Stepping up and Looking back (More Redemption in Paper and Paint!)

My access to the past feels broken these days—not a good development when one is writing a memoir—so it’s especially important that my “Rumble with the Tumble” in paper and paint continue.  (To read chapter 1 of  my memoir, click here .)

You see, it’s the ability to look back in a meaningful way—to exchange over-the-shoulder glances for a sustained look at what was—that I’m trying to work out visually in the staircase I’m transforming.

Yes, I fell down those stairs several weeks ago.  Yes, that tumble required a trip to the emergency room.  But I wasn’t permanently broken.  By repeating the circle image, I’m reminding myself that I can turn things around—can come full circle—whether that action involves recovering from a fall or twisting back into a broken past and coming round again.  In both situations, the process is a spiral of dis-membering and then re-membering ones self—a helix of life lived all over again.  In both situations, trauma, like DNA, imprints past on present.

However, it’s my ability to move on into the future despite past trauma—the ability to forge ahead while retaining the ability to function— that I image in the green and blue stripes that begin at the bottom of the staircase and continue to the top.  My sister and I sometimes tease, when discussing the craziness of our childhood, that we are now “walking-around human being,” semi-normal-looking people, able to function and stand on our own—able to sustain some semblance of verticality—despite a childhood that was marked by organized crime, FBI raids, and even religious fanaticism.

When you look at the photos below of the most recent steps I’ve completed, note particularly the text I take from Margaret Atwood’s poem “The Circle Game” and inscribe on stair number 7 and the photocopy on step 5 from “Dr. Goat,” a book my mother read to me as a toddler.

Atwood, my favorite poet and novelist as an adult, writes about the circle of dysfunction being broken, while the story read to me as a child emphasizes cycles of reciprocity and a karma of kindness, since Dr. Goat helps those in his community who are sick, and they, in turn take care of him when he becomes ill, allowing him to recover and begin the process all over again.

But before I move onto photos of the new steps I’ve completed, I’ll
remind you what the first 4 look like.

Steps competed last week:

Three new steps I’ve completed:

(Note:  I photographed the steps below before all images were decoupaged into place.)

Step 5

Close-up Images of Step 5

In the photo above and the one below, notice the map of Bangkok I incorporate.  Sara kept an apartment there while working on recovery efforts for the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.  Below you’ll also notice a small doodle I did about surviving in tact after a difficult past.

I feature Dr. Goat in the image below.

Step 6

Close-up Images of Step 6

I cut the text below, the one that reads “lovers,” from an old Tarot card, while the tree in the next two photos is from  a 1970s  National Geographic.

I found the half circle of pink coral below in another National Geographic from the same era.

You’ll notice in the photo above that I began cutting the centers from my circles–an effort to suggest my only partial ability to remember–my own gapped experience of the past, if you will.

Step 7

Close-up Images of Step 7

Sara loves to do Sudoku puzzles.  In the picture below is a circle I cut from a collection she picked up somewhere in Asia.

The clock cut from an old edition of the Writer’s Chronicle images my effort to reconnect with the past, while Atwood’s poem suggests a by-gone era that needs redeeming.

Steps 5-7 again:

All steps completed so far:

Though Atwood writes about our need to break with the dysfunction of the past, my memoir, like this staircase, is also about taking something that might seem negative to a child and rewriting it as something that can heal, something that can promote community and reciprocity.  This process of revision takes my particular past and transforms it into a story we can all relate to, something we can all participate in—a grace my staircase images in paper and paint—the same love, the same light—the same redemptive story.

How have you managed to work through pain from the past?  What’s the greatest grace that you’ve been given?

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73 thoughts on “Stepping up and Looking back (More Redemption in Paper and Paint!)

  1. I have been relatively lucky in my life in that I have had few medical problems. I have had a couple of serious issues and my way of dealing with them was to take it one day at a time, in the belief that I would eventually get better….and I did. I hate to be unwell and want it over as quickly as possible.

    • I’ve been physically well for most of my life, as well. That’s why it’s been so weird in the past few weeks to not feel so great–what with the fall and then my bout with a cold. Fortunately, I’m doing better now. Thanks so much for reading, Deb! Wonderful to hear from you today.

