This week I spent ten hours sitting in a chair on the convention floor with my Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work. I was fortunate to land a special exhibit within the huge Pacific International Quilt Festival on through today at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I had previously shown the exhibit with the same company’s Denver festival in 2011. I had been on the waiting list for two years for a space at this venue so I felt honored to be able to showcase this exhibit.
Yet I was ambivalent about being there in person. I am over the Tall Girl Series. It was an autobiographical healing body of work. It’s primary purpose was a vehicle for self-expression; that which had not previously been allowed or acceptable. It served its purpose in getting the story out of my bones and immensely healed my grief, sorrow, pain and anger over the whole ordeal.
Since I finished the 5-year project which included a self-published book, I’ve given over a dozen Powerpoint talks, marketed the traveling exhibit and landed four big exhibits. Other than the initial in 2010 I had not attended any of the exhibits. But this one being essentially in my backyard (two hours away) I decided I might go and sit there as often people want to meet the artist. I also knew if I stayed home I would be thinking about it all weekend. So I made a deal with myself to go for two days less driving time and lunch with friends.
It truly was an experiment in human psychology! The comments ranged from fabulous, gratifying, validating, to downright ridiculous and rude. Some were so honored to meet the artist, which made me grin inside. Others patted me on the back, shoulder and knee. And I really had to chuckle at the two women my mother’s generation who told me that at least I have a lovely smile! My mother often said…”so and so has such a pretty smile… if she would only lose some weight!” One gal came up and said she thought we went to the same college and we had. She figured that out from the description of the college piece.
Several told me I should write a book (I have), I should travel this exhibit (it has) and I should do something with it (?) There was a game of ‘guess who?’, a ‘you think that’s bad’, several ‘well let me tell you my life story’, dozens of ‘my granddaughter is tall’, several ‘would you do it over again’ questions and one guy very interested in what is to become of the exhibit in the long run…a thought I share. Those who were speechless about the work complimented me on my beautiful stitching which I appreciated.
Perhaps the most shocking were the people who did not read the backstory (100 words) which was posted at both ends of the exhibit. Unaware that I was the artist sitting there looking resplendent, there were comments about “Surgery/Suicide/You Decide” such as ‘how did that awful piece get in?!’ The most common reaction to this piece about anger, blame and rage was laughter. Oh yeah…real hilarious topic.
I could tell when it was time to get up and walk around as my graciousness began to wear off. I soothed myself with hand-dyed and African batik acquisitions. Other than those I did not look at a single quilt except the work of Anna Hergert which I adore. I went back to the solace of my room and ordered room service. By the end of the second day I was depleted for any more social conversation. I even had a drink by myself which Mom always said was the road to destruction!
Mostly what I got from the experience was it not only took a lot of courage to publicly show this deeply personal work but it took additional courage to sit there with it. I also had clarity once and for all about the future of the TG Series. I’m done. The work is done. The healing is done. I have moved on. I have never been a victim and never hope to be. My goal in showing this work has been primarily to show others there are creative outlets for our stories. Every one has a story! It need not be covered up with food, booze, drugs or UPS deliveries. It can be released creatively. That is my sole reason for sharing this work.
I have had numerous conversations with mentors since I finished the series about what’s next for the Tallgirl? The idea most floated was I create a DVD and take it into the schools to educate young people about body image, self esteem and bullying. And yet I haven’t done it. The idea has come up several times and inertia has always followed. Sitting in the exhibit made me aware that the inertia is about being finished and not wanting to do more.
When I first went public with my story it was the most validating and gratifying thing ever as I had been prohibited by my father from ever talking about it. I kept that ‘secret’ for over 40 years so of course it was validating. Now four years later I am tired of repeating the story. It is part of my history but not who I am. In fact it has gotten to feel a bit like a ‘victimization’ by the continual re-telling of it.
My work here is done. In fact when the exhibit returns I may not unpack it. I may just take it to the attic and entomb for posterity in the shipping tubes! Well probably not, but what an awesome thought.