Updated February 5, 2019
Personal Narrative Structure is a creative art project inspired by my understanding of (a) processes of recovery from psychological trauma, as articulated in two classic texts on this topic, Ronnie Janoff-Bulman’s Shattered Assumptions and Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, and (b) shamanistic processes of initiation and transformation involving spiritual dismemberment and rebirth.
I’ve been working on this project for several years. Basically, I took everything I have ever created (mostly journals, drawings, poems, etc.) and dismembered it, shattered it into a gazillion itty bitty pieces (mirroring how I felt inside for several years), by removing the spines from all the journals and creating one continuous ‘book’ out of everything I had ever created, since birth to now. I date-stamped most of the ‘pieces’ (mostly single sheets of paper) in YYMMDD format in the lower right-hand corner of the page.
For years I worked on this, I ruminated on it (rumination plays an important role in posttraumatic recovery and in posttraumatic growth, per Calhoun and Tedeschi), and I dreamt up a large number of possible ways to ‘cohere’ the collection into one continuous work of art. For a lot of the time I actually felt very stuck with this project, which of course mirrors the process of posttraumatic recovery. I obsessed a lot about how I was playing out the ideas articulated by the writers I mentioned above, through the project and in my own life.
After numerous false starts and attempts to cohere the project into one unitary book or work of art, I eventually decided I really just wanted to purge (i.e., get rid of, throw out) the vast majority of the collection. I actually felt that way about the collection for a very long time. Sometimes I wished my home would burn down so that the entire collection would be destroyed, giving me the space to start over fresh with a brand new start.
Anyway, I’m moving to Las Vegas in less than two weeks, and that looming deadline blessed me with a newfound clarity with Personal Narrative Structure. I recently went through every single page of the project (collected in a large number of archive boxes), and pulled out only the items that I felt would be difficult for me to throw out. I was amazed at how good it felt to release the vast majority of the items. I actually ended up throwing out all of my personal journals, and Sweet Jesus, I promise you that was one of the very best parts. Because in throwing out those journals, I am symbolically throwing out the voice inside my head which for the most part talks a whole lot of nonsense that really is not worth replicating.
So now I have this very compact little bindle of things I have created throughout my life, mostly drawings and poems, and now I feel that I can actually create something beautiful out of that very small selection of items. Oh Lord I feel so free. This morning one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met in my life drove the glorious Time Shred truck all the way here to my home, here to the Unboxing Press studio, and unburdened me of years of deadweight items, the release of which I really had been craving in such a hardcore way for years. I walked back into my nearly empty apartment and proclaimed, ‘I feel like a child!’ — I feel free, magical, open, I feel every possibility being possible for me.
It feels so good to purge!
My intention is to create some custom frames for my favorite drawings (and to purge even more of the drawings, if I can bring myself to do so), and to create an art book out of the poems I saved. I actually threw out tons of poems too, but I want to collect the very few good ones and create a lovely art book out of them. It feels so good when you make progress on something with which you have felt absolutely stuck for years. I’m so excited to move to Las Vegas with nothing more than a simple little bindle thrown over my shoulder.
There were also some musical recordings and a performance art piece in the collection:
Additional Plans for the Personal Narrative Structure Project
I intend to create (a) ‘illuminating frames’ for some of my favorite drawings from the collection (i.e., frames that embody the actual content and thematic material from the drawings) and (b) a self-designed and self-published book of poems.