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The Heroine's Journey

by Erin Lucas a day ago in humanity

A tale of reclaiming and celebrating beauty in the world and myself.

Close up image of bottle number five in the series.

As many pivotal moments in life begin, it all started with a breakup. The end of a nine year relationship left me feeling naked in the world, exposed, joyless. I took my vulnerability, my nudity, my sadness, and a pair of scissors and turned it into a mission. A mission that would eventually become my monomyth of self discovery, of finding joy again. This is a tale of reclaiming and celebrating beauty in the world and myself. The heroine’s journey starts with a breakup and turns it into an opportunity to inspire, create, share, and learn with and through others. I called this opportunity Gold Bottle Project. The mission behind Gold Bottle Project was centered around Brene Brown’s theory that the path to a better society is collective sharing of the feelings we all encounter, universal human experiences, because these emotions remind us of our interconnectivity. In each Gold Bottle Project, there were two components: one visual and one written. Gold bottles were created in a variety of combinations of media, formatting, literature, and expressed cultural themes, ideas, theses, etc. Anyway, back to the heroine’s journey...

In the beginning of 2017 my partner and I were headed full speed down the autobahn to Splitsville, and by May, it was official. By November of that year, I launched Gold Bottle Project out of need. I needed to do something to fill the unnamed void and scratch the unknown itch. I used Instagram as the platform for updates on what I was working on. I structured Gold Bottle Project drops like a geocaching game and left them in public spaces for people to discover. The hope was that the finder of a bottle would receive a resonating sensory experience and/or inspiration from the alternative perspectives of reality that art can bring the individual, and thus, the masses. On my birthday in December of 2017, I dropped the first two bottles in the alley behind the apartment my ex and I shared for six years. It was beyond cathartic. I realized that in the nine years we were together, I spent the last six or so of them making nothing. I had shut myself off from the primary thing in life that I have always done, that brings me joy... making art. However, through Gold Bottle Project I was reminded of alternative perspectives that helped to evolve my capacity for empathy (for others and myself) in ways my personal life experience had not permitted thus far.

Through the vibrant reminder of art, we are called to step outside of ourselves, acknowledge our need for vulnerability, interconnectivity, and the fundamental love of humanity, of the joy of human existence. Are we willing to be vulnerable to art, ourselves, and each other? It may be what saves us; I mean, it’s what saved me. It’s what gave me the call to adventure, to rediscovering my tools, my joy, and myself. I had been given this call to art many times before and stubbornly refused to lean into it: further isolating myself from my soul's passion because I was still isolated from my soul. But the beautiful fates, muses would not allow me to sit and let my passion pass me by. They guided me into a breakup of relationships, and more importantly to the inner voice that was guiding me to my purpose, to create. So, I stopped denying and launched Gold Bottle Project as a way to begin figuring out my role in this cosmos. I was ready to enter the belly of the whale.

I spent the first few months creating and dropping and finding some support from the community, but the bottles weren’t reaching people like I had hoped. Regardless of the reach, the experience was healing me. It was giving me the reminder of my unique flame. I wanted to do more. I suppose in the archetypal heroine’s journey, this would be the road of trials in my departure, after acting on the call. I was in need of new inspiration and I was met by the beautiful goddess that is Adrienne Rich and her poem, "Cartographies of Silence.” This poem became not only the inspiration for an eight bottle series (the largest and last one I did with Gold Bottle Project), it also became the pathway to my greatest tools and the boon that is the narrative of my life, my heroine’s journey back to the joy of living and creating and learning and sharing.

1: In January of 2018, I made the first post about the new series I was going to be working on. By the end of that month, I was dropping the first bottle of the series. I spent the twenty days in between using my tool, my scissors, to cut out images, a lot of images. Scraps from magazines littered my kitchen table, coffee table, shelves, floors, walls… the pictures puzzled many that came to visit, including myself. I cut and puzzle-pieced together and glued and scrapped and repeated that process until I came to the final imagery for the artwork, based on my interpretation of the poem. The first stanza represents our heroine's attempt at trying to communicate with self, soul, source. She has to learn that as soon as she speaks, it’s an illusion unless she speaks from a place of connection with these three elements, this divine trinity. However, she hadn’t yet tapped into that level of connection with her authentic self, soul, source. Thus, “A conversation begins with a lie. And each speaker of the so-called common language feels the ice-floe split, the drift apart as if powerless, as if up against a force of nature.” Art is the thump on our disconnected noggin that allows us to tap in. Art is capable of being a mirror, conveying the lies of false connection, and it can permit us to see that falsity and destroy it if we so please. However, this ability to see through the veil that art provides a mirror to, can only lead us to an understanding of what we need to heal within, so that we can truly achieve catharsis. Art can provide an opening to release, perspective, different understandings; but, unless we take the lessons it teaches us and apply it to deepening our genuine connection to self, soul, source, we will be doomed to repeat the lie of false energy, false understanding, false selves. Let art be the portal to personal freedom and enlightenment, not the door to a prison of mirrored walls, of conversation that recharges “itself with its own false energy” of “unreturning stylus.” This is the first lesson learned on our heroine’s journey: “A poem can begin with a lie. And be torn up.” She learns she must choose to start shredding, cutting up the lies so she can rebuild the joy of her life.