  2. That’s a good question. I have been reading up quite a bit on the word grace, and peoples interpretation of it. I still need to grasp it properly – I feel that there is a depth there that I am not getting yet….if you understand that :)
    Your steps are so beautiful Kathy!

    • I seem to grapple with the concept repeatedly. It’s hard to wrap my mind around it, so I think I have a sense of how you feel. Happy to hear you like my newest creations. This continues to be a fun project. Thanks, my friend.

  3. So I am finally catching up and just going to comment on this one post even though I read all the ones I have missed the past couple of weeks this morning. I absolutely love your staircase—what a wonderful living and vibrant testimony to who you are and where you have been and where you are going!!! I am so in awe of your talent and creativity and dedication and endurance and the list goes on and on You are in a word–AMAZING! Thank you for sharing this with your loyal readers!!! :-) As for your question—I have had a really easy life compared to so many—always surrounded by love and support but during difficult times I lean on God for strength to get through and understand that there are always things that I will question and not understand in this world but that through it all God is my anchor. The grace that I receive on a daily basis is undeserved—it is nothing that I can earn or sometimes even comprehend but it is there without reservation. I know I am blessed. Thank you for these wonderful posts that show me even more of the wonderful person that you are. Happy Monday, friend!

    • Oh, Beth Ann, I’m so happy to hear from you this morning—happy to know you had a wonderful anniversary and trip and are now safely home again. This staircase project is evolving nicely and is tons of fun. Faith is an important anchor for me, as well–a primary source of grace–faith in God and faith in the healing gift of love. Hugs to you, my friend.

  4. Kathy, I am so impressed and awed by the layers and beauty in these steps, as well as by your courage in facing life and turning darkness into color and light. I agree with Beth Ann. You are truly AMAZING!!!!

  5. Kathryn, how amazing and creative you are! My goodness, woman, your steps are a masterpiece! I love how every single item represents something in your life – in a very insightful and thought-provoking, sensitive way. My blog this week was about my high school class reunion…..and knowing my past as you do, coming full circle rings very close to home for me. Even the circles with the cut-out centers – as I have so many gaps myself. Lastly, on a more humorous note, all I could think when I saw the final pic of the complete set of stairs is, if I was walking down them, I would have to hold on to the handrail and not look down! I’d fall flat on my face with dizziness! ha ha ha! Wonderful blog….terrific pics….beautiful artwork! You never fail to amaze and delight us all! Thank you! Hugs to you and Sara! xoxo Julia

    • Wait, Julia–did you do a post since Saturday that I missed? If so, be sure to leave the link here, as I didn’t get one in my subscription email.

      So happy you like the stairs so far. There’s only one problem with the issue you identify with trying to use them. We have NO railing yet. Yikes. I need to get on that soon.

      Hugs to you, as well! Hope your reunion went well!

  6. I LOVE how you’ve transformed your staircase into a sort of scrapbook! I can almost sense the amount of care, love, and thought that went into the choosing of what to place on your stairs. It’s not just art, it’s your heart!! ♥

  7. What I see when I look at your stairs:
    1. Something that is representative of your art as a whole.
    2. a representation of a life well lived, multi-faceted, well traveled, well loved..
    3. A physical-if that’s possible-metaphor for life, it starts off small at the bottom, and as it grows, the circles become many more, more life is represented, more you–as if it is a depiction of you coming into your own, accepting all the little pieces that are you
    4. a beautiful creation, both the stairs and the woman.
    Love you, Sista!

    • I love your observations, Sista. You have such keen insight, it often amazes both Sara and me. I especially love the notion of the stairs having a physicality–the notion of the circles expanding and multiplying. Gosh, that’s true! Thank you, sweet Miranda. We love you here in Kentucky!

      • I don’t know if my insight is keen or I just operate a little more left of center than your average eccentric. lol Boat loads of Ohio love right back atcha!

      • Hey, sista, I love you the way you are–exactly. However, you have got to check out my most recent comment thread with “Chatter Master.” You know me now. I think you will laugh your head off! Clearly, I’ve not been the same since I hit my head!

