Hanging Pictures: The Power of Objects, Memories, and Emotions

My sibling came to visit my apartment the other day. She noticed I had nothing on my walls and joked it looked like I just moved in when I’ve almost been here a year now. I told her when I first moved in, I didn’t know I would stay; then I thought I might go to London for school so there was no point in setting up shop; and since then, I’ve just been busy. So, true to her expedient fashion, she had me pull out my previous art/frames/etc and decide what to put up and where.

I was hesitant. I told her maybe I had outgrown them. She asked if I still liked them, and I said yes. So we hung it. We put up my two large framed pieces of art, and then she had to go.

I felt uneasy all night. Sitting there in my living room, I kept looking at the art, trying to understand why it was making me feel uncomfortable. It is beautiful art, but I missed my white walls. I generally take an unusual amount of time processing change – yes, even something as simple as art on a wall – so I assumed it was just me trying to accept I might be living here for longer than I expected and why and what that might mean.

I realized walking into the room this morning what it was. It’s lovely art. Very much the style I like. I bought both of these in the first few years I left college and was living in Washington, DC – including the one I lived in before my breakdown. And last I had them up, was the year I was suicidal  in my studio apartment in Berkeley. During those years, I spent many nights and days lying in bed, looking at these paintings. Turned on my side, tears slipping over the ridge of my nose, wondering if I had the energy to take the next breath. I often sat at the bottom my bed, looking across from these paintings, rocking myself, consumed with a hatred that made my stomach ache.

This is a little out there for me, so take it with a grain of salt, but somewhere in their essence, the feeling of my pain still exists. My memories trapped within the paintings still slowly leak out and I remember the emotional, physical and mental anguish I barely survived. Sadly, there aren’t just paintings anymore – they are a past that is constantly breathing on my neck, threatening to consume me again.

Pretty fucking intense for a painting, right? But it does explain why I haven’t put up any pictures of my friends, my family, or poems that friends sent during the past five years to uplift my spirit. Seeing pictures of people I have lost touch with, people I miss, me smiling while knowing what I was experiencing at the time – it’s tainted. I assume over time, when I see these paintings or pictures, I will not forget, but the emotion attached to it will fade and it will just be a fact connected to the painting or picture in my timeline.

So as for the paintings, I figure I have a few options. I can wait a few days and see if the memories fade and it just becomes art again. Take them down and sell them. Maybe look for new art that I can appreciate with my new lens.

But I think maybe I’ll take them down and I won’t put anything up in their place. I’ll just continue to keep my walls white. There is a calm comfort in knowing I don’t have to define myself yet. Acknowledging I am still living in a slightly off-white, unknown. This apartment is a safe space, and I am grateful for it; but it’s a place of transition, at least right now. Maybe some think it feels empty, prison-like, un-lived in. But I guess for me, it’s more of a state of possibility – a literal blank slate.