Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thoughts on "127 Hours" And What We Overcome: Part 1

"Figure, Folded", oil on canvas

"The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it."~Moliere

I was on the treadmill today thinking about "127 Hours", as I have every day for the past week. Eight days ago my friend Natalie and I went to Toronto to see this film that I had heard so much about. It is the cinematic adaptation of Aaron Ralston's life threatening experience hiking near Moab, Utah in 2003. Knowing full well what was going to happen in the film, I was nervous about watching"the scene". Would I faint? Feel nauseous? Natalie thrust a colour photo from the center of Ralston's book "Between A Rock And A Hard Place" into my wide eyes, so that I could see his amputated arm, encased in rock and with splashes of crimson all around. That diminished my fear a bit, all the while piquing my curiosity about this man and what he did when there was no other option.

I had full confidence that "127 Hours" would move me. And it did. I've been watching Danny Boyle's films ever since "Shallow Grave" (1994). (Ewan McGregor laughing to himself in the restroom at a wedding, muttering "f#*king bin bag. He made that film).

As for "127 Hours" I was pulled into Aaron Ralston's world immediately. The film had a directness and did not embellish. It did not fall prey to many films that pad their premises with drama for drama's sake. I liked that. It simply took us to the heart of his ordeal yet laid it out in a thoughtful and beautiful way.

As an artist and outdoor enthusiast, I'm attracted to landscapes that take the breath away. I am bewitched by great distances between things. I MUST and WILL hike and experience that pocket of the world...ever since reading 'Desert Solitaire' two years ago, Edward Abbey's description of Arches National Monument and the surrounding landscape has haunted me. The film integrated the landscape with Ralston's enthusiasm perfectly..all the while drawing him nearer to the place that would change, and nearly take his life.

I have contemplated Ralston's act of cutting off his arm. Could I do the same thing? Would I survive it let alone have the courage to try? One can only speculate for it is only in that moment that you really discover the answer. So I started thinking...what have I overcome that has made me who I am today?

Now, keep in mind human beings compare in order to understand. We evaluate ourselves against the trials of our peers. Ralston lost an arm. That's heavy stuff. I'm not trying to compare our respective situations other than drawing even the most remote parallel.

Two experiences in my life have shaped me into who I am now. The first feeds into the second. In this blog entry I will describe the first experience. In a few days I will write about the other..

Three years ago I overcame an eating disorder that had me very VERY ill. I am 5'8" and had whittled down to 100 lbs at my lowest weight. I could not sit on a wooden chair or sleep with my knees stacked together for the pain from lack of body fat/muscle. I was in a crazy situation that had been precipitated by a depression following my mother suffering a massive stroke. I sought control in a situation that had swung madly off the charts of my understanding.

I obsessed about what I ate and overexercised. It became a game. A deadly game. My brain and body chemistry had altered so much that I felt like a husk of a human being. I felt like and looked like a wraith drifting between the world of the living and the dead. It was only when I was told I had osteoporosis at the age of 32 that I snapped out of it. Then and there in the doctor's office. That diagnosis changed me. I was not ready to perish. I was not ready to let go. I walked out of that office, ate whatever I wanted that day and never looked back. Now, four years later I have almost entirely reversed my bone loss (bone is the slowest growing tissue in the human body), am healthy and hike all over the world. With a combination of tenacity and determination, there truly is no limit to what you can do.

"Self-Portrait, Between", oil on canvas

Keep in mind I had to paint and earn a living through the eating disorder. The fire had left my eyes but there was always a spark deep inside. I knew this situation could not continue. It was like living two lives: the one I was trapped in and the one I knew was the correct one. I needed to paint myself in these places of unhappiness. As Picasso once said "painting is just another way of keeping a diary."Thus I have a record of what I went through with some of my self-portraits. Even the other work I did has echoes of that sadness in them. Here are some examples:

"Self-Portrait, Bedhead" This one won a prize :)
"Double Portrait", oil on canvas, 48"x36"

 "The Spare Room", oil on canvas, 30"x60"

I think that this period of my life produced some of the most emotional work I have done. Yet I was not healthy. I painted as though through a gauze, in the shadows, indirectly. Now I am back on track and painting with a vibrant palette and carving out experiences wherever the wind blows me. It is all a part of our own unique history. We all have a way of tallying our lives, of realizing them with permanence. Mine is through paint and words.

Thus back to Aaron Ralston

"Art begins with resistance-at the point where resistance is overcome. 
No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor."~Andre Gidé


jamenta said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jamenta said...

[typo corrected!]

I would bathe my spirit in the days of men.
I would come naked before sorrow.
I would kneel beside the sorrowing
With my heart - bare,
That I might share their sorrow.

I would let mine eyes weep with men;
I would drink the salt of sorrow's wine,
That its bitterness might purge my soul.
Oh, I would be a companion
Of all the spirit's joys and ills,
Thereby I might know the souls of men.


Machelle Blankenship said...

Highly emotional work....very nice. I thought about the question and came to the conclusion, I wouldn't cut off my arm, with no food I would just sleep; that would be the easy way. Then, I read the rest of your post. Thank you for sharing. I have not had the experience but somehow I can relate, mostly because eating is one of my least favorite things to do. You have so much talent and I'm glad I'm following!

Cathyann said...

Thank you for this generous post, Heather. I am glad that you overcame the depths of your depression. How powerful the act of creating is...that spark brought you back. Many will be touched and transformed by your words, images and insight relating your reality with that of Aaron Ralston's.

Brian Sylvester said...


Lovely and emotional work, thank you for sharing it!

No, it is not an easy journey, but I would chose the life of a painter over any other. Continue!

Take good care,

Jacqueline said...

Thank you. I just finished having dinner so I was able to read it now. I can relate in a lot of this. More when we talk in person. Much strength and love.


Anonymous said...

"Figure Folded"
A stark depiction of the human condition,,,forsaken dignity,alone,
fear by betrayal,,all condensed beyond those words
Deeply disturbing yet unappologetic in the chilling revelation of humanity that had become nothing more than the clinical.,,This painting speaks the truth
THESE are the pieces that set you apart