When the American painter Andrew Wyeth was living in New England, he had a neighbor named Christina Olson, who suffered from a muscular disorder that paralyzed her lower body and turned her arms emaciated. Christina didn’t want any help; for all her pain and agony, she did – and wanted to do – everything on her own.
Some say that Wyeth painted Christina’s World when he saw her trying to crawl back to her home, from the fields surrounding the Olson homestead. How she got to the fields, nobody knows; all Wyeth saw was the woman crawling, dragging herself back to her house. Owing to her condition and her stubbornness, there was no other choice for Christina but to crawl.
Not on her own two feet, but through her weakened hands and arms. Christina struggled, but she wanted to get back home on her own. She dragged herself through the field; clutching blades of grass, wounding her hands from pebbles and rough soil. Her deformed body, supported by her twisted spine, moved along the terrain slowly. Inch by inch, Christina Olson crawled back to her world. The fields weren’t her place, but the house she was trying to reach was her universe. Had she indeed been alone, had she been thrown out into harsher weather, and if she had a weaker spirit and resolve, she certainly would have expired right then and there in the knoll.
I guess no one is certain of how long it took – and how difficult it was – for Christina to crawl back to her house, but she wanted to make it there on her own. Christina was too stubborn and too proud to be lifted back into her home by anyone. All that stood between Christina and her home was a sloping field that would take any other able-bodied person no less than three minutes to traverse.
I don’t like looking at paintings because they remind me too much of real life… or hyperreality for that matter. Whenever I look at Christina’s World, I’m reminded of comfort zones; here was a very sick woman, with no business in a field, trying to crawl back. Most of the “away” from our usual comfort zones are just three minutes or so away from where we stand. Or six degrees separated from us. Or right smack in our faces.
It takes me an awfully long time, sometimes if not all-too-often, for me to reconcile what I can do and what I can’t do. Like Christina, I grasp on things that I can find around me to get somewhere. I know where I want to go, but somehow it’s just too long and too difficult a journey to get there.
Texts, blogs, and paintings all have one thing in common: once it’s there, everything becomes a matter of suggestion. Like layers of wash we put on top of a painting, so that the delicate paint will be protected or so that the canvas will look more glossy. Protection and gloss like credentials, like consonants after your name, branding, pseudonyms, threats, macho-sounding rantage, intimidation… and in my case, writer-type fellowships you get accepted to. Those are things that are easy to brag about because they’re shiny, they’re glossy, they’re overt. Heart and soul, though, are far too difficult to show. Heck, I can’t do it.
I can only speak for myself here, as far as being a writer is concerned. I have my goals. I know where I want to go, and how to get there. I already have the cred to be a writer, those small bits of respect I get here and there, and yes, get violated here and there. The only problem is that I’m being dragged by my own inability to assert that gift, talent, skill… whatever you want to call it. Self-doubt, insecurity, the fear that someone will prove himself or herself better than I am, that I’m not good enough, and that I’m going to screw things up. Having no heart, and certainly having no soul.
Instead, like any other human being, I turn to where I can give myself gloss, where people don’t have to see the weakling and bleeding-heart in me, where I can come across as strong. Where I always have my best foot forward, and not be seen by anyone right after that still moment where I’m dragging myself along the ground looking for answers, trying to move on, craving and yearning for respect and acceptance from other people. Where I can strike my best pose and be immortalized doing that. Where I can try to be brutally honest, but end up with a lame attempt at being sincere.
At the very least, I didn’t have to step on anyone’s name and reputation to do anything. Yet: I’m too young and hard-headed to do anything that stupid.
We all have a chip on our shoulder, we all have what keeps us on the ground, we all grasp at straws to keep us going forward or moving somewhere. Like Christina Olson, we all drag ourselves along the knoll of life, holding on to what we can, realizing that the journey is just too long, too difficult, and just too much.
I guess that’s what makes texts and images so limited that we’re only able to catch one moment. Depressing… just like what I feel when I see Christina’s World.
Postscript: “Cred” has been a rather heated issue in the Philippine blogosphere lately: you have Reyna Elena talking about it, you have The Ca t talking about it, Caffeine Sparks, Noemi, Angela, Rom, Juned… so I figure that I really have nothing to repeat, hence this crapshoot that passes for a response. I need to practice for next month’s workshop, so… pardon the vague “multitasking” going on here, hence the new category. – Marocharim