Today's rumination is about love. At this moment, my god daughter, whom I love, is preparing to celebrate her 3rd birthday a day early. I am at home, in my former studio, because love sometimes also means self preservation. I started this painting a week or so ago on Instagram live. I was listening to music, lots of love songs from different genres, to help me keep the vibe in the realm of love, which Instagram doesn't like, so I had to go live twice. No big deal. I had a grand idea of what this piece was supposed to do. It was supposed to be captivating, thought provoking, evocative, emotional. It was supposed to move you. And me. Me first because I was the one birthing it. But also definitely you.
I'm jumping ahead of myself here. I need to start with the part wherein I decided to show the world some of my process. I have railed against this idea of productivity for profit and "hustle and grind" culture for a few years now, but I have also been told time after time that people want to see me create. I don't necessarily like to share my creative process. Part of that is because of, and you'll have to trust me on this one, the trials of Phillis Wheatley. Wheatley's work was widely scrutinized and questioned by (among others) Thomas Jefferson, the details of whose critique I will spare you. Such undue and unnecessary criticism by (arguably) underqualified individuals resonates in the now concluded publicly broadcasted confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. I need to make this explicit, I am in no way attempting to compare my art to Wheatley's poetry or Jackson's achievement. What I am saying is, there is a part of me that shies away from sharing my creative process because, at it's core, it is an act of love. And love is one of the most vulnerable states any person can navigate. Every part of my existence, including the most sacred parts, can and will be scrutinized by virtue of my race and gender expression, and most of the time, I'm not bothered by it because it's par for the course, but, this thing, this creativity, this birthing process, does not lend itself to that kind of openness. Meaning, I protect that part of me with all that I have, and I don't know if sharing it demeans it.
Keep in mind that I'm an artist, and I'm sensitive about my shit.- Erykah Badu
But the draw to share is there. And I know myself, so I knew that the more I thought about doing it, the more I'd be able to convince myself that doing it, creating content based on my creative process, was something I should absolutely not do. Because of that vulnerability. Because what if no one wanted to see it. What if no one watched the live? What if no one engaged with the reels or the TikToks? What if no one liked what I was doing? What if they said mean things to me, as people are wont to do these days?
What if my love wasn't enough?
Let me be clear here, I love love. I love being in love. I love the love amongst chosen family. I have a desire to know love in as many iterations as I can during my human experience. But I also want to know that my love is enough, and I'm the only one who can teach me that lesson. I just so happen to be an incredible teacher.
I set the stage. I turned all the lights on in my kitchen. My old, outdated, poorly lit kitchen. I set up my iPad and my iPhone on tripods and prepared my supplies. I had on a hoodie, and in short order regretted my need to hide behind hoodies because I began to sweat. A lot. I don't get nervous when I paint. I only got nervous twice as a professor. I rarely got nervous as a bartender. I wasn't nervous doing public speaking or any of the kinds of activities that should've made me shake. But pressing that button, putting my process on display for everyone or no one, made my hands quiver so much I thought I wouldn't be able to paint anything but squiggly lines.
But I love to paint. That line is low hanging fruit. But it's true, so I'm keeping it. I love the feel of a paint heavy brush dancing across a blank canvas. I love the frustration of running out of a specific color, or briefly losing the vision of the piece and having to find it again, or find another one. I love the anticipation in waiting as paint dries. I love the part at the end, when it's all over, and the piece is completed, and another waits to be born. I love when I question the unquestionable, the why and the how of creation, the why and how of inspiration. The why and the how of my life. Why am I creative? How did I end up here?
So I finished it. The live. I shut everything down, went upstairs, took a shower, and went to bed. The next day I didn't touch the painting. I didn't think about it. I hadn't really made it a focus until today, almost a week later. And the reason I'm doing it now is because I'm thinking very deeply about love in this moment. I'm thinking, as I paint, about love. How it has the propensity to hide in shadowy places. How it can be elusive and coy. How it seems, at times, to be so bold and brazen but is secretly wanting. How it can be so blindingly bright and then fade or be washed out like a bad dye job. How it lights up eyes and tears at hearts and makes the soul a ravenous addict only satiated by more and more and more until there is no more, at which point it makes of itself the antidote, the comforter, the resting place. How do I capture that?
How do I take that mystery and unfold it such that you, but first I, can see it? How can I make us feel it? What's the color scheme? What's the design? What is the shape? How do I answer these questions when I don't feel love(d) (ing) (able)?