When Art is Your Love Language

When I’m so happy and satisfied and moved and full of love about something or someone, I make art about it.

I write poetry or love letters. I paint. I create little cartoon portraits on internet apps.

As children and still as adults, long afternoons and evenings were spent with my brother and sister, reaching over each other to get a tube of the next color we needed, trading brushes, just creating together. It led to a lifelong love of creativity and art as an expression of love, affection, and closeness.

When I love someone, I show it in art.

In April, coping with the early days of socially isolating due to the COVID pandemic, my partner and I sent letters to each other to get through the long stretches without seeing each other. I sent him six small watercolor paintings with my letters, and the last letter was a poem.

When my friend lost two pets over the summer, I thought “I should paint them a portrait of those pets.” I haven’t done it yet, but I’ll get there. Sometimes the art has to percolate.

My partner and his roommate love Skyrim, so I painted them a scene of a dragon flying among snowy mountains and a forest. I plan to paint my sister a similar one for her new home when she moves in with her fiancé.

An ex partner loved mermaids, and I painted her a scene of a mermaid looking out to sea at sunset. The mermaid had a back tattoo and a fin mohawk, and the sunset and water were the colors of the bisexual pride flag.

If I love you, I show it in art. In colors. In words.

I’ve tried selling art before, and it doesn’t always feel the same. It’s hard for me to get the art moving without that love behind it.

It’s okay to just enjoy your artistic hobbies and not try to monetize them — it’s a capitalist pressure to think we need to only do things that can bring in income.

Creating for the sake of creation is a radical act, and we should do it more often.

I’ve also made art for people who it turned out weren’t safe for me.

This art feels like a betrayal. Short stories I wrote for an abuser. A painting. A story recited in public about how real and true love and friendship could be.

That lost art was part of me, and undeserved by them. If I had a time machine I would write a different story. But I told that story — even if the story isn’t the truth anymore.

It hurts to know that I put that part of myself on paper or in words, when I later wish I never had.

I can’t take it back, but it hurts to feel like I wasted it.

When I’m feeling blocked creatively, is it because I don’t want to “waste” art on people?

In “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo says that it’s okay to discard (throw away, donate, or otherwise re-home) gifts from others, because sometimes the joy of the item was in the moment of giving. If it no longer gives you joy, it’s okay to discard.

Can the same be true of art?

In the moment, the creation of that art was joyous and full of love. In the moment, the art was pure. The words, the brushstrokes, the art, the love — it was all real.

And the love being real doesn’t mean that the pain wasn’t real. The love being real doesn’t mean that the abuse wasn’t real. The love being real doesn’t mean that the betrayal wasn’t real.

I can be at peace with the fact that those people received my art, and my love.

The authenticity of my love, and my art as an extension of it, is about me. Not them.

And I will keep making art.

And I will keep loving.

My Real First Marriage

In recent years when I have discussed my first marriage, I’ve been referring to the one with legal paperwork, self-esteem turmoil, and a divorce at the end. In all of those times I have said the words “my first marriage,” I forgot that my first marriage was actually to my childhood best friend who lived two doors down when I was only four years old.

This is a love story I completely forgot.

I met Alex one fateful day when my mother heard a knock at the door. My sister was just a baby, and I was about four years old. A woman was at the door holding a little boy my age by the hand. She introduced herself and said that her son Alex, “otherwise known as Satan’s spawn,” was wondering if he could play with me.

Thus began a beautiful friendship marked by being near inseparable for the next 5 years. We were the very definition of best friends. I do not remember every day of my childhood, but I imagine that we saw each other daily, for at least a few minutes if not hours on end.

Our friendship was remarkable in that it was true love, devotion, and friendship in the purest sense. Friendship at that age is not marred by developing bodies, by jealousy, by body image issues, by wondering if men and women can have platonic relationships, or by assuming the worst in a given situation. We were five years old and our days consisted of doing whatever we wanted. Coincidentally, what we wanted was to spend every waking moment together.

