A hot bath with bobbing bits of shaved ginger was not enough to soothe achy skin and muscles. I felt like giving up. After years. Years. Of being the rock. I was sinking.

This is how it feels to be normal, as I traced the moles on my pale ribcage. This. This I-don’t-want-to-grade-the-papers-or-plan-my-lesson-for-tomorrow-feeling. And the I-don’t-care-about-the-consequences-reality. I was sick. I was tired. And sinking in a clawfoot tub filled with ginger shavings. To dive into the drain. To become a piece of ginger. Anything but this feeling of listlessness, of bodily indifference. Hope was evaporating off of my skin.

It began as an art project. An idea for an enormous canvas on the living room wall. No pressure, just fun. I convinced myself. I convinced my husband. We were officially convinced.

So what a disappointment it had been when, armed with cadmium orange (the $12 tube), nearly-neon green, iridescent white and a handsome set of “starter” acrylics, even with our “test case” Windsor-Newton 20×20 inch canvas and well-loved brushes in hand, I tripped over a stunted shadow of myself. No matter how many times I went over the ripples, no matter how carefully I massaged the lovely hues, it felt trapped. I felt trapped. There was this vivid lichen and orange resonating from the epicenter of my ripple, and then these tight, controlled, constipated shapes that felt like angry pimples or fistfuls of hair – or knots in my shoulders. Anything but beauty or art. They felt like anger.

I set it aside. I considered layering in more light periwinkle, more baby blue. Just keep cooling them down, I reasoned.

And then after a long several days of attempts, of exasperation, of a burning raspy cough deep in my chest, I relinquished control. I dropped the mixing tray and palette in the sink to soak in hot water and dishsoap. And then. Rising from the depths of the discarded, I found what I had been looking for. My fingers, the bottomfeeders of below, groped. And came up with sinewy, peeling layers of color. Ribbons of pale peach, deep turquoise, violet, mint. They had been there all along – these dried-up puddles of color, left for dead in the enamel tray. They were internal organs. They were ripe, luscious, segments of fruit. They were the cast-offs. The leftovers. They were the remnants of destruction, of creation gone awry. They were warm and wriggling in my fingers – more alive than I had felt all day.

And like that they were on the canvas. Long stringy bubblegum-looking tendons, jubilant sweeps of luminous color. They glommed on desperately. They were my poultices; my bandages; my grafts of pigment that would foster regeneration and repair. They healed the composition.

Sometimes we can work and work and work for perfection. For ten years. We can strive for just the right strokes. And then, right at the cusp of total giving-in and giving-up, we find that the pieces, the offal, the things we’d rather leave behind, those are the answers. It is what we seek to discharge, what we attempt to discard, that we need most to incorporate.

There is a lesson of parts and w[holes] here. And only by re-collecting what I seek to forget will I ever move forward.

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