Chiaroscuro of the heart / by Christina Rosalie

I sit at the dining room table with a good mechanical pencil and some soft lead. The house hums with the regular quiet of evening. Into the corners of my mind the hubbub of the day still seeps, like spilled ink soaking into a paper towel. I give myself a task: focus wholly on these two little boots. Let my eyes move along their contours. Stay focused. Follow with my hand.

I sketch the outline of each boot. My mind slips into a place between thinking and not—a place without language where I hover like a humming bird, millimeters from a flower anticipating sweet nectar. I start painting the shadows.

I’ve been trying to do this more: directing my focus towards everyday objects. To notice how things are. To try to accurately observe. Everything doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be.

I've begun to notice this week how often I put value on moments, on whole days: “this is horrible,” I hear myself saying, or “I hate this.” Often I am overcome with these emotions—the value I give the moment obscures it.

The shadows are hard to capture. The quality of shiny rubber catches the light. The boots are still new, only used indoors by Bean’s small feet. He’s walked about in them like a bowlegged cowboy, high stepping, with a big grin on his face. Soon they’ll be muddy, their sheen tarnished with a glaze of puddle mud.

The shadows are important. They give depth and angle. Without them the contours I’ve drawn will look distorted and not like the boots at all. It is the shadows that bring dimension, and I’m starting to understand that about my life too. It is hard for me to allow the shadows to simply be, without resenting them, or allotting them a value. Hard to come face to face with my sorrow, anger, or aggression, without letting these emotions spill over my entire perception self. Hard to let them exist alongside my breath, without holding my breath.

I’m not good at allowing these emotions to rest in the open palms of my soul, without clenching my fists.

Some nights when I paint, I let things distort, grow wild, brilliant, abstract, but tonight I want to capture things as they are. Tonight I want the chiaroscuro to be as it is, there on the table before me. Light where the bulbs above my head illuminate the toe tips. Dark where the soles touch the table top. Light where my breath comes freely. Dark where my mind comes up against the sharp edges of undefined worry.

I recall reading about this years ago when I was trying to learn how to be mindful, rather than just being mindful. I never got it then: this process of acceptance. I never understood how hard it is to sit side by side with frustration, with self pity, with a knot of anger, and allow these things to be without allowing them to flood the page with darkness. To accept them, but not to give them reign. To see them as they are, without the distortion.

I go back over the boots, working with watercolors, adding layer upon layer of red pigment to create the shadows. I begin to notice that there is shape to the shadows. They have borders. I focus my mind on the page. The meaty part of my palm rubs up against the fresh paint, smudging it. A trail of dark pigment flecks the outer edge of my hand.

I realize that often in these past few days, when work has been highly stressful for DH, I’ve allowed myself to absorb his aggression and frustration. I’ve internalized it and allowed it to spread: an unidentified fear spilling across the page of my heart, and my whirling hormones (after two years, nearly, my cycle is finally returning) have added to the blur.

When I look closely, this is what I see: the boots. Two tokens of puddle-stomping joy to be had by the small boy who I love. My anger: not really mine, but absorbed from the environment of stress I’ve been in this week. My worry: money, always money. My fear: that I am not good enough.

When I observe closely this is what I feel: breath. Tension. Focus. Acceptance. Release. Here are the boots, and my soul as I see them tonight.