We are complex beings, and often, understanding how and why we react to something is a mystery. In last week’s blog, "Tangled Expectations," I describe how I reacted to the difference between my expectations and the reality of doing an art project with sticky, tangling, difficult-to-handle, electrical tape. In your comments, you asked a logical question, "Why not just use paint?" The answer is — my body reacts badly to paint. It took a long time to solve the mystery of why, but finally, I know the answer. My genetics and paint fumes are not compatible. Here’s the story:
Imagine my confusion when, from time to time, I became lightheaded to the point of passing out. Sometimes it happened on the tennis court, or when I filled my car with gas, or when I walked into a newly decorated room, or when I painted a canvas. Because it wasn’t a regular occurrence, it was difficult to know what was causing me to be woozy. It took a dramatic event to solve the mystery.
One morning, I was jogging in our neighborhood. I was aware of the subtle scent of fertilizer rising from the meticulously groomed green lawns as I ran past them. In the midst of my steady downhill pace, my knees began to buckle under me, and as everything faded to black, the last sound I heard, was the crack of my nose breaking as my body hit the ground, face first.
A broken nose got my attention! What exactly causes me to become dizzy and pass out? Doctors considered many diagnoses. It took a wise Naturopath to put the puzzle pieces together — the incidents of dizziness, and ultrahigh liver enzymes. She scheduled a very specific DNA test and the results explained everything. It seems there’s a gene missing in my liver. Without that gene, my body has limited ability to process a specific list of inhaled chemicals — among them: fertilizer, gasoline, and paint.
Francis Bacon wrote, "Knowledge is power." The knowledge of what triggers our reactions is helpful in creating strategies to interrupt and manage them. Knowing that paint fumes can overload my body's ability to function, makes it logical to bypass paint, and to experiment with unconventional media. Inspiration is everywhere — from nature’s spider webs and crystal formations, to engineered light bulbs and hubcaps. Artists like Picasso, who experimented with unusual materials, also inspire me. Here’s my version of Picasso's famous sculpture, Bull’s Head. He constructed it in 1940. During wartime, paint was scarce, so he welded together a bicycle seat and handlebars. Critic, Eric Gibson, says this about Picasso’s famous artwork:
"The sculpture is a moment of wit and whimsy … both childlike and highly sophisticated in its simplicity, it stands as an assertion of the transforming power of the human imagination at a time when human values were under siege."
I’m no Picasso, but my genetic idiosyncrasy gives me an opportunity to be playful. Because of the profusion of inhaled toxins, it would be easy to see the world as a fearful place. Because of the toxicity of the materials, it would also be easy to give up art as a hobby. But our only restrictions are those we impose on ourselves. Originally, my body’s reactivity felt like a restriction. Instead, it has become an invitation to ingenuity and creativity.
I'll bet you have some good examples to share.