I once tried to be something that I wasn’t.
It started with a trip I unwillingly took to a show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston with my mom. My boyfriend at the time was in town visiting and when my mom suggested that we go to the museum with her, it sounded like what could have been the worst idea of all time. Mom wasn’t having it. She made us go anyway. The exhibit was a collection of artwork from The Museum of Modern Art in New York while MOMA was renovating their space.
I’m pretty sure that I lost my boyfriend to a seat on a couch the second we walked in, but I decided to follow my mom and take a look around. After all, I had been dragged out there to begin with, I might as well see what all the fuss was about. I walked into a room full of Van Gogh’s, Pollock’s, Mondrian’s and I was immediately taken aback. The colors, the patterns, the feelings that came in the form of bursts of color, smooth brushes of paint, and intricate details caught not only my eye but also my emotions. All of the sudden I felt as though I could express my emotions that were so locked up in my high school body through something like this. In my mind it seemed as though modern art like this didn’t require an artistic mastery; it required a wealth of knowledge about yourself and how you can express your feelings. I had never been sure of how to express my feelings before.
Sure enough, I went back to school after that Christmas vacation and started painting. Emotions were all over the canvas. I was a high schooler who was battling a severe case of epilepsy. Boarding school didn’t necessarily agree with my lifestyle of choice. I was lost and confused and unsure of who my true friends were. I was constantly told by doctors that if I continued to take more and more pills, the seizures would somehow find a way out of my life. The pills piled up, and the seizures did too. I felt like a zombie who had to fight to keep my eyes open for more than a couple hours at a time. The medicine sucked the life out of me. And the seizures remained. Nobody understood me. Why was this happening to me, and what did it actually feel like? I’m still not sure I can tell you that. But I needed a way to get this growing pile of pain out of me.
I owe a lot to my mom for taking me to the museum that day. I was introduced to a world of people who took an alternative path to express their feelings. Tears are all too common. Even therapists didn’t quite get what I was going through. But a canvas, inviting of color, of abstractions, of tears mixed in to the paint – it was my sounding board. I created abstractions that nobody else might have understood, but that proved a point. I didn’t need to be defined simply as a kid fighting a troubling disease. I was a kid with a whole host of thoughts inside of me that could turn out to be something truly aesthetic. It didn’t need to be understood. It could be seen as something beautiful. Before this outlet, I wasn’t sure if I could be seen like that. Too much time spent on stretchers and hospital beds didn’t allow it.
At some point, I stopped making art. Before then, though, I was rewarded with a prize at my school’s graduation ceremony for my artwork. Something that came into my life without much warning had suddenly turned me into something new, something refreshed. It gave me something to be proud of. It allowed me to stand tall.
In the end, the art didn’t cure my seizures; I did. But it sure as hell helped me get to the point where I was strong enough to overcome something that was taking over my life and quickly making me feel as though I wasn’t going to make it through this battle. Painting gave me the feeling that I could stand up to my fears. Through standing up against what was quickly becoming the authority in my life, I found a way to fight.
Eventually, I fought back against the zombie-inducing medicine. I found something that worked for me. I became my own person again and found comfort in my life and in who I am as a person. Suddenly, as if by the work of a miracle, the seizures started becoming more infrequent. With each minute of my life that I gained back, I gained the strength to feel as though I was able to control my own life. The fight continued. I started to take over this imaginary battlefield. Soon enough, I won. I could hardly believe it. I fought that son of a bitch and was able to say that I came out victorious. The seizures went away. And so, too, did my art.
The great thing is that the art will always be there. It’s hanging in a room that, perhaps understandably, means a lot to me. I get flooded with emotions when I enter that room. It’s a reminder of what was, and what I overcame. It reminds me of a part of my childhood that was, quite frankly, largely taken away from me by demons that I didn’t ask for.
Something in me, though, tells me that we all have demons that we didn’t ask to fight. Mine was a medical condition, but others may have less concrete demons. In fact, though I had a somewhat concrete demon, what was less obvious was that I was trying to be a person who I wasn’t made to be. I was trying to be a person who followed all the rules and took life as it came to me. I was trying to go by the book, knowing that if I did as I was told, I would come out okay in the end. The fact is, that isn’t who I am. I’m a fighter. I’m alternative. I don’t succeed if I follow all the rules. I have my own way of living. I don’t like to imitate my life off of others who follow all the rules, despite the success that they may find. I’ve found my success by emulating the acts of the alternatives.
I owe so much to my mom, to Mondrian, to my art teacher, and hell, even to my case of epilepsy. All of these influences helped me find myself. And I look back today and am happy with where I am. Yes. I am happy and proud. It takes a lot of people a long time to find out how to say that, but I’m here to say that it is possible. I wasn’t sure of that when I was in high school, but it is. It just takes finding your path.
I want to relate this to music for a second. That’s what you’re here for anyway, right? I’ve recently discovered an artist by the name of Birdy. She’s got a voice that is unparalleled by many today. But she’s made a name for herself recently not by creating her own music that shows off her voice. She’s finding her path through echoing the masterpieces of others before her, such as Fleet Foxes, Phoenix and Bon Iver. It’s quite brilliant, really. She’s found her launchpad by paying homage to the greats who so many of us have come to know and love. She’s proven herself by showing that she can create beautiful covers of these already-magnificent songs. Soon it will be Birdy’s time to create her own path. But she’ll likely look back, as I have, to the inspirational artists who helped her find herself. I’ve included some of Birdy’s music at the bottom of this post. I know that I will be closely following her career as an artist, and I hope that you will be, too.
Lastly, I just wanted to mention that I’m not sure I’ve ever told you guys about this part of my past. Perhaps it’s because sometimes I try to forget about it. Or maybe it’s something that I wasn’t ready to share with the whole world. (Okay fine, the whole world might not be reading Sunset in the Rearview. But you guys are the world to me.) Either way, posts like these remind me that I have found a community here whom I trust enough to share my own very personal stories. It’s an alternative way to get over humps and hurdles, but as I said, I thrive on alternative paths.
But I have to thank all of you for being a catalyst for my happiness and success. I will never forget that. And I encourage any and all of you to reach out to me at any time. I heard from a fan recently who told me that he had lost his dad in the past few months. He remembered reading that I had lost my dad, and he reached out to say that the music and stories that I’ve shared helped him a lot. Things like that mean the world to me. I owe a lot to you guys, so please let me know if I can ever do anything for you. We’re in an invisible friendship that I’ll never forget. Don’t you forget that, either.