Monday, February 25, 2008

Splendidly Imperfect and Alive: Spilling Open by Sabrina Ward Harrison

If I were sitting next to you with this book in hand, I'd be forever tugging on your sleeve and reading bits aloud.

If I can believe in who I am, what I need, what I deserve and what I must express, then I can let go of the struggle of self-acceptance based on "their" approval of my beauty, boobs, thighs, or sketchbooks. I will dare to do just what I do, be just what I am, and dance whenever I want to.

Between the ages of 18 and 22 Sabrina Ward Harrison wrote Spilling Open, based on her art journaling, chronicling the simple truths and beauty she discovered along the way. It's a difficult book to review, because so much of what makes the experience of reading it has to be done that way, by reading it. No simple memoir, Spilling Open is a full color reproduction of Harrison's journal pages. They are deeply layered and tactile; you feel as if you could reach out and lift the tiny photographs, feel the silky dust of oil pastels and pressed flowers under your fingertips, scratch out a coat of gesso to read the words only hinted at beneath.

While no linear journal, Spilling Open revisits several threads throughout the course of the book: how to heal from a broken heart; how to deal with insecurities regarding your body, self, and art; and how to live freely and joyously while dealing with the trials of everyday life. As the entries progress, Harrison recognizes that the answers she sought were ones she knew from the start, but deeply recognize now as a result of having lived.

The truth is we all ache. We all have growing pains. Really.
Without the silver shoes and the leopard print sheets.
We are enough without all the things we buy to make us
much more than we are or need to be.

We are simple
and complex
and rare
as is.

I only hope that Spilling Open finds you at the right time, as it did me. I read it over and over during the grad school application process, hoping that Harrison's bravery in following her bliss would rub off on my quaking self. What makes this so many times better than the self-help books that surround it (Yes, it's shelved in self-help, which is true in a way, but there's so much to it than that.) are Harrison's raw honesty and universal themes. Is there no twentysomething among us that can't admit that "our bodies make us worry," or that sometimes we'd like to leap from our steady paths to the future and just love, create, and be?

I want sincerity and I want brave loving. I don't want to be making a logo or designing an annual report. I want to make books and take pictures and drink more tea and lie on more couches and listen to Pablo Neruda's poetry and read SARK books and go to bed early and kiss more cheeks and play Heads-Up-7-Up when it rains and giggle more and drive less and dream up funny possibilities and brave endings.

Like Sabrina, Spilling Open is "splendidly imperfect and alive." Read it with an open heart, and it'll inspire and delight you as it did me.

Sabrina Ward Harrison's website is full of her art and writing, as well as information about upcoming workshops, gallery showings, and theatre projects. Her photography is housed on a separate website.
The True Living Project, Sabrina's latest work, is based on these principals:

  1. We must create what we most need to find.
  2. We must identify, connect with, and bring voice to subjects that both deserve and need attention.
  3. True Living is about creating, holding and honoring the space for authentic and meaningful connections with each other and the places we inhabit.

Here is a video of her work, set to a song by Jan Michillini.


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