Hamlet: I am myself indifferent honest, but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me <…> What should such fellows as I do, crawling between earth and heaven?
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1.
2017 has been my year in the realm of freedom. I liked it very much indeed, and I was beginning to think that I might expand this little experiment in life design into 2018, and even beyond.
But something happened just two days ago that made me change my mind. I decided that 2018 will be the year of INTEGRITY instead.
It is such an interesting word, INTEGRITY. When one tries to define it, its meaning seems to split into barely connected parts: for human beings, it is about HONESTY, that is, about our behavior towards other people (antonym: dishonesty).
But otherwise, it is about being unified and whole (antonym: division) or sound in construction (antonym: fragile).
But this is misleading: a person can be indifferent honest and yet lack integrity. That’s what Hamlet is talking about in the famous speech I quoted in the epigraph: he has honesty, but not integrity. His psyche is divided and fragile. There is no unity, no alignment. His inner world is not sound in construction.
And what just happened showed me that I’ve been lacking in integrity, too (although perhaps not tragically and dramatically as Hamlet).
This lack of integrity has been literally staring me in the face for almost five years.
It hung in the middle of our apartment in the form of the third collage of sonnets, from nineteen to thirty four. It was put together as a mirror image of how it was meant to be, each row going from right-to-left instead of left-to-right, a simple mistake Eugene made back in 2012 while building it.
This collage took him almost a whole weekend to put together, and there was no way this mistake could have been corrected right away (it would have involved unscrewing and then screwing back 256 little screws). And the thing is so huge (80″x80″) that the only way to store it is to hang it.
So we did, in the hope to make it right one day soon.
But then, we decided that it won’t be enough to just re-arrange this collage.
I needed a more flexible and sophisticated design, because this kind of double-layer composition requires me to work both on the individual paintings and on the collage as a whole. So I wanted something that would allow me to take individual paintings out and put them back easily.
And so this project grew into something way beyond Eugene’s expertise in carpentry. We needed to figure out how to do it, and then to hire someone to do it. Neither of these tasks turned out to be easy.
In the meanwhile, the third collage just sat there in the middle of the apartment. It looked painfully wrong, and I gradually trained myself to look away, and not to notice occasional visual pangs of seeing it. After a while, I just assumed that I would probably have to rework almost all these paintings, so awfully wrong they looked in the wrong context.
I painted about seventy other sonnet paintings since then, and they all waited for their (still non-existent) collage displays in my storage area. I couldn’t even see them in their intended context, and so I couldn’t really complete them.
It was harder and harder to work on each next sonnet; the series was stalling, as though I was pushing against an invisible wall.
Except this wall wasn’t invisible at all.
It was right there in front of me, in the form of this all-wrong collage right in the centre of the apartment, and the storage area overflowing with paintings.
And now, finally, all the displays are ready.
I finally saw the third collage the way it was always meant to be seen, with an overwhelming sensation of relief and freedom.
And then, all the others I have painted in these years, but had no chance to properly SEE before now. Our apartment is beginning to look like my inner world manifested in the material reality, and the block that has been holding me back dissolved, melted away.
How could I do this to myself, I wondered?
Five years — all the while thinking of this series as my life’s work… and yet blocking myself from completing it, without even recognizing what I was doing.
Eugene saw my relief, and joy — and blamed himself for not completing the project sooner (because he took responsibility for it).
But I know that this case of outrageous and crippling procrastination was but an outer expression of an inner block, a failure of integrity.
That’s why integrity will be the key word for me in the coming year.