Enoughness Project Series #11: One art exhibit shifts my worldview: perfection rejection

This post is part of a series about my experiences in uncovering my own innate enough-ness. For three months, I am abstaining from frivolous material purchases, accepting all blessings that come my way and focusing on gratitude for all that I have. The idea came to me in a meditation-induced haze and it has nothing to do with politics or morality. I’m just a girl who’s hoping to: separate the association between looking good and being good; get comfy with receiving; become a glowingly grateful human being; get acquainted with my own motives for material consumption; grow my understanding of when/why I buy things; and establish new habits that are more aligned with my values. We’ll see how this goes…

I love art. I have no fancy credentials to prove how much I love it—all I have is a cool garage door and a messy house. I don’t spend every weekend at ballets and shows, go out of my way to catch exhibits and I’m not tight with any important gallery owners or artists (unless you count my sister-in-law, who’s working on an incredible project on the Hudson River right now). Nonetheless, art is the thing that sparks me more reliably than almost anything.

Last spring, I had 36 hours alone in my city. It was the most indulgent of luxuries. I strolled Michigan Ave.; emerged with what is now my favorite pair of jeans; sipped champagne with some dashing Viennese businessmen; declined their generous invitation to dinner in favor of room service, a bath and an uninterrupted night of sleep; and, the next morning, walked straight to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) for some time alone with art I’d never met.

I walked through a torn paper archway reminiscent of a Texas high school football run-through sign, which is, in effect, what it was, but constructed of heavy golden paper ripped in artful swaths by Saburo Murakami, one of the leaders of the Japanese Gutai art movement following World War II. My inner zing was going off.

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“Entrance,” by Saburo Murakami

The exhibit was called “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962” and I felt the swell of liberation immediately on walking through Murakami’s Entrance. The swell turned rogue wave when I saw the calculated slashes and stabs with which Lucio Fontana gutted his paintings. And when I saw the film of Gutai artists blaspheming Japanese culture by painting with their bare feet, I was profoundly engaged.

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“Spatial Concept,” by Lucio Fontana

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Lucio Fontana

As I saw it, many of these artists either created their work in a fashion that was not at all acceptable in the art world at the time, or they first created a perfectly good painting on a regular canvas and then proceeded to beat the hell out of it.

One of the artists wrote that he sat back and watched the painting until the energy rose inside of him and he flung his body at the canvas. The result was total physical destruction of his canvas.

As I sat contemplating the work and listening to a music student figure out Chopin’s Nocturne in something or other, I realized what it was about the exhibit that struck such a chord:  a.) It reminded me of what meditation does to a person, of how it torches old sides of yourself you no longer need and slices through what seems to be just fine, making it something more authentic, something that may be dissonant with others’ expectations, and yet more unique and more powerful than before. Also, b.) I want the courage to approach my life like these artists so boldly approached their canvases.

Who’s with me?

They were deemed madmen at the time, taking the sanctity of a proper painting and precisely burning, splashing, shooting and gashing it. And, yet, the work didn’t feel violent and angry to me; it felt liberating, even playful. Staring at this art, I recognized within me the desire to transform the canvas of my life, to take a traditional form and turn it into something totally my own, something that may make me look like a heretic, but who the fuck cares? It’s the real me, and I’m enough, and it feels freaking unreal and, by the way, you should try it because, trust me, you want to feel as free and electric as this…

Granted, the art in this exhibit was in response to the horrors of WWII, so it’s misguided to compare my charmed American Gen-X/Y life to that of these artists in 1940s and 1950s Europe and Japan, but just as these artists were reacting against the ways of the world that spawned a global war at the time, perhaps my desire to de- and re-construct my life canvas is in response to the perfectionism that’s expected of all of us in this Facebook-i-cized American culture right now. Look perfect, shop perfect, cook perfect, parent perfect, decorate perfect, be married perfect, clean perfect, work perfect, impress perfect, be perfect. It’s not piles of burning books in Nazi Germany, or worse, but this beckoning to live perfectly, and publicly so, can be decidedly oppressive.

Have you checked Pinterest lately, or scoured Facebook till you uncovered enough images to confirm your own lacking? Or made haste to upload a pic of yourself looking fab and doing something awesome to show everyone–including yourself–that you’re really totally supercool and your life is amazing? Oppressive.

