Art Puzzles Me

Art Puzzles Me

For each of us, there are things that are easy and other things that are downright mysteries.  For me, music is easy.  It’s been a major force throughout my life.  I like listening to it, I understand why it goes one way or another, I find deeper meaning in many lyrics, I feel it.

Visual art has been the opposite for me.  I always had, and still have, a hard time coloring between the lines.  In second grade, a classmate who had an innate art ability more or less told me that I should color back and forth and that spreading the color multi-directionally was a skill for more advanced artists like herself.  I never got past drawing a basic block house with a sun in the sky and “curved v” birds flying around.  In college, I took a course called “Drawing 101” after being assured no art ability was necessary.  I dropped it halfway through the semester because I spent more time on it than my other courses and my very best work was getting a C grade.  The teacher couldn’t explain it to me when I went for extra help.

Now I’m in my fifties and have reconnected with a high school band-mate on Facebook.  He is highly trained in both visual and performing arts and I’ve learned a little about art from his posts.  He recently posted a piece of art that grabbed me like nothing before.  He posted this photo and asked why a piece of public art was propped in front of a public parking garage almost hidden from sight:

Puzzle Piece Art

To understand why this piece of art spoke to me, you also need to know that I have always loved doing puzzles, both mental and visual.  So this fired more cylinders than any other piece of art.  My curiosity took over, and once I ignored the poor plants that look like they need a drink of water, I got to wondering.

First of all, is this art just hanging out here or was it put here on purpose?  I tend to assume there’s a reason for everything, so I postulate that it was placed in that position on purpose.

Then what is the purpose?  I know good art often makes us think, sometimes about profound or uncomfortable truths.  And many times the best art, as the best music, can mean different things to different people.

So why was it placed here?  For me, seeing the photo, it’s here specifically to get my attention.  I couldn’t just say, “Oh, that looks nice” or “what an unattractive piece.”  I had to think about it.  So the first message is maybe that we won’t always understand life’s puzzles.

My next thought was whether the piece on the ground actually fits in the opening of the other piece.  I believe it does.  If I were there I would maybe, with help, try to see if it fits.  So it may be showing us that we all need help to fit back together sometimes.

Are there other puzzle piece sculptures around that we don’t see in the photo?  The message might be about feeling alone and breaking out to find someone else we can relate to.  Or maybe just breaking free and looking for someone or something to connect with.

If the two pieces were joined and we saw just a big block of concrete, we wouldn’t notice it.  But as it is, it gets our attention.  So perhaps the message is for us to stop hiding our puzzle (let’s face it, we are all puzzles) and let others see who we are.  Show your puzzle to someone and let them love or reject the real you.

Regardless of why it’s there and what the intention was, this piece of art reached me in a way no other art has before.  I think I am starting to understand.  Now I know my favorite genre of art is puzzle art.  And maybe this puzzle art sculpture is the first step towards my finally understanding art.

With gratitude to William Bolster for sharing his art insights and allowing me to use his photo.

An Old Poem About Life

An Old Poem About Life

Last year while decluttering I came across two old poems that I had written in 1997.  That was the year before I bought my house and two years before I met the man I would marry.  It was fascinating to see those glimpses of what I felt at that time.  I’d like to share one with you today.  This one still defines me pretty well still.  It has no title.

Sometimes, I know, it’s hard
To walk towards the light.
It’s so bright
And I feel so dim.
But when I stop and turn around
And look the other way,
The emptiness of black nothing
Scares me more.

I gotta do what’s right
Even if I’m the only one
‘Cuz right or wrong
I’ll always be with me.
I gotta walk towards the light
Even when it’s blinding me.
Only truth will set me free.

Don’t tell me not to think that way
Just because you don’t.
You could too
If you had an open mind.

The struggle makes me stronger
So you can lean on me.
Side by side
We’ll walk towards the light.

Neither a Doormat nor a Bowling Pin Be

Neither a Doormat nor a Bowling Pin Be

As a life-long Christian, I have been conditioned to be nice to people.  Be kind, take the high road, forgive, give them the benefit of the doubt, etc.  Unfortunately, there are times when someone will see your virtue and take advantage of you.  My eyes were opened when somewhere in my twenties, someone told me that being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat.  It’s OK to say no.

Maybe you have a skill that was needed, so you volunteered once and now you are repeatedly asked to contribute again.  Perhaps you helped someone but your situation has changed.  Or maybe you were a listening ear for someone, letting them talk for a couple of hours on the phone, but now they call you frequently and you don’t have the time.  Perhaps someone is strongly suggesting that you’d be a great reader in church and they need lectors, but you’re terrified of speaking in front of people.  You may be a convenient “free” babysitter for a family member who has no regard for your needs.

Well, you are not a bad person if you say no.  As a matter of fact, you’ll probably be a better person.  You will stay away from a stressful situation and avoid resenting the people who seem to be taking advantage of your kindness.

The other situation that I have become enlightened to more recently is being a bowling pin.  This is more of an emotional issue.  Someone knocks you down, not in a physical way but verbally and/or emotionally damaging you.  A family member may point out your shortcoming at every gathering or bring up a painfully embarrassing part of your history.  Whatever the situation, you dread being around this person because you always feel worse afterward.  You may have a friend who regularly makes plans with you and cancels last minute.

You are not a bowling pin whose job is to be repeatedly set up and knocked down.  You are a human being with emotions and feelings that are as valid as anyone else’s.  You are not obliged to take this sort of abuse.  Depending on the situation, you may be able to speak to the person, who may not realize the hurt they are inflicting.  If they respond by telling you that you are too sensitive or thin-skinned, realize that they are wrong to be inconsiderate of your feelings.  You may need to avoid them in the future as much as you reasonably can.

