“Faith sat facing her computer. She was trying to tell a story. The words came like beads on a string, one at a time, slid slowly from her mind through her fingers onto the page. She watched them fill up, one hundred words, two hundred words, three hundred, and as she wrote, and the words flowed, there was an easing of the knot in her stomach. Each day she wondered if she could do this again, if she could follow the thread, if the words would come. It wasn’t just about a book, this time, it was about her life, and the lives of the women around her, precious and dear, it was about how she wanted to reach out and touch them, to soothe their spirits, to let them know that she cared. These were not just words of a story but threads of a tapestry, woven together with love, a soul’s journey over time and space. Each word mattered, each woman mattered, both the ones whose stories she was telling and the women who were reading them. She thought of one woman, and then another, that she had talked to, that she had hugged and held, women whose hearts were burdened with sorrow, or who were having the first intimations of joy and yet were afraid to trust them. She wanted to let them know that she was there, that she knew, she understood, she was with them in spirit, and that the spirit was strong, and that the tapestry was woven fine, it would support each of them, would hold them close, that they were all safe and in this vast number of women there was enough love to hold up the whole world.
Faith took a deep breath. She typed slowly, and then faster, sentence after sentence came to the rhythm of her heart beating, a long strand of beads forming at her feet, like holy rosaries the strands grew, and the women gathered, and they knew, as she did, that they need never be alone again, that they were part of a gathering of women, a collective, a congregation, and that though they were women of every color of the rainbow, in every country of the world, their hearts beat as one and that it was holy, it was divine.
Faith knew not how the words came, but she followed them until she was spent. The rest would come another day.”
My Ladies are finding their purpose, their mission, and it was with Faith’s story today that it came clear to me. Each of these Ladies has an experience, a moment, another bead on a string of a life lived. And these stories come through me, but not to me, my children, in the sense of Gibran’s children in The Prophet. They are life longing for itself, as he wrote, and my job is simply to capture what comes each day.
I have struggled with this. The early Ladies had, for the most part, fanciful stories, fun stories, even the more serious ones were different than the stories as they are coming now and this has both surprised me, baffled me, made me feel shy wherein they were more than obviously autobiographical, and finally they have come to a more settled place inside of me. I am not, now, just playing with the Ladies. I am their partner in work that I feel is important, important for me to do at least, and it is just now that I begin to see a direction for them. In telling their stories, I hope to reach and touch other women, to heal hurt places, give courage where I can, help others feel less alone, more understood, more acceptable when trying to find a way to live in the world from broken places. I want to heal through stories and art, and teach others how they can do the same.
Make your art and tell your story. That is the message of the 100 Ladies. And art might be drawing and painting, or any of the fiber arts, or making music, or any other artform available to you. And when you have made your art, let what was inside of you flow outward through the prism of the art you make, then tell your story, the story of the moment, of the day, of the life as it has been and is being lived, but mostly it is in the stories of the moments that the whole is reflected. It is in each moment that we are healed, in each moment that we are understood, in each moment that we are seen. It is my mantra now, Make your art and tell your story. It is what I do each day with my 100 Ladies, it is how I will write this book this year, and it is what I intend to teach.
I cannot begin to tell you what this means to me and it has been a long time coming. It is four years in the making. It is months of daily drawing, painting, and storytelling. It is a long walk through a dark night of the soul and the very beginning of coming to see the light. It is a revelation, it is, for me, a miracle. The day I drew the first of the 100 Ladies in the spring of 2013 was a moment of unbelievable trust and faith in myself the likes of which I had never known. Longing to be an artist since I was a child but having had an experience in school with a teacher who told me I would never be an artist in a cruel, heartbreaking way, I longed in secret but told people I “couldn’t even draw a stick figure.” I thought if I couldn’t draw in the way that I saw other artist’s drawing, if I couldn’t draw realistic, true to life figures then no I wasn’t an artist and would never be one. The day that I drew the first of my Ladies with pastels in an 8×8″ sketchbook, a lopsided, cattywompus, odd sort of Lady, something in me went over the moon with a kind of joy I had never known. And I drew another and another and another and each one came with a story. The Lady and her story were part of a whole and The 100 Ladies Project was born. I didn’t understand what it meant or what it would become, it simply became a practice — draw the Lady, write her story. And so it went until the fire in 2014 destroyed my home and I lost all of my work.
It has taken a long time for me to gain the confidence to begin again but the Ladies never died. They kept resurfacing here and there, and finally in October they came to stay, and now they are finding their way. This year I see a book of Ladies and their stories, and in the process the material that I am meant to teach is flowering in the garden in my heart. After nearly 40 years of teaching journal classes, and writing professionally, I have found what my new life is meant to be, writing, drawing, painting, and teaching. And over the next year all of the parts and pieces of those things will find their way into a cohesive body of work. Until then I will create a Lady each day, write her story, write here on the blog what I am learning, growing, and discovering, and find my way with it all. The Ladies are teaching me, I am a willing and eager student.
Make your art and tell your story. I have begun. It is time to continue on with the Ladies. I will let them lead the way.