In the weeks leading up to my show's reception, anxiety crept in and put me in a choke hold. This wasn't the annoying bear hug variety my big brother used to give, followed by a noogie but all delivered violently and released quickly because, we don't want this to look like he's hugging his stupid sister. No, not that kind of choke hold. THIS anxiety took the sort of hold you might associate with straight jackets, a numbed neurotic state, and confinement in pale, padded rooms with soft moans filtering through the walls, but wait, not filtering through the walls, coming out of your own parted, pallid lips. Yeah. That kind.
I couldn't paint. I couldn't write. I didn't want to talk about the show. I didn't want to see the work in the gallery. I didn't want to set the actual menu or grocery shop or even make any of that promised food. I didn't want to show up. Frankly, I was paralyzed with fear at the thought of being in the SAME room at the SAME time as you AND my work. It was the combination that was lethal. Like waking up especially early AND waking up to find no coffee in the house. Both are very survivable conditions, but please dear god, may they never occur simultaneously.
But back to this art thing. Sure, I like to be with my work. Sure, I like to be with you. But really, the two shouldn't meet up for a mixer. Because- and here's the news flash- you don't have to like my work and you just might not! Sharing a room with you AND my work seemed synonymous with performing amazing feats of pleasantries and magical tricks with euphemisms all to avoid the possibility that once you've seen my work you're going to have to hate me.
And only because I had promised, did I finally drag myself into the gallery for the first time a full week after the show was hung. I was thankful to mostly be alone and with strangers. Few people who came in knew that the awkward lady standing in the room had made the work. What a relief to be anonymous, to not have to respond. I could pose as if a fellow observer, nod my head as if in quiet, calculated consideration of their comments. I could collude with "Yes, what was she thinking?!" or "Hmm, yeah, that is rather neat-o. Take a pic!" Or, I could act as if I was just there for the free wine.
But the next night. The next night I couldn't act. The next night, the room was filled with YOU. Familiar faces flooded, the introductions tripped of my tongue of the most important people in my life. My mind dizzied with the efforts people made to come out, vision astounded by surprise arrivals: You came?! You! And you! My hands busied with a hug here, a hail and hearty thump there on that shoulder, a pull of cheeks close for kissing. Into my ears poured the richness of "so good to see you," "how are you", "I'm so glad you're here", lyrics of our alliances, refrains of shared histories. Suddenly I realized the whole night was about YOU. Let's be honest, nobody was really talking about the work.
It wasn't all about me. It... the reception for this work... was about you. I'm not trying to make you self-conscious here. I'm still definitely talking about myself. What mattered most in the room was the work I had made with you, our relationships. Our conversations were about neighbors and small worlds, and swimming practice and necklaces, and new houses and children, and vacations, and holiday stress eating and fly fishing and birdwatching and the weather... all of this in a continued effort to be connected.
I had to look up from my navel gazing. To keep on would have required the worst of pride, the vainest of egos. I had to abandon that adolescent self who, even in the limelight of an admiring gaggle might persist in whining "Oh my gawd, how's my outfit?! If he doesn't just totally go for me, then like I'm going to just totally die!" (And here, I'm totally fantasizing since as an adolescent I was only ever in the gaggle, not the limelight.) Heads up, Ditz-for-Brains, I wanted to shout as I did in high school. All these people love you! It was a shocking, jolting, humbling thought to realize that what you cared about that night was me, and all that I cared about was you. The art just sort of hung around.
Speaking of my pride and my ego followed by the verb humbling, let me clarify that I'm not implying that I was let down by the reception. In fact, I'm sure it didn't do much of anything to knock me down a notch or two. Believe me, just painting and writing about my painting was enough exposure to chop me off at the knees. And if that wasn't enough to cut me down to size, being a mother surely is. My inadequacies were laid bare long ago.
So, more simply what I mean when I say I am recently humbled is that I was (re)acquainted with where I belong in the grand scheme of things; I am grounded, but I am not necessarily eating dirt*. Being with you all during the evening of the reception reminded me of my place. My place is with you. My place... my kitchen table, the gallery..... having it filled with you, is what truly matters. So, thank you for helping me out of the Pain Cave, the padded room of my anxiety. I'm glad to be with you. And thank you for letting my art hang out with us too.
*An important distinction, as you'll recognize that like human, humble has the Latin root humus, for "ground" or "earth". Cool. I just let my OED Freak Flag fly.