Art supplies and Navigating material loss from trauma

Or, the Shit I literally Left Behind When I Ran Away

In case you are wondering from my Mean Reds post. I did end up rewarding myself by looking at my art supplies and organizing my studio space. That might sound cooler than it is. Let me just remind you with an earlier picture… it’s a twenty year old easel and rolling tabouret that I keep in my dining room next to my son’s toys. The toys have twice the real estate that I do. So, yeah.

I live a very glamorous life.

But even this brought up some things for me. This lovely gathering of my brushes and paints. That’s how it is with trauma. You’re doing something wonderfully entertaining or even wonderfully mundane, keeping a wary eye on any potential mental dangers ahead and BAM! Trauma memory! In from the sides, where you were least expecting it!

The point is… you are alive when they start to eat you…

Uh. Ok. That was a Jurassic Park reference. My trauma memories don’t literally eat me alive. They just feel like that sometimes.

No, this was about all the beautiful art and art supplies that I have lost because of my need to run from certain situations.

For some people, leaving material goods behind in an escape, is about escaping from something truly dangerous or unhealthy at the very least. Refugees from war. Leaving a spouse.

A friend of a friend, was leaving her husband while he was at work, and all I could think about was her collection of glass jars, filled from the soil of all the places she’s traveled. Could you imagine a more petty revenge? Smashing the sand from the Himalayas with the brick gravel of Prague? You could never un-do it. It would all blend together like a discarded mandala. It makes me shudder to think about it.

A wonderful high school friend of mine, who is now a teacher, with a beautiful family, wrote about such an escape and loss on her blog, back in 2014. She was leaving an abusive situation and had to abandon many of her prized possessions, including a cherished ceramic Christmas tree. It’s the little things that you really miss.

I on the other hand, have lost a lot of little things, but not because of war or abusive relationships, when I ran, I was always running from myself.

One such loss came in the form of the most beautiful, most precious collection of paint brushes I have ever owned, a wooden paintbox, and several good paintings.

I left them in the art studio of my school. Just left them.

Two traumatic things happened that caused me to leave and never come back. One, a very kind art professor passed away. And two, I made a very vulnerable, very public mistake. I was at her service, my professor, feeling very uncomfortable with all the people. And as I was signing a condolence book, someone behind me asked, “How are you doing, Holly?”

And it all just came pouring out. Vulnerable grief and doubt, not very well spoken. Honestly, I can’t even tell you what I said. It was just a lot.

Then I turned around, and they were talking to a different Holly. It was so humiliating. I can still see all the looks of gobsmacked confusion on their faces. Who is this person? Why is she talking to us?

How do you come back from that? I had already had so much trouble connecting with people. It was like having the rug pulled out from under me. Or being stripped naked in front of a crowd.

So, I ran.

I’ve run from a lot of things. Relationships, classes, jobs- all because of the trauma of living as an autistic person in a neurotypical world.

And legitimately, my brushes and paintings mean nothing when you compare it to real abuse, or real war refugees. Especially the people in camps, or war torn countries. I know that, I don’t lack perspective. If anything that knowledge makes the humiliation that much more keen.

Today though, it’s making me think of the german painter, Franz Marc. I have recently rediscovered Marc’s work (mostly because I had conflated him with another German expressionist by the name of Kandinsky, and always wondered why I couldn’t find his beautiful blue horse paintings anymore. That was because they weren’t his paintings, they belonged to Marc.)

Anyway, Franz Marc was a German Expressionist painter at the turn of the century. He did these beautiful futurist, fragmented, but colorful, paintings of animals that I just loved so much as a girl.

Stables, by Franz Marc, 1913.

He died in the Battle of Verdun, after they had already given the order to pull him back from the fighting. For the sake of modern art, that’s why they ordered him away from the front. What a reason, right? It was true too. He probably had so much more to give. Before he died, he was in charge of painting camouflage tarps. He said he did them in the style of Seurat.

All that waste, just breaks my heart.

I imagine that my brushes weren’t wasted. I like to think that someone put them in the lost and found. Then maybe someone took them home. My paintings might still be leaning against a wall somewhere, or someone might have taken them home too. There was a particularly beautiful oil still life of copper kettle and a book. Maybe it will always be more beautiful in my memory. And that’s not so bad. That’s not a waste.

I can make more paintings. I won’t be a casualty in my own war against myself. I might have to retreat occasionally. That’s realistic, but I really, really just want peace.

Peace… And maybe some new brushes.

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