truly understand what is Other from us. We can never truly balance our bias because it is still us doing the looking.

Words can be like knives - they can cut you open. And then the silence surrounds you, and haunts you... My traumas are a range of experiences, solidly following the definition that lists psychological harm first. And in this context, because I am the one who has experienced these traumas, I will approach them and react to them differently than anyone else who might encounter the same trauma, or hear of my trauma. Even a therapist will approach my trauma differently because I am me, and they are them. Our framework determines what it is we see and understand.

In class, it was remarked that language is the largest medium. We view the world through the lens of the language we speak, all the connotations it carries tucked beneath its proper definitions. How on Earth are we to ever speak accurately on something that has to be translated? What even is accuracy? Is there accuracy in art? Is it important to be accurate? So many questions bubbling up, and they all focus on how to be right or correct - markedly American thoughts, in my opinion.

I am a big fan of Amanda Palmer. I read her blog, I listen to her music, I follow her art projects, I donate to her Patreon. Emily gifted me the experience of going to an Amanda Palmer show. I even got to hug the goddess herself, twice. One of the things I like best about Amanda is that despite her community seeming larger than life, she is so laser focused on being a human (and not a celebrity) that even as she plays to a crowd of thousands, she also sees you, individually, and connects with you in as raw and real a way as possible. She's not everyone's cup of tea. But nobody is everybody's cup of tea.

Amanda has also experienced a range of deeply distressing or disturbing things. And while I may never truly be able to step into her frame of reference and understand her traumas the way she does, Amanda does something impressively inspiring: Amanda uses art as architecture, creating a space for you to try stepping out of your own framework and borrowing someone else's. Amanda has taken her traumas and from them, crafted a cloak. And then she leaves that cloak on the hook by your door, and you can borrow it any time that you like. And sure, it's hers, but now it's also kind of yours.

I could feel you behind my eyes. You've gotten into my bloodstream - I can feel you flowing in me. Radical compassion. That's Amanda's focus. Be as human as you can - bring your you-ness to the table of humanity and add to the pile. And once you're there, look around at all the other versions of human. Sometimes, somebody's version of human is monstrously evil. That sucks. But do we get to revoke their place at the human table? Or do we, in true radical fashion, provide compassion for them? Humans kill other humans. Humans hurt other humans. Sometimes humans hurt themselves. And sometimes, humans go into the world and make it better. Do we focus on how we are different, or how we are the same?

Art as a word might be English. Other cultures might not even have a word that means what Art means here. But honestly, we don't even really know what Art means here yet. We're still teasing the definition out, because we are all individually coming to Art with our own internal architecture, our own language, our own humanity.

As this is my blog and I am me, I think Art has two definitions, much like trauma. Art has a psychological and a physical meaning. And I think the only way to know what words belong in that definition is to go and make the damn Art.

At Amanda's Portland show (the second one, which was apparently the better one) she commented on the general reaction to her song "Oasis." The song is a ridiculously upbeat, poppy, ironic affair that talks about a girl who is date-raped and gets an abortion but she doesn't care because her favorite band has sent her an autographed photo in the mail. The general reaction was strongly negative and people were refusing to play it because the song made light of rape. Amanda's rebuttal was simple: That is literally the job of art. Art is supposed to go into the darkness and make light. Art shines a beacon on the things that hurt us. Art, and radical compassion, enter the dark and bring the light with them. Art meets us where we are. "I mean, art is art. Everything's fair game. The whole point of being an imaginative, creative artist is that you are allowed to think and create outside of your own specific realm of experience. And if every artist was limited to the palate of their own experiences, art would be incredibly boring."

Trauma, even the type that occurs on the mass level such as a shooting or a flood, is largely isolating. You experience it in your own way, because you're you, and then you exist with the memory of it, alone. Trauma is a big word. It's a scary word. It comes with other words like injury and trigger, things that make us want to avert our eyes. Trauma is not something you stand witness to. It lurks in the dark behind our backs, behind our tightly shut eyelids.

I have been seeing a therapist. They have amended my diagnosis. I have strongly identified as an anxious-depressive person for years, but clinically, I have PTSD - post-traumatic stress disorder. I also have ADHD - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Words like anxiety and depression are more familiar and have more casual language surrounding them. They are, in essence, more relatable because most people experience a little anxiety or a little depression every so often. Nobody experiences a little trauma. It's a Bigger, Darker thing.

So now my damaged mind is explained with acronyms. My framework is being exposed, and we're finding that my internal architecture is less hospitable than expected. No wonder it's difficult for others to understand my emotional intensity, or my eclectic approach to things - my framework is not a comfortable place for others to visit. My language has more scary words in it than I realized. I hold more dark within than I knew.

The only thing I can think to do is to go into my dark and make light. I may have larger cracks than I expected, but according to Amanda, there are cracks in everything. That's how the light gets in. Wake up, look me in the eyes again. I need to feel your hand upon my face. I think I might have inhaled you...

xo, Cate

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