Over the course of time we come to believe certain things about ourselves. But sometimes we start to believe and hold onto something that just isn’t true.
The seed from which we grew any belief may not be evident. We may have had evidence that something was true; that is, we remembered a time we behaved a certain way, we named that behavior deciding exactly what was meant by our actions, and added it to our self-portrait. Or, someone may have told us we could, or couldn’t, do something and we accepted what he or she said.
But where these beliefs came from is not so much the point as; are they true?
For me, I knew I was an introvert. So, when I went to live in London for twenty-two months, I decided to take all of my photographic equipment – that is, my developing and printing equipment (I did film, not digital, at the time.) I was moving to London by myself and knew no one there. I would take this equipment and set up a darkroom, I told myself, because I would be alone and would not make any friends. Twenty-two months would be a long time to be by myself, but my photography would keep me occupied. If nothing more, I would come back to the US with some great photos of London.
My landlords (Bez and Amanda), who had previously lived in my London home and retired to France, came to greet me the day I moved in. After showing me around the house, they took me to my local pub, The Kings Arms, about 10 doors down from mine. There they introduced me to some of the staff and a few neighbors. The following Saturday afternoon, Bez sent his daughter to fetch me and again take me to the pub. I reluctantly joined her and her friends. This was all very demanding of me, yet exciting at the same time.
Charlie, whom I had met during my first visit to the pub, was once more working behind the bar and I was happy to see a familiar face. During the course of the evening he encouraged me to visit again, but I explained that I couldn’t. I would never go to a bar by myself in the US. It just wouldn’t be done and certainly not by me. I don’t know if it was his English accent, his charm, the alcohol, being placed in new surroundings, or because I wanted to believe, but by the close of the evening I had convinced myself it would be acceptable for me to return to the pub on my own. And so I did. And each time I went, I met new people; staff, locals, transients.
I came to know many people in my neighborhood and many knew me by name. I enjoyed taking a book to read, but mostly taking a book in which to write, as I sat at the restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and bars in the area. Funny thing is that while this might have isolated me, instead it wound up opening doors. I was frequently asked about what it was I was writing, which then turned into a conversation.
I became the unofficial cocktail tester as the staff at The Baltic concocted new recipes. I participated in lock-ins at several pubs. I played blackjack with the bartenders at The Pit Bar (under the Old Vic Theatre) on slow nights before it became a popular destination. I scrubbed the floors of Scooterworks in preparation for an art show. I danced at Mari Terra, Cubana and other venues, and attended all-night parties in artists’ lofts watching the sunrise through the skylight.
I met John Calder who would buy me after dinner brandies when we bumped into each other at Pizza Paridiso. I met Kevin Spacey at The Pit Bar and wound up amongst a group sharing drinks with him at Da Vinci’s. I learned about the Southbank mafia as I came between a friend and the broken glass that had just gashed his cheeks. I met up and coming actors (including Pericles Snowdon who is in the currently showing film Collaborators), writers, dress makers, musicians and artists, and attended their performances. Somewhere in there, Handsome-David, friend, actor and Pit Bar bartender, dubbed me “Queen of The Cut”.
I stayed in London 7½ years and never setup my darkroom. For many of those years I insisted on telling people I was introverted – even as the above events unfolded – even as I continually found myself talking to total strangers. So, am I really introverted? Does “Queen of the Cut” = introverted person?? There are indeed times that I want to be on my own. There are times I would rather have a conversation with one person, than be involved with a large group. There are times I feel awkward with people, with sharing, with expressing myself. There are times it is hard to walk out of the front door to attend an event. And… there are times when none of that is true and I find myself in the zone, talking to people, giving them a part of me, taking on a bit of them and thriving on the energy this produces.
We were given a canvass (clean or not is a topic for another day) upon which we could create our self-portrait. As we came to know a bit about ourselves, we began painting. We added a defining line as it seemed to become apparent to us. We added some color, though we may have been limited by what colors we had immediately available. We added objects as we found new loves and passions. We added a stroke here and there in our facial expression as we developed an understanding of our thinking and feeling. At some point we decided the picture was finished and set it aside thinking it an accurate representation of who we were.
But even great artists choose to make changes to their work. Picasso’s Guernica continually evolved, I imagine as he came to better understand how he saw and felt about his subject matter and how he wanted it conveyed. Spending time focusing on his work, perhaps he experienced some revelation which provided him some new understanding. So too should we revisit our self-portrait and see what has morphed, disappeared or been inserted. What was it we did not fully understand, that with time our inner wisdom has clarified?
I can laugh at myself now and wonder how things might have been had I not allowed myself to suspend my preconceived notions about me. I pushed myself hard and it was not always easy. Yet I am forever grateful to that part of me that decided I may not be so sure of my capabilities. That part that challenged what I had accepted about myself, which may have forever limited my life experiences.
So let’s imagine that we have that canvass in front of us now. Let’s examine it closely. We’ll use the newer, more complete, set of colors now at our disposal and view it in the improved lighting we have harnessed. Let’s change the picture, opening it up for what’s next. And let’s never set it aside as a completed work.