Today I found it. In fact, I found it yesterday but was so stunned that it had finally arrived that I didn’t quite believe it. But today, as I carefully laid out my paints, water, X-acto knife, glue and paper it was with an intense sense of purpose, of knowing exactly what I wanted to convey. My collages so far have always tied into the larger world, be it some form of social injustice, suffering, or rage. The way I feel about the world is in my collages, but I am not.
Last Tuesday I went to the hospital. As someone without health care, I’ve been very lucky to have found a hospital that provides a sliding scale, so this visit was planned some weeks ago. When my name was finally called I went into the office, explained my problem to the friendly doctor, who then called in his supervisor.
For the first time since I’ve been attending this teaching hospital, I felt like a specimen. The supervisor was smelly and socially awkward. He never addressed me directly as he explained what he thought my condition was. He then called in two other young doctors and enthusiastically explained my body (and the slides of cultures they had taken from me) were to be the subject of their two o’clock class.
Not once did this man look me in the eye as he talked about my almost nude body, the blue paper gown having been pulled aside often during his impromptu lesson. This pissed me off, but I endured because I needed my issue addressed.The friendly doctor looked at me apologetically and once the others had left, he made sure to be extra kind to me.
When I got home, I was morose. The idea that I was nothing more than a slide for a doctor’s course hurt, although I know on a very basic level, this is how doctors are trained. As I have done often of late, I got out my paints and just rambled with the colors. Nothing kicked off and so, I returned to reading a novel and waited. Every day, I got up and painted, cut, glued, and tossed away several ideas. Finally I painted myself, dropping paint on the parts that hurt the most, and on the parts I wanted to hide. When I was done, I threw the squares of watercolor paper in my waste basket and went to bed. On Friday morning, I fished out the fitfully created paintings and tore them up and put them back together again, and I as I did this some thing turned. Of all the collages I’ve done, “Ghazal” is the one that made me lay my head in my hands and weep; I am the last line in my own poem. And, finally, I found a subject that I have been unconsciously avoiding: an exploration of my self, my body (which has seen too many doctors lately), what it means to be in this flesh that feels so often like it is betraying me, what it’s like to live with a broken heart. For this exploration I can not use other people’s pictures — every vein, crookedly painted arm, swollen belly, awkwardly jutting hip has to be of my own creation and all of these women must have a name.