For the past few months, I’ve been feeling restless, on the cusp of a new horizon, like I am beside myself and don’t know quite who this new person is that I am becoming. My experience of menopause is of a very deep and powerful transformation. I’ve been feeling very alone in it too, but recently I have been having conversations with women in my life and on Facebook. I’ve found some blogs and websites and have bought a few books. I am coming to realise that each woman’s experience of menopause is as individual as her thumbprint, even though there are many commonalities. I am also discovering that I, and many other women, view this transition as a deep journey and a time of coming into real power and profound Self-knowing. I absolutely do not label menopause as an anomalous state to be ashamed of or as an illness to be medicated away. Still, it isn’t an easy time for me. My artwork is my medicine.
One of my friends and Steve said to me in the past week, ‘Draw how you’re feeling’. My friend asked, What will you draw? And with what?’ I answered, ‘This place I am in and maybe it will be a self-portrait. I’ll use water-soluble pastels and maybe acrylic paints. I have some canvasses!’ Steve said, ‘Maybe you should just make some artwork. It will help you and maybe other people too. It’ll be brilliant. You’re brilliant’. :)
But I needed to feel into myself a bit more first. It isn’t so much that I feel beside a duplicate of me. More like there is a new empty space inside of me, new territory to explore and it’s scary. I could talk about it with my friend and she knew what I was talking about. I feel very grounded with Steve and it’s like he holds me and I’m holding this void. There is this space for a new something. A new something to emerge and a new place for me to inhabit and in the process, I am becoming someone new as I enter this new place. It’s all of this.
I was peeling shallots on Sunday night. You know how the bulb is wrapped in many layers of tissue-y skin, and then the flesh emerges?
Sometimes there are two bulbs curved into each other, or the one bulb is split in two, but is still contained within the whole. That’s how it is.
I woke up the next morning and brought my wax pastels to bed and drew this picture. To my surprise, ue-cetto, water snake in Muscogee, came to hold the space around my becoming. In our view of the cosmos, the water snake or water serpent or water panther inhabits the Lower World. I have so many books and websites that I have been visiting. I can’t lay my hands on the source right now, but I’ve read that the Lower World is associated with the feminine, with creativity, with chaos.
I wrote some words about the water snake wrapping herself around me into a transformational vessel.
I decided to paint it with dip pen & India ink and water-soluble crayons, pencils and pastels. I used a piece of 250 gsm mixed media A3 size paper.
First, I drew the design in pencil. My eyes are now closed and my hand reaches through the membrane separating me from the void.
ue-cetto encircles me.
I love drawing with a dip pen. I love the fluidity of the nib over the paper and the dipping into the ink pot. I erased the pencil lines once I had finished.
And then I put all of the colours in.
I wrote a poem, ue-cetto (water snake).
She comes to me in the watery depths
and wraps herself around me.
A transformational vessel
This place I know
but I am beside myself
Where dwells the Me I know?
She holds my death and rebirth . . . . .
for a dark, deep time.
Deep we dive,
which way is up?
Up and down no longer matter
She holds me in the dark.
Dark, dark, dark and deep.
My hands become my eyes
as I feel my way into a new place.
No longer beside myself
New horizons beckon.
-Melinda Schwakhofer, 2015
I wrote some of the lines of the poem onto the painting.
A powerful image from the Eastern Woodland ancestors of the Muscogee is the hand with the eye embedded in the palm.
In order to place the complete poem well onto the margin, I first wrote it on a slip of paper. Then I counted up the lines and penciled them onto the margin.
After writing the poem with grey ink, I erased the lines.
Here is the complete painting with the poem, which I may or may not keep intact.
Here are both images together.
I have a square canvas and acrylic paints. I will paint this again and see how it continues to transform. My artwork carries my transformation/journey which inhabits my artwork.