God, how I love Nick and Michael from Stripped Bare. I think I could write their story for the next twenty years!
I decided to show more of this particular scene from Stripped Bare, as Nick’s words to Michael have relevance to most of us – well, at least, I think so.
“Do you always use text in your work, Mr. Farrell?”
His voice was smooth, like a river stone polished by a mountain stream, and it flowed over me like warm honey.
I made myself meet his gaze, which was far more intense than his soft cadence had implied.
“No, not always, but I love language. It is a living, breathing, evolving thing, and language has power. Whether in a song lyric, a poem, a speech, or a simple conversation, we’ve all experienced words that resonate with us. They may make us recall a powerful moment, inspire us, move us, or perhaps, comfort us…. But at the same time, we don’t think in words. We think in pictures. If I say the word ‘dog’ to you, you aren’t picturing the letters, d-o-g, you’re picturing a dog from your memory. I’m fascinated by the idea of combining literal language with a visual one.”
“So the text you chose for the various pieces in this exhibition resonate with you?” he probed.
“The predominant themes seem to be of pain, redemption, the masking of one’s true self, and finding the courage to break free. Do you relate to these sentiments?” His eyes bored into me as he waited for my reply.
Suddenly I felt naked, stripped bare for them all to see, and I had to resist the urge to check if I was still clothed.
One glance around the room told me he was voicing the questions they had all wanted to ask but had been too polite to. I took a deep breath, willing my hands to stop shaking. My heart was thudding almost painfully.
You can do this, Nick. No need to feel shame. Remember?
“Yes. I think we’ve all experienced pain on some level. Be it the pain of failure, rejection, loss, or physical pain. Pain is pain, and I don’t think any of us has the right to take a yardstick to someone else’s experience of it. Like love, it isn’t something that can be, or perhaps even should be, attempted to be measured.” I paused, heartened to see nods of agreement from my audience. “As to masks, don’t we all wear one? At its most basic level, don’t we all have our public face versus our private one? For some of us, our masks may become a little more complex, but I firmly believe we all have at least one. The problem with some masks is that they may start out as a shield we use to protect ourselves, but can end up being a prison we lock ourselves in. A corner we paint ourselves into. To attempt to remove such a mask would be difficult—frightening, even. It would mean opening oneself to rejection. Metaphorically speaking, it would be like leaving oneself naked. That’s scary stuff for most of us. It would take a lot of courage….” I trailed off, swallowing at the sight of the earnest interest on what suddenly looked like a sea of faces before me. I searched myself, seeking the courage to finish what I’d started, and finding a tiny sliver, I pinned it down and continued, “And so we come to courage. What can I say about it? I think courage is not the absence of fear but rather the recognition that something else is more important, or perhaps that achieving the end goal is worth more than hanging on to the fear.”
By the end of my speech my voice was very soft, but I knew he’d heard every word. They all had.
“Redemption?” he asked, his gaze having never left my face.
My god, he’s relentless.
“Have you never done anything, Mr.…?”
“Davenport,” he supplied after a moment’s hesitation.
“Have you never done anything wrong, Mr. Davenport, something you regretted? Intentional or not, have you never spoken out of turn, perhaps broken a rule or law, let someone down, hurt them? Spoken when you should have remained silent, or perhaps remained silent when you should have spoken out? Can anyone here say they’ve led a blameless, exemplary life?” I asked, taking the time to look at each member of my audience. “Has anyone here ever wished to retrieve a moment and relive it, making a different choice? Wanted redemption? Wanted to make amends?” I raised my arm, continuing softly. “I am guilty of having done a great wrong, and I want redemption.”
“What did you do?” he whispered, stunned, I think, at my honesty. I know I was.
“Ah, Mr. Davenport, that’s where my mask comes in to play, and I’m still working on that one.” I climbed off my stool, effectively ending the talk.