Negative Space

It occurred to me, in those meditative moments occasioned by waiting for watercolor to dry, that our lives are defined as much or more by the things we stop believing in as by the things we start to believe in.

Look, it was either philosophy or I was gonna start screaming “Dry, you muthafuckah!” at my paper, and that scares the cats and makes the neighbors get strange ideas. I suppose I could also have speculated on why it’s always the yellow ochre wash that I dump in my lap, having done so twice in as many days, but I’m chalking that up to an evil sense of humor on the part of the Watercolor Gods.

But seriously. The first thing you stop believing in is Santa Claus. (Some of us never really believed in him in the first place, which may set people like me up to Not Believe In Things later in life, too, but I dunno.) Then the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy fall like dominoes. Then you stop believing in your parents’ omniscience. For me, there was also a moment when I realized that my life was NOT going to be a swashbuckling epic like all the books I loved, and that I would not be out throwing rings into volcanoes or talking to animals or leading my people in glorious revolt against alien overlords, etc. (This makes me sound like a real idiot, and certainly I never phrased it in such a manner, but on some level, it was rather crushing to realize how banal my life was probably going to be. Only years later did it occur to me that this also meant I’d avoid a lot of suffering, hardship, and the plague.)

Sooner or later, you look in a mirror–really LOOK–and comprehend that what you see there is what’s really there, that’s what everyone’s seeing, not the mental image that we all carry around in our heads. For some, this is a shattering experience, this point where we stop believing in that face inside our heads. For some of us, it’s just mildly depressing. Occasionally I suppose it’s liberating and exciting, but you gotta be one of those kinda people.

At some point, a lot of us realize that the religion we were born into is just a pile of culturally constructed beliefs, whereupon we stop really believing in God, Allah, Ithaqua, Shiva, or whatever. I don’t know if, once you’ve stepped out’ve religion, you can ever really step back in the same way. Accept it as cultural metaphor, as neccessary adjunct to spirituality, as fulfillment of basic human need, maybe, but once that childhood flare of belief is gone, I think it’s a rare person that gets it back. Maybe that’s a good thing, I dunno.

It might also be a girl thing, but I think there’s also a point–maybe an unheralded, unsung point that passes late one rainy evening when you’re splashing along under guttering streetlights wearing a trenchcoat, for all I know–where you realize that love is not the shattering be-all, end-all experience that remakes your entire existence into a rose-colored haze, but rather something that’s surprisingly easy to find and surprisingly hard to hang on to. I dunno if guys have the same cultural ideal of LUV shoved down their throats the same way. Maybe so. A lot of women may never realize this, and just think that they’ve missed the great LUV and then spend the rest of their lives depressed. This may be why romance novels sell. Sure, love is rewarding, and fundamentally practical–try to get a roommate to assist your neccessary bodily functions when you’re break both arms–but it ain’t Camelot.

Sooner or later you actually have sex, and we won’t even get into all the things you stop believing in then. Like Star Wars, nothing could’ve equalled the hype anyway. Hopefully you had better luck than George Lucas.

Eventually you stop believing that you, personally, are immortal. I don’t know if I’ve stopped believing that yet, myself–I’ve skirted the idea, but the enormity that someday I’m gonna pass this mortal coil won’t penetrate my brain with any kind of force. Possibly it’s why I paint–I may die, but my art can confuse people for years to come.

I wonder vaguely what things I’ll stop believing in later in life that will define me. Hopefully not art. That’d be depressing.

I can’t think of any things you start believing in that really have the same impact as the things in your life you stop believing in. Which seems a weird, negative way of dealing with the world, but since I spent the morning masking out negative space on a painting of a badger kachina in order to paint the proper things into it later, it doesn’t feel so bad.

Except that my watercolor still isn’t dry.

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