Warning: Canon-typical mayhem inside Shiv's head. Highlight for more details. This poem contains angst, struggling with strong emotions, traumatic memories, confusion, choice paralysis, feeling overwhelmed by therapy bringing up uncomfortable issues, distrustful thoughts, privacy issues, past near-fatal event, comparisons with self-harm, and other challenges. But it's actually rather hopeful; Shiv is making good progress. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
When Shiv first started exploring
the art stuff that Drew had left him,
he wasn't sure what to make of it.
Shiv was used to working with
a lot more limits -- ten colored pencils
in art class was the most he'd had,
and that was if he got a whole box
to himself, which he usually didn't.
Now he had the colored pencils --
some of which were really two colors,
one on each end -- plus the charcoals and
gel pens and what-all else in the zippered case.
He took them out and played with them,
sometimes, just to see the pretty colors that
they made, like splinters of memory from
a different time -- here a dab of yellow sun,
there a bit of blue like sky between clouds that
one foster grandfather had called "sailor's breeches."
Shiv made little pebbles of color on the page,
trying them out, and it was fun but
then it got too much for him.
Choice paralysis, Rosie had called it, when
Shiv made the mistake of mentioning it to him.
Rosie suggested whittling down
the number of colors to something that
Shiv could hold in his mind all at once
without struggling too much.
He also helped Shiv to find more exercises
for art therapy, things that Shiv could do alone,
or else turn in for points if he wanted to.
Showing people his art still made Shiv nervous,
down deep where Dr. G's soft assurances couldn't
reach, the way rain could wet the grass but if you
dug down under the surface, the dirt was still bone-dry
where the sun had baked it all summer.
There were things bubbling up inside
that Shiv usually shoved down, but
for some reason they didn't want
to stay down anymore.
He could draw them out --
he knew how -- but he was
afraid to do it. That always
got him in trouble, sooner
or later, and he didn't want
to screw it up now that things
were getting halfway decent.
Then Shiv remembered something
that he'd seen years ago, a piece of
embroidery called blackwork because
it was done in black thread on black cloth
so that you couldn't even see the design
from more than a few feet away, only
feel it with your fingertips.
He knew that he could be watched
at any time -- that was the point of
the security cameras -- even though
the guards didn't really watch most of
the time, and if someone wanted
to see him, they usually came to
the door or used the viewscreen so
at least he knew they were watching.
If he drew in black on black paper, then
he could draw anything he wanted, and
they wouldn't be able to see it unless they
came in and held the page up slant to the light
so it caught on the marks and showed up.
He could keep it safe from them.
So Shiv drew in blackwork.
He drew boredom and despair
and loss, shadows of feeling
creeping long over the page.
He drew the porch with the missing bricks
and the dog that had died under it.
He drew his first jail cell back in juvie
and the blade that had almost killed him,
that he still wondered what had been on it
or in it to give him superpowers.
He went over that last one with regular pencil,
the silvery lines of lead picking out
the sharp edge of the knife.
He drew capes and cape fights,
and once, the shadow of Boss White
leaning against the wall of an alley,
flash of white teeth as he smiled.
Sometimes Shiv pebbled around the edges
with the gel pens to make a frame.
Other times he colored over what he had drawn,
like covering a fresh grave in cut flowers.
He could cover up the pictures,
but he couldn't bury the memories
behind them that easily.
It got a little better, though,
each time Shiv drew them out
instead of stuffing them down,
just like Dr. G had said it would.
In a way, it felt like cutting,
that sense of release but without
the blood, and he understood that
every time he cut, it was a risk
and could get him in trouble.
The art -- maybe not,
this time, maybe not.
It was his own kind of blackwork,
dark lines on dark paper for a dark past.
Shiv wasn't ready to show anyone else,
not yet, but at least now he had a way
to let it out, to make the lump that lived
under his ribs a little smaller.
When Rosie told him to take a deep breath,
Shiv couldn't do it yet, not all the way,
before his chest clenched up on him --
but he was getting closer.
* * *
Double-ended colored pencils come in various styles. Colleen pencils tend to have a warm color on one end and a cool color on the other. Jolly Supersticks have a darker and a lighter end. Cheap brands may be more random.
Choice paralysis can happen when people have too many options, the choices are very similar, not enough information is available, or someone is simply unfamiliar with the process. Chunking helps immensely: either weed out categories you know aren't suitable, or pick a favorite category and choose from there. Follow the steps to break choice paralysis.
Working with a limited palette has some benefits. Experiment with different color combinations. Think about choosing colors of paint or colored pencils. Here are some art exercises using a limited palette.
Art therapy can be done with a counselor or as a self-help activity. Here are some worksheets and exercises for art therapy.
The hardest part about therapy is how it makes buried things bubble up from beneath once you start poking around inside your head. A good therapist can help, but it still feels overwhelming to many people. Learn how to tell if therapy is making matters worse or better.
Blackwork can refer to several types of embroidery, most often black-on-black or black-on-white combinations. Meanings can change over time, distance, or tradition; some focus on thread color, some on background, and others on type of stitches or material of thread. Explore some techniques of blackwork. Here is a black-on-white sampler. Crewel embroidery uses textured stitches, and can be done black-on-black.
Privacy is essential for many reasons, and people cannot be healthy without it. Normally, children and teens gain more privacy as they grow up. Shiv missed out on most of that -- rarely having his own space or belongings -- and the constant surveillance by people who expected him to fuck up has made him feel like he's incapable of doing anything else. It's a major force behind his trust issues and boundary issues too. There are ways to protect your privacy.
Art therapy can help by using color to show intense feelings or traumatic memories. Different types of art can relieve different stresses in various ways.
Self-harm is a negative coping technique that tends to be difficult to deal with. It often emerges after other coping attempts have been blocked or proven ineffective. Shiv is just starting to explore other options. Many recommended alternatives to self-harm involve some form of art therapy.