Open Canvas For Our Scars

I know you hurt.  There are things inside you that you keep buried deep within yourself, hidden underneath the list of chores you haven’t done, the nine to five you may have once loved but now feels constant.  Endless.  That smile you put on in front of others to hide your brokenness, like a bow on a badly wrapped present. 

Sometimes you travel.  There are so many pretty things in this world, so much to do with one life.  You take pictures in front of monuments.  You take pictures with beautiful people, smiling like you mean it.  You don’t look too bad yourself.  Post them on Instagram, write about your great time on Facebook.  Scroll down your feed and see that everyone else is doing the same.  They’re living a better life than you, you think.  Maybe they’re just as broken.

I know you walk like you have places to be, people to see.  So many things to keep you busy, distracted from the one thing that’s been gnawing at the base of your brain, it’s fangs sunk into the soft matter of your cerebellum, cutting the link between your mind and your emotions, happy and sad and angry and excited and the rest that live between, leaving you apathetic.  Technically alive.

I’ve been there.  I know how it is to float through life with eyes open, heart beating and mind shut.  I know how it is to use movement as a drug, as if the place I was going would erase the feeling that I needed to be somewhere else.  The problem is the silenced conscious mind cannot tame the unconscious mind for long.  Who I am always eventually comes out, no matter how hard I try to hide myself from others.  I learned from many artists before me, big names, big works, that my unabridged self was the key to good art.  That message was echoed in a documentary I’d seen some time ago about the filming of the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey.

The footage found within these recordings were hidden from the media by Universal Studios for almost twenty years, the higher-ups telling Carrey they didn’t want the public to think he was an “asshole.”

Watching the documentary, I understood what they meant.  Once the clapperboard fell and the scene was cut, Carrey maintained character.  He talked like Andy Kaufman and Kaufman’s alter ego, Tony Clifton, during the shoot and after.  He hassled and cursed and pushed around other actors like Kaufman did on screen.  Needless to say, this did not make him very popular on and off set.

Carrey’s approach to continuous method acting grew contagious.  The actor portraying Andy Kaufman’s father Stanley, acting as Stanley, approached Carrey in his trailer as he was getting his makeup done and had a father-son fight about trivial father-son things until Fake Stanley stormed out of his trailer.  One of the makeup artists cried and said the scene reminded her of her own family.

The most striking story Carrey told was one that involved the real Andy Kaufman’s daughter.  She was born out of wedlock and given up for adoption at a very young age.  She never knew her father, only knowing of him from the characters and caricatures he played on television.  Andy died of lung cancer before she ever got a chance to meet him. 

While taping Man on the Moon, Kaufman’s daughter went to pay a visit to Carrey, instead meeting her dad’s spiritual manifestation through the man that played him.  They went back to “Andy’s” trailer and talked and reminisced and said they loved each other.  According to Carrey, that was the first time she’d met her dad.

The most interesting point Carrey made in the documentary seemed the most obvious.  Every character he’d ever played, every person he took from script to screen, was an extension of himself.  The person he created from the words he’d read on paper was a subconscious reconstruction of a part of him he couldn’t name, he barely knew. 

In I Needed Color, a short documentary on Carrey’s little known practice of visual art and painting, the actor states “You really don’t know what a…painting totally means, you think you do…And then like a year later, I’ll realize that the painting was telling me what I needed to know about myself a year before.”

I can relate.  I recall my sixth grade English teacher holding me back for recess one afternoon for disrupting the class.  She asked me to write her an apology letter.  I grabbed a pencil and loose leaf lined paper, sat at my desk with my head to my sheet, and wrote a generic apology letter as I was asked.  I got through a few lines and signed my name.  I looked to the clock above the portable door and saw that I had time until the recess bell rang, so I drew a picture at the bottom of my apology letter.  I tried to draw a lion with its mouth open, bearing its sharp teeth.  I didn’t know why I wanted to draw a lion, I could barely even draw. 

I sketched a mane around the lion’s head.  The mane looked like hair, and made the animal appear more like a scorned woman than a lion.  I folded my sheet in half to hide the lion.  The teacher only needed to see the apology letter.

“Mina, are you done?”

“Yes.”

“Can I see it please?”

I approached her and handed her my letter.  She sat and read it and glared at my writing for a moment. 

She grabbed hold at the crease in the middle of the folded sheet and spread the paper.  She saw my lion.  I stood and stared and wondered if she liked my work.

“You know, if you wanted to draw me,” she started, “it would have made more sense to use another sheet of paper.”

“It’s a lion,” I said.

She handed me my sheet. 

“I need another letter Mina,” she said.  “One without a crude drawing of me.”

I walked to my desk, face to my paper, and sat and stared at my work.  The wild bushy hair.  The vicious teeth through an open mouth.  The stare of subtle rage in its slit eyes.  This lion looked like my teacher.  I’d drawn my teacher at her ugliest and given her a copy of my work.  My mind, rooted in my unconscious dislike for her, created something true, something real, without my knowing.

That was grade six. 

Today, I write.  Like Carrey, the main characters I created in my own work were a representation, to some level, of my innermost self.  When they laughed, I laughed.  When they hurt, I hurt.  We often shared the same love, same hate, same fear.  Any time I’d written outside of myself, disregarding the things my subconscious mind worked out without my knowing, the content I’d produced would often feel contrived and stale.  This happened when I tried to write what I felt people wanted to read.   I was not giving myself to those who would take, that definition of love, to give wholly of your person.  To write to be praised is to create to take.  There is no love.

“When your heart is in love, your floating, weightless” Carrey continues in I Needed Color.  “But when you lose that love, you have to re-enter the atmosphere, and it can get pretty rough, ‘cause your just bouncing off one molecule and onto the next.  Ripping through them at such a pace that they just ignite and explode until you find another heart that’s doing the same thing, has landed, and cooled, and then you start to float again.”

Jim Carrey, like the rest of us everyday humans, has known love and lost it.  Carrey had been with some big names in Hollywood, supermodels and actresses, and let go.  He’d also dated beautiful people with no name, and in time, he let go of them too.  Sometimes that conscious choice to re-enter his atmosphere proved fatal for the ones he once loved.  A few years ago, one of his past girlfriends committed suicide after the dissolution of their relationship. 

She was broken.  He was broken.  They couldn’t fix each other.

What does an artist do with that pain?  The beauty in one’s brokenness.  The understanding that the man with money and power and women ends the same as the man without. 

You share your brokenness with a broken world.  The colours and shapes of your pain, the green of your struggle and the red of your scars, the jagged edges of your sting and those that hurt you, those you hurt, you give to the people, open canvas. 

People look to an artist’s work to identify in words or pictures something that they can’t see within themselves, the lion they hide from their outer man, but the inner man knows too well.  It was never a lion.

For art, for man and for woman, give yourself.  Give truly of yourself.  Build that bridge between your broken heart to another’s.