Haven’t posted in some time because I was actually on a trip to Richmond, Virginia, to see my sister Allyson and her very good friend Jay.
It was a trip fraught with dangers, filled with experiences, and stuffed to the gills with foods of all kinds. The dangers, well, those were mostly of my own making and in my own thinking; the experiences were unexpected. And the food was pretty damn good.
When I speak of dangers of my own making, you would think it self-explanatory. Being bipolar and being who I am, let’s just say it’s easy to make up all kinds of imaginary things when it comes to possible outcome (the crystal ball effect), believing that I know what’s about to transpire. Expecting an outcome that simply could not happen since I am not privy to all information related to the outcome. The outcome that I fear will happen, not the reality, not the outcome the universe has in store.
As to events that lead to experiences, they happen. They happen without my input, without my prompting. Events come from without, but interpretation of those events comes from within; follow the trail and you end up naming them ‘experiences’, most especially when they happen more than once. Then you call them habits.
“You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life’.”
– Wayne Dyer
Habits, good, bad or otherwise, need periodic evaluation and consideration. Habits mark you as a person, they define you in predictable ways and make your behavior cyclic to others. I used to have a lot of good habits that fell by the wayside as a result of agoraphobia and job loss, such as eating in restaurants and going to art museums.
On this trip I had the occasion to do both. Of course, it was not without a great deal of hemming and hawing from me, with a big dose of grumpiness and quite a bit of reticence. Still, I had made myself promises that I would be open to doing things I don’t often do anymore. That meant being a little more outgoing. That meant being open to experiences. It meant being open to testing myself and being accepting of either failure or success.
After the experience of meeting twelve new people, dining in three different restaurants and meeting up with people for a birthday party at a bar prior to a restaurant, I had done okay. I had been as open and receptive as I could be, with a varying degree of success. I had practiced grounding techniques, centering techniques, mindfulness exercises and any other way I could think of to decrease my anxiety in these situations, and incredibly, those techniques worked well in practice! I was able to actually strike up many conversations. I didn’t feel like I was from another planet.
“I don’t want the fear of failure to stop me from doing what I really care about.”
– Emma Watson
On the last day of my visit my hosts took me to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, pictured above. It was here more than anywhere else in the trip that my old self really and truly surfaced again after so many, many years. So many items in the museum fascinated me! And at one in particular I was so excited by the work that I actually danced a little dance and laughed in absolute glee.
I had found again (if even for a little while) the primal and internal joy that I feel when I identify with what others express in their work. I was so happy that in the galleries were works both new and old to my eyes, art so lush and full of life and even beautifully carved marble ossuaries for old, dead bones.
From the boldness of Sol Lewitt (above) to the pop art of Andy Warhol, the 20th Century gallery was eclectic and dynamic. As a child of the era these works somehow speak clearly to me. Robert Motherwell, Dale Chilhuly, Louise Nevelson and on and on and on. It brought back to me all of the years of my time spent in the Guggenheim, The Whitney, MoMA and more; it brought back all the wonderful discoveries as if they were somehow brand new ‘old friends’.
Then it was the profound joy of the furniture of Art Deco and La Belle Epoque. Mastery defined, glowing, brilliant and quirky, filled with flowing design or blocky certainty, gilt, gold, lacquer, mirrors, over the top or elegance in expression. And as I am always in the presence of such things I was awestruck.
But it is not only the joy of the design, it is the representation of the time I first learned of it. It is the remembrance of the special people, the remarkable places, of being a young man learning a lifetime love.
In truth, once we had left the museum I was ashamed.
I was appalled that I had denied myself for all these long years the pleasures that belong to all, from museums and restaurants to the simple conversation with a perfect stranger. I have denied myself my own education, my edification, my right of these things because a mental illness took from me my simple joys and replaced them with fear and self-loathing so that when I was asked to go out among the world, to walk in it and be a part of it, I wanted to hide.
“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.”
– Andre Gide
But I did not hide. I did not run, I did not shrink from the experiences as I have done for so very long. I used the tools I had learned to slow myself down, to be in the moment and to accept the gift presented to me. That gift was so deceptively simple: a day at the museum with Allyson and Jay.
And the simple gift was in reality no simple gift at all. Instead it was such a deep and meaningful reawakening that words fail me, and that’s saying something indeed. Here are words that come to mind. Real. Right. Joy. Fascination. Love.
Yes, love. Love for Ally and for Jay who (knowingly or not) made some serious inroads with an experience I have long denied myself, and that experience is freedom.
Freedom to live in the moment, to find joy in an afternoon of being among the history of others, to revel in the beauty of artistic expression and thought brought forward to me from countless works through many eons. But this freedom, however wonderful, however appreciated was only temporary and was only part of the experience that day.
Love for Ally and Jay. That was what I came away with. That, you see, is the true gift and a great lesson learned.