Yes, that’s tape. Kinesio tape that I borrowed from my sister, Tia Stone (you may have heard of her successful running blog http://arkansasrunnermom.com/). One day in March, I came over to her house and proceeded to tape up her daughter, Abi for an art project. She’s kind of gotten use to this sort of thing so there weren’t too many questions asked. It was more of a “Hey Abi, can you get in some running clothes and put this k-tape all over your body?” “Sure!” That’s how we roll.
One of the special things about having Abi to pose for me was the timing. It couldn’t have been more perfect. When she posed for me, it was the spring of her 6th grade year– the exact same age that I was when I started running.
I don’t talk much about running any more mostly because, well, I don’t run anymore. I walk. And I drive. Occasionally, when I drive by runners, I get a sense of nostalgia, and I think about all of those years when I would hit the pavement before daybreak. I remember it feeling like the whole world was asleep and it was just me. And the road. I think about all of those Saturday mornings– the smell of wet grass and Icy Hot and the sight of toned legs as we all lined up to chase after a PR. That decade of my life (1997-2007) is starting to leak into distant memory, and in a way, this painting is a celebration of that time. It’s a remembrance of a season in my life that I may never get back, so in a sense, the running bib could also read like a tombstone. It was a period when I learned about perseverance and dedication and became so focused on getting faster times, it was as if my watch were taped to my head.
But it’s also a reflection on the reality of the experience, as well. In my short decade as a runner, I dealt with a lot of injuries. Many minor things at first, but when I was a senior in high school, I was diagnosed with an overuse injury– compartment syndrome, which required me to have surgery. In the surgery (fasciotomy), they made long interior incisions from my ankle to my knee in the fascia of all four compartments of each leg to release the pressure I was experiencing. They told me my legs may never be quite the same and that my calve muscles would never be as strong.
They were right. And during my four years running in college, I suffered with severe, chronic shin splints. I was living off IBProfene and heating, icing, and stretching my calves for hours a day just so I could run and maintain my scholarship. By the time I finished college, my legs were spent– and I was burned out. I decided I would take an indefinite break from running and spare the strain on my legs.
Although half of my time as a runner was in a constant state of injury, I don’t have any regrets. It was a beautiful time in my life, and I miss it in many ways. I met my husband on my college team, developed good friendships, and learned a lot about perseverance.
In this painting, the runner wears her taped injuries like a badge; unashamed of the cost of being dedicated to something that challenges, strains, and inflicts. If you can look past the running attire in this painting, you might start sensing that this work could symbolize some larger themes and ideas. In a way, it’s a metaphor for the universal notion of being devoted. When I see the extreme devotion of this figure, I am reminded that we are all devoted to something. We make sacrifices, we sweat, and we bleed. Whether you claim to be religious or not, you can’t squeak by in this life without worshiping something. It’s the human condition. Whether it be our relationships, our jobs, our accomplishments, our possessions, etc… We are all taping something to our heads and making it our focus.
When thinking about the things we often (symbolically) tape to our heads, I am reminded of something Tom Brady said in an interview on 60 Minutes ten years ago. In the interview he asked, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: it’s gotta be more than this. I mean this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.”
I think this response demonstrates the cracks in our cultural system. We are caught in a system that sucks us into thinking that life is about the here and now– our legacy, our comforts–those are the things to tape to our heads and consume our focus. But I think we are all finding that in the end, they just can’t satisfy. They can’t satisfy because we have an inherent desire to seek and worship something much greater than ourselves.
After I painted this work, the wrist taped to the forehead started to become a personal symbol of loyalty and devotion. As a follower of Christ, it began to serve as symbol and reminder of my devotion to my faith and my acceptance in God. I even found myself–in times of personal prayer and reflection–putting my wrist on my forehead and praying, “I don’t need anything else. I do not want to look to anything else. I am yours.”
It is in these moments that I experience a wonderful beauty and peace from a place deep within. The kind of peace that surfaces only when my thoughts are on track.