2: A month later, the second bottle, based on the second stanza of the poem, was ready to go. For the artwork in this bottle, I spent weeks using my clippers to cut words out of magazines, donated to me by loved ones, earth guides, shamans of their subjects. Rich wrote the poem and its second stanza long before everyone spent all of their time engulfed in - seeking identity from - the world of their cellphones. Yet, the words of 1975, “the picking up and picking up and again picking up the telephone the syllables uttering the old script over and over,” rang true in 2018 and maybe more so in 2021. The sad part is we are currently even, ever more entangled and engrossed in the web of lies on the screen, from the phone, in our hands. That is the truth of “The loneliness of the liar living in the formal network of the lie.” Learning to identify this noise that we choose is part of the initiation in the heroine’s journey: the woman as temptress. I am not innocent in choosing to engage with the temptress’ lies, with her noise. I too lived with “The classical music station ...playing hour upon hour in the apartment beneath the unsaid word.” That’s how I ended up in a nine year relationship that took away my joy, my craft, the art of my existence. I looked at my continuous noise unconsciously drowning out my soul sound - my true self - the love and pain and joy and contentment of authenticity, oneness, not loneliness. Our heroine had to learn the difference between being guilty of falling under the spell of the temptress and making the choice for when the noise is appropriate: learning to recognize when she engaged with the noise because she was avoiding versus when she was connecting.

3: Because of the noise, the temptress that is life, I didn’t drop another bottle in the series for a few months. I put out several bottles for Gold Bottle Project as a collective, but not again for this series until April of 2018. For the third bottle, I used my tool, my scissors, to cut out cardstock that I then painted and did some calligraphy over, and then collaged the cardstock to create the final imagery. I find the juxtaposition of silence to noise between stanzas two and three to be quite beautiful in their tension. The notion of “silence not absence of words or music or even raw sounds...” leads us to why the tension between the stanzas is so powerful for the reader, our heroine. It’s because both noise and silence are a choice. We choose when we want to drown out the noise and when we want to drown out ourselves. This choice is happening within us always, whether we acknowledge it or not. She had to be honest with herself and commit to the choices about being. She had to learn that words matter, expectations matter, spoken or not. And, what mattered even more was her and her knowing choice to react, or not. When she knowingly engages with the shadow aspect of herself and integrates her choice to see it and love it, then the heroine of the story reaches a point of atonement with the abyss. Her ego has shown itself and she is able to begin cutting away at the power it had over her.

4: The fourth bottle that I dropped in May didn’t have much scissor work involved in the imagery, but it’s important to note that all of the bottles get labeled with information about Gold Bottle Project’s intentions, and I would not be able to make any of them without my shears. In stanza four our heroine further explores this confrontation with her shadow self and the integration of her ego with her divine trinity. The imagery for this bottle was created by me cutting up the various versions of myself via polaroid images. Better yet, it is an image of the heroine dissecting what she thought she was, and learning how to use the gateway of art to cut out the negative self-talk that she and her shadow had been running on an endless loop for too long. The loop of circumlocution, of conversations based on lies of self, of the network of lies that rendered her with feelings of powerlessness. She finds herself asking, “Can I break through this film of the abstract without wounding myself or you?” After all, “there is enough pain here.” Here, she began to see, she began to understand the stage of the journey called Apotheosis. She knows now, she chooses to understand now: that “This is why the classical or the jazz music station plays” she knows it is there to “give a ground of meaning to our pain” and she is in need of rebalancing, a rebirth into this knowledge of the ultimate boon. This stage of her healing process is complete.