    • “Crazy” creative, indeed! LOL Bipolar disorder and all! Too, too funny. What would we do without the creative process–and a bit of humor thrown in for good measure. Great to hear from you today, Betty! Isn’t Atwood amazing!

  8. I am especially attracted to the map image on your step. And to the concept that we can use everything in life–all the craziness, all the pain–to make something new. That by sustained viewing we can glimpse the holiness in it. I think you–and your life is holy–and I will stick by that view always.

  9. I could try to wrap my head around every thing that you have incorporated in to these steps….which totally amazes me. But is it also okay if I just stare, transfixed in to nothingness but full of wonder at the compilation of it? I mean…without knowing any of what you said…they would be something to sit at and stare. If I was walking up them all of the time I would constantly be stopped by something that just grabbed me. What energy !!!!

    • Staring, transfixed visually is a wonderful response–perhaps, the most appropriate one, in fact. I love it! By the way, how was the Color Run? Were you well-painted in the process? Great to hear from you, my friend!

      • :) I did the Color Run~ I was probably the cleanest runner by the time I got done. Surely I broke that record. I did post some pictures on my blog about it. AND I “ran” into another WP blogger! It was a great time!

      • No, not yet today. It was from Saturday called “Not On The SIdelines”. I’m just home from work and behind schedule. The other blogger I met is Robin from it was pretty neat to be standing right next to another blogger. We were both taking pictures of our feet and immediately understood why when we both said “I blog”. :)

      • I had read Robin’s post, but didn’t catch that you were the blogger she met. How did I miss that? How funny! In fact when I read that she attended the Color Run, I wondered if it were the same one. I will have to go back to Robin’s post and then head over to your blog. I don’t know how I missed your post on Saturday! This totally cracks me up!

      • No worries! ;) Hopefully it will still be there YEARS from now !!!! Feel free to peruse the 1000 plus blogs I have stored just for your viewing pleasure! Warning though, not all are as entertaining. Let’s say….maybe one out of three (or four). The rest are practice!

      • Okay, I’m so confused. You are not the Colleen Brown whose blog I read. I’m so embarrassed! You mean all this time I’ve been reading the wrong person’s blog? OMG!

      • HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! This is TOOO funny! I wondered why you never commented!!!!!!!!! Oh my Gosh this is TOOOOOO funny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh this is the best part of today!!!! I wrote a blog once where I explained this, but you are my favorite today!

      • I told David. He thought it was pretty funny. Though I am still thoroughly enjoying it. Not so pathetic. In all fairness, I have run in to other Colleen Brown’s in my work!!! Surprised me, as I thought I was quite the ‘one of a kind’. ;)

        Oh, and I do love running in those shoes. I get injured every time I run in tennis shoes. So I have been very pleased with these.

      • And thank God you met Robin or I would still be in the dark, wondering why Colleen never wrote about cycling. Remember when you told me about riding how surprised I sounded? I was thinking, “Wow, I never remember her writing about that!” GOd, help us!

      • I DO remember that !!!! I probably shrugged it off to there being so many blogs you read it being hard to keep straight who does what….. We have our first “remember when” story for our friendship. :)

      • Oh…well what is her blog, I need to check it out. Mine is

        I’m sorry, I hope you really aren’t embarrassed. I think it’s funny. I hope you haven’t been commenting on her blog, referencing things I’ve commented about on your blog, and her thinking you are loony because she never said any of those things to you!!!!!! :)

      • Well I thought her blog was called “Colleen Brown” or “Colleen Brown Writes.” I can see her avatar in my head and she isn’t you, for sure! Unless it’s something close to Colleen Brown. I wonder now why SHE never read my blog, as I have commented on hers–thinking she was you. LORDY!

      • Oh we could not have made this up! Mistaken Bloggers. You have made my night so enjoyable! You tell Sara she must start riding, because now we have to go on that bike ride and make total fun of ourselves!

      • I told Sara. She said, “You’re kidding me?” SHe basically can’t believe I could possibly make that mistake, except that she knows me and knows how INCREDIBLY dumb I can be about some things! DUH! Yes, the ride is REALLY, REALLY essential now!