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I’m shamefully guilty of feeding the perfection machine. I was all, “I kinda like this pic of myself flanked by two super handsome, well-dressed friends, so I’m totally posting this.” And, yes, I did post this pic to FB a few weeks ago. My caption: “Pretty delighted to have gotten to hang out with these cats last night.” All nonchalant, like, this is what I do all the time. This is how I always dress. And I attend fabulous events every Saturday night. You don’t? Aw, sorry to hear that.

By all appearances, I have created a lovely canvas—a beautiful family, a warm home, wild little boys, a vibrant spiritual life, part-time work that nourishes me, relationships that enrich me, and this blog—and, yes, I’m very grateful for that. Yet I reject the compulsion to make the world think that it’s all easy and precious and perfect. I feel this desire to go beyond what appears to be a perfectly good creation. I want to resist the pull to seem perfect, to “destroy” (my synonyms: transform, personalize, authenticate) the picture and to make it breathtaking from the inside—rather than curating an outwardly appealing portrait. What if my picture could be bombastically evocative of the reality of and the stunning beauty of imperfection?

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In reality, this is what most of my Saturday nights look like: Striving for some semblance of a grown-up night out with my husband, so we hit up a neighborhood dive restaurant, where we try with all our might to make the three-year-old sit quietly in his chair like a gentleman while my five-year-old seizes the window of my distraction to grab my olive wand and create tidal waves of ice in my martini, all while I stifle a grimace. Real life takes place at unflattering angles. And, know what? I didn’t post this to FB, but there’s undeniable beauty in these angles, too.

What if everyone destroyed their picture and made it what they wanted it to be rather than what society expected it to be? What if we were all honest about who we are and what we’re feeling?

Instead of using media like blowtorches, bullets and razor blades, as the artists in the MCA exhibit, I could use my budding indifference to society’s expectations, a bright inner knowing and unfailing trust in God’s way of providing for me as my tools. What would be your tools, or your artistic media?

Will you join me in destroying your picture? Because I could use a community in this adventure. Will you join me in approaching your life with the same fearlessness, expressiveness and willingness to test your own boundaries that these artists explored with their work?

The final product won’t end up in a museum touted as important art—or even on Pinterest—but living with abandon will darn well enrich my life and, because I will be more my authentic, empowered, liberated self, my loved ones will benefit as well.

I’m in. You?

Farewell, summer. And, all hail the benevolent Mark Wahlberg. (Spoiler alert: This is about healing my inner teenager.)

Since June, I’ve been calling this “The Summer of the Golden Tan.” My golden tan.

I shed my cover-up at the beach, caught morning vitamin D on as much of my body as a tankini allows and admired the gilded shade of my legs every time I stretched out on a picnic blanket. Which was a lot. It’s true:  I have a phenomenal tan this summer. Not too much, not too little. Very summery. Mission, like, totally accomplished.

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Who can argue with that golden tan?

Summer is now over. Beginning this week, both my boys are in school, one for three hours and one is there all day long, and in the time I have to myself, I’m left to carry out my freelance work and, hopefully, attend regular yoga classes, all without having to pay a babysitter for the time. Money saved!

I’m already missing the Summer of the Golden Tan. But off I go into autumn, like everyone else.

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First day of school

What’s that, Mark Wahlberg? You like my tan, too?

One day after preschool I took my littlest to the set of Transformers 4, which was filming less than two miles from our house. I figured on seeing some Hollywood mass destruction, which Kip would love, and I hoped I’d catch a glimpse of Mark Wahlberg, whom I’ve appreciated for various reasons since I was a teenager. I was in a hurry to pick up Kip from school, so I wore my clothes from a yoga class two hours earlier. If you know me, you know how I’ve struggled with various aspects of my physique (see here), and I try to avoid public displays of tight clothing because I think I look like a Hot Doug’s special sausage in stretchy stuff.

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Here, the Hot Doug’s specials menu. I went with the smoked Texas pork hot link. Obviously.

With that context, the hot yoga getup fit me a lot closer than usual and, moments after parking the car, I regretted that. Why? Because I was about to stroll past Mark Wahlberg and there was no hiding.

