Multitudes and Memory

I’ve just returned from an emotional trip to Providence, Rhode Island. I went for the Celebration of Life of my mentor, friend, professor, and favorite housemate; Larry. I hadn’t been back to Providence since I graduated 2 years ago.

Providence is a very particular and special place to me; it was the first and last place I remember feeling entirely at home and at peace with myself, (regardless of the raging work hours and exhaustion I endured there.) Ever since leaving I have fought with my memories… not over the validity of my experiences there, but over the sadness of never feeling quite the same since.

When I graduated in 2017, I didn’t know that the very next day I would be leaving back with my family to Florida. I had assumed I would have at least a day or two to say goodbye to friends who had become family, faculty who had become friends, and places that had meant the world to me as I shaped myself within those streets, walls, and spaces. But instead, I left the very next day in a rushed roadtrip; packing all of my belongings and hastening to the car, very nearly missing an opportunity to say goodbye to my favorite person of all; Larry.

He came outside with his dogs who I loved like my own, about to take them on their walk. I tried to say goodbye with a straight face and nonchalant conversation. But the tears began falling and Larry told me to “stop that!” with a grin and a proud hug. We took a photo with tears in my eyes, and I still prize it to this day.

Upon returning to RI this past week, I felt a surrealness I had never encountered before. A homecoming and daydream walk and ride through the areas I had known all too well. The corners of sidewalks, benches, and bricks that I had embedded with fondness and laughter with those I loved. The same sidewalks, benches, and bricks that I cried on and near, bearing my creative process and emotional life with those who no longer have a mainstay in my life.

I felt the rift and the longing within myself to hold onto those memories as hard as possible these past two years- they were, after all, the only kindness to my current situations that my mind could pull up when I was frustrated and alone.

In the days leading up to the Celebration of Life, I retraced and reviewed the old places I used to work, learn, and live. I cried with gratitude for the times I had, and dug deeper within myself to find exactly what it was that made this place so much a home to me… and why I had failed to find those feelings since.

I stumbled upon two key parts of the equation to my happiness my heart had always known but my head had always hidden- the need for both Support and Resources.

Ever since I left both my school and my job in Providence, I have yet to find another place where I have both Support and Resources. I would either have resources nearby or at hand for my creative processes and/or professional pursuits… or I would have support from family and/or friends.

But never both, not in the same place.

And I have finally come to terms with those needs- what they cost me, what they give me, when I have lacked them, and where I have found them.

Another thought that I chewed on was how my multitudes of self are often pulled apart by people’s preferred memories of me. How my different selves aren’t all that different because I am the commonality; and how other’s perceptions of me have caused me to separate them into genres and truths, flaws and strengths.

I specifically was thinking about how the work I made in school was considered “high art” because it was both conceptual and part of a longer, more technically involved process. And how what I do now creatively would be considered “low brow” art- because it is easier to comprehend and digest and laugh along with in easy gait as I speak with verbal and written form in a straight-forward, blunt manner through platforms not traditionally taken “seriously” in the art canons of higher education.

How even in art, I have discovered my multitudes. No singular medium- ceramics, sculpture, performance, dance, writing, spoken word, videos- has ever entirely stolen me from the other. And within each I have found a separate voice- more refined, more sure, or more confident within the audiences I have chosen to share those mediums’ work with. But I have never combined them all at once, onto one platform, onto one intention, onto one project- and I don’t think I ever would.

I chewed and chewed and chewed on these ideas as I consider the kinds of boundaries that I have had to utilize as I have traveled and met all various personalities and enemies. I have had to protect myself from allowing anyone to see all of my multitudes- all of my dreams, worries, wants, and cans. I have had to defend my work against the sting of those who could care less and only wanted to see why I was struggling to make money- those who wanted to see me fail- those who feigned curiosity over callous. I ultimately learned that defending my work only lead me to believe that I owed them something. And so I learned to say fuck it to the naysayers and create what I really wanted- what they didn’t want to see…

my body and my voice.

week by week.

every day,

I re-reminded myself of the power of my body and my voice.

My ability to see myself over and over again and be able to believe that I deserved that visibility. My ability to speak about my multitudes- the parts of me that felt shame, resentment, anger, and doubt. The parts of me that stunk with the rot of injustice, and the parts of me that cried for months on end in solitude.

Because all of my multitudes have always carried themselves in vulnerability. All of my work in all of my mediums always expressed that. Sculptures, Ceramics, Performances, Videos, Writing, Dance- they always found different ways to explain the vulnerabilities in me, the truths in me, and the narrative, racial, sexual, radical, irritable, sometimes unbearable me.

The popular view of me has always been my strengths of resolutions and ready-ness to work. And until this platform, I never felt the pure, brash faith in myself each time I create to make something as entirely myself as possible.

My platform has been an artistic project for me that I needed- a break from the struggles of pretending to want to be in galleries or theaters or on walls. My dearest most creative friends do all of these things and do them well and make me proud. But it has never been my path. Never been what I truly wanted to do, never what truly got me high as when I taught, counseled, connected with another human over art. Over creating their heart and finding their vulnerabilities. The struggle to stay alive and work solely in these ways is the struggle that I choose.

And when it comes to accessibility, I could think of no other way to reach as many people as possible as Youtube (and social media.) Not everyone goes to galleries, to theaters, to arts districts. Not everyone grows up around urban interactions with folx not from where you’re from. Not everyone is privileged enough to travel and find the help they need- find the resources they need. And I’ve felt that.

And if what I do or what I make is needed, I want it to be openly accessible. I want it to be 100% free, and 100% me. Even the money I raise through this project is for the project itself- to create the most me content there could be. To finally create with all my multitudes at once.

When I finished thinking about all of these parts of me that were aching- parts struggling with multitudes, support, resources, vulnerability- I came back to thinking about memory. How I want to be remembered, which multitudes will come up as people recall what I said or did during their lifetime-

And then I went to the Celebration of Life.

And everything made sense. Not at first- but as it unfolded.

I heard music and came to a church for this memorial that did not seem to fit with my idea of Larry. What I remembered of him, what I thought his personality was.

But they continued on to say outlines about Larry’s life; where he grew up, what age he was when he did what… and then they said, “These are just the frames of his life. Now we will hear from others about their experiences with Larry. With these insights we will begin to paint a better portrait and fill in the vision of Larry that we each remember, to represent him most/best.” (Not sure if these were exact words, but this was the message.)

I instantly knew that this was the message I had been trying to pull apart all along.

That our multitudes are just that- other’s memories.

Nothing more or less you- just the versions of you that have been separated by who you are with, inspired by, or in proximity to.

And I realized that I had been grieving so hard for Larry because I had been putting the weight on my own memory to carry all of his multitudes myself.

I had been constantly trying to reassure myself that I could remember every memory with Larry just right in order not to lose him.

I realized I was only holding one of his multitudes… sitting there in that church and listening to that music, as I began to hear stories of others’ unfold about him. About how he had raised his children at that church, and how he had loved the music played by that particular person on the organ.

And oh, how relieved I was in my grief.

My multitude of Larry would always live on, regardless of my memory.

He would always be in the thoughts of others and living through them, too.

And one day so will I.

And I refuse to die without having shown all my multitudes in unashamed, long-winded, blunt, and wildly exaggerated ways, either.

I am privileged and allowed to have multitudes and be able to develop and hone them over this life.

For that I am grateful, regardless of the creative medium i’m choosing- regardless of those I’m around- regardless of who sees value or potential in me.

I am me in all my multitudes, and I am allowed to be without the weight of other’s memories.

After all, they’re only just long-term opinions and observations.

May you be well, May you be happy, May you be free from suffering

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