      • Oh I bet Sara has some stories for all of us!!! (Though I’m pretty sure that “dumb” could never be used to describe you.)

      • Oh, something wonderful to look forward to!!!! Life is good! :) Tell Sara I look forward to it!

  10. Kathy – If I lived in your home, I’d go up the stairs on my knees, and down the stairs on my bottom, so I wouldn’t miss a single bloomin’ thing! It screams UNLEASHED INSPIRATION and CREATIVITY!

  11. Although I am by nature cynical, skeptical and jaded, what I consider virtues, I have been lucky in that I am a relatively resilient character. Thus far, what life has thrown at me pretty much bounces off and I keep forging ahead. You seem to be tackling your stairs at a steady clip. For a while I thought they had the potential to be your version of the Sistine Chapel. I really think that staircase belongs in an art gallery and I’m not saying that to butter you up. I mean it.

  12. Amazing. The way the stairs are turning out is riveting, but so, too, are your words written about them, the meanings behind the art. Beautiful.

  13. I just love how you’re not just decorating the steps. You’re incorporating bits and pieces of yourself into each and every step. They are not just pretty to look at. They hold meaning. This seems to be the way you approach most things in your life. They are simply beautiful!

  14. Kathy, I love how you have taken a space that must now scare you a little and have filled it with a happy sense of fun.

    There’s a lot of pain in my past, something I don’t dwell upon much in my public writing. At the time, I didn’t know how I’d ever move beyond it. For several years, I relived the heartbreak in an effort to keep something in my life that had already departed. Forcing myself to travel and make decisions independently from my mother (loooooong story) have been the keys to life for me. Of course, that’s ushered in different frustrations, but I now live life rather than letting it live me.

    • I have issues with my mom, as well. It can still be painful from time to time. Admittedly, I’ve learned a lot about how to get along with her in recent years, but that’s been a long time coming. So glad you like the stairs so far. Thanks for taking a look!

  15. My little pea brain had assumed you were choosing images based purely on look, the thought of actual meaning, did not occur to me. I’m such a newbie! Your handle on redemption is inspiring. I know I’ve been pretty privileged, but I think I’ve found no better healer than time for my pain. Your question about grace left me stumped, though a sense of humour did come to mind. Glad you’re feeling better! I love Atwood’s fiction; should give her poetry a try.

    • I’m a HUGE fan of Atwood’s poetry, so I can’t recommend it highly enough.

      How funny that you didn’t think the meaning of the images I selected would also be significant. I’m pretty big into finding that perfect marriage between what I see and what it means.

      Glad you think my handle on redemption is inspiring. I think I just had to come to define it on my own terms having had a mother who was and is so evangelical. I had to make that notion work for mw in my own weird ways. Still doing it, I guess. I suppose redemption is much more a process than those who believe as my mother does–and it applies to so many more things than God.

  16. Oh wow… just wow! Your work on the stairs in incredible. Powerful stuff there, my friend. And as a side note, Atwood is one of my favorite authors.

    • Hooray, another Atwood fan! So happy you like the stairs, Robin! It continues to be a really FUN project–likely the biggest creative one I’ve ever taken on. Great to hear from you today!

  17. This is such an amazing project, both artistically and emotionally. I’ve always heard that art can heal.

    I don’t know how to help you with the writing. I just wrote a guest blog that will be published at the end of August about writing through the pain. I think it takes a firm belief and knowledge that you are, in fact, strong enough to look back. The child in you may fear, but the adult you are can probably handle it. That’s just my guess and my 5 cent Lucy advice.

    • I will look forward to reading your guest post. It’s an issue I need to manage.

      The stairway project continues to be fun. Can’t wait to see how it all turns out in the end! Great to hear from you today, my friend. Take care.

  18. So beautiful, Kathy! Sorry for the brief comments lately, but please know that I am still reading and enjoying all of your lovely posts. :)

    • Oh, Dana, I appreciate any comment I get from you, especially this time of year. No need to apologize for brevity. I’m surprised to be hearing from you at all. Hope you’re surviving summer!

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