Recently I was driving in a parking lot, trying to steer the car from the secondary set of controls on the passenger side. The car was already moving backward out of the parking space while I was still fumbling around with the pedals; my feet kept hitting the sides or slipping off. I was about to run into the car in the next row, so I reached across to the driver side and wrenched the steering wheel to turn enough to backup between the rows, but the car was getting faster and I was growing frantic.
Another car shot around me, barely missing me because I was steering erratically in the middle of the lane, on the verge of tears. That’s when I finally realized that there isn’t a secondary set of controls on the passenger side. I finally gave up and the car stopped. I walked around to the driver side and all of a sudden my feet found the pedals and the steering wheel was in the right place and everything just worked and I could drive safely and easily again.
I don’t think that all of my dreams have some deeper meaning, but once in a while a dream feels like my unconscious is speaking directly to me.
That’s how my life has felt for a long time, like I’ve been awkwardly trying to drive a car from the wrong side, in danger and feeling like an imposter the whole time, fumbling around with controls that weren’t mine, not realizing that there aren’t a second set of controls, because the car is not meant to be driven from the passenger side.
Once I realized that I’ve spent the last decade trying to lead my father’s life from my body (here’s the earth shattering—and short—revelation post), and realized that I don’t have to do that to myself to still love my dad, I felt this humungous sense of relief. Okay, I had a big cry first, but it was the good kind of cry that ends in cleansing, not despair. And then I felt the most amazing sense of freedom.
I literally feel like a chain has fallen from my heart, like in the Brother Grimm’s fairy tale The Frog Prince. You remember the plot, right, how the princess is playing with a golden ball at the edge of a well, it falls in, a frog brings it back to her and, if you read it in English, she probably kisses him and he turns into a prince. In the Grimm’s original, he makes her so mad that she throws him against a wall as hard as she can and when he lands he turns into a prince.
Wondering how this relates? Yeah, that’s because the story’s original ending is often left out of modern English adaptations. The ending you are probably familiar with is that the prince and princess get married and ride off in a gorgeous carriage pulled by a team of white horses. The ending you probably didn’t hear is that as they drive down the lane, the prince hears a loud crash and thinks that the carriage is breaking. He calls up to his driver, his faithful servant Heinrich, “Heinrich, the carriage is breaking.” Heinrich replies:
“No, Sire, that’s not the carriage, it is a band from my heart, that was bound in great pain while you were stuck in the well, transformed into a frog.” Again and again they heard a loud crash on the road, and each time the prince thought that the carriage was breaking. But it was only the iron bands falling from the heart of the faithful Heinrich, because his lord was now free and happy. The End.
The original story is actually named “The Frog Prince or The Iron Heinrich” for this reason. It has two names, which has puzzled me ever since I read the original. Heinrich appears nowhere else in the story, and his singular role felt to me like an afterthought or a plot that never got developed. How were these few lines at the end of a much longer story important enough to merit changing the title away from the obvious plot?
Now it makes sense to me. Because it is not an afterthought. The whole story is about being trapped as someone you aren’t, and how being your true self brings freedom. The prince was transformed into a frog until the spell was broken, the princess was bound by social constraints until she finally let leash her true feelings of disgust for the frog (okay, maybe I’m stretching the interpretation a bit here) which freed the prince, and the faithful Heinrich had three iron bands made to bind around his heart to keep it from breaking while his lord was in bondage.
Critics have come up with a variety of interpretations for this, but for the moment I am sympathizing with the straightforward and overwhelming feeling of joy at being set free. Truly being who you are—who I truly am—is a joy that bursts all bonds.
My mom says that I am smiling a lot and laughing easily now, and that my face even looks softer. My jaw, neck, and shoulders have all unclenched and remained relaxed, which hasn’t happened in I-can’t-tell-you-how-long. Many of my sensory issues don’t feel as intense, and even my obsessive behaviors feel less demanding. I have been sleeping better and easier. My brain doesn’t feel as gummed up. And I feel fifty pounds lighter.
This breakthrough has been like the opening of a floodgates, and I have realized a number of other things about myself and my past, and am coming to peace with a number of other old wounds. Without all that hurt weighing me down, I feel much more able to deal with day-to-day life. Irritations that would have incapacitated me before don’t seem like as big of a deal now.
And the world is full of possibilities. Things that I’ve been wanting to do suddenly seem doable, and ideas that have been rattling around in the back of my head for a long time, at last seem within reach. I can’t wait to see what will happen.
What am I doing now? I’m starting with drawing. Painting. A little art.
Which is one of the things that I have been holding myself back from; unconsciously, I wouldn’t allow myself to do art. Because my dad didn’t, and although art was never disparaged in our house, it wasn’t exactly valued, either. At least not just to play. It had to be an all or nothing deal. Either become an Artist, or don’t bother trying. So I didn’t.
Except that every few years it would break out of me and I would get really into some kind of art or another for a few months, and then quit and hide it away and feel ashamed that I wasn’t a master yet so I shouldn’t bother. I know it doesn’t make sense, but, well, emotional hangups are often illogical. Sorry, Spock.
Short story is that I want to play with the idea that there is an artist in me. Guess what? When I’m not judging everything so critically, it’s much easier! Duh.
The picture above is my attempt at putting into art how I feel now that the bands around my heart have fallen off.
It is inspired by the style of Mari Andrew, who apparently has a very popular Instagram account, though I found her on Skillshare. They were offering a two month free trial, and had lots of drawing and watercolor classes that looked well done, but I had been himming and hawing for months. At last I signed up. This is the freedom that comes from my new it’s-okay-to-try-things revelation, whereas before I wouldn’t have signed up without having a very specific plan to get the absolute most out of the trial, because anything less isn’t good enough. But now it’s no big deal.
So far I’ve found a bunch of really good classes on a lot of topics that interest me, including writing, Adobe Illustrator, photography, UX design, calligraphy, all sorts of things. If I don’t get around to all of them, it’s no big deal. Look, personal growth. You can join Skillshare here to get two free months, too (and give me an extra free month).
For the moment I’m into drawing and watercolors. Wanna see?
I’m proud of what I’ve done so far, and look forward to future progress.
Revelations are a dime a dozen for the moment. Want another? How to draw. Because I’ve discovered the true secret to great drawing.
Ready? Are you sure? Okay, here it is: draw what you see.
You can stop laughing now.
Seriously, I think that up until now I’ve always drawn what I expected to see or what I thought would be recognizable, not what was actually there, which resulted in truly terrible drawings.
Instead of drawing the apple in front of me, I would try to draw some idealized, capital-A-Apple, because the one in front of me had a bruise here or an imperfection there, and I would ignore those or cover them up or draw some idealized form—the Aristotelian eidos—of the Apple, instead of the one I am actually looking at.
But no one has ever seen the Apple; we see imperfect apples all the time. It’s the imperfect one in front of us that we recognize, the one we want to eat, the one I need to draw. And once I started seeing those small details not as imperfections that needed to be hidden, but as parts of the whole to be recognized and embraced and given their proper due, the whole became more perfect.
Yeah, I get it. Life lesson there. Drive from the driver’s seat. Heinrich is free. Beat a dead horse.
I’m going to go draw a watermelon now.
Reference: quote from Froschkönig, von die Gebrüder Grimm, Die schönsten Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Kapitel 53, translation mine