We rode bikes, we ate McDonald’s happy meals, we shared banana popsicles, we played in the backyard, we ran through cornfields, we played with toys, and we watched television. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers were our favorites. We made spiralized apples with his mom’s Pampered Chef counter-mounted apple peeler. We listened to music and went to the movies and were just all-around best buds.

When we were five or six, we had a small wedding ceremony in the basement of my childhood home, standing on yellow plastic Little Tikes chairs. I don’t remember if there were vows. I do remember there was a wedding ring for me, in the form of a small hair-tie (the weird double-looped ones with a metal connector in the center) with clear plastic beads on either end. Diamonds, obviously. He put it on my left ring finger and we celebrated by jumping and dancing on my full-size bed, holding the removable tops from my bedposts and singing into them like microphones. To the Space Jam soundtrack.

You have my permission to be super jealous right now. It’s okay. 

We did not “get married” because we were in love. Not because we wanted to kiss each other. Not because we wanted to have babies together. We did not “get married” for money, status, or to cover up an unplanned pregnancy.  We did not “get married” because our biological clocks were ticking, our parents wanted us to, or for any reason other than this:

We got married because we were best friends and the only way we knew how to express commitment and friendship was marriage. 

Kudos to our parents for that life lesson.

I regret that somewhere along the way I completely forgot that marriage is something you do with your best friend. Sometime after puberty began, my worth as a person was equated to whether or not a man would want me and subsequently I forgot all of the things Alex taught me about love and friendship and what commitment should be.

Alex and I drifted out of touch after my parents’ divorce and after I moved away. I drifted away from all of my childhood friends. I am truly thankful that Alex and I were friends when we were though. In those formative years where a person is really being put together, a real friend is one of the best things to have as a kid.

Alex shaped my life. Alex shaped who I am. That seems silly to say about a person who I haven’t seen in over a decade, a person who I last had a meaningful connection to when I was in elementary school – but it’s true.

I am sorry that it has taken me this long to understand how amazing a friend he was to me when we were kids.

I regret that, in growing up, I forgot about him and the lessons he taught me.

I regret most of all that the catalyst for all of these realizations is his death. 

My first friend is gone. He is gone, and I will never be able to tell him how important he is to me, how much of a difference he has made in my life, and how much he taught me about love.

The only thing I can do to move forward is to go back and re-learn those lessons about friendship and love and how perfect life can be if you chase the dreams that make you happy. I have to go back to being five and learn to love myself and others again, the way Alex and I loved each other back then.

Y’all better pack your bags, because the next few blog posts are going to be a feel-trip. 

Forgiving myself and moving on

Two important points to make at the top of the post:

  1. Forgiveness is like decluttering for your soul.
  2. This is my last post centered around my divorce/marriage, I promise.

I have been talking about my divorce a lot lately, and I’m sorry for being a broken record.  This is the last one with a divorce theme though, because I have recently observed the one year anniversary of the day my dissolution was final.  I have been very reflective lately and thought that the blog would be a good outlet for the lessons I learned from letting go of the emotional clutter.  Let’s dig in!

Throughout the past year, I have been angry, I have been sad, I have been lonely, and I have been happy.  It was really hard to let go of my marriage in the beginning, but once I understood that it was what I needed, that I had the power to make my life what I finally realized I deserved… that was a tipping point, and I moved quickly to get where I needed to be.

I will be completely honest and say that I have missed some aspects of my marriage – like goodnight kisses, knowing someone was going to be there, and the warmth of sleeping next to another person and not just my cat.  But I have learned that it is far better to be alone than to be with the wrong person, and for that I am thankful that I was able to leave.

