Portrait of the Artist

“Harry,” said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

It’s a new year. I’m working on many things this year, but in addition to my New Year’s Resolutions, I’m planning on paying a lot of attention to my language.

I’m writing this while I’m on the bus home from work. I kept falling asleep while reading on the bus. Thinking about it, I told myself that “I am tired,” but then I caught myself.

I am not tired. Tired is not some part of my character or essence. It is not something inherently true about my self. I’m no reincarnation of Sloth.

So I started to iterate.

I feel tired. I want to sleep. I think that it’s more difficult for me to focus right now than it was earlier today. I think that it’s getting harder for me to keep my eyes open without thinking about it.

Feelings will pass. Thoughts will pass. Desires will pass.

And if I can recognize that, it makes it easier to not be so attached to those feelings, thoughts, and desires. I don’t hold them so close to my self.

It’s not the best example of my being the artist, but it was very real for me at the time of writing.

This past year, I spent a lot of time feeling alone, thinking that people didn’t like me, thinking like everything was out of my control, feeling powerless. It stopped me in my tracks. And I so often struggled to see that I was painting a portrait of me, not of the sitter.

So this year, I’m trying to pay attention to the words I choose.

I’m trying to distinguish my observations from my thoughts, my thoughts from my feelings, my feelings from my needs.

I’m trying not to conflate my judgements of other people with their behaviours and decisions.

Because I’ve seen what happens when I paint my reality that way. I’ve seen what happens when I think the portrait is of the sitter.

(The reason this isn’t one of my New Year’s Resolutions is because I couldn’t figure out a reliable way to measure progress.)

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