My immediate past... such as it is... doesn't always leave me feeling as though I have a good link to my ancestors and the idea of family, and legacy, seems like something tainted by the sins of those before me. I reach far beyond the scope of my parents lives to find ancestors that I can connect with - I find them only in the annuls of history, in old family Bibles, in geneology records grown dusty with age. I reach out to them with altars and shrines, candles, storytelling, and the idea that they are something a part of me that's better than what I've known of the living.
This leaves me though, feeling a bit of of a loss for the present. For my daughter. For what it all means for the future of the family that I come from. Can I erase the darkness that they left the world and leave a better legacy for tomorrow? I can only hope. Ancestry then, for me, becomes something about the future. About my daughter. About the ideas that I can press into grandchildren and journals and good works - and hope beyond all hope - that that is what is remembered of my people.
But what can I leave behind?
In the early part of my escape into the real world (whatever that is) I discovered painting. It quickly became a part of how I expressed things that I couldn't keep inside anymore. I did embarrassing "abstracts", terrible portraits, scandal inducing nudes, and tons of moody compositions born from things that words can never describe. It was my escape, and it was my passion. Ultimately, some time later, this lead to my going to college and making real changes in my self. A little known fact about me is that other than a bit of kindergarten, I've only ever been to college. Everything between point A and point B is a fiction created simply to get me where I needed to go. I don't have a diploma, nor a GED, but I do have a Bachelors of the Fine Arts from one of the finest art schools in the country - and I'm proud of that.
I'm less proud of the fact that when working on my final portfolio for graduation I was told that my art didn't amount to anything. Would never find its way into the history books. It was transient.
A few things are important here.
Firstly, slowly but surely, as I found my medium, my art became less and less traditional. I had transitioned to completely painting on the human body by this point - and I was, by most peoples estimation, a "face painter." But I saw something more. I saw body artistry. I saw an opportunity to take a 3D form and express something hidden on the inside of it. To pull out parts of someone that they never show the world and transform them body and soul into that ideal. It was important. It was transformative.
It was mine.
But it was transient. It washes down the drain at the end of the day, showered away and forgotten. But what if I photograph it I asked? The professor explained that then the art became about the capture. The photography. My painting was incidental.
Secondly, and most importantly, I had never before thought about the fact that art could be my legacy. Until that professor told me that I couldn't be a part of history, I didn't know that that was what I wanted. What I needed. I needed to know that I could leave something behind. This was my ancestry in the making, the bettering of my families history that my daughter could connect to.
And I was being denied it.
"Here's something unpleasant: all art comes from demons. Not real demons, in most cases, but demons of angst and horrible memories and sexual frustration. It works like this: you get beat up in school because, while the cool kids are putting bruises on each other on the football field, you were sitting on the steps writing your science fiction stories. That fear and tension that winds itself around your soul like steel wire as you try nervously to sneak out of the locker room before the big kids give you a Wedgie and a Tittie-Twister and a Dirty Sanchez, and all of that builds up into adulthood. Art is how you let it out. It was an angsty bastard who introduced Han Solo to the world by showing him ruthlessly blowing the face off a mafia bill collector, shooting him from under the table and then cooly walking away and paying his tab. Lucas revealed Obi-Wan Kenobi to us by showing him ending a bar fight by slicing a guy's arm off. Lucas didn't flinch at the thought of blowing up the peaceful planet of Alderaan and killing billions. None of this was gratuitous; it told us the story, told us what the stakes were. But angst drives it. Now, if the artist is lucky, that angst goes away. If the audience is lucky, it doesn't. The art dies with the angst, you see."
The professor was wrong.
I have found my immortality in my transience, but not in the way that either of us might have suspected. My career in face painting has persisted in the background of my life for now 15 years. I've painted thousands upon thousands of children. They come back to me years later and bring me their children to transform, and I tell them of how I painted their parents once. They come and they tell me of how once, I made them feel beautiful when they didn't think they were, or strong and fierce when they felt weak.
In every photograph of every child I paint, I exist as the person making them smile.
I live on in their memories.
In every photograph shared for generations. In the photo albums of families who come to see me year after year. In the way they remember a time spent at a fair - I brought happiness.
Perhaps then, my legacy is about that transience. Perhaps what I leave the future is in the smiles of those children. It was never about the permanence of my life's horrors projected onto canvas. Professor Casem - you were wrong. I will always be a part of history in the minds of those children. In every smile I make, I help craft a future worth living in.
That beats the hell out of the history books.