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Chiaroscuro


I sit criss-cross on my little papasan couch as I write this, holding the squishmallow close to my chest. It's grey with little blue wings and grinning vampire teeth, and smells slightly like the inside of a fisherman's bookbag, which is simultaneously off-putting and comforting. His tag says his name 'Alduous', but I think I'll call him Hector. The plush's ears are soft and I find myself fiddling with them as I stare at the ceiling. I love it and I don't know what to think. I honestly can't remember if I've ever gotten a Valentine's day gift from someone who wasn't family before; certainly not a stuffed animal. A cheeky-looking vampire bat is perfect, and it goes wonderfully with the large lavender dragon squishmallow that my friend got me. He's certainly been paying a lot of attention to the things that I like.


I can feel a dumb smile creeping over my face remembering how excited the giant was on Sunday when he handed me the little brown box wrapped in a bright silk giftbag, and I've spent the last two days showing off the magical silver necklace to all my friends and coworkers. About the size of a dime, it has an etched scene of a tree line and mountains, behind which is a rotating sky that can be changed from day to night by turning the little plate on the back. The cake he'd brought hadn't been just any pastry from the bakery section at Dillon's either; he'd gotten it from one of the bakeries downtown, and it was a rich chocolate with glazed cherries and whipped cream frosting between the layers, which tasted "really f*cking good" just like he'd hyped it up to be. It's a lot all at once, but it feels nice...really, really nice. At the same time, I have a slightly sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that isn't quite like butterflies, unless of course butterflies are made of gasoline and matches.


Oscar Wilde once wrote that "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life". I think about that a lot lately.


In art, contrast is acheived when opposite elements are drawn together (light versus dark, smooth versus rough, small versus large, sharp versus soft etc.) in a way that creates visual interest. This can be used to form optical harmony through repetition and varying levels of unity, or, conversely, to create visual antagonism. One of the best ways to play with the latter is through color contrasts and using complementary hues which both amplify and play off each other in interesting ways. Depending on intensity, the results can be either beautiful or loud and visually jarring. For example, gold and purple go wonderfully together, but if you walk into a room with neon yellow walls and bright violet carpet, your head is going to hurt. There's also the contrast between light and shadow, which is essential for creating believable depth or realism. Artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt famously used a dramatic contrasting technique called chiaroscuro (an Italian term which literally means 'light-dark), where they placed their subjects in a dimly lit room, then separated them out of the background by placing them in a single pool of bright light. Some of my favorite paintings using this technique are The Conversion on the Way to Damascus (1601), The Philosopher in Meditation (1632), and Athena Pallas (1657).


If an image lacks contrast, particularly in tonal values, it can get mushy and lost in a weird mid-tone, making everything feel very flat and indistinguishable, sometimes to the point that it's hard to tell what you're looking at. This was something I struggled with a lot in Drawing 1, especially when it came to charcoals. For this reason, our instructors used to make us take breaks every 30 minutes, during which we had to stand several feet back from our easels, then take a quick walk around the room and see how everyone else's drawings looked before coming back to our own. Sometimes others could see things we were missing and vice versa, and we would also discuss our drawings as a group, which helped immensely. By the end of the semester, my art had improved tremendously.

Life is similar, because sometimes you don't see things for what they are until you're further away from a situation, especially when you've been there for a while and don't really have anything to contrast or compare it to. Knowing what I do now, I suspect my naivety was probably part of what made me a target to begin with, and as a result, I spent years lost in a mushy gray haze that eventually gave way to a darkness I could never have imagined. I'll never understand why anyone would do something like that to another human being, but looking back, I suspect that the monster didn't like that I was beginning to see a more distinct pattern and I was getting harder to control as a result, so it decided to do the the same thing it had before: destroy, discard, and replace, the same way I would with a ruined sketchbook or canvas, then immediately started over with something new that it could use and shape however it wanted. While I worry for its next project and all the other people down the line, I'm just grateful to be away from the demon and glad that after everything that happened, I have still have such good people around me who can lend me their perspectives and pull me out of the abyss whenever I feel like I'm starting to disappear again.


There is nothing beautiful about evil or darkness, but it does make the bright and beautiful seem even moreso in comparison. Sadly, the inverse is also true, and the more contrast I see to my prior situation, the more I realize how messed up it was. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it is comfortable, and while my life is much better now, my heart still feels heavier than it used to because of what I went through, and I know so many people who are just like me. I think that's why, even though I trust and feel safe around the giant, some part of me still feels ill whenever he does things like this. I'm not afraid of him, but I still get flashbacks, especially whenever I have something healthy to contrast them to. While monsters exist, I'm learning that not every gift has strings attached and it's possible for men just to be kind and gentle without expecting anything in return, and not everyone is there to take something or cross boundaries. Sometimes all they want is you, and it doesn't matter what anyone else has done to you or how complicated your family life is, which is good because at this point I have more baggage than a drag queen on a holiday in NYC.


I give Hector another squeeze. I don't know where things will go, and while I have some definite anxiety around it, it's nice not knowing there's no pressure or rush. Sparks lead to fires, and a slow burn romance is better than getting caught in a blaze. Abuse isn't the end, and I truly believe that no matter what you've been through, you can still have a beautiful life.


*****


"Hold the hope like the warmest squishmallow." - Sydney


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