If I really think about it, I can pinpoint at least five moments where I wish I would have left on the spot and been done forever, but I kept coming back.  I think I was punishing myself, to be honest.  Leftover self-esteem issues, which had truly been underlying our relationship since its beginning, were causing me to routinely believe that I would never do better and didn’t deserve any better than the life I had chosen for myself at the age of 20 when I agreed to marry him.  (Note: If you are 20 and reading this, seriously take your time when making major life decisions.  You might change.)

I know that he mistreated me, and for all the things he did (and didn’t do) I have been angry, sad, and disappointed for years.  In my last year of reflection, however, I’ve come to fully understand and appreciate that I am not without blame or responsibility.  I mistreated him too.  I also mistreated myself by staying in a life that was making me miserable.  I owed it to both of us to leave when I did, and I truly hope he is happy.  It’s hard for me to accurately gauge my own happiness at the moment, dealing with other current personal issues, but I know that overall, my life is better because I got divorced.

I think that the two hardest things to do after a breakup (or any trauma, really) are to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made and to accept an apology you’ll never receive.  I will probably never talk to my ex-husband again, so I will never know if he learned anything from our marriage and subsequent dissolution and I will never hear him apologize for hurting me.

I have let that go.

I could stay mad about it, or I could choose not to stay mad about it. I choose to let it go, because I would be mad forever and I don’t have time for that.  I have my own life and I can’t spend any more of  it worrying about apologies I never got and grievances I never aired.

Forgiveness benefits both the forgiving and the forgiven parties.  In the case of forgiveness when you’re never going to see the person again, it’s mostly for you though.  I forgive him because not forgiving him would take up too much of my time, my happiness, and my freedom.  It took me years to leave a relationship that was making me miserable, how can I possibly continue to let that relationship make me miserable?  It’s over and in the past now, and I feel so free being able to say that.

As far as forgiving myself goes, I just have to remember that people make mistakes, and it’s okay.  The important thing is that I did what I needed to do.  If I could tell past-Caitlin anything, I would tell her that I forgive her for spending so long “trying to make it work” and that I’m proud of her for leaving when she finally understood it never would.

Guilt and sentimental attachment

One of the hardest things about getting rid of stuff I don’t use or need is that a lot of times, that stuff I don’t use or need was a gift from someone I care about and I don’t want to insult anyone by getting rid of things they gave me.

I’ve been carrying around a gorgeous glass chess set that my brother got me for Christmas when I was 12 for twelve years and I haven’t played a game of chess in probably five.  I just carry it around with me and stick it in a corner.

That’s just one example.

I have an old laptop computer my parents bought me when I went to college in 2006. I have every flower my boyfriend has given me, dried and in a vase and gathering dust because how on earth do you dust such a fragile item? I have ornaments and collectibles and stuffed animals and all manner of stuff and things that just get moved and organized from box to box, dwelling to dwelling.

But no more, I say!

I am taking an honest and frank look at the things I have.  And it’s hard, because when I start going through my Rubik’s Cube collection, my sister shrieks, “You can’t get rid of that one, I got that for you!” When I mention getting rid of things, my boyfriend comments, “None of my gifts, right?” When I purge my closet, my mother asks “Are you getting rid of anything I bought for you?”

I know I am not going to be happy in my new place if I have to take stuff just for the sake of having stuff.  What am I going to do with it? I have 500 square feet to work with, and that doesn’t leave a lot of space for knick-knacks and decorative items.  A few, yes.  All, no way.  I cannot fit those things into my new place.  My priorities have changed.  I want to live more simply, and I want to live for myself.  I feel like I have the burden of caring for other people’s gifts — things that I didn’t need in the first place and do not need to be happy — for the sake of the gift-givers’ happiness.  What’s up with that?

Side note: I am allowing myself one box of sentimental “stuff” that I am willing to store in my new place. One box.  If it’s too full, I will have to make some cutbacks.  In the box so far is a stuffed animal I have had since I was a child, a box of souvenirs from my dad’s travels to other countries, a baby blanket from when I was born, and some other things that I can’t remember and so probably don’t matter.

The purge continues!