Have you ever come across a missive from an earlier version of yourself? A note or writing or creative project long forgotten that upon discovery doesn’t inspire any rekindling of memory? It seems like a small miracle- finding such a small snippet. As if the younger smarter me had it all figured out, and left the information for me to find now in my older more decrepit state. Wow, thanks old me.
These last few weeks as I spend time in my newly resurrected studio space, diving deeply back into working with plant dyes, I have “discovered” several useful things my younger self documented and put together. At first when confronted with evidence of all that my brain has let go of, I had a sense of anger and loss- as in “Damn CHEMO!” It is one thing to recognize that my brain has changed, quite another to be confronted with cold hard evidence. That old me it seems was quite a different person. Someone with a longer attention span and greater dexterity. She understood things and knew things that I don’t. She could do mental math for one thing.
At times it feels a bit as if I have inherited my studio from someone else. While looking through a three ring binder of samples, I found a table I had created in 2005 of dye plants listing preferred temperature and pH range for each one. I have absolutely no recollection of having made it. I am currently experimenting using silk that I mordanted a dozen years ago. I am finding that I have received a very valuable inheritance indeed. The residual neuropathy of my hands may never fully depart it seems – and that effects how I work. My brain may not as easily remember numbers and facts, but my “inherited” materials and good notes from the past support me now.
Having an indigo vat for the first time in ten years is a beautiful beautiful thing. Notes from old me led me throughout the process of setting up a natural fermentation vat. The colors on silk it produces are lovely. Indigo is pure magic. The iron vat I also set up is helping me just play with relearning how to use clamping and binding to create pattern on cotton. Such a joy to work in the space designed and set up by my former self. Wow, thanks old me.
As I simmer up pots of color from various things, like scotch broom flowers, I find that the smells evoke feelings of familiarity and excitement. This is the same excitement which enticed me to defect from the biology department at the end of my junior year at UO. I moved over to the art end of campus and pursued a BFA, a Batchelor of Fine Arts, in fiber arts with a focus on natural dyes. My life long love of string was impossible to resist once I realized that a lifelong love of plants could be combined with string in a pot to cook up such sumptuous colors.
While at UO I was privileged to know several women in their forties who were boldly returning to school to pursue art. They talked of their children and husbands- they provided me with a model of lifelong learning and risk taking to pursue art at any age. They spoke of how their life experiences had deepened their creative process. They did not express regret at having set aside art to raise children. Now that I am in my forties I am reminded of their journey, and how mine parallels theirs in some ways. Gratitude wells up in my heart to have had their example to guide my own creative renaissance.
I too have decided to take a big risk. I am currently training my replacement at the referral desk of the small clinic where I have been working for two and a half years. The plan is to take a bit of time to work in my studio this summer and to then slowly reintegrate myself into work in the Scorcher Artisan Cooperative. The time spent at the clinic has been very good for me in many ways- It has provided a chance to get back on my feet in the world after my treatments ended, it was challenging, and has felt like right livelihood, in that I have been helping people and advocating for people to get the care they needed. But now it feels like it is time to move on.
The wake up call provided by cancer-ing has had some time to mature. Perhaps I would not have had the courage to pull anchor from a steady job and set off on this next phase of my life if cancer had not come to call. There is no going back to my life before cancer – that me is however still somehow present – It feels a bit as though she is cheering me on as I make these changes now. I am looking forward to playing in my studio and discovering who this new me is. What work will I make with my new hands and brain? I can’t wait to find out.