This is the story I wrote recently for my friend, Jenny Doh. It was part of her Art Saves project on her site.
Words from today...about the words of yesterday...empowering tomorrow.
I make my living as an artist, but until this medium walked into my life (OK rode in on a horse) I had never made anything with my hands before. I make my living sewing, but I don't know how to sew. I never took an art workshop in my life ... but I was in love with art books and dreamed of paintbrushes in tin cans on windowsills. Problem was I couldn't paint. I thought I couldn’t be an artist because I couldn't draw. That is until the day I first put layers of paper and fabric together and changed my world.
Empowering with Words
In my twenties and even into my thirties I was a professional singer. A songbird is a storyteller with lyrics. When I retired from the road I put pencil to paper and wrote a novel ... definitely a storyteller in an obvious way there. And when I first began to do the work that is now my signature style, words were a part of it ... and still are. So the thread of storytelling continues through my life. This time I am singing with mixed-media at the top of my lungs. Words. Always words. Everything I do they are a part of it.
So when I began to send “my girls” out the door of Lipstick Ranch and into the world, women began to send me their own words ... telling me how they read the piece of my art they owned before they walked out the door to a job they hated or before they went to chemo. They told me how the words I wrote on my work were their saving grace in a day without laughter, in a house where they were powerless. I was humbled and prayed I would always put my best self into my words and that they would continue to make a difference, continue to empower women.
Tears & Anger
Then one day in 2002, completely out of the blue, my husband of 21 years announced he wanted a divorce and that he was in love with a girl 25 years younger than me that he had known for two weeks. All righty then. It was a marriage whose better days had come and gone and I had often thought that it should end ... BUT no woman wants the man she has been with for half her life to leave her for a girl who was 4 when they got married. I was so angry. Quite sure I could have spit nails. But when I get angry I don't spit nails ... I cry. It’s just what I do. The girls I breathe life into in my work are perfectly capable of said spitting, but I am a crier. Everything came to a halt as I cried from morning to night ... pacing, angry woman, sometimes little girl lost ... but always crying. Then I got angry that I was crying so much. Problem was I cry when I get angry. Needless to say my work came to a halt, walking my dogs became a chore, everything changed.
But three weeks into this shift in my life a friend of mine called me. It was midnight ... she had had an epiphany ... and probably a couple of vodkas, but nonetheless. My phone rang and she said very emphatically, “KC! Go in your studio and read your own work!” Excuse me? I know what my works says. What the heck good was that gonna' do? She insisted, saying, “No, I mean really read it. Take it in like you've never seen the words before. Please.” She loved me, but she was also sick and tired of the crying. I could hear the begging in her voice.
Women from the Past
So I hung up the phone and went into my studio. There they were ... the women from the past ... all over my walls. I didn’t need to walk from piece to piece and read the words. I had written them. I knew them by heart. What I needed to do was listen to them. Shhhhh. Listen. So I closed my eyes and heard their words ... this time speak to me. “My hands are strong, my back is strong, but most importantly my heart is strong,” “If a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one,” and “I may look like a girl still, but it was the women in me who made it over the mountains.”
I had sent hundreds of pieces out into the world. Pieces that had inspired and empowered the women who owned them. But now they were giving it right back to me. I walked out of that room, never shed another tear, and have never looked back. Words sent out ... coming back home.