In Part One, I was reflecting on how important, but how hard, it is to keep our truths from being painted over by our fears, our anxieties, our griefs, our shames, the world’s expectations and our collusion with the world’s expectations.
But it seems to me that pentimento can also be life-giving and truth-enhancing in the right time and place. Because, of course, unlike an artist, we don’t have the option to discard the whole canvas and start from scratch (our canvas is our life).
I think about the images of my past that were laid down by another hand. That may have been the hand of a relative whose values were not those I came to embrace in later years. It may have been a teacher who labeled me, or a friend who told me something untrue that I believed – because she was a friend, after all. I think about life-long loves that turned out to be temporary. Sometimes there are scenes that were actually true for their time, but no longer represent who I am.
If the top layer of the picture is to show my real self, I am going to need to paint over those old bits. I don’t do it to cover-up shame or fear or a part of my story I don’t want to own. I paint over them, knowing full well that they will show faintly (or, maybe, quite clearly because I have the option of using a wash that just lightens them a little). But even those on which I slap a thick layer of paint will show. Anyone looking closely will see a change in texture or color or shape that will reveal there is something underneath the surface. I don’t paint with the intention of hiding that I have altered the picture-beneath-the-picture.
I paint knowing that “the truth” is always evolving. I paint knowing that some of those old images are actually damaging my intention of living an honest and transparent life. I paint knowing that some of those images of myself weren’t me at all, but were images of the person who inserted them into my story.
Into every life come moments when we ask, “Is that really me?” And we need to trust the times we say, “No! No that isn’t me at all.” It may be one layer of who I am, but if that layer is all people see, then it is not an accurate picture. There are words that people use about us that carry enormous weight – words of judgment or criticism or words that describe someone else’s wounds projected onto us. When we are vulnerable, we accept those words and they get painted into our portrait. Until the day when a word like “bossy” gives way to the understanding that sharing creative ideas that other people like and run with is not “bossy” except to the person whose turf has been threatened. Then that “bossy person” needs — at the very least — to be layered under some new paint that shows the creative ideas, too.
So I am busy re-painting at the moment. Having just created this website, I am painting out the word “Luddite”. Having spent 22 years as a parish minister and 8 years expecting I would return to parish ministry someday, I am nuancing “ministry” with some flourishes that include my fiber icons which minister in a different, but equally true way. And I’m painting over some old dreams that don’t apply any more – dreams I haven’t dreamed in a decade. I’m painting over them with a plain color so that there is a big space in one corner of my life-painting for new dreams to take shape and form.
May your pentimento be as lively and transforming as mine is becoming.
Text © 2014, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photo © 2012, Immram Chara, LLC