“The demanding memory that comes to you of itself…”
from Frank Herbert’s Dune
I bought a book by a father who lost his eighteen-year-old daughter to cancer. The concept I had of the book from reviews of it was a collection of memories of the girl, a relating of the process of searching for a cure and a log of how the two on them approached and handled the idea of her dying and how they dealt ultimately with knowing she was going to pass away. There was mention of artwork and poetry and healing, at least in my imagination.
It was not the book I thought it would be, when it arrived, not the book I needed. Not a bad book. I am just in a state where I had very explicite expectations and the desperate need for a particular book, a book this was not. And I’m not in a place to accept the difference, to accept a book that isn’t pretty much exactly that. That book, I think I may have to write for myself.
That’s how I started painting.
I always had the need to draw on paper, to capture visual memory and visual creation. tBut these drawings were small drawings, not ambitious works. I started painting when I began making things that I would want to hang on my wall. I was in high school, had no money, couldn’t afford posters. I painted images I wanted to see, visions that would inspire, enliven my world, create a sense of wonder and awe and that ethereal sense of beauty.
Now we come to writing. I’m trying to capture what I was hoping to find, what I had expectations to find, and then write that book.
Part of that capture is “ADAB”, the memory that comes of itself and demands attention and cognizance.
Finding the memories that are important to write about, that capture a word picture of who this woman, my daughter, was. Why she was who she was. The stubbornness and strength of purpose and character that both helped her live beyond where the disease should have managed to kill her and ultimately helped her reach a place of peace when that life was no longer possible.
Part of that is working through images.
My images, the pictures I took of the “wall of IVs” when she was 42 days in ICU and induced coma and survived. The memory images of her gaining strength through March and April and May. Pictures, photographs of her at her birthday in 2010, 24 years old and beginning to look like a survivor, a cancer survivor. Memories of November, when one side of her face was paralyzed and she was wearing a headband to cover the frightening shunt scar in her scalp. The shunt that allowed chemo drugs to be dosed three times a week to kill leukemic cells hiding in her brain… That was when the darkness started to climb back in, I can feel the shadows. The frailty in December, the unbelievable surgical incision, literally opened up across the belly and ravaged to get a couple more weeks of life (which we did not know, she did not yet know… There was still hope there…).
Other’s images, especially Picasso – at nineteen his best friend kills himself in despair over a woman, and Picasso is devastated. He works it out in the Blue Period, in images that are timeless. Picasso’s “Evocation” , “La Vie”…
I want to paint my daughter as she was in my memory as baby, as that small chest rising and falling in a crib, as that child exultant, riding without training wheels.
I want to paint her as she flowered into a vibrant young woman, learning to dream and to love. I want to paint the devastation and joy of those first 42 days in ICU hell. The ravaging leukemia created on her body, the frailness and fragility come on her suddenly. The life force beneath forcing healing despite impossible adversary. Capture the paralysis on one side of her face, contrasted with the brilliant beauty that was there just before, and was still there, if you knew how to look.
That knowing how to look, that’s essential – showing that in a painting, giving that awareness to the person seeing it, someone who didn’t know Ash. Knowing both what you see in the result of disease, what changes in the nature of the person physically, and seeing beneath that to the person within. To both the qualities that are beauty and the pattern that is/was there in beauty, physical beauty, before.
People ARE beautiful in the forms that result from their lives – they lose that un-formed-ness I see in models – they are beautiful, but no character, no life in face or body. These paintings should show both that outer form, the beauty hit by an adversary, but still there, and the inner strength and struggle of life to stay. If I could find that, that would be something. Something to treasure. I can feel the tears streaming blurring already.
I saw that. That frailness and ethereal release in the last few days, when she knew she would not survive this. A calm acceptance and treasure of each moment.
I promised Ashley I would paint sunsets from the pictures she took off the Redondo Beach Pier, and I will do that too. But these images, that’s important too.