Grandma knew I was an artist. I was four when she observed my building worlds out of paper stacks on her kitchen table, crafting kingdoms from the stories we told at lunchtime. I drew myself over and over, one day supplemented by fantastical prostheses and the other stretched or warped by whatever wizardly powers I decided I possessed in that hour. My sense of self existed solely in my head and in my hands. I wrote story after play after poem, and she told my mother and father, “Camille’s an artist” before the serving of soup at suppertime. I was raised as an only child playing in a magical forest with borders as boundless as those of my head, isolated from extensive social interaction, in the solace of imagination, and desperate for performance.
I do not know my body. I have never known my body. In my early years, it was nil but a vessel transporting my innermost whims to the physical world. At thirteen, it became a medium. At fifteen, I let the medium take me over and I bought my discount paints at Shoppers Drug Mart. I merged from writer to player to Greek sculptor, etching my physique to perfection, chipping away at my unique physical deformations as if they were scum on the edge of a Donatello. I have never known my body. I have never been comfortable in my body — not only in its appearance and sexualization, but in my physical sense of self in the social world and how vulnerable it is to critique. I spent my adolescence herding my selves into normalcy, striving to ignore my bodily confusion, my conscience sifted through the influence of popular media and gender-biased sexual education. I grew in a world where my body became the most important canvas to explore and decorate, the most important craft to perfect, always living in need of constant improvement and decoration. I found my self-expression dwindled, and so I began to craft narratives under which to frame my desired state of living, hell-bent on pleasing the social masses, attempting to reprogram isolated parts of my psyche and throwing others into stark neglect. I inhaled desirous need, exhaling falsehood.
But I was an artist. My body, my face, and my social media profiles all supplied an outlet to perform, and perform I did. I cut my hair when I was eighteen in an emotionally deviant frenzy of expression, in a cry for freedom from myself and from these bounds. I told myself, more so than ever, that I was comfortable with the affections of young men; I wasn’t. I’m still not. I directed my personal expressions outward, desperate to write and perform for an audience that would take my creations to heart or to mind. I wanted praise, not for myself, but for what I was able to create. I performed all the time. I performed online, I performed in casual conversation, and I lost my audience. I began performing for crowds of social pseudo-cynics. I still perform for them.
And I fear womanhood. I speak to and work with and know so many young women, and I worry for them. I fear for the future of the online social market and further communication of unconscious lies. I fear for the omnipresent influence of biased education, and false dichotomies between science and the arts confining self-expression and limiting artistic pursuit. I fear for the future of expression itself, in my case chained by stigmatic conceptions of womanhood and sociocultural norms into which I do not fit. In those harder years, the more I dabbled in creation, the more I yearned to abandon it for fear of social mockery or unjust critical reception. I felt jeered at and mocked by the woman in the mirror. And yet I still created. I created my own limits. I let my artistic impulses reign over me, not by choice but because they boiled in my blood, thirsted (and continue to thirst) for the bile beneath my skin. At eighteen, my entire life revolved around the element of performance, and whether or not I could maximize it to its full potential; at eighteen, I moved away in search of an escape either from the toxicity of my surroundings or from myself. Or both. All my life, the voices and lessons of my peers and attackers echoed like sermons. The women in my life and I, we were taught to neglect the hungers of womankind, and submit with naive compliance to the dominant gender; either consciously or subconsciously, we did.
And so my days rained puzzle pieces for awhile, whopping down to my window in torrents, and I frenzied around, desperate to pick up the pieces — force them together in a muddled yet quasi-complete cohesion. I surveyed the pieces: my romantic interests. My wants. Expectations of me. My anxieties. My sexuality. What I say versus what I feel. My socio-critical reception. The edges do not fit. The puzzle is incomplete. Even when I moved away from home, settling down in a city still struggling to find a voice — fitting, isn’t it? — I became happier. I found people who lived me. I tried to insert myself into communities I thought would best suit my involvement. I thought about the people I had hurt back home — those I deceived, knowingly or unknowingly, and those I longed to forget. I think of them constantly, even now. The pieces still did not fit, even in that new and magical place. As much as I feared living under false premises, expectations, and allusions, I still perpetuated them in my mind and appearance. In the midst of so much change and triumph still lurked bold and unwavering happiness.