5: The balancing work took a minute, a month to be more precise. In July, I dropped bottle five in the series. I don’t have children of my own, but I hear my friends that are mothers talk about getting pregnant with a second child, and how there’s something about the pain of the birthing process from the first one they feel they divinely forget: because otherwise, they would’ve never chosen to create life again. That’s how I feel thinking about what it took to get me to the final image of bottle five. I cut out so. many. words. for this section. SO. MANY. TINY. WORDS. The delightful tool that was my scissors came in like a friggin’ champ this go round - our bond was truly solidified. While making this piece, my fingers became as soft as the skin of a newborn because I was constantly pulling glue off. This action forced our heroine to tap into her inner child and the kid she always wanted to be. She tapped into the “silence that strips bare.” The silence that is chosen, that I always wanted to know and was forced to engage with after this breakup. I found “a poetry where this could happen not as blank spaces or as words stretched like skin over meanings,” but in my reality. Our heroine found delight pulling the glue skin off the older version of her hands, like the snake sheds their skin, knowing that something graceful, playful, transformative would come from taking off the gloves of old selves, patterns, noise, silence, lies. She learned the poetry of existence, of being vulnerable, authentic, naked, loud, quiet, courageous. She became one under the sky of words she cut out. Past lessons learned and lessons still to learn. Our heroine experienced connection with the true threshold of art, but she refuses the return a moment longer, embracing the self before she takes her magic flight back to the real world.

6: In September of 2018, I dropped bottle six in the series. The meaning of the stanza and the imagery it inspired echoes back to the aesthetics of bottle four. Fragments of self in double exposed polaroid form just wanting to know: how does she exist as her true self within this world? Our heroine is tested upon her return, she is forced to find a way to embrace the realities of existence and continue to share her joy, her art. She had to process, integrate, and connect with the stubbornness that was holding onto her previous self that chose to stay small, silent. Our heroine’s source watched her scream, beg from the illegitimate voice of her past self, ceasing to hear her future self, her soul. Source looked at her, smiled and lovingly said, “This was the silence I wanted to break in you.” She stubbornly looks into the void of eternal love and beauty and continues to yell: “I had questions but you would not answer!” Source responds, “I had answers but you could not use them.” Our heroine walked away thinking, “This is useless to you and perhaps to others.” This was a rough stage for her. Thank gawd for the rescue from without, the friends she made along this journey that were willing to swoop in and remind her to pick up her scissors so she can create and share the joy of the love that she is. She needed them (the collective) to help her because she still wasn’t fully prepared for the divine rescue from within, for crossing the return threshold.

7: It took from September of 2018 to March of 2019 for our heroine to become master of the two worlds, and to drop bottle number seven. For this section, I meticulously cut out body parts from a medical training book and painted them with watercolors. I then used my pair of scissors to make my own fringe, grass, earth. There were many answers to the question of “how do I exist” that needed to be navigated and discovered before her mastery could occur. Our heroine had to realize the old themes of her life and that “Language cannot do everything” in order to begin her mastery. She had to learn to embrace the will of the poetry of her life, in order to create the poem my life would become. She looked her self, soul, source in the face “with naked eyeballs,” and did not turn away until she was clarified in the oneness of the divine trinity staring back. Finally, our heroine was reborn, into the joy of beginning her life. She knew her purpose was to share her gift, her art, to give it back to those around her, so that they too can discover their monomyth, their divine trinity.

8: This rebirth leads to the final stage in our heroine’s journey: freedom to live. That stage was celebrated with the eighth and final bottle in June of 2019. For the last piece, I made a paper design out of calligraphy, cut out a body from white cardstock, and then wrote the final stanza of the poem on top of it. The heroine was put back together, not old, but brand new. She embodied the ferocious accuracy of her oneness and reminded herself that this was something no one else could give her. She took her “blind child’s fingers” and her “newborn infant’s mouth” and shared her method of finding joy and beauty. She discovered what her passion was, her “bunsen-flame turned low and blue.” She was now like the bodhisattva choosing to return to earth and help enlighten others with her art. She knows that she may again long for the superficial catharsis. She also knows that in order to maintain her joy, she must take that lesser desire for distraction and, instead, “return to the concrete and everlasting world.” She must keep choosing to find her tools, to spread the joy of living authentically.

Scissors are the tool I needed in this phase of my lifelong heroine’s journey. The boon being unity in oneness with my divine trinity and all that brings. I stopped doing Gold Bottle project after this series because that part of my discovery was over. It was time for the next phase. So, your heroine leaves you with this final reminder: art calls us to step outside of ourselves, acknowledge our need for vulnerability, interconnectivity, and the fundamental love of humanity, of the joy of human existence. Be willing to be vulnerable to it, to yourself, and to each other. After all, it may be what saves us. Choose to no longer be small, silent. Answer your call to adventure: to re-discover your tools, your joy and yourself. Let art be the portal to your personal freedom and enlightenment, not the door to a prison of mirrored walls. Choose to start shredding the lies, so you can rebuild the joy of your life.

Reference: Rich, Adrienne. “Cartographies of Silence.” The Dream of A Common Language, W.W. Norton & Company, 1978, Print.

Erin Lucas
Erin Lucas
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Erin Lucas

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