At first it was fun trying out my French, but after two hours of going from store to store in my sweatpants and sneakers, pantomiming foam board and rubber cement, I started to wonder if the evening was going to come together in time. By 7:30 P.M. though, everything was perfect — the room was filled with interesting people, there were delicious hors d’oeuvres, gorgeous flowers, and I was wearing a deep blue chiffon kaftan and long silver earrings. I couldn’t understand half of what people were saying about me, but I knew it was good. I was in Paris, the city of light, at an exhibition of my work and it turned out to be the most glittering night of my life.
Eight hours later, I found myself weeping in front of Oscar Wilde’s gravestone in the legendary Père La Chaise cemetery. I didn’t know exactly why I was crying then, but I know now.
As I wandered aimlessly up the narrow cobblestone passages, I was taken by the confusion of simple graves wedged between elaborate mausoleums. Stopping to read the inscriptions, I could hear the voices of generations of people speaking to their loved ones, both famous and unknown. There, on the headstones of saints and sinners alike, was carved: We love you, we miss you, we honor you.
I was filled with sadness—in the midst of all that caring, chiseled there in stone, was the shadow of my father and the lifetime I’d spent trying to understand his anger towards me. His anger has shaped my life in ways I am only now beginning to fathom.
Fifteen years later, while living in Boulder, Colorado, I was on my way up the stairs one evening and happened to look over at a ceramic figure I’d made in my early twenties. It was displayed on my staircase bookshelf under a spotlight. I’d always felt a strong affinity for it, though I never knew exactly why. I’d seen the dark mysterious shape so many times that I hardly noticed it anymore. This time it stopped me in my tracks. It looked like something disemboweled. Leaning towards it, I could feel the figure exuding an eerie emptiness. There in front of me was the incarnation of longing. Someplace inside of me a painful void was still hiding and there it was—exposed. The piece, I realized, was about me.
I went slowly up the stairs to look at other things I’d made. Moving from room to room, I surveyed the paintings, drawings and etchings that were hanging on the walls. My childhood was seeping out everywhere.
In a frenzy of activity, I began unearthing art and relics from my past. From shoe boxes and closets I pulled out photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, journal entries and poems. As my work table filled with objects, the landscape of my life was laid out in front of me.
Some of the things placed haphazardly beside each other seemed to exhibit a magnetic attraction and once locked together, they moved as a pair. A faded quotation, clipped from the pages of my later life, fell arbitrarily next to a series of small paintings. I’d created the colorful images right before I was married and they depicted the developmental stages of an embryo. The quotation that had fallen next to them read “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Suddenly, the paintings were no longer simply about birth—they were also about the forgotten seedling of myself.
Hours morphed into days as I scanned the bits and pieces into my computer. The things I’d surrounded myself with, I was discovering, were revealing an untold story. It felt so much more urgent than the design jobs I was working on, even though no one was paying me to do it. Eventually I became consumed.
I would wake up before dawn and on my way to the bathroom I’d step into my studio, turn on my computer and heat up some water for tea. On the way back, I’d stop for a second to look at my monitor. The next thing I’d know it would be four in the afternoon, I’d be sitting at my computer still in the silk long johns I wear to bed, having not yet brushed my teeth, and the UPS guy would be knocking at the door. I don’t know if it was divine intervention or demonic possession — I’m an artist, a graphic designer, not a writer. Yet, there I was, words and phrases pouring out of me faster than I could process. Or I should say pouring into me and from there emptying onto the pages. A book began to materialize — a book telling the story of my father and me.
I’ve always had a tough time with the subject, but once it took the form of a compelling project,I embraced it with the same openness I approach all creative challenges—and in the process somehow it managed to untangle itself. For as I found order for the objects and pieces of paper in my hands, I discovered that I, myself, was being reassembled.
I never intended to do a full-fledged Life Review, but I couldn’t stop thinking about some of the unanswered questions. Why was my father so angry at me? Why did he try to alienate me from the rest of the family?
Searching for answers, I uncovered a bombshell that threatens to shatter a core belief I’ve held all my life.