On August 15, 2020, I moved into Suite 205 at 701 Whaley. One of several loft apartments located on the second floor of a building with far too many windows on the first. "The first floor is mostly used for events," I was told as I stared through a window on the street. I silenced my curiosity and entered the building. A key, a contract, and a welcome binder awaited me in the office of Michaela Pilar Brown - 701 CCA's current Director. The Euphoria set in, and I couldn't stop smiling under my mask.
Daydreaming was useless at this point - I found myself exactly where I wanted to be. And I had a job to do; a mission to accomplish; a journey to began. I called it "Letters," and it would inspire me to change the way I saw everyone and everything around me.
The first week I set up my studio/loft with work brought from home, and stocked my shelves with new supplies from my stipend. I bought large rolls of paper, gesso, brushes, pastels, and anything else needed to make as much of a mess as possible. Having a space so large meant I could try new methods that I'd held off at my apartment. I then prepared surfaces and sheets of paper, and began planning how I would share my idea. Once the 'grunt' work was completed, it was time to begin.
I created a Google Form and began promoting the heck out of it to any and everyone in my network. The project required public participation. With a global pandemic going on and Columbia, SC's cases on the rise, a public forum wasn't happening. Thankfully, many people responded to my request and participated - click here if you're still interested.
I asked the public for honest reflections about their lives and experiences. Giving them complete anonymity let the honesty flow. We've all been through plenty on our own, but what do we know of others? We want sympathy and understanding without realizing the responsibility that we have to give it in return - sometimes to begin with. There is nothing wrong with letting people see your scars. We all have them, after all.
This is how it began, but far from the ending. When I started collecting letters during my residency I expected to learn about others. I never thought I would grow from them, or experience their lessons through my observations. I did exactly that.
I’ve held onto my truth at times out of fear. Fear of consequence, fear of misunderstanding, fear of losing something I’m not ready to part ways with. But honesty is the greatest weapon, and perhaps an even greater shield than we realize.
“The truth is like a lion.
You don’t have to defend it.
Let it loose. It will defend itself.”
Also in my form were two optional questions: “What is your experience with words left unsaid?” and “Who are you writing to?" Having this information gave me a better understanding of the writer. The idea seemed fascinating, but the responsibility felt heavier than anticipated. It was impossible not to feel some of the emotions, myself. I compare it to reading a book and imagining the characters within the story. I was intrigued to know unfamiliar people so personally.
Some messages were to friends that were secretly loved, others went to lovers that parted ways. Then came regret, sorrow, and not feeling good enough. These are all fears we’ve had. I was reading first-hand accounts of the aftermath.
After collecting letters I sorted them by subject. I was left with a small database of reflections from strangers that shared far too much information. I wrote each entry out as a letter, trying to place myself in each story. I'm posting a few below. While we don't know the entire fabric of the connections, all of these experiences matter.