Any of these situations may come up from time to time.  But when it becomes a habit, pray for the transgressor, pick yourself up, and move on.  As a Christian, you should be nice to people – and that includes yourself.

The Mental Health Stigma

The Mental Health Stigma

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about breaking the mental health stigma.  People are starting to open up about mental illness, especially depression and anxiety.  It seems to me that this movement is aimed at getting past the question, “What will others think of me if they know?”  The goal is for people to honestly share how they feel without fear of being ridiculed or being looked down upon.

But I think there’s another piece of the puzzle that I haven’t seen while scrolling in social media.  “What will happen to me if I admit how I feel?”  For example, a person may feel like they can admit to a close friend or counselor that they feel suicidal without being told to snap out of it or get over it, but he or she may fear that the person they tell will have them committed.  Movies and TV have littered out minds with images of padded rooms, straight jackets, and zombie-inducing meds.  I imagine it’s not really like that, but I’ve never been an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital or ward.

Some people may think they’ll have to take meds that will have unpleasant side effects.  Some may be against taking medication at all or see therapy as a waste of time.  Others may not know that help is available for those without sufficient health insurance to cover the bills.

I have known people personally, including myself, who have resisted treatment for medical needs because of stubbornness and resistance to receiving help.  I’ve fought against being transferred to a big hospital because of fear, but the two times I rode in the back of the ambulance saved my life.  The same factors probably come into play with people experiencing mental illness.

Perhaps our discussions about the mental health stigma need to be augmented with information about what happens when a person reaches out for help.  Can a suicidal person get help without being committed?  Is therapy expensive?  What meds are available and how will they make a person feel?  Is any of it really useful?  Education about actual experiences rather than images from the entertainment industry might go a long way in improving the lives of those suffering among us.

No Me Digas Que No

No Me Digas Que No

Don’t tell me no.

When I started junior high in 7th grade,  the school curriculum included French.  At that time, there were 7 periods in the day and I had French last.  And when I got to my French class, I learned that an injustice had been done: Spanish was being offered for the first time and students could switch from French to Spanish, but the Spanish class was full before I was able to sign up!  I was highly interested in learning Spanish and it certainly seemed more likely to come in handy later in my life.  It was unfair that I had been cheated of the opportunity and I set out to correct it.

After being denied entry into the Spanish class, I was offered the opportunity to study Spanish on my own.  I went to the language lab and listened to recordings by myself.  I finished 7th grade with two languages under my belt, and the following year I took Spanish class while studying French on my own.  In 9th grade, I was the only student to take both Spanish class and French class.  I so enjoyed foreign languages that I left junior high intending to make a career using them.

I started my high school career by adding Italian to the mix; yes, I took 3 foreign language classes in 10th grade!  I dropped French the following year, but kept the other two, taking Advanced Placement Spanish as a senior.

Although I changed career interests, my fascination with foreign languages remained.  More importantly, I learned that being persistent in pursuing a goal pays off.


Faith, Hope, Love, and Tulips

Faith, Hope, Love, and Tulips

It’s spring here in New England.  Easter Sunday is this weekend.  Nature is in the season of new beauty as trees bloom and wild animal babies enter the world.

A favorite early spring flower is the tulip.  After a dreary winter, the bright and cheerful tulip is a welcome sight.  Everyone loves a tulip.

But the tulip didn’t just suddenly show up.  The bulb had to be planted in the ground in late fall.  If you didn’t know what it was, you wouldn’t guess it would eventually bloom.  And if no one told you, you wouldn’t know that it had to be planted in the fall and go through winter.  The tulip bulb is like faith.  You trust in something you can’t see.  And when is this faith exercised?  Just when the light is dimming and the air is chilling.  In our trials, on our darkest days, our faith is put to the test.

When winter is coming to a close we eagerly await the first sprout from the ground.  The green leaves appear and bring a smile to our faces.  These first signs of the plant are like hope.  We now have a sign that our faith is not in vain.  Although we don’t yet see the tulip, we have a solid hope that it will appear.

At long last the tulip flower blooms.  This is what we’ve been waiting for.  We planted in faith, watched the sprouts in hope, and now the wait is over.  The tulip flower is like love.  It is a tangible manifestation of our faith and hope.  Once we have the flower, we don’t need to rely on our faith and hope as we enjoy the beauty of the tulip.  We are left with love.

On earth, we have to rely on faith, especially in our darkest moments.  We hope to see God when we die.  And when we do, we will no longer need faith or hope.  We will spend our eternity basking in His love.

So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13, RSV Catholic Edition

Why We Can’t Discuss Abortion

Why We Can’t Discuss Abortion

When I’m on social media I generally stay away from controversial topics.  On a few rare occasions, I have had a friend whose views differ greatly from mine sincerely ask for opposing views in an attempt to understand.  I have responded in the clearest and most polite way I could.  I don’t want my silence to be misunderstood as agreement or not being able to back up my beliefs.  Unfortunately, my responses often inspire someone I don’t know to bring up various troubling situations and challenge me to show compassion for the people involved.  They are wrong that I lack compassion, but the circumstances are irrelevant to me.  Killing a baby in the womb is intrinsically wrong.  

I had a revelation recently as to why these kinds of conversations generally are unproductive.  My view does not originate from me.  It comes from God himself, and even if a person doesn’t believe in God, killing goes against the laws of nature.  So the only way to change my view on abortion would require convincing me that God does not exist or that killing is not against His laws.

I don’t necessarily expect to change anyone’s views to mine.  But I hope this helps explain why no one should expect to change mine either.

 “For thou didst form my inward parts,
    thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.
    Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
 my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
    in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me
    when as yet there was none of them.”
Psalm 139:13-16, RSV Catholic Edition