The Art of Being Broken Open



So often the notion of being “broken-hearted” is negative. It’s the thing nobody wants, the passed over gift at the white elephant, the untouched dish at the potluck. If you have a broken heart and show it you are often avoided because nobody wants what you’re having.

When I read our theme for this month, my first thought was, I don’t want to write about that. But the more I thought about it, the more I had to, but not about heartbreak and what we go through — but what comes out of it.

It’s summer 2011 and I have fallen into a routine. On the garage table hundreds of 2” by 2” wooden frames are spread out. Some have scenes depicted inside, small objects floating between the background and glass, the frames painted and sealed, the glass polished to a sheen. Many still are bare pine frames, dusty glass, with an empty window open to the tabletop.

I’m wearing the same pair of faded jeans I wore yesterday, the same t-shirt. I’m so in love with my work, so inspired that I have little time for anything else. It’s in-between deadlines and I am free to return, hour after hour to this place and stare into these little windows.

It’s too much to try to make it big, to try to write it down or talk about it. It’s too fresh. I’ve been in love so long that this hole I feel now will swallow me if I let it, so instead I focus on one 2”x2” window at a time. An angel here, a gold heart locket served on a dish there. A snake winding itself around a sword with the caption “Ambition.”

I’ve been clipping phrases and words that stand out from vintage books, sacrilege to most writers, I know, but these phrases pop out at me and I want to immortalize them in these little two by two snatches of what’s going on in my mind.

“Hearts too full must overflow or break,” I have salvaged from some forgotten poet.

I realize then it’s true, my heart must overflow or it will shatter, and so each day I sit just out of reach of the burning June sun in the shade of the garage and let it overflow into these little tiny scenes.

I buy a ticket to London. I build more tiny scenes. Each day whether hot and dry or dark with heavy monsoon rain pouring over the awnings, I am perched on a stool in faded jeans, music blaring from the turntable. I’m not me anymore, this giant girl towering over these miniscule worlds, but I have shrunk myself down to be absorbed in each piece as it unfolds and image, words and objects meld together.

By the end of summer, the garage table is covered in finished frames. I climb upstairs to the yoga studio I’ve been practicing at almost every day for the past year and place a shoe box on the floor next to where my teacher is sitting, and feeling shy about it, open the box to show her a couple dozen of the little shadow boxes I’ve been making. She tells me she loves them, and we hang them up on string around the studio for the art walk.

The thing was, when I was making them and hanging them, I thought they wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else, because they were all so private. They were all an unfolding, an unraveling of the last two years.

I didn’t have the insight to mark any as “sold” but one — a frame with a map for a background, a little silver motorbike and a piece of green glass I found on that first motorcycle ride.

I didn’t mark any as sold and didn’t know their worth so I watched as my most private longings, dreams and wishes were clipped from the walls and went off with people who saw them — and felt something stir in them.

Instead, I was left with a new abundance I’d take with me and fed myself on it as I traveled solo around Europe a month later.

By the time the garage table was covered with shadow boxes and the show was hung, he was back in my life. I should have known. He always came back, until one day he didn’t.

Thing was, at first each time he’d go I thought he really meant it, until it happened enough that I didn’t believe him and I laughed it off, until one morning after a quiet breakfast at my favorite coffee house he walked out of my life so casually, so ordinarily. A kiss on the cheek, a normal goodbye. The kind lover’s say when they don’t mean goodbye for good.

Those first few weeks I was patient, then months and finally a year came and with it silence, but I was ready for it in some way. I had become acquainted with my “heartbreak” and had so often invited it in over a span of four fickle years that when it came with finality, it had already been given to me in so many small doses that it didn’t feel as big as it was.

My broken, open heart felt like a well-worn shoe. In all his absences, I poured all that built up in my heart out onto the page, into songs and record recordings, visual art and prose. I traveled across Europe alone with pen and paper.

While there were times I felt so hurt tears of rage fell, or when I threw out every item of clothing I had ever worn in my lover’s presence because it still carried the faintest scent of him, or hid from the world in my garage — I  don’t regret.

Because once my heart cracked, the overwhelming rush of creativity poured out and flooded my life and filled my soul with a new, more meaningful satisfaction.

This being broken open had become a sister to me. I knew it was best to invite her inside and let her take over, rather than turn off the lights and pretend no one is home.

Clair Anna Rose is a creative who dwells in the largest ponderosa pine forest in the country with four chickens, a hairy rez dog and has an insatiable lust for life.