More than 100 Days of People Parts and Flowers
When I decided I would participate in The 100 Day Project, an idea started by Michael Bierut and further spread by Elle Luna and The Great Discontent, I did not know what I was doing. I knew the practical part--I would create 100 pieces of art with the theme "People Parts and Flowers," but did not know that the project would carry me through a difficult time. I did not know how much could change in 100 days.
Day 1 - I am in Houston, Texas but I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be home, fresh off a vacation in Costa Rica. Two days before our scheduled flight home, I get a text message. My Dad’s lymphoma is back after a one month remission from his bone marrow transplant. When we fly back through Houston, I stay. I buy comfortable clothes from Target. I read a John Grissom novel from the hospital library. I spend the day with my Dad in his room, and return to an empty house at night. I start The 100 Day Project on a Monday, two days after my 31st birthday. I am grateful for the art supplies I have on hand, even the awkward long sketchbook that I use for Day 1.
Day 3 - I leave Houston. My sister arrives in a few days. I am home again with my full studio, technology and paints, everything I could want. I am distracted but I have a purpose. Keep on track, one a day.
Day 4 - I leave for a bachelorette party. Is it appropriate? Sure. I know nothing. At some point I figured out that I’ve got to keep on with things. Not making plans, staying home, waiting for bad news isn’t helpful. So I go and The 100 Day project continues.
Day 20 - It’s been a few weeks since my Dad's cancer returned. He started an outpatient trial drug. He gets his first PET scan in a day and we'll learn whether it’s working or not. He initially did well, but now we’re not so sure. I get an early morning call from my sister. It is unhappy news.
Day 21 - My Dad is readmitted to the hospital before the PET scan. This is not good. The doctors continue to run tests. I don’t know what to do except wait for more updates.
Day 26 - I leave for a baby shower in Los Angeles. My Dad had a bad week. He got news from the doctors but my parents won’t tell anyone over the phone. He wants to tell Cameron and I in person. I know what the news is, he is dying, but intuiting is different from hearing. There are a flurry of texts, calls, and confusion. When I arrive at LAX I call my sister. “Should I just take a plane to Houston right now? How soon do I need to come?” “Stay. Come on Monday. It’ll be fine.” I stay for the baby shower and fly to Houston on Monday. Once again I leave the house and end up in Texas.
Day 29 - I arrive in Houston and head to the hospital. He’s been waiting all day for a potentially helpful procedure, but it is took risky. When I see him for the first time, he looks so much like my dying Grandfather that it’s disorienting. He doesn’t talk much but when he does I have a hard time understanding him. “I’m fine.” “What?” My Mom clarifies. “He said he’s dying.” He wants me to listen to the recording of the doctor telling him that they cannot do anything else. I cannot listen to it with him. I play it in headphones while he sleeps. The doctor uses the same tone and manner one might use when telling someone they have kidney stones, not that death is coming.
Days 30-33 - I’m shocked, sad, and completely numb but I'm adjusting to the surrealness. My 100 day project accepts parts of his body into its creations. We sit. I draw. I write. We sit. I write. And I draw more—his nose, his feet, his hands. Things that don’t belong in the project. Things that are just for me—to pass the time, to remember him by. I keep my hand moving since I don't know what else to do and this feels right. The days are long and excruciating.
Day 34 - My sister wakes us at 2:30 in the morning. It happened. My Dad is dead. We quietly dress, and move towards the hospital and the room where he no longer sleeps. Later in the day I draw the one part of his body that you wouldn’t think I’ve seen but I have. I once sat in the room as the heart specialists used an echocardiogram to examine his heart. I saw it beating on a small black and white screen—right ventricle, left ventricle. I heard it. It was strong and steady. The room was dark and quiet, except his heart, which filled the space from top to bottom. Just a day ago I felt his heart beat under my hand as I kissed him on the head and said, “Thank you. I love you. I’m sorry.” I felt it. I saw it. And now it is no more. I draw a heart and a flower. He is gone
Day 35 - We return home to San Francisco. It is Mother’s Day. We do the best we can.
Day 36: Time is flexible and fluid and sometimes I don’t draw. I don’t make the time. I cannot or will not take the time to worry about this insignificant project. We prepare for the funeral. We hug. I cry.
Day 38 - May 13th was his birthday. He died three days before turning 73. He was still young. I feel cheated. I’m angry.
Day 39 - We fly to Florida for a memorial service and his final internment. I am behind on the project so I use the long plane ride to exercise my hands and draw a few pieces in an attempt to close the gap. I don’t worry about drawing for a few days. I have my family. I try to exist in as neutral a state as possible, which is difficult.
Day 45 - I’m back home. The funeral is over. His body rests in a tiny church graveyard on the Florida panhandle. I am without a father. I have a mother, but I feel orphaned. The project is still here. It expects me to continue. I expect me to continue. And I must. What else do I have to do? What is appropriate work for someone who just sat with death? I must continue because there is nothing else. Nothing that I want to face. The 100 days are almost half over. Where do I go from here?
Day 60 - I look over at a photo of him sometimes while I draw and paint. I use parts of his body from pictures. I never talked to him every day but I want to call.
Day 65 - The sorts of tasks left after someone dies are boring. I have to log into his email to help pay bills for my Mom. I shouldn’t be here. It feels wrong. I painted this while I listened to a podcast and tried not think about how broken things felt.
Day 86 - My mind and body still feel the loss, but they equalize. I can do a little more every day. Things are OK, until I need a break.
Day 94 - I was bored of people parts. I was bored of flowers. But I kept going and now I’m enjoying myself again. The paintings each day start to feel familiar. I continue until I am done.
Day 100 - I made it. When I started out I had a Dad, but now I do not. I had no paintings of people parts and flowers, and now I have 100 (I think some of them are nice.) They’re a breadcrumb trail of what can change in a long, short amount of time.
It’s been three months since he died. I cannot believe it. His death means that the future is wide-open now. I don’t have to leave for a trip and worry whether or not I’m going to end up in Houston again. I can move forward. I can remember him, and I can get on with this new life that doesn’t include my Dad in the same way. He is a memory, a ghost, a dream.
What would it have been like to experience this without the 100 day project at my side? It would've been harder. I needed something to help me process. I am grateful for the purpose, the direction, the structure and for the levity of such a seemingly insignificant prompt. But what has my 100 days been except relating to the human body and nature? It’s a gift to me from me, when I couldn’t see ahead but predicted that this would be what I needed. And I did. I changed. But so did my work. And the important thing to me is that I kept going.
I’ve done a lot of growing up since he was diagnosed that September. I did even more during the 100 days. I felt every one of them. I can see time marched out in these pieces of work. I can feel it in the paint and the pencil markings.