Taking the Leap: My World Come Into View Through Art • by Samantha Kira Harding
On My Own
When I found my “dream” college for completing the last two years of my bachelor’s degree in TV writing and production, I was nervous but excited. I would be out of the house for the first time, living right in downtown Chicago, studying television production and writing ― there was not a more perfect major for me. My best friend was taking classes with me, and my parents were thrilled to see their daughter be the first one in our extended family to go to college. Dad even cried when it came time for him and my mom to leave me and head back home.
Life in suburbia is slower than in the city. Rushing down crowded sidewalks to get to class on time, I found myself moving slower than everyone else. And after class, I’d have to take it easy (as well as taking a few Ibuprofen) while my classmates jetted off to bars and restaurants and museums. When the heat of the summer months began to evaporate, I found myself on my own more often than not, electing to sit in the park to read or study while friends explored the city. In my classes, I found myself limited, too shaky to operate shoulder cams, too easily prone to pain to lift heavy equipment.
My roommates and I didn't get along, so I spent more and more time back home. Luckily, my parents only lived an hour and a half away. Retreating, I wondered when everything that had promised to be amazing had gone so wrong.
At times, I felt I had deluded myself into thinking I was a “normal” 20-year-old college student and often berated myself for such silly thinking. As early as fourteen, I began developing arthritic problems throughout my body and lived with constant, aching pain that kept me from road trips, and I was often on so much medication that going out to the bar after class wasn’t a good idea. As the months grew shorter and winter approached, I found myself listening to my best friend talk about all the fun she was having in the city while I was back home recuperating from just two full days of classes.
Massage therapy was supposed to help, but it only made me hurt worse. One day, I simply broke down, overwhelmed by pain, frustrated with my body. The administration at school couldn’t help with my fatigue and absence rates, the pain was too much for me to keep under control, and I was missing out on what should have been one of the best times of my life. I had everything wrapped up in what I was supposed to be doing that I couldn’t see any other alternative.
Saved by a Moleskine
Summer rolled around. Bored one evening, I decided to look up Moleskine notebooks on the Internet, as I had received one as a gift years before but never used it. Discovering the sketches and artwork others had done in these notebooks began turning the wheels in my head, and started opening me up to the possibility that I could be artistic in the traditional sense, that my whole being was not just made for words and images on a screen.
In the past, I’d been jealous of friends, sure. In high school, I was an anime nerd, and wished I could draw those cartoon characters like most of my friends could. In fact, it was back then, when I was a teenager that I convinced myself that I was meant for writing, not art. Not painting or drawing or anything else. I never even tried taking an art class. During my first years at college, my electives were film studies or writing. I had been so convinced that I was “bad” at art that I no longer entertained the idea of an “artistic” me. Now, however, I felt something inside me stir and begin to wake.
The Breaking Point
But I didn't have time to ponder the possibility that I, maybe, could do art because I began falling apart.
New medications, new therapies. More trial and error. More pain meds that made me tired or sick. More pushing myself through classes, consumed by bone-numbing fatigue, wrapped in cold sweats, fighting with teachers about having to leave classes early. More wishing I could go out and be like everyone else.
Then, during the first semester of my senior year, things came to a head. One day, my period began ahead of schedule, and it continued heavily for thirty days before I rushed off to a doctor. Three days later, I had surgery to have a tumor removed. When you’re faced with a 3-day wait on biopsy results, you really see things in a new light: change, or else.
(And you really don’t want to play Russian roulette with God.)
The tumor, my doctor told me, had been growing since I was fifteen. Can you imagine? Being so worried and hard on yourself and pushing so much that it resulted in having something foreign grow inside you for over five years? To strain and try to the point of breaking?
After recovering at home, I returned to school a different person. First semester dragged on into winter. The chilly air spread a blanket of silence over the city as fluffy white snowflakes fell. Safe and warm inside a cafe, I was able to take in all I’d been missing. Taking pause to draw slowed down the world. Removed from the high-speed string of appointments, classes, and to-do lists, the world came into view. Bright, vibrant sunlight shone for no other reason than it could. And each contour and detail of the old clock, the subject of my first drawing, came alive, I could picture the time when it was truly visible.
Open to Change
Five months after being rid of the (thankfully!) benign tumor, I was on a plane to California to finish out my degree by participating in a 5-week intensive workshop in Los Angeles.
Joining the program was last-minute decision I would have never considered if I hadn’t, slowly, been opening myself up to change. I’d had enough fear in my life ― I was ready to let it go, take the leap, and go for it.
I drew every day. I took rubbings off jetty stones at Venice Beach. Painted the scene outside my window with old watercolors. Doodled around my notes for class. Put phone numbers and orders and ideas down on the same pages as keepsakes of the oddest nature: parking garage receipts, napkins, cards.
I still have that first journal. It’s a large ruled Moleskine that started with written entries and progressed into drawn ones. Doodles. Experiments. Turning the pages in that journal creates a roadmap of senses and experiences.
And while I was happy in LA, learning more about myself every day, I was unable to remain and had to, when finished with school, return home because my health wasn’t perfect. I came back to take more leaps, to do more thinking, more soul-searching. I even quit the salaried job I had right out of school because the need to be happy was greater than how much money I made. I needed to focus on this odd thing that had taken over my life: art.
Nourishing My Soul
And so, I found a job where I could learn and grow in a creative environment, one that nourished my soul. Five years later, I have an entire room devoted to art, and spend my days creating and living true. Listening to my body more. Being kind to myself. Relishing in life.
It’s hard to put into words the changes art has brought to my life. Progressing from simple daily drawings to illustrating to creating paintings seemed natural, as if I were going down a path set by something larger than myself. Keeping a journal helps me keep track of symptoms and activities. And being able to express myself on the page or canvas digs out those deep, hidden emotions that need to come to the surface in order to be healed.
By forcing me to go deeper, to explore myself through my work, art has given me confidence in my abilities, has taught me how to truly see the beauty of the world in simple, everyday moments. Looking at things I’ve created gives me such joy; words may be lovely, but they can’t be held in your hand. You can’t gaze at them and see the brushstrokes and papers hidden beneath. They are songs for your ears. Art is a feast for the eyes, the sand between your toes, the dancing of the soul. It takes you farther than you ever could imagine and promises to hold your hand when the sun is blotted by an eclipse.
Grass underfoot, a warm hand in yours, the clouds sitting on a silver lining in a bright sky. And to think I almost missed it all.
Samantha Kira Harding is an artist, writer, and blogger who lives in Chicago, Illinois. To learn more about Samantha Kira, visit her at journalgirl.com.