A little over six months ago, Thanksgiving weekend to be exact I was contacted by The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, California requesting my participation in their Iris Night lecture Series. I responded with “I would be honored to speak and share my work with you.” This simple response led me over the next several months struggling to find the right words to connect to my life and work. Ultimately, I decided to share the good and bad and speak my truth on how I was inspired to create.
This last week I feel as if I have experienced a second Thanksgiving through sharing my truth. I was truly and deeply lifted to a higher place of healing. The stories that people shared with me after the talk and the steady streaming of emails I’m receiving resonate with my spirit and confirm to me that when we share our truth we can connect on a deeper spiritual level. California you were truly sublime.
“How was your trip, How was the talk, What did you say, Will you send me your speech, Were you scared, Did people show up, Why were you there?”
These are just a few of the questions people are asking me. I’ve spent the last several months in what I call my “hibernation mode.” (aka- the state of being quiet and restless) I’ll try and answer the questions knowing that language is just a symbol, and I can’t fully articulate in words what the experience was like. But, let me try with this little story.
The adventure started out at my parents’ house the night before my husband, and I flew to Los Angeles. My mother would fly out the next day, but my father was unable to attend the talk. He wanted to hear the speech, but I was not up to practicing the talk because I was coming down with a cold or maybe it was just nerves. So like any good husband, (and I have the best) John gave us “my talk” in my parents’ living room. It was entertaining to hear my husband speak my words. I hoped that I would not sound as silly.
Fast forward and we are now in L.A. and enjoying roaming, two days before the actual talk. John was excited to be drinking beer and eating sushi. I honestly was calm but would have preferred to be laying horizontal covered in blankets in my hotel room- I pushed on. The following day my mother arrived, and we all went to the Annenberg to test the presentation and videos. We realized shortly that the videos were not working properly. This was huge because I prepared two of my series to be shown with music. If the video did not work then, I would be left to stand up there and just "tell" and not "show" my work. The AV Manager, John Price realized the problem and the crisis were avoided. Whew! It was bigger than a Whew!
I woke up at early Thursday morning, the day of the talk without much sleep from the night before. I knew I would be nervous and not sleep well but I was exhausted and John and my Mom wanted to explore. That was not quite what I had in mind. My mother suggested I get a massage to help me relax before they dragged me all over L.A. So, off I went to the hotel spa. When I met the masseuse, she asked me “What brings you to L.A.?” I told her that I’m giving a lecture at The Annenberg Space for Photography, TONIGHT! She says “You will be a budding flower and fairies will rise up to kiss you as you speak” I’m not joking! I’m not joking! These were her exact words, and I liked it. Why? Because, my husband gave me a nickname 13 years ago, and this is it: Lavender, butterfly, fairy, flower, and button. My wedding ring actually has a flower, fairy wing, butterfly wing and button designed on the side of the ring. So, it was certainly no coincidence that she said that to me- a little whoo- hoo, but it is California. I could relate.
She was unbelievable.
We continued to explore… before the night began.
The three of us arrived at The Annenberg around 5pm. I did a sound check; we double checked the videos and talked with the delightful staff. They had a beautiful room with wine and cheese for us to enjoy. And, John ENJOYED. I was nervous but calm at the same time. It was a surreal feeling. I did not feel like being in the room waiting till they called my name so I wandered around the space and begin to see people I knew and that was truly comforting. I even met for the first time one of my dearest friends, Tracy Martin that I've known for five years but have never met in person. That is another story. I could hear the chatter of people filling the space, and was told by the staff that I had a full house and many more waiting to get in.
Okay, no running now. Not that I was thinking about it. Well, maybe a little.
The time came for the introduction. I was standing behind a wall peeking out to see who all these people were. I was trying to make eye contact with the ones I knew. Somehow I thought that would bring about some calmness and It did help.
I waited for “here is Angela …..”
Deep breath and....
Off I went to the podium saying to myself, “don’t trip on this long skirt and bust your head open.”
That did not happen.
Deep breath again, and I began
“So this is my first show and tell…………..” (Laughter)
“Why am I here and where am I going………” (Quietness)
I shared my story as a sexual abuse survivor and how as a young adult I pushed through the fear and pressed charges against “the abuser” leading to a 15 year conviction in prison. I expressed how I learned to navigate my life through creating art. And, that I continue to express my deepest fears and joys by acknowledging my struggles as a creature in constant change. I told them how having my son changed the way I created and pushed me to move outside the solitude of the studio and embrace nature. This change became spiritual as my son, and I roamed our environment. I shared my many different process including specific examples of pushing through the creative drudgery in order to get to where I need to be. These examples were met with laughter, and I was thankful for that. Very thankful! I showed them two series in a slide show format with music and after both were over the audience clapped and clapped loudly. Whew! I was extremely relieved for their response because I knew it was a risk to present the work that way, but I did not want to talk over the work. I made the right decision. I moved on to my most recent work “Traces of Existence” and shared with them my process with more examples and how sometimes it is not necessary to know how you arrived at the final image. Mystery is good even for the person creating it. I shared anecdotes, analogies, and ended answering my question I posed in the opening “why I am here and where am I going” I think I said something like this:
“I’ve learned that you can’t write that answer down on a piece of paper and shove it in a box and never ask it again. Life is about transitions and learning to thrive when they occur. It’s not about avoiding suffering but learning to create through the pain.” And, something about a tombstone and two little Blue birds- I probably could have left that out.
When the talk was over the audience begin to ask many exciting questions, and I loved answering them. After the questions, many, many people approached me and thanked me for my honesty in sharing my story. There were many similar hardships that people shared with me. I feel a deep connection with the ones I spoke with and will continue to communicate with the ones that shared and continue to share their personal pain with me. This was a life changing event for me and my heart is filled with gratitude and peace.
My journey was not over with the talk. I continued on to Santa Barbara for my show at Wallspace Gallery. John and my Mother returned to Dallas, and I finished the trip alone. Many lovely people showed up for the closing show at Wallspace Galley, but one person in particular touched my heart. His name was Jim Ward, the father of Crista Dix. (Owner of Wallspace Gallery) He was standing behind the flat files serving wine to guests when I arrived. He had a strong, loving presence about him that immediately resonated with me. I begin talking and explaining my work to many different people. I sensed Mr. Ward listening. The work in “Traces of Existence” stems from many recent, close deaths in my family. Mainly, my grandparents they were so nurturing and loving to me my entire life. I love them and miss them. I started talking to Mr. Ward, and he shared with me that he lived in Wichita Falls, Texas for a brief time during his basic training for the Air force many years ago. (This is where I live today) He went on to tell me many of his experiences overseas and how he loved to wander, explore and see the world at a time that was remarkably different from our current reality. I felt a sense of oneness with him as he spoke and I attributed this feeling to the similarity I felt he had with my Grandfathers. His stories elicited the same attention from me that my grandparent’s "good ole days" stories demanded. It was a short but nurturing encounter. When he was, leaving I could see he was getting emotional and that was just like my grandpa’s –EXACTLY how they responded at times and I do too. I don’t know how I can fully articulate this encounter, but it was the seal that surrounded this journey into one colossal, cluster of comfort! I gave him and Crista a hug and said goodbye.
I spent my last day in Santa Barbara exploring alone in complete silence with a beautiful sense of stillness and warmth. The craziness was over and I could return to Texas knowing that I had spoken my truth. I was met by the people of California with a thanksgiving attitude and it was truly transforming.
Thank you All!