Mark Wahlberg was sitting on a bucket a few feet away from us just hanging out between takes. I looked over, pulled my stomach as tight as she goes, smiled at him and reached for Kip’s hand. He looked at Kip and smiled just a quarter twinge, then he looked at me and squinted. And he squinted at me again. And again.

Inside my head: Wait a minute. Is he looking at me? Nope, Kellie and the kids are over there, Kip and I are right here, there’s no one else next to me, so, ok, this is happening. I’m having extended eye contact with Marky Mark. Wow. He really is a handsome man. Well, duh, but he’s rocking some enormous depth in his eyes and a very still, very masculine energy. Even awesomer than I expected. Hmm. He kinda reminds me of Brian. That’s hot. They have the same energy, same shoulders. Wait, he’s still looking at me. Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh.

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One of our summer adventures was to have a picnic in Millennium Park while the symphony played. Also, we attempted yet another photo of ourselves in Cloudgate. I do like Mark Wahlberg, but I’ll take this guy’s shoulders any day. (here’s hoping neither Mark Wahlberg nor my husband mind my objectifying them a little bit.)

He was probably was thinking, “That’s a cute kid. Look at his mom. Whoa, what’s with the tight top? Why is she smiling? Wait—she looks like someone I know…yeah, yeah, yeah. A fat Mary Louise Parker. MLP has an amazon twin in Chicago.”

But *maybe* he was thinking, “I’m sooo tired of filming with Megan Fox. If I have to look at that girl one more time—hey, that’s a cute kid. Wait, look at his mom. Yep, that’s one stunningly beautiful woman. I think I’m going to watch her walk away now because she’s just that lovely.”

I’m not always telepathic, so it was hard to tell. He was squinting. Expressionless. And it all took place in about 20 seconds. But when a man’s eyes do the face-legs-face-torso-face-nod course, it’s usually not out of disgust, right? And, frankly, it doesn’t really matter because, hey, Mark Wahlberg didn’t ignore me as I walked by and that feels like an honor. The rest is just details. I’m going to go with calling it a respectful double-take. Because that’s what I need right now. Victory!

It was a couple minutes after I half-loud-whispered, half-bursted to my friend that I noticed it was not my 34-year-old self talking: “Kellie!!! I will only say this out loud one time, and don’t tell anyone I said it, but I think Marky Mark just checked me out. Oh my gosh!!!”

What adult says “checked me out”?

The euphoric chick making eye contact with a movie star was not the grown-woman Emily with the husband whose biceps are naturally as magnificent as Mark Wahlberg’s (seriously). I had jumped time zones and landed right in my teen years.

Which explains my dive into external personal validation, an otherwise adolescent pattern of thought, and one I work to avoid. Quite simply, I was channeling my inner teenager. And she was super excited.

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This is Kellie and me at the New Kids on the Block concert this summer. Can you see my inner teen in this photo? Huge shout-out to the Wahlberg boys for making my summer awesome.

The Summer of my Adolescent Do-Over?

On second thought, I’ve been lingering with my inner teenager a lot this summer*. This summer has been about great tans and lighter hair, boy band concerts and ice cream nightcaps. I even got surprised by the arrival of my period—twice—in the most nightmarish ways a teen girl could dread: at the pool, and in white jeans. (handled it. no humiliation involved.)

Perhaps I should rename this “The Summer of my Adolescent Do-Over.” At the onset of warmer temperatures, it was like I grabbed my very serious, goal-oriented, unimaginably driven, shame-drenched 13- to 15-year-old self by the hand and said, “You’re coming with me, honey, and we’re gonna have some fun.”

It makes sense. My inner teen has needed some TLC for a long time. Being a teenager is hard on everyone, and there are specific things with which we all remember struggling. For me, I never learned the promise of my own vastness, how to not feel shame about my darkness or imperfections, or that being pretty enough to get the attention of a man—let alone a handsome one—wasn’t the most important factor in my self-worth.

Fast forward to the present day. I am more acquainted with my vastness, my darkness, my drives and, yes, my beauty, subjective though it may be. As with most 30-something women—wow, the thirties are potent—I’m in a wiser, more magnanimous place, largely owed to all the work I’ve done and am doing to understand myself and to make the all-important journey toward love.

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More evidence I was channeling my 15-year-old self: I picked myself up some sunglasses, which, as it turns out are probably better fit for a teenager. I later realized I’d found them in the juniors department. Also, note the blonde in my hair. That’s not natural. Now that I’m back in the present, I went ahead and dyed my hair back to its dark self.