So I stopped performing. I pursued a liberal arts degree. I started writing again. I started reclaiming the body, which at that point felt more of a stranger than a compatriot. I picked my own mind. I thought of things I wanted to think of. I began reclaiming every inch of myself I’d lost to the world, and the world responded in buckets of gratitude.
I reclaimed my mouth with words that better reflected my opinions, and not with the words of others carefully rearranged to fit the carefully constructed self I wanted to become.
I reclaimed my mind, on my nineteenth birthday, with some mental health diagnoses and one hell of a good smoothie…. and some books that my professors recommended I read. I am reclaiming it constantly.
I reclaimed my scars, not just emotionally — but the physical ones that have manifested all over my face and body — the remains of a turbulent adolescence. I call them my Battle Wounds. I love them now, even if they’re finally fading.
I reclaimed my anxieties, my sadness, and my sporadic feelings of isolation and self abuse with names, and with proper understandings. I still work on this one every day.
I reclaimed my aesthetic appeal with turtlenecks and flouncy pants, grown out curly hair and vintage glasses frames. Still in progress, but I feel great.
I reclaimed my words, channeling every inch of self I abused, lied to, hated, and perpetuated into my first play, Anonymous. I watched in horribly anxious fury when the script made its way back to my old high school and was sent around, selected portions tying inspired-by-semi-true-events to the story completely omitted from thematic/contextual ties and snarked at. I was reminded of the toxicity in my life before this fall, both in people and environment. I stand behind my accomplishments with unwavering pride. I’ve learned my lessons.
I reclaimed my body, which I viewed for so long as a good to parade, a valuable commodity on the hot market available on display for rental and/or taking. I now see it as its own trophy, one that celebrates its hardships and rewards its physical and emotional strength.
And, for the first time, I feel absolved from the limits I tortured myself with. I now spend my time learning, rebuilding the mediums I lost in vain, and creating and performing now not for public acknowledgement or acceptance, but for the sake of contributing a brushstroke to the world’s artistic masterpiece.
I’ve always found extreme comfort in attempting to navigate the chasms of my mind, this summer more than any other. My diagnoses and I are good friends now; we help each-other daily, and recognize each other’s weaknesses. I spent the month of May darting through European cities of my dreams, finding myself in every corner of every museum, gallery, and historic landmark, every colossal church which affirmed my beliefs not in the presence of a higher power, but in the ultimately delicate nature of people. We hurt one-another and we love one-another. We exploit for personal gain, we make mistakes, and we destroy — but we’re all we have. Sufficient to stand, yet free to fall. I learned to learn for myself. I learned to enjoy without documentation, and live without the world tracking my every movement. I love my family, my friends, and my beautiful puppies. My life is art in itself, and I love to be holding the brush.
There has been no greater personal quest than the reclaiming of my own body and mind.
I am tired of performance. Not the kind I have reclaimed in artistic expression, but performance in the social world. The more I come to despise specific chambers of the internet, the more I scorn its diluting of our already fragile understanding and perceptions of communication. I am trying to reconstruct my online presence in a healthier way, and document the highlights of my life via scrapbook or collage or notebook. Most of the greatest adventures of my life remain offline now and forever. I can continue my life as an emotional vagabond in the depths of the world without a like button. I look forward to improving on my self (and worldly) awareness… I of course use the term “self-awareness” loosely, for so much of my understanding wallows in the subconscious, lurking like a trout in the shadows until a cold hook thrust from the depths of collective reality brings something else to light.
My Grandma was right. I may not be an artist in the professional sense, and am unsure what path I will take, but I have always been an artist beneath the skin. So long as there is creation, I will fear its absence.
But my voice is not yet clear, both artistic and personal. My body knows itself no less than it knows the streets of London, and my mind will never be superlatively familiar to me, or to anyone else for that matter. I am still performing every day. I force myself into a clown suit in acts of anxious self-concealment and protection. I am not free from my anxious or depressive bonds but, again, we coexist. As women, artists, and inhabitants of this miraculous world, perhaps we are forever bound to exist in fragments, or worry of a future with no synthesis, no ultimate reassurance in fate. But we have our minds, our hearts, and each-other. There’s a lot of merit in that.
I hope you’ve enjoyed me tossing another scrap to the hungry muse in my heart’s crevice. Thank you to everyone who’s put me here. Never stop looking.