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energy and boundaries

May 31, 2012

I have found that really awesome ideas for art that I want to make arise because (1) I need something that doesn’t currently exist; (2) I’m inspired by beautiful fabrics or art papers to make something with them; and/or (3) I have images in my mind that I want to figure out how to bring into being tangibly.

For instance, several years ago, Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s book, Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, introduced me to the idea of string skirts.

She writes,

“In no case do the string skirts — whether Paleolithic, Neolithic, or Bronze Age — provide for either warmth or modesty. In all cases they are worn by women. To solve the mystery of why they were maintained for so long, I think we must follow our eyes. Not only do the skirts hide nothing of importance, but if anything, they attract the eye precisely to the specifically female sexual areas by framing them, presenting them, or playing peekaboo with them.” (p. 59)

Her book has a photograph of a lovely example. The caption reads:

String skirt of wool preserved on the body of a young woman found at Egtved, Denmark, and dating to the 14th Century B.C. (Bronze Age). She wore it wrapped around twice and slung rather low on the hips so it reached to just above the knees. The skirt is now displayed in the National Museum in Copenhagen.” (p. 57)

Apparently the skirts indicated something about the fertility of the wearer.

I found myself returning again and again to that photograph. Thinking about what it would be like to wear a skirt like that. Wouldn’t it feel sexy? But also powerful in a way? Or maybe playful? And if I was this captivated by this very rudimentary skirt that might have been worn by my ancestors thousands of years ago, how might I feel if I created one for myself, and wore it? The idea felt delicious, Pagan, and sorta subversive, all at once.

I created my skirt out of strips of art paper, strung on a ribbon. The color scheme was mostly high key – cream paper embedded with yellow flowers, and pale yellow semi-translucent paper embedded with green leaves; accented with a few strips of red paper. I finished it in time for the spring equinox, which seemed especially fitting. (Photo of high-key skirt) I only wished I had some kind of occasion to wear it! Well, at least I could show it to Spouse, who really liked it.

He liked it so much he wondered if I would make something similar for a photo session he had planned. I did that, with a low-key color scheme, to complement the coloring of the model. (Photo of low-key skirt.)

During the photo session, the stylist suggested wearing the garment as a ruff. It worked wonderfully well. And Spouse has received many admiring comments of those photographs.


Ever since then, I’ve had an interest in making original creations to be used in photo sessions. Not just because it’s a creative outlet, but because it’s a way for Spouse and I to collaborate.

Late last year, I thought perhaps I was ready to make that leap. We scheduled a session with a model, but it got canceled. We have a session with a different model scheduled for early June.


I have a bunch of ideas for new garments for myself. But I feel I can’t get started on them, because garments for the photo session have higher priority. Spouse has said all along that I should feel free to do ‘whatever I like’, but he also has some concrete ideas of his own to try. However, he doesn’t really know how to go about bringing his ideas to life. I have already thought of lots of ways to experiment with his ideas. Some of which I am doing already.

I feel energized by working on ideas. So that part is good! But some of my personas are wondering why energy magically appears for other people’s ideas, but not for my own ideas. And frankly, I’m wondering that too.

I think unconsciously I may be waiting for some kind of signal that it’s really truly okay to focus on myself now. Because growing up, I could only focus on myself when I had crumbs of free time in between ministering to other people. It was much more important for my overall well-being for them to be, well, satisfied I was paying enough attention to them. (They were never actually satisfied with the results of my attention.)

Here is Bryn Collins again:

“August and his brother both got the clear message from their dad [who was a narcissist] that their only value was what they could do to make him look good. Their focus became pleasing the dad, and since the dad didn’t come with clear instructions, they had to watch him carefully to try to figure out what he would want even before he knew he wanted it. They would then, of course, be wrong. This cycle is typical of the next messages and unspoken demands that lead to the narcissistic personality later in life. First, the child becomes very externally focused on interpreting the signals and messages of the parents and fails to develop an internal feedback loop in which she can reliably assess the world on her own terms. Second, the only reality she comes to trust is her own, which often doesn’t match the reality anyone else sees.” (p. 152, Emotional Unavailability)

I’m pretty sure I’m not a narcissist, but my family of origin is filled with them, including my mother.

Putting myself first is an attractive idea intellectually, and I’ve actually managed to start doing it in areas of my life that are less important. Maybe because art is so essential, I’m protecting myself, by not immersing myself in it when I might be called away? I do know that when I try to imagine just focusing on my own art ideas, I feel like I will ‘fall into’ my studio, and not be seen again for days on end. And then I panic, because won’t Spouse need me? He assures me he won’t, which actually makes me feel worse. “If I haven’t managed to make myself indispensable to you yet, I need to do that before anything else!” I know that whole thought process is highly dysfunctional, so I’m working on dismantling it. But, like everything else, it’s slow going.

I had originally thought that my energy problems stemmed from learning bad habits as a child. And no doubt that’s part of it. But I would guess it’s much more significant that I’m disconnected from my bodymind. I will more readily listen to someone else, and take my cues from them about what are good uses of my time. I know I should be listening to my own bodymind, but the people I grew up with didn’t do that. Spouse doesn’t do that very well either. He has been burning the candle at both ends ever since I’ve known him. And then he’s always surprised when he gets sick. I have a much more robust immune system (or I used to), but now that I feel icky a lot of the time, I just feel frustrated and I want to feel better. Like, if I start listening to my bodymind better and more often, but the main messages I get are, “we are in pain; we are sick; we want you to do something!” what’s the incentive for me to keep listening?

So the first thing seems to be that I need to figure out the boundary issue ASAP. Because everything seems to come back to boundaries, and how mine are not just too permeable, they are practically nonexistent. (If Spouse and I were the same religion, I’d be in real trouble. Luckily I’ve been a Pagan since before I met him, and it’s fundamental to my identity.)

If there is (more or less) no membrane separating my inner world from the outer world, then won’t the outer world always overwhelm my inner world?

Somehow when my inner world has negative feedback sufficient to discourage me from getting important things done, that information gets through to me loud and clear. Maybe I need to strengthen my boundaries against discouraging feedback? But also amplify encouraging feedback, especially if it originates from inside of me.

Maybe I should experiment with ignoring, or at least minimizing, feedback from other people. Even Spouse. See if that helps me ‘hear’ my inner chorus better.

I want to have the energy to do the things I want to do. I want to feel good again. I want feeling good to be based on something real, something sustainable. That means developing a healthy relationship with my bodymind. I foresee more reading in my future…

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