Sealed in a box. Fabric threads encasing memories transformed into paper. Camouflage churned inside out into pasty thick substance dried into a substrate holding those moments. Ten years of military service, ten years of an officer in the Air Force, active and reserves, no combat tours. Drawing lines that connect and disconnect you from these written words.
Frozen at the table, scissors in my hand questioning if its sacrilegious to cut up my military
uniforms. Only one uniform spared, tucked away in the back of my closest, my maternity
uniform. It is part of my little girl’s story I want her to hold someday.
Cutting away to postage sized stamps with fingers cold, numb, and throbbing by the end of the day. Seeing the little pieces of uniform being stuffed in ziplock bags, readying for transformation. Stirred, poured, and pressed. My uniforms turned to gray muck. Imperfect lumpy sheets of paper, others were beautifully tinged purple or pure white. Mine were just gray.
My art supplies spilling across the table. My pens, inks, and one of the gracious Combat Paper NJ host’s borrowed golden paints. Placing in headphones to drown out the chatter in the room, I began. My years in the military tangling with the present, pressing some of my previous created art journal pages into the newly created paper made out of my uniforms, gluing and cutting, cutting and gluing. My hands moved across the pages without conscious thought. I felt a new story pouring out, releasing the old ones.
The pages were on display at the gallery, mine oddly out of place with bright and cheery colors, and sprays of pink. Questioning where does my story belong. Unpinning my pages to toss in the back of my Jeep, time to leave the NJ Combat Paper Project experience. The blank gray pages stacked under the completed ones.
Months later, I stumbled across those raw edges of gray paper stuck in stacks of my art journal scraps and my breath catches. How could I have forgotten all the unfinished sheets?
This time it proved to be more difficult. I was overworking the pages, adding too may layers, trying too hard to make it beautiful or to tell my military story. Stretching, overworking, layering to burning, cutting, stitching and tearing.
Art journaling is a release. Breathe. These pages don’t have to be beautiful or even part of a story. Reminding myself to again let go, let go of the expectations and outcomes. This is when I took matches to the pages and dumped white paint across them. Release. Set this free.
The last sheet of paper with carved lines and words in the thick, dried gesso laid on my art table unfinished for weeks. I packed it in my suitcase for a long weekend excursion. Sitting quietly in the corner of the rented lake house in the early morning hours, I simply started with a pencil. Three figures emerged, enhancing them with shades of blue and green golden acrylic paints. There was still a visible message that had been carved in the beginning layer in the gesso, “Release the past, it will be ok”. Simple and fitting for the collection. Then I couldn’t help but still see the multiple carved lines in the dried gesso underneath the figures and running across the page. I worried about ruining what I had just created, but the urge was too strong to resist, I began to trace all the carved lines, connecting and intersecting all the carved lines.
Pages completed, held together with the laces of my military boots. Slipping the pile into the box assembled for the purpose of containment. Fear is bubbling up in me, these pages are personal, vulnerability had oozed into the paint and ink. There is pride for my military career and honor in wearing the uniform. I cut up my old uniforms to narrate part of my story, interweaving camouflage with present existence. It is a weaving of the grit and the delicate. I tell myself its okay to make these public. Each of us has a story to tell that carries pain and beauty, past and present. I remind myself these stories serve to connects us. These pages are raw, breaking open the shell to capture authenticity of those years. I hope the telling of my story has drawn lines that connect you and me, hoping you can see where our lines meet.