July 2014: Pentimento
“Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged now and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.”
~playwright Lillian Hellman in her memoir Pentimento.
I love this concept of pentimento that I came across reading a book that I’ve now since forgotten. Given time, it would come back to me; but I will resist the temptation to use my limited brain resources to hunt and search every nook and cranny of my mind for that bit of information. The point is not where I discovered it, but the discovery itself.
The paint of one’s life canvas having aged and wanting to see “what was there for me once, what is there for me now.”
In an interesting blend of the very old with the fairly new phenomena of social media, my mind thinks of Facebook and all the connections we make and remake. From elementary school friends to college chums, former co-workers to current colleagues. All the intersections of our lives mapped out virtually. If we peel back the layers, what do we see?
Having moved a lot and traveled a bit, it can be said that I have global connections—not all mapped on Facebook, as some connections have not been maintained or refurbished. But it does make me wonder about the relationships that there were there for me once, what is there for me now, and what prompts a person to re-engage with people after long disconnections. Some people I remember well, others resemble a figment of my imagination, and sadly some are completely forgotten. And then there are the awkward moments of someone remembering me well, but I cannot recall them at all or only vaguely; and the crushing blow of a poignant remembrance of a person only to be lost from their memory. Layers of a painted canvas.
We never do completely grasp the imprint we leave behind after an interaction with a fellow human being. Some are shallow, like footprints in the sand, easily washed away. Others are deeply imbedded—like fossils in bedrock. But all are significant.
My mind goes back to road trips we have taken and the wonderful (and some less-than wonderful) people we have met—brief encounters on hiking trails, at road stops, in interpretive centres, the driver of a shuttle bus, the hosts of a campground. I recall my best friends from kindergarten, contact lost after Grade One due to a move; the summer birthday parties of the farming community of elementary school years; the solid friendships of secondary and post-secondary education.
Layers of interactions repeatedly being painted over for a dark rich story—the vivid artwork of a life. I wonder what my canvas would look like if it were displayed prominently in my home? Which faces would be imbedded? Which ones would blend into others? What about you? What would your artwork look like? What stories would your layers of painted canvas reveal?