This is a self-portrait. The fire and ice at opposite ends from each other represent bipolar, two painful extremes; the extremes of my emotions described by temperature. The blue circles are thoughts floating in my peripheral vision, and the green lines dripping from the top are depression seeping into me. This is the second self-portrait I’ve painted. The first looked very different: I had short, purple hair at the time, wore a nose ring, and was ten years younger. I lost that painting in a move, and missed having a portrait. I felt I had more to say now about how I feel than I did at twenty, and I was pleased when this painting came out to be something that I felt represented me effectively.
When I was twenty and in my second year living the bipolar life I took a trip to Los Angeles with my parents to visit family. As I’ve said before, traveling guarantees episodes. Combine that with family discord, and it’s going to be a hard day. As a family activity we chose to take my angry and aggressive grandmother to the aquarium in Long Beach. We packed five adults into a mid-sized rental sedan and made the hour and a half drive. By the time we got there, no one was happy, and I was slipping in between reality and my own world.
I love aquariums, and being near water, even water behind glass, was comforting. There was one hallway full of different types of jellyfish. I took picture after picture, and they glowed in the flash. When I got home from the trip, I looked at those pictures over and over. Those jellyfish had brought beauty into an ugly world that day. I was fascinated. I painted this as an expression of gratitude for the glowing, bobbing, inspiring jellyfish that quieted my mind and gave me a few minutes of peace.
Isabelle the Guitar
If you sing or play an instrument and you’re feeling bad, try picking it up and playing just a little. I think of my guitar as a friend. I started playing at thirteen and it has always been deeply therapeutic. I love that I can cry and play at the same time and it doesn’t matter how I sound. The deep breathing required for singing is very much like the deep breathing from sobbing, and it soothes either way. My guitar’s name is Isabelle, and she’s purple. The quote around her is from a book called “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell. It reads: “It may come from beyond us, without any provocation, or from within us, evoked by music or by a sleeping child. If we open our hearts at such moments, creation reveals itself to us in all its unity and fullness.” The music I make brings me into the moment, where creation reveals itself to me. There is no better place than that.
Mindfulness practices originate from Buddhism, but they’ve become trendy in America recently. Ancient meditation techniques have been re-branded as Mindfulness. These techniques are designed to connect you with the present moment exactly as it exists right now. It’s the “Be Here Now” idea. There are lots of ways to achieve this state. You can pick an entry point by focusing on one thing, like an object or your breath, and really noticing everything you can about it. Once you’re in wonder at that one thing, you can expand your awareness to the other things around you. I like to expand until I can see my place in endless existence. It’s a wonderful feeling. It feels sacred. This painting is what I see when I experience mindfulness. It’s the focus that expands ever outward in beautiful ripples of meaning and meaninglessness.
Right Brain, Left Brain
This is right, brain, left brain, and the moment flowing out from in between. The lines, boxes, and angles on the right side are meant to reflect the left brain, which works on logistics like math and language, and is expressed in the right side of the body. The colorful curves on the left mean right brain, which is musical, creative, and the origin of flow state. In the middle there is a mighty outpouring of water coming from my symbol of the present moment and mindfulness: the yellow and blue ripple.
Some paintings come from images in my head, but most are symbols that flow outward. Unlike the goldfish paintings, this is one that I could see clearly in my mind, with one specific meaning; longing. There was so much pain in my life at the time that I painted this that I wanted anything but the present. Nothing made me happy. I yearned to be close to my loved ones until I was with them, and then I yearned to be alone. The clarifying moment that birthed this idea was me, out of my mind and crying on the floor, longing with all of myself to be close to my fiancé. This is what longing looks like to me.
This is my fiance’s beautiful, piercing blue eye, and surrounding it are the events of our second year together. The summertime water below is from my favorite place in the world, a tiny piece of property called Krause Springs. To me, Krause Springs is the best place in the world, and I even use it as my safe space in EMDR and as a self-calming visualization. The water is there is gentle and deep, and in the painting there is an inner tube bobbing a lazy bob. The roses were from our anniversary in the April, and the purple underneath means royalty, because he treated me like a princess that day. The moon has a halo around it, the same as the night I was outside crying (who knows why: sometimes crying just happens) and he found me and held me for a long time. We watched the moon and didn’t speak. There was no need. The goldfish is me surrounded by hopeful green. The fire and ice were winter, his fireplace and the icicles on my roof. The Christmas tree (you guessed it) is just a Christmas tree. I’ve always been very attached to Christmas trees; they’re my favorite thing about the season. The leaves were mindful moments in the fall, and the circle comes back to summer.