By Katarina Silva
“Renew thyself completely each day; Do it again, and again, and forever again.”
–Tseng Tzu, a disciple of Confucius.
Sometimes, I feel like slithering out of my own skin.
When my old casing starts squeezing me too tightly, in a decidedly asphyxiating manner, I must break free of it, or die. There’s no mistaking its message.
It’s as if existence itself takes on an unbearable quality and I’m being seduced into shedding it. Urged is a better word. Yes, it’s an inner urging to self exterminate. It arrives most every winter, with the shrill of cold winds and the lonesome hoots of owls, just as the frost makes its first kill.
At first this urging heartlessly masquerades as what feels like a suicidal tendency, complete with romantic fantasies of artistic exits. But it’s most definitely not that. It’s really just the opposite! This angst pushes me to expand my life, not contract it. It wants me to enrich it, not deplete it. I feel myself aching to live a deeper, broader, truer and more meaningful version of my self. I need to experience and express everything I am.
So I launch into yet another round of experimenting with perimeters of being. I’ve been doing this since I was eight, asking myself questions like “Who am I, really? and “Why do I exist?” The experiments are always born of these interrogations.
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
My experiments color outside of old lines. Then I go off the page entirely. After every experiment part of my self inevitably becomes obsolete.
Then there’s a little death.
Like a blanket of fresh snow, the expiration of my old self wipes out any traces of spring; of identities I once flowered in until their colors began to wilt, their stems bending with the weight of renewal, and I realize that “self” is often more transient than the seasons.
Consequently, I own an incalculable collection of former selves. Some of them grow weeds like unattended graves. Others become needy phantoms haunting the hallways of my past. Those that rest peacefully become the seeds of my future selves: places where the petals of authenticity unfurl in the light.
“I want to unfold. Let no place in me hold itself closed, for where I am closed, I am false…” –Rainer Maria Rilke
When I feel an urgency to break out of myself, it’s usually because something is closing in; something is impeding my growth, and suddenly I’m a plant that’s become too large for the little pot that holds it. My roots thirst for more nourishment than the soil around me can offer. The pot may be a stale relationship, a stagnant lifestyle, uninspiring cultural influences, outdated belief systems, depleting social circles, self-sabotaging habits, etc. If I identify too closely with these things, when the pot I’ve outgrown begins to crack, I also feel myself cracking. The breaking hurts like hell.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” –Khalil Gibran
After the panic, I see the benefits of the broken. Old casings break for new life to emerge. So I push against the vessel containing me with new force. I long to open myself up in wild, unhindered ways. The cracking of casings is a sound every human hears over and over again in the course of a single lifetime, for our very constituents rebel against limits.
Identity, much like art, behaves defiantly when restricted. Both art and definitions of self share a characteristically enigmatic flavor, as I experience them. One moment we are swirling their aromatic bouquet on our tongues and the next moment we spot it floating elusively against a landscape we don’t even recognize.
I admit that I am addicted to this playful teetering on the border between being and becoming.
There is a thrill in the undefined, the mysterious: that which always slips through our fingers. It always hints at something more—that we are all much more than we think we are.
Hans-Georg Gadamer believed that all art comes from an intimate experience of participating in something beyond oneself, which then paradoxically reveals a broader, deeper vision of one’s self. I often suspect that when I recognize my self the least, I am actually the closest to really discovering who I am. Something about this feels deliciously primeval to me, like a cosmic drum beat we all carry at our core.
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” –Sylvia Plath
Sometimes I can’t hear the drum, and stand on the outside of me, having forgotten my key. First there’s some frantic banging on the door. Then the key shows up but I don’t want to use it. Instead I look for another door. Then I change my mind and decide I like being locked out!
Over the years, I’ve learned that there is always a method to the madness. That there is purposefulness in this conflict: the extremes that toy with me when in the midst of existential chaos. Or as Carl Jung put it, there is a cosmos in all chaos, a secret order in all disorder. And so it follows that there is also beauty. Even in the terror that often accompanies annihilating the conception of who I am today, so that I may enter into a more expansive experience of what I’ll become tomorrow. It’s a little like watching a woman being sawed in half at a magic show. I am both scared and lured. And though an odd pair, fear and attraction make exquisite tango partners.
“There is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportion.” – Edgar Allan Poe
It’s when they spontaneously pull me into the dance that I lose my footing. That I slip, and grow dizzy and hit the floor with a jolt. But it’s the jolt that wakes me up. It’s the jolt that breaks and remakes me. It’s the jolt of existential crisis that electrifies us and sends us shooting through the darkness like a comet: the beautiful demise of what we were, so that we may shine the way life intended us to.
“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star” – Friedrich Nietzsche
(Originally published in Rebelle Society in 2012)
Katarina Silva is a self-portraiture artist who thrives on the spontaneous thrill of creating photographic images on a ten second timer, inevitably employing witchcraft to do so. Her autobiographical art reflects her emotions and dreams, and is characterized by the mysterious absence of her complete face. Katarina’s art has been exhibited in various venues such as at the Capital Fringe Festival in D.C, Darkroom Gallery, the New Diorama Theatre in London, and as a semi-finalist in Ron Howard’s Project Imagination. Her creations have graced the bottles of fine perfumes by House of Cherry Bomb, NYC and Skye Botanicals. In 2012 Katarina wrote the foreword for “A Naked Lady” by her colleague Michael V. Messina and Katja Gee. Help yourself to further peeks into Katarina’s mind at Rebelle Society, Elephant Journal, view her art here, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. She lives unafraid of darkness, wrapped in nature, in an obscure corner of the planet with her magical kitty.
Photo: provided by author
Editor: Dana Gornall