I’m doing a very different set of paintings right now. Winter seems to be losing its grip, the light is glorious as the angle of the sun shifts, but I am still stuck in my inner world. It’s the one I find myself painting recently because, for the first time ever, I have found the perfect medium for it.
My inner world could only be called abstract. The stories in my head could only be sketched as chaos — documented fodder for a future commitment hearing. Giving into that world when I am in front of an easel, however, casts new light on the value of retreating from the world.
Everyday I work to help kids who are not neurotypical manage stereotypical behaviors that are barriers to educational and social development — not always but still too often because of a world that fears any behavior that isn’t “normal”. As a special educator and a doctoral student studying behavior, I understand the importance of helping children interact with their surroundings and with society. As someone who has lived with her own atypical her behaviors, however, I sometimes feel like a hypocrite.
My own inner world is vast and complex. I am always mindful not to wade into the undertow, but, as I’m dancing in front of the easel to a random playlist, splashing my feet in the foamy fantasy, tension from the last few weeks dissolves. I stop worrying about being too fat, about endless to-do lists, and budgets.
Conscious detachment from the “real“ world, aided by brush and paint, soothes body and brain. It leaves me alone with my frailties but also my strengths. Problems become manageable, and the same behavior that sometimes has me and the world holding each other at arm’s length becomes a secret weapon.
And I remember why so many children with behavioral issues revert inward in the first place.
I know my job is to help kids self soothe with intention rather than isolation and possibly perseverate on an issue. It’s an important concept to master for anyone, but it makes me wonder if our societal worship of “normal“ and of being constantly entertained and occupied, is training us out of the ability to be alone with ourselves, and to be calmed by that.