The Sandbox

Amnesia, Art, Healing


7:19AM JST


Being catapulted into a different time zone, date zone, language, culture and continent—literally overnight—has been challenging. I can see with clarity that me plus jet lag plus completely unfamiliar surroundings adds up to a me whose seams really start to show—a me whose PTSD feels more clearly just like…PTSD. Not that this makes things better—it just feels clearer and less exotic. This is a me that is insecure, touchy, needing to be grounded in some type of familiarity to get my breathing back and evened out. A me that eventually hauls myself out for a run to try and shake things out. A me who doesn’t necessarily succeed no matter how much I try. 

On this trip I’ve been less plagued by figuring out the vexing bad therapy with Eileen and all the pain in that trauma for so many years. What’s appeared before me this trip is more my deeper past trauma—and how much a part of my skeleton that’s been for my entire life. 

I woke this morning with clarity that healing those bones, in this decade of my life has been, without consciousness, what I’ve been doing or trying to do. 

Which brings me to yesterday where we saw the works of an artist named Yamada Masaaki.  He is the Japanese painter that painted lines. Each piece an exploration. 

Each piece a serious, finished product too.

He lived through three air raids as a child in WWII Japan, one in which he witnessed a mother and child dying before his eyes.  And although a connection to his trauma was never made within the narrative of a fairly massive collection of work, I could not stop thinking about it. 

He spent his career, five decades, painting mostly through exploration of color, deeply and intensely and only that. He painted prolifically—five thousand paintings all tolled. Along with it he kept lengthy production diaries that, in a lot of respects, from the little translation that I could see, were not just solely about painting. 

He entered into a fifty year “contract with painting”—his words. He refused to pander to anyone, to do anything but listen to the powerful ticking of his own heart. It was a meditation all his own. 

As we walked through this large collection I could not help but notice, room after room, all of the lines—colored lines—unique colors--his own blues, siennas, ten layers of paint in some cases. There was clean separation always between these colors, a tidiness at times to an extreme, a repetition within and amongst pieces that was unrelenting and uncompromising. 

Decade upon decade, room after room until I literally became dizzy, his work was filled with lines of colors like these: 

Until a room, second to the last, where you could see the lines getting softer, less delineated, the colors occasionally seeping slightly vertically at times into one another. 

And then, as if a moth had suddenly turned into a butterfly, the final room. A gorgeous hall filled with massive pieces, floor to ceiling pieces, pieces that looked to both Pete’s eye and mine like…integration.  Not consciously intended or forced,  he seemed to achieve something extraordinary. 

And as I walked into that final room I nearly cried.

Was this last room about his healing? About being able to allow all those hard fought layered and unique colors to touch one another, lines and boxes now intersecting and engaging, finally, after decades of such strict separation? 

Was this contract he made with painting perhaps written by his heart? Telling him exactly where he needed to go to heal?

I did not expect anything when we got off the subway in Kyoto to go to the contemporary art museum. I just figured we should drag ourselves to see some art—what you’re supposed to do when you travel. But…here you go. 

I was moved and in some ways validated by his work to continue my own.

My own now eight thousand pages. My own contract with my Sandbox. My own healing and maybe, someday, my own hall filled with an equivalent of massive, gorgeous, integrated work. 

I felt permission to explore, permission to expand, permission to persist. I felt permission for each entry of mine to feel like a finished piece and each entry to also be without consciousness a lily pad, a stone along a pathway to a trail leading somewhere only my heart could take me. 


“Change should not be rushed, because things will end with merely the expectation of change.” 

Yamada Masaaki