Catastrophe, Memory, Reconciliation

My background in arts journalism compels me to full disclosure: this post focuses on how my partner Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo has had a quiet influence on my creative growth. I’m fully immersed in this for obvious reasons and there is no assumption of impartiality. Just so we’re clear. The title is borrowed (with permission of course) from the name of his current show, which is on view until September 9th at Latitude 53 in Edmonton. The essay I wrote to accompany his show follows. 


catastrophe essay web2

I first met Osvaldo through a meditation group and was struck by his gentle nature. Upon learning he is a visual artist, I became even more intrigued. At the time I was thinking of starting a blog about the creative humans that inspire me (it took over a year to get it started, but here we go). I had been to his solo show at the grunt gallery and was entranced by the searing beauty in his work.

After I came to his studio to interview him, we began talking more about our personal lives and I felt the warmth of a deeper recognition. We soon began talking daily and when he was away on an artist residency in Santa Fe, things took a romantic turn over text message and we’ve been together ever since.

Osvaldo’s work ethic has kept me sane as I’ve struggled to locate my voice. We’re fortunate to live in a work/live loft space and we have long meandering conversations as he toils in his studio. Watching how he takes care of himself throughout his creative process galvanizes me.

Since moving to Vancouver in 2013, my output has been negligent. I made a short film, secured a distributor, but failed to get a premiere (CATASTROPHE). The thorniness of rejection sent me into a sulk and it took a while to recover. I did things like sharing a highly vulnerable story at the Raincity Chronicles and impetuously did the same at Jeff Gladstone’s Bad Ideas Cabaret. I studiously avoided VIFF and all things film for two years.

I kept feeling stung by rejection (MEMORY).  In Buddhism, this is known as the second arrow. Imagine if you were shot in the arm by an arrow and it hurt like hell, but rather than removing the arrow, you kept stabbing yourself with it, ad nauseam. It’s a maddening spiral. My perceived failure caused me suffering and I was ruminating on it again and again.

Rather than let go, I propelled myself into other even more alarming situations. As much as standing in front of 200 people at the Raincity event and talking about the time my first boyfriend painted me was deeply terrifying, it was also liberating. Over time, I believe it helped me cultivate resilience.

Detail from Catastrophe, Memory, Reconciliation on view at Latitude 53

Rejection is just part of the deal in any creative endeavour. I’ve finally accepted this. Watching how Osvaldo deals with it has been tremendously helpful. He can spend hours and weeks on an application for a grant or an exhibition, only to be told months later in a tersely worded letter he didn’t get the funding or the show. I have yet to see him sulk. Instead, he focuses his attention outwards, on his friends. Thinks of ways to connect with them. We cook elaborate dinners, go for walks, and meditate. It still smarts, but he doesn’t wallow or stab himself with self recrimination. It’s nourishing to watch how he handles it.

I’ve also noticed he diversifies, working on one project for a while, then switching gears to write a proposal, then getting to work on a fresh concept. It’s something I’m just learning how to do: not get caught up in one all consuming idea. That way, if it doesn’t turn out the way I hope, I’m not left in a whimpering heap. It’s humbling to realize I’m still grasping this at my age, but so be it.

There’s another Buddhist concept that applies here: the practice of non-attachment. It’s an intellectual concept for me and I haven’t fully integrated it yet, but the idea is to perceive experiences with a sense of connection, not attachment. Non dualistic thinking means we are all connected, there is no self and no other, so there is no need for clinging to outcomes or even to others. Some days this idea seems simple. On darker days, it makes my head explode. The prevailing thought: “Why can’t I let that shit go?!”

With autumn approaching, I’m taking more steps to move my work forward (RECONCILIATION). This blog is part of my process and I’m nervous and exhilarated to share it. I’ve also signed up for a writing critique group for a creative non-fiction piece I’m working on (family complexities, oh boy!), finally reading Dialogue by legendary writing coach Robert McKee, and bought a membership for Women in Film. Obviously there’s no guarantees, but I’m grateful to be putting words to paper again.

If you have any strategies for navigating rejection, I’d love to read them in the comments.



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