I’m the Bird

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I heard some commotion on the screen porch the other day and went out to investigate. Apparently I’d left the door propped open the last time I was photographing my paintings, and a bright red cardinal had gotten inside. What I heard was the sound of him throwing himself against the screens trying to get out. He didn’t understand that the door was the only opening. I worried he would die trying to break through the screen barriers. It was painful to watch. 

“Use the door!” I yelled. Then I tried talking to it like it was my dog, coaxing it toward the open door– “Here, birdie. That’s a good boy. Come on.” When I was off trying to figure out new strategies, the cardinal eventually figured it out and liberated himself into the backyard. 

Later that same day, I found myself crying into my afternoon coffee. I’m that damned bird I told my mug. 

I’ve been struggling with this new covid world. With the kids home since March, I haven’t been able to have that precious, uninterrupted, quiet, focused work time I had come to rely on. Working from home is normal for me. Doing so while I take care of kids is not. Day in and day out I have found myself in power struggles with an eight year old. Often I would go to bed all curled up in a day’s, then a week’s, then a month’s worth of guilt only to wake up each morning to the same exact fight over screen time and back talk. “You just don’t listen” was my refrain. And it wasn’t helping. 

I knew I had to try another strategy. The cardinal showed me it was possible, even if he’d spent the better part of the afternoon banging his head. So I invested in an online parenting course I’d been thinking about for a while. I needed some help. I needed new strategies. I needed to stop exhausting myself with the same failed course of action. 

It has not been an overnight success, there’s no dramatic before and after image I could plaster on the screen for you to marvel at. But I’ve been learning a lot and figuring out, slowly, imperfectly, how to use the new tools I have. More importantly, I feel empowered. I don’t feel trapped by my habits and struggles. I can change course. I can try new things. 

This spirit of change, of redirection, of empowerment is the heart of my new paintings. I started the abstract above, immediately after my “I’m the bird” incident. The vertical lines are a nod to the screen porch and the jail they represented for the cardinal. But they are also freedom– the beauty of the trees that cardinal finally flew towards. The red is the bird, both trapped and free. The red is anger but also passion, the life force that allows us to grow and to change. 

This painting is just one of many I’m working on. Just one of many meditations, some more literal, some abstracted, on feeling trapped and feeling powerful. I will “release” (can’t resist!) the entire new collection mid-August.

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

July 29, 2020

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