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Can we stop pushing?
and move forward
Japanese Egg Yolk 44x34". Acrylic and Flashe on Arches watercolor paper. 2021. Part of Honey, Suckle, the new exhibition opening Saturday, Nov. 4 at Martine Chaisson Gallery in New Orleans.
I was waiting for the message from my missing voice. It came on my birthday hike, Friday morning.
There’s a thing that happens when you can’t speak. Close your mouth, and feel the urge to say something. Do the muscles push against your throat? This is what I feel constantly when I can’t talk. (Many of us feel this often, when we can speak, but don’t.)
A few weeks ago, I wrote to you and received such support and sympathy for my missing voice. Almost immediately, I felt better. The alchemy of being witnessed. I felt more accepting of what is.
But accepting it wasn’t enough to make it go away. All kinds of remedies had done nothing, or aggravated it.
I was twelve when I first remember feeling this throat constriction. My junior high school was two stories so between classes we would shuffle in mass up and down the stairs–or even worse–the bleachers! I would be filled with panic for being trampled.
Being a teenager of the 90s, I decided I had been hanged in a past life for being a witch. (I later had another past life memory of being trampled in the desert.) I was also honing my expectations of perfection, learning Vivaldi’s cello concerto, writing mysteries, and trying to be friends with the cool kids. The message my brain told my body, as I shuffled up the stairs, as I ran those notes up and down the fingerboard, was
If I don’t push, I’ll die.
Past life fantasies aside, it’s not a crazy thing to feel in our reptilian brains. We’ve been tricked since the dawn of Capitalism into equating our productivity with our worth. And scarcity is all too real for many of us. It’s part of our collective reality.
But on my hike that morning, I heard the message loud and clear: STOP PUSHING.
“You’re pushing, you’re pushing. Just relax. It’ll go up by itself. Don’t put nothing in it, unless you feel it.”
-Nina Simone to her backup singers on “I Shall Be Released” Listen here
Simone’s advice is good for all art forms, and in the focused practice of my craft, I notice and back off when I start to push. In the free-fall of life, however, it can be harder to notice until I’m sick or injured or otherwise falling apart.
Even doing the dishes, or trying to catch a green light, I tense against the task. Pushing forward in a race I’ll never win.
Mostly, I push in my career. My wanting comes and catches in my throat with desperation, and the only thing I know to do is to PUSH or to HIDE, and avoid it altogether.
A reminder in my studio.
Now at the wise age of 42, I ask: What would it be like not to push?
When you can’t speak, or can only eke out tiny squeaks of words, others lean closer to understand. Some even get quiet in response, mirroring the smallness
Can I trust life and all I want to come to me? To meet me where I am, when I’m honoring my own limits, standing over my center, and open to receive?
I thought about this as I was watching the sunset that evening in James Turrell’s Sky Space at UT. A star appeared in the opening and I made a birthday wish. As I did, I thought about how my wishes are always for people close to me, for our health and relationships. I don’t believe I’ve ever wished upon a star or a candle for my career.
So there’s that.
I’d love to hear your experiences with pushing, where it comes up for you.
And I’d LOVE to see you, or your NOLA friends, this weekend for the opening of
Martine Chaisson Gallery
727 Camp St. New Orleans, Louisiana
DO me a huge favor, would you? Share this invite with anyone you know in the area.