Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stepping through the MINE fields

On Monday I went to pick up my work from an art festival on the other side of the water. When I got to the exhibit, I headed to the back room where the unsold art is carefully stored in numbered bins, handed in my receipt, duly signed for my work, and wandered over to the appropriate bins to pick it up.

My piece was easy to see, as it was late in the day and most of the other work had already been picked up. But there were volunteers in the room whose job it was to do that FOR us, and even though I could see my piece the woman insisted on blocking me and heading to the wrong bin; I had to redirect her -- and then the woman had trouble getting it out of the bin because it was so big.

The experience definitely left a bad taste in my mouth -- as had my experience dropping the pieces off, when the process seemed equally awkward -- all the moreso because the piece, which was very bright and abstract, stuck out like a sore thumb in rooms full of more traditional art. But as I'm thinking back on it now, I'm thinking this was another case of the word MY getting in the way -- on both sides. For the volunteers, it was about MY JOB -- which was to make sure no one left with a painting other than their own -- and for me it was about MY PHOTOGRAPH: I could see it, it was mine, why couldn't I take it?

And now I'm wondering, what is it about this word MY (and now I can see one of my children snatching a toy from the other, saying loudly, MINE!) that makes it become such a battleground? Lest you think I am just speaking as an objective observer, I hasten to say I bumped up against this particular landmine -- or should I say MINE field? -- again yesterday in a conversation with a friend who is laying out an online exhibit for which I am the curator. She had designed the opening screen with the image I was thinking might be the winning image, and there was some -- take a deep breath now -- MUSTARD color in her design!

Boom! went the first landMINE: This is MY first exhibit, and I don't want the color MUSTARD anywhere NEAR it. Boom! went the second landMINE: I'm sorry, she said, but it is MY job to lay out the exhibit. Boom! Boom! Ouch! And there we were, in a face-off, and I was carrying the past with me like a flag; a castoff mustard-colored shirt my mom had given me as a birthday present years ago waving all its ugliness in the breeze.

Two artists arguing over color? A recipe for disaster! It could have been war -- but it wasn't. Not that we weren't both anxious and sensitive -- we were. But my friend is a master at "wide-mind" and her friendship means a lot to me, so we stayed present to each other, we listened, we talked, we explored alternatives, we played with the images and described what we saw, and eventually we realized that the differences between what I saw and what she had created were probably monitor-related; it was all quite subtle, after all. What looked garish on my monitor looked quite reasonable on hers, and instead of going ballistic we were able to arrive at another solution altogether -- a solution that, with a bit of intervention that looked to both of us like Spirit, involved a completely different image.

Though I suspect each of us is probably twitching in the aftermath, we are using our beaks to sooth our own ruffled feathers and breathe rather than to peck each other's eyes out. And we were able, thanks to a friendship that's been building for a while and PILES of mutual respect, to survive the confrontation with the friendship intact and an end product that is no longer MINE or HERS but OURS.

It's not always easy to get from MINE to OURS. Sometimes it takes confrontation, and honesty, and piles and piles of courage to walk into the MINEfields without carrying a loaded shotgun. But I think if we can just understand that anytime the word MY creeps in it's the ego talking, not the Truth that lies at the heart of us, and learn to step lightly, we have an opportunity to forge a deeper connection with that universal truth that lies at the heart of us all.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the friends over the years -- and especially my husband -- who have had the courage to confront me when I allowed MY to get in the way of US. And since sometimes, despite all my efforts, I still land in minefields -- this blog can sometimes be a stellar example of that -- I will add, as a postscript, my apologies for all the times, especially today, when I made the mistake of telling any other stories than... well, MINE.

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