Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MORE of myself under a mask

Tad Barney photo

Listen to post:

They marched, in unison, their steps gaining strength as they did. Flowing beauties, hiding behind Venetian masks and under brocaded capes. Two princesses lounged in the tent, lodging themselves comfortably on the ample pillows. One transformed almost immediately as I passed the mask ties over her lustrous, thick pony tail.

Outwardly, they were expressing who they were inwardly: competent, intelligent, courageous, creative, beautiful girls. Who could imagine these girls had arrived coming from single-parent homes, bounced around, living with grandparents, dad's who made sure they get every opportunity and mom's who worked three jobs to make ends meet? Girls, who probably don't get a lot of extras, perhaps, including attention.

My dream has been to change that. That the minute they get off the van and set foot in my studio, they begin to believe they are not necessarily a product of their environment or circumstance. This is not to say they aren't loved and well cared for at home; someone cared enough to register them for Artsy Fartsy.

Even with just two sessions and a registration event in their complex, I think Artsy Fartsy is spinning some magic.

The plan was to make reminder calls late afternoon Thursday, but I had forgotten, this task lost to my anniversary, a daughter's busy marching band schedule and my husband's weekend art opening. Instead, I made them Friday and, it seems, that was Someone Else's schedule as I reached every household. Those conversations were incredibly revealing:
Taf Barney photo

"Just a minute, Elizabeth's here, I'll get her ... Hello, Oh, yeah. Yes, I'll be there. I thought you were calling to cancel and I was starting to cry." This from the tough, lovable Tomboy.

"She got the note you wrote a couple of weeks ago and has been waiting to go ever since."

"They've been talking about it every day for a week."

"Yes, she'll be there this time. We had problem last time, but she WILL be there. This is really wonderful."

"I used to do art and she's so good at it. I'm glad there is something for her. I wish I hadn't given it up."

"I'm bringing Anjela; she wants me to see Artsy Fartsy and the work she has already done. I do a lot of art myself."

"My second-grader loves art, too, maybe she can do it in a few years when she's old enough."

"My mother signed her up and I am so glad she did; yes, her grandfather is here now and he says he will be sure she comes."

That was before they had a clue that pristine white, papier-mâché, long-nosed masks and elegant capes awaited them. I had announced last time we would make Venetian masks, but who knows what that meant to them. I wanted to tease them.

As soon as Justice walked in, she proudly held up her sketchbook and pulled a wonderfully rendered drawing of the Titantic. "See, I did what you said in the letter. I did have time to make a sketch to put up in here." I let her select where to hang it. Silly me, I had almost forgotten what I had written a couple of weeks ago.

"Oh yeah, I got my letter, too."
"Me, too"
"I don't ever get anything in the mail."
"I knew it was coming because you said so" when we bumped into each other at Kroger.

For them, it's the little things many of us take for granted that matter.

I introduce the Artsy Fartsy theme with a question and ask them to play with it as they create. This time it was: How can I be MORE of myself when I am behind a mask?"

Of course, there's always one or two that have to offer an immediate answer. Ten minutes later, after capes were dispensed, instructions bleated and materials assembled, you could have heard a pin drop. They were seriously creatively focused. So much so they didn't realize they were being photographed (of course we already had parental permission and these girls are not shy).

Before they could get carried away with glue and brushes, they were asked to spend some time choosing the palette of papers they would decoupage with to ensure it complemented their cape. They readily complied sorting through the fancy tissues and textures, thinking it through. All wanted their capes in sight – though not on the work tables – as inspiration.
Tad Barney photo

The quicker ones helped the others and the perfectionists realized they did, indeed, have enough time. Barely enough time for a quick dress rehearsal and photo shoot. Volunteers gladly offered to clean up so the girls could revel in their creations ... though some insisted on helping.

They twirled, admired themselves in the full-length mirror and, simultaneously, began to march down the hall, the rhythm of their feet growing louder as their confidence increased. I could not have asked for any better answer to my original question: "How can I be MORE of myself when I am behind a mask?"

• How does hiding allow me more freedom?
• What would I like to express about myself that I often don't?
• What does the inner child in me want to show the world?
• When was the last time I felt confident in my own skin?
• Why was that?


it happens

I set out
to teach a
bunch of kids

and the
on me

they have so
much more
to give me

than I ever
could have

Thank you,

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