Not being ignored + eye contact with a movie star = triumph for my inner teen

The sheer act of not being ignored by one of Hollywood’s finest worked like a wonder drug for my enduring 15-year-old self-image. Instantly. With one mindless double-take, Mark Wahlberg told me I was noticeable, maybe worth regarding. Do you know what a thoughtless nod from a megastar does for a girl who’s stuck in her adolescent belief that she has nothing to offer in the looks department? Grand shifting.

Basically, Mark Wahlberg looked right at my imperfect body in tight clothing and didn’t turn away. (Yeah, my standard for validation is what it is. I know how utterly ridiculous this all sounds. But it just is.) His simple, most likely unconscious gaze zoomed right through some inexplicable wormhole and touched an earlier version of myself that felt like she was not enough, not a viable woman, because she was never going to be movie-star skinny or movie-star pretty. The result of being noticed by His Benevolent Funkiness is that my inner teen was able to drift peacefully to the dimension where she belongs, allowing me to stand stronger in my own present-day self. Euphoria.

Picking up the kids

For people who’ve ever experienced a healing of their inner child, cheesy as it sounds, it’s the real-ass deal.

Time isn’t on a continuum as we often think. It all exists at once, on varying dimensions. So it’s much easier to slip back into a childish pattern than we think. (Not to worry! If you have awareness, it’s just as easy to pull yourself back into the present. Well, not easy, but very do-able with practice.)

My brilliant friend is writing a book about healing from sexual trauma and she has a chapter called “Picking up the kids.” As she described it to me, anyone who’s ever experienced trauma in childhood or young adulthood has to go back and pick up the kids, or the younger versions of ourselves, and bring them home with us to take care of them. (Aside: It doesn’t apply only to victims of sexual trauma. Picking up the kids has a much broader application, as you can see from my own experience in this post.) Once we do gather up the kids, we can love them and help ourselves heal in the past so that we can thrive in the present. Because when a kid hasn’t gotten what he/she needs before growing into the next phase of life, that kid remains in state of need, and it won’t settle down until those needs are met.

For me, this summer, my inner teenager whispered to my spirit that she desperately needed to cut loose, have some carefree fun, frolic at the beach, dance without caring what she looked like, sleep in as often as possible, squeal at a concert, stalk a movie set, drink in the unconditional love of a hot guy (grown-up Emily’s husband) and eat a ton of ice cream.

And, you know what? She feels so much better now.

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After Brian left for work and the kids had figured out how to turn on the TV downstairs, Ralph was my cherished late-morning snuggle buddy. Who wouldn’t feel better after cozying up to this? I always wanted to sleep with a dog when I was a kid. Living the dream.

In paying attention to and caring for that inner child, whatever age she is, you heal him or her. And once that child is healed, you can step more fully into who you truly are, who you’re meant to be. You can step into your power.

Visualizing the healing

Here’s how this healing of your inner child may look, metaphysically speaking, or how you might visualize your own healing: The teenage version of myself, which I can picture in my mind’s eye, becomes surrounded in gold light, which radiates from her heart center and consumes her entire body until she joyfully dissolves in a sprinkling, twinkling of radiant light. This is how I believe it works when you heal younger versions of yourself. You give your inner child the medicine he/she needs, you both become consumed with light, the child rests and you are stronger in your present.

Before floating away with a big smile on her light-filled face, my inner teenager asked one thing of grown-up me: Please stop being mean to yourself about your looks, and please stop being so consumed with the features you lack. You are vast, powerful and beautiful, and you always have been. Marky Mark thinks so, too. <squeal!>

Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh!

*Sidebar

My teen summer divulged:

–       I got blonde highlights for the first time in my life last spring. It wasn’t me. Last week, I joyfully dyed it back to my natural color.

–       I rocked out at my first-ever New Kids on the Block concert, precisely 23 years after my parents refused my pleading to attend with a friend and her mom.

–       On more than one occasion, after a dinner with girlfriends, we headed to an ice cream parlor for sundaes instead of to a bar for cocktails.

– I taught the boys how to turn on the TV and find PBS Kids so that I could stay in bed till, sometimes, 8 a.m. It was pure luxury.