The Gift of Shame

July 1 2015 bay July 1 2015 yarn July 1 2015 meI got a raise today.  When I sat down to knit, someone had left a shiny quarter on the end of the bench.  I have so much on my mind, mostly of a scatalogical nature…I’m thinking about compost, scat, decay, and how in nature there really is no such thing as waste.  I think about all the pounds of my trash that gets loaded on a train and taken down to a landfill somewhere in Oregon where it will sit for several centuries, and I know that I am an anomaly in the universe, and it makes me want to evolve.  I want to be that bird that gathers lint from the dryer or discarded dog hair to line her nest.  I want to be that barnacle that builds a fairy fortress on a sunken ship.  I want to be a bacteria that breaks down cow pats into fertilizer yielding up a harvest of juicy tomatoes.  Perhaps, this morning is a start in that direction because I did something bizarre before my knit–I packaged up my feces in a little container to give to someone suffering from chronic indigestion, hoping against hope that the happy flora in my digestive tract could recolonize his.  It reminded me of the shock artist Piero Manzoni’s piece entitled “Merda d’artista” (Artist’s Sh*t) in which the artist filled 90 tin cans with feces, and labeled them in English, French, German and Italian.  His father, who owned a cannery, is said to have told his son once, “Your work is shit,” which perhaps inspired the piece:

It is not known exactly how many cans of Artist’s Shit were sold within Manzoni’s lifetime, but a receipt dated 23 August 1962 certifies that Manzoni sold one to Alberto Lùcia for 30 grams of 18-carat gold (reproduced in Battino and Palazzoli p.154). Manzoni’s decision to value his excrement on a par with the price of gold made clear reference to the tradition of the artist as alchemist already forged by Marcel Duchamp and Yves Klein among others. -quoted from Tate Website

Although Manzoni’s gesture was also meant as a cynical critique of the commodification of artwork, it’s his alchemical ideas that really fascinate me…The feces-into-gold concept is what actually happens all the time in nature…Without the process of excretion, death and decay, there would be no food, no life on this planet.  And so, I am rethinking my relationship to the shit in my life, to my terrible fear of failure and inadequacy.  My recent attempts to patch things up with the curator have come up empty…no amount of taxi cabs could ever help me catch up to that bus.  I walked around with an ache in my chest for several days knowing that I had come within minutes of fulfilling a lifelong dream, and then missed the moment through my own carelessness.  It reminds me of walking a labyrinth, and feeling as though one is about to reach the rosette in the center, when suddenly the path twists and one is thrust back into the outermost coils of the design.

There is a gift in shame, in failure, I know there is.  If nothing else, it makes me more human, more empathic, because most people suffer from shame in one form or another whether they feel too fat or too thin, too smart or too dumb, too sensitive or too insensitive, too loud or too quiet.  It’s this terrible sense of “too-ness” that causes so many adults to walk around wearing masks most of the time.  It’s life spent in the shadow of a giant, menacing measuring tape, hiding in fear that no one could love the real me.  I too know shame, I just happened to bury it so far down in the bowels of my psyche I couldn’t access it consciously…However, the shame was there, it just came out in more insidious ways, like leaking bile…I recently shared some of my struggles with someone–faultfinding, contempt, feelings of superiority, envy–and he said something that shocked me.  “All of these things are coming from the same inner wound, the fear that you are not good enough.  If you tend that shame, these other symptoms will get much smaller.”  So, I am getting in touch with my shame–I’m even canning and offering it to the world as a blog post.  If we could all accept ourselves exactly as we are, I wonder what would happen.  Pure gold, I reckon.  Nothing is wasted–the failures, the embarrassments, the losses, the negative thoughts–all are perfect ingredients in the cosmic